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‘The cavalry is not coming’

Q&A | The conservative movement and the GOP, says Kay Coles James, have given up on the black community

Issue: "Maximum insecurity," Feb. 23, 2013

Kay Coles James has had many leadership roles in government and nonprofit organizations: She was Virginia’s secretary of Health and Human Resources and President George W. Bush’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and is now president of the Gloucester Institute, a leadership training center for young African-Americans (see “Climbing out of the cradle,” Feb. 11, 2012). 

Some conservative websites have examined voting patterns in last November’s election and charged fraud in those African-American precincts that voted 100 percent for Barack Obama. My sense is those results are real. What’s your sense? Real. If you have been a part of an African-American community as I have for all my life, it’s no surprise. Conservatives often think people are voting on the basis of policy analysis and if we just told our story better they would vote with us. The vote actually has a lot to do with the journey that African-Americans have been on in this country, and understanding where we are emotionally. 

You recently saw the new movie Django Unchained—what did that show you? Django Unchained is about a slave who has the opportunity to be free and become a bounty hunter. He had a license therefore to—as he says—“go kill white people.” The movie is extremely violent. For the average person who may be skittish about those things, I would not recommend it. But if you are a culture warrior and want to understand a lot of the dynamics going on in our culture, you should go.

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Why? Because when you understand the horror of slavery, and when you see it graphically on a screen in front of you, and when it is settled in your DNA and has been a part of the oral history of your family, you come to understand why large groups of people in this country say, “I don’t care if Obama runs the whole dadgum country off the cliff! I don’t care if Obamacare screws up the entire American healthcare system! We got a black president and I’m voting for him!” I saw that movie in an all-black theater with people cheering at what I thought were inappropriate times, but we need to understand that.

Do conservative Christians tend to understand that? I am extremely concerned about the inability of the Christian community, the conservative community, and the Republican Party to deal with the browning of America. We tend as conservatives to stay right in our communities, to hold rallies where we get ourselves energized. 

I’ve interviewed white conservatives who say civil rights problems are part of history, but race now is not that big a factor. Is this—white folks talking? It certainly is and I’m glad you said it because I was about to. I was a part of that group that integrated the schools in the South. I had to go past dogs to go to algebra. I know what that’s like. Overt racism in America is gone. Thank goodness it is no longer socially acceptable to be a racist. But covert racism is alive and well. I see it every day in subtle ways. To be standing in a line at a cosmetic counter and to be ignored three times while they wait on the person next to you. One of my very dearest, best, closest friends became upset because her daughter was dating a black guy. To be involved in a white church and you’re part of a Bible study and everybody in the Bible study goes on vacation together but they didn’t invite you. 

After last November’s election, do you see any new GOP attempts to reach out? I probably had a not-so-pleasant conversation with every conservative and every Republican leader during the 60 days after the election because they have given up on the black community. People were saying “Those precincts were 100 percent, write them off, let’s focus on Hispanics and women and maybe youth.” Well, I was involved in the Republican and conservative movements because I thought those values and ideals and principles were the ones that I needed to save my community. When they write off those precincts, they have written off my community. 

You feel used? They’re telling me I was only important and significant to the degree that I could help them stay in power and advance their agenda. When I was no longer useful for that effort, I am no longer useful to them. I believe in self-sufficiency and independence. I believe in principles like “don’t spend more than you earn.” I believe in limited government because limited government gives you the most freedom. But I met recently with young African-American conservative professionals and said, “I have a newsflash for you: The cavalry is not coming. There is no one coming to save us. The conservative movement, the evangelical movement, and the Republican Party don’t care about us anymore.” … I am no longer useful. I had better change my name to Maria Sanchez and then maybe I can get some attention. We use people and then spit them out. 


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