by LZ Granderson
(CNN) — When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he reportedly said Democrats would lose the South for a generation. At the time, 115 of the 128 senators and representatives from the 11 former Confederate states were White Democrats.
Today, all Democratic congressmen from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia are Black, except for John Barrow of Georgia; and all Republican congressmen from these states are White, except for Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Part of that has to do with policy. And a lot of that has to do with the White backlash Johnson correctly predicted.
So if Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and his cohorts are really serious about bringing minorities into their big tent, they need to do more than massage the party’s message. They need to do more than rethink its policies. They have to be honest about who is in their tent already.
I applaud the effort of the RNC’s 98-page Growth and Opportunity Project report. But it’s hard to characterize it as an honest assessment of the party when it doesn’t include the words “racism,” “racists” or “racist” in it. How can this so-called “autopsy” be accurate when it doesn’t include the cause of death?
I’m not saying the Republican Party is full of bigots.
I’m saying history teaches us that the Republican Party is where white racists in the South turned for shelter in response to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the remnants of that migration is still impacting its image today.
To characterize the Republican Party’s difficulties to grasp the country’s new demographics as “they’re too old and white” oversimplifies a conversation that is much more nuanced than that. The reason why some minorities — particularly Blacks — have a distaste for the Republican Party is because any policy that negatively impacts minorities disproportionately is being viewed through the electoral dynamic that was created in 1964.
If Priebus and company can’t see and admit that, their new plan is not going to solve much of anything.
I agree with Eric Cantor, Chris Christie and Jon Huntsman on a lot of issues. As an independent, it really pains me to know much of their messages get tainted nationally because their party has this lingering image problem.
As the glaring omissions in the Growth and Opportunity Project report suggests, this wound is self-inflicted. For as long as GOP leaders refuse to acknowledge and confront racism in their party, they will continue to have a hard time convincing minorities they have their best interests in mind.
Now, I’m sure spending $10 million to pay people to hang out with minorities and talk about how great the Republican Party is seems like a good idea.
But when there is footage of a Black man being beaten and run over by a group of White teenagers who reportedly wanted to “go fuck with some niggers” nearly 50 years after Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, trust me, minorities are not looking for rent-a-friend to come talk to us about the Grand Old Party.
We’re looking for advocates who will listen.
Who can see the South is not the South of bus boycotts and burning crosses — but it is still the South.
Who will see that Barry Goldwater, who opposed the Civil Rights Act, won 87.1% of Mississippi’s votes in the 1964 general election and that lawmakers in Mississippi just got around to ratifying the 13th Amendment in 2013.
Ruby Burdette, whose son was found dead along a rural Mississippi road in 2009, didn’t receive her first visit from the Sheriff’s Office until CNN reporters called asking about the progress of the investigation this year.
“He came in and said he was the investigator,” Burdette said. “He told me he apologized for no one coming out before now. And he told me that the first investigators they had didn’t do anything.”
More than three years had gone by, and the authorities didn’t bother to look for who had killed her son. If Republican leaders really want to appeal to minorities –put that in the report. And do it not as a way to pander for votes, but to acknowledge the problem.
There is definitely a fair share of bigots in the Democrat Party, and liberals can be quick to attribute problems impacting minorities to racism. But far too often, the GOP is quick to dismiss racism as a factor in anything, which draws attention to the party’s lack of self-awareness.
The Republican Party as a whole is saddled with the perception of having a diversity problem, and its recent political history justifies that perception. From what I know of Priebus, he is smart enough to know all of this.
The fact this issue is not addressed in the report suggests he still isn’t sure what to do about it.
Editor’s note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.