Republicans need better race bait

OPINION: Why can't the GOP find someone who is widely embraced by Black America when they want someone to represent conservative values?

Former NFL football player Lawrence Taylor arrives for a Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump campaign rally in Wildwood Beach on May 11, 2024 in Wildwood, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

OPINION: Why can’t the GOP find someone who is widely embraced by Black America when they want someone to represent conservative values?

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Thirty years ago, a newspaper published an attack on my character that haunts me to this day. Although it started as an innocent misunderstanding, it has blossomed into a cruel joke that my college friends continue to perpetuate. For nearly three decades, I have battled this disgusting lie but now it is time for me to clear up this misconception. 

I like fried chicken. 

Watermelon is delicious. 

It all began during my senior year in college after Black students confronted the administration about the school’s lack of inclusion. To prove its commitment to cultural diversity, Auburn University Food Services rolled out its Black History Month menu — a selection of handpicked negro cuisine featuring ham hocks, collard greens and, yes, fried chicken every day. 

“When I first saw this menu, I, as well as other students, thought it was a cruel joke,” I wrote in the school newspaper. “This menu offers every stereotypical ‘nigger dish’ except watermelon. Maybe the director of Food Services thought we would beat the doors down to get to some ham hocks and fried chicken, but here’s a news flash: Black people actually eat the same food as you do!” 

As someone who was born and raised in South Carolina, I have a documented history championing deep-fried fowl. But since then, “Mike hates fried chicken” has been a running joke among my college friends. In fairness to those who turned this vicious rumor into an inside joke, my use of the n-word may have contributed to the misconception that I have a grudge against deep-fried fowl. While nothing could be further from the truth, I blame the person who chose this headline:

Contrary to what the headline professed, I am rarely “offended.”  In fact, not only did I think the menu was hilarious, but the campus-wide jigaboo food program proved the Black students’ point about the administration’s lack of cultural awareness. The tone-deaf attempt at placating Black students with distilled water-boiled collard greens was exactly what a racist institution would do if it didn’t actually care about Black people. 

This is a story about Lawrence Taylor.

I like Lawrence Taylor. I didn’t find his appearance at Donald Trump’s New Jersey campaign stop to stump for the presumptive Republican nominee for president to be shocking. I must confess that I have never spent fewer than zero seconds wondering about Taylor’s political beliefs, but I still wasn’t surprised when L.T. assured the crowd at the gathering of the MAGA-heauxs that they don’t “have to worry about nobody in my family voting for a Democrat again.” Taylor also proves Black people’s opinion of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Anyone who knows the facts (and Taylor’s documented history of championing crack cocaine), could never be offended by L.T.’s endorsement of Trump. He is Republican fried chicken. He is “race bait.”

While “race-baiting” is usually reserved as a pejorative to hurl at anyone who dares to mention America’s national pastime (white supremacy), the term more accurately describes the GOP’s approach to politics. After years of rejecting the core conservative principles of small government, fiscal conservatism and Christian family values, Republicans baited their base into embracing a criminally corrupt, big-spending authoritarian who has no values.

According to Pew Research, most Black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics and Asian Christians do not vote Republican. Most Buddhists, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not support the Republican Party. Most college-educated people don’t vote Republican. Low-income earners don’t typically vote Republican but neither do high-income earners. As you can see, the GOP is not a Christian party. The so-called “religious right” does not exist. It has no basis in religion, education or income. Yes, white people are a race and the Republican Party is their party. 

Unfortunately, the only thing white people detest more than being referred to as “white people” is when other people “make everything about race.” So, to protect its Caucasian constituents from the widely accepted, evidence-backed accusations of being, the party of white people routinely recruits skilled negro mouthpieces to echo their counterarguments. 

That’s why I am not offended by Candace Owens. I think Jason Whitlock is hilarious. As someone who was born and raised in South Carolina, I have a documented history of dealing with negro conservatives like Stephen A. Smith. In fact, not only did I think Coleman Hughes’ new book, “The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America” was hilarious, but it proves Black people’s point about white supremacy. His tone-deaf attempt at placating white supremacy is exactly what someone would write if they believed people who “don’t see color” actually cared about Black people. To me, these people are as “offensive” as fried chicken and watermelon. 

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this cohort of Caucasian regurgitators is their rareness. Of all the heralded Black economists that have ever existed, when confronted about the economic impact of inequality, conservatives are contractually obligated to bring up Thomas Sowell — not because of his fame or his scholarship (even white economists generally consider Sowell’s work to be a “pseudo-scholarly sham”) — but because Sowell is the “go-to Black academic for conservative media outlets” (unless you count the laughable Roland Fryer).

Similarly, if Black voters were flocking to Trump as much as the New York Times and cable news pundits want us to believe, where are they hiding all the on-camera interviews with Black Trump supporters? Even if a famous Black athlete could lure Black NFL fans to the Republican Party, why couldn’t they find better bait? Is a cocaine enthusiast who played football during my watermelon-hating days the best they could do? 

When Black Twitter took issue with Stephen A. Smith’s political punditry on Sean Hannity’s show, it wasn’t Smith’s political leanings that caused concern. Every Black person has a conservative loud-talking, know-it-all uncle with a hairline like Stephen A Smith’s. Even Smith’s friendship with Sean Hannity isn’t offensive; it’s easy to understand why Smith would want to chop it up with anti-Black homey Hannity. However, it is notable that one of the longest-running, most popular shows on cable TV had to get a dude who yells about sports for a living to dissect Black politics. Then again, I’m old enough to remember when Stephen A. Smith warned his colleague Jemele Hill about disparaging a sitting president. To be fair, that was long before this pseudo-psychologist and political pundit Smith offered his opinion on Joe Biden’s cognitive abilities. 

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To be fair, luring Black voters to the conservative side of the aisle is not the main duty of race-baiters. They are nothing more than puppets sitting on the lap of conservative ventriloquists who pull their dark-skinned dummies out when they need a Black face to affirm the tenets of whiteness. Even white conservatives don’t respect these Black MAGA-boos or consider them to be particularly smart. They know Candace Owens has no education, experience or expertise in politics or … well … anything. Jason Whitlock is a joke to Black people and white people. Negro-contrarians like Taylor, Smith, Owens, et. al., are equally absurd to Black people who know things as they are to their white conservative counterparts. At most, they are “articulate,” which explains why right-leaning Black people are never asked to dissect the behavior of NASCAR dads, soccer moms, evangelical Christians or any of the numerous euphemisms used to describe white voters. 

Coleman Hughes’ entire schtick is to stop people from saying stuff that white people don’t like to hear. He joined the Manhattan Institute to focus on “race, public policy, and applied ethics,”  just before his fellow Manhattan Institute Fellow Christopher Rufo launched a campaign to redefine critical race theory. Hughes is known for his views on reparations, DEI, anti-racism and more, but his perspective is neither unique nor interesting. Admittedly Hughes does write well (for a Black guy). His most recent book (which I hate-read) is just a factory-refurbished collection of the same strawman arguments white conservatives have used for years. But Coleman Hughes is Black, so this book is different. 

It’s bait for racists. 

Interestingly, Hughes does not describe himself as conservative. Stephen A. Smith has never said he was a Republican. If I could stomach listening to Whitlock or Owens long enough to divine their political affiliation, they probably wouldn’t align themselves with the GOP. I actually agree with their self-assessment. A true conservative wouldn’t want the government interfering in women’s reproductive choices. Evangelical Christians would never support a presidential candidate who publicly brags about breaking every one of the 10 Commandments. Right-leaning traditionalists supposedly believe in a literal interpretation of history and the Constitution. Today’s conservative Republicans don’t believe in any of that. 

Their only affiliation is to their whiteness. 

I have no idea if Lawrence Taylor is conservative or not, but he is a typical Black Republican. He knows as much about domestic policy as Candace Owens, and that’s what they want. I’ve heard more Black men advocate for Bill Cosby than Donald Trump. The only party with less respect than the Republican Party in Black America is Diddy’s shindigs. And why can the GOP only find shape-up-averse Black men or sisters with the most unruly baby hair? When will Black conservatives make their edges great again? 

If the Republican Party actually wanted more Black people to join their ranks, they could probably find a single universally respected Black person to speak on their behalf. But that person would probably believe in something. The Black voices who echo the conservative sentiments don’t actually believe in the tenets they express. Jason Whitlock doesn’t believe it’s “satanic” to refer to an insurrectionist as “an insurrectionist.” Coleman Hughes (or anyone who’s ever read a history book) doesn’t actually think pretending to not see differences in culture, history and skin color will make white supremacy vanish into thin air. And no, Lawrence Taylor wouldn’t disown a family member who voted for Joe Biden. They care as much about the specific principles of conservatism as Herschel “the Babydaddy” Walker cares about “family values.” They believe in whiteness. And just like nasty rumors about my disdain for watermelon that were probably spread by the corporate cantaloupe lobbyists, a Black person publicly validating the supremacy of whiteness proves white people’s point. It’s exactly what someone would say if they didn’t care about Black people. 

Racists always take the bait.

A few years ago, while recording an audiobook, I ran into a very distraught Black man sitting silently in the kitchen of the studio. The sound engineer introduced him as a very respected voice actor. I didn’t want to disturb his peace, but when I smiled and said hello, he began recounting the terrible book he was voicing. According to him, he was halfway through a weeklong session of a book filled with every bad-faith argument about Black people you could imagine. In my attempt to sympathize, I asked him more about the book. “Trust me, you’ve never heard of this guy,” he replied. “Some dude named Thomas Sowell.”

Not wanting to make him feel even worse about his project, I stifled a laugh. I didn’t even make a face. Even now, I still find it interesting that a novice, non-economist could read every word of every page in Sowell’s book and see straight through it. But instead of discussing the bane of this man’s existence, I baited my fellow book thespian into silence by offering some of the lunch that had just arrived for my recording team. “Please have some,” I said. “It’s more than enough.” 

He accepted.

Then we sat there and ate our fried chicken.

Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His NY Times bestseller  Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America is available in bookstores everywhere.