GOP Struggles With Image Over Race

Racial incident(s) at RNC provide PR fiasco, but GOP comes back with major speakers

Luis Fortuño, governor of Puerto Rico, speaks at the Republican National Convention, August 29, 2012. (Photo credit: Carmen Russell-Sluchansky)

It was quite a cast of speakers taking the stage at the Republican National Convention’s penultimate night. Never mind the GOP’s newly anointed savior prince Paul Ryan, but of far greater importance were former Secretary of State Condileeza Rice, Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. They, among others, comprised a row of non-white faces streaming before a mostly white (read: almost exclusively white) audience.

While the schedule had been set as early as Monday, it was a fortuitous lineup following some race-based public relations fiascos the day before. An African-American woman working a camera for CNN had peanuts thrown at her and, shortly after, a Puerto Rican delegate’s speech was drowned out by chants of “U.S.A.”

Neither incident fully convicts the GOP of blanket racism. As a result of the former, party officials ejected to attendees and provided an apology. In the latter, it’s not clear the chants were actually directed at the Hispanic speaker and the GOP blamed it on Ron Paul supporters who still irate over rules changes that voided their votes for the potential spoiler. (Having been there, I know that wasn’t the case, however.)

However, such incidents paint a fresh sheen on the perception that the Republican Party lacks more than just diversity.

What to do to dispel that perception:  parade as many ethnic minorities in front of everyone watching, both within the convention halls and those outside. “How can we be racist? Look who we count among our own.”

Linda Lee Tarver, an attendee from Michigan, reacts to speakers at the Republican National Committee (Photo credit: Carmen Russell-Sluchansky)

Although the lineup had been established before the public incidents on Tuesday, it’s still not a coincidence. The GOP has long known they have an image problem and the convention was their best opportunity to confront it. It’s just too bad it’s overshadowed by other racial incidents.

Let’s be clear on what the incidents were. A couple of attendees – delegates, alternates or guests, we’re not sure and it really doesn’t matter – threw peanuts at an African-American camerawoman. The RNC has said that they would not tolerate that behavior and ejected them. In the next incident, it’s really not clear that the chants were directed at the Puerto Rican speaker. No one chanted when the governor of Puerto Rico took the stage the next night, nor for other Rice, Mia Love or Susanna Martinez, Governor of New Mexico (though that could partially be due to Martinez’s affection for 357 magnums).

Still, the fact that the media and the public assumed that the incidents reflect a racism found within the Republican Party comes down to the party’s recent history in regards to race. During the primary, every one of the major contenders for the nomination found themselves mired in the discussion after one poorly uttered statement or another. The convention itself – while not the whites only party many would have you believe it is – comes perilously close with those of color making standing out in the sea of peach skin. (I joined a bus full of delegates to get back to my hotel and the entire bus was white, as were the prior several buses I saw fill up).

Getting back to the speeches, it is certainly nice to have the first African-American Secretary of State in your corner speaking eloquently about foreign policy and education and talking about how great the country is given how a girl from Jim Crow Alabama can grow up to be Secretary of State. It also helps to have a number of Spanish-accented voices. Then, of course, there was the well-received Mia Love.

All that certainly helps, but it’s not enough. Where was Reince Priebus in all this? The chairman of the party needed to go very public and denounce what happened thoroughly.

The most important part of this is he needed to do it on several stations as well as Fox News – and not in that “It’s just the Democrats, again.” That’s too defensive on the issue just as they have been and that’s why they’re in this mess as it is.

Delegation from Puerto Rico at the 2012 Republican National Convention (Photo credit: Carmen Russell-Sluchansky)

I could write his speech in two minutes:  There is no place in the Republican Party for any type of racism and we will not stand for it. We ejected the perpetrators and continue to investigate how these things came to pass.

Don’t just say that the RNC is not racist – tell Fox viewers that it’s unacceptable. They are your base. Lead them.

~ Carmen Russell-Sluchansky



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