Note: These are my prepared remarks from my presentation to the Erie County, Ohio Republican Convention on April 30, 2011.
Good evening to you. I flew here today from Dallas, Texas, where I was attending a Heritage Foundation conference. Between being surrounded by over 600 conservative conferees and being deep in the heart of Texas, my red meat conservative quotient is way up.
I needed that boost because I live in the People's Republic of Maryland, where there is no liberal idea too stupid to enact into law.
In fact, I live in Calvert County, Maryland, one of many "red" enclaves in this deep blue state; 15 of the 24 county councils or commissions in Maryland are led by Republicans. The only problem is that these counties are canceled out in statewide elections by the counties immediately surrounding Washington, DC and the city of Baltimore.
Since we live about 45 miles southeast of DC, we get their local news and therefore know more about that surreal piece of real estate than we care to admit. You're probably aware that they've been fighting for statehood for decades now, and I understand their plight. After all, I don't think our founders intended for half-a-million U.S. citizens not to have representation in the U.S. Congress.
I also don't think, however, they intended for the District of Columbia to be a residential area for anyone other than elected officials and diplomats. Since some would argue there are constitutional barriers to DC statehood, I came up with a novel idea.
Why not separate the residential areas of DC from the federal part, which includes the White House and the Capitol, give the residential part back to Maryland, and then create a new state called Columbia, comprised of this new entity, the DC suburbs, and the city of Baltimore?
That way, they can have their land of rainbows and unicorns, and us common sense Marylanders can get on with real life.
I need to tell you before I proceed that, while I attempt to be respectful and on good terms with everyone, I am also candid, fearless in speaking my mind, and politically incorrect. Therefore, the chances are more than even that I will offend someone in this room tonight, and I ask you to extend to me the same grace that Christ shows you and me. If you can't do that, well, forgive me, but I still have a speech to give, so let’s get on with it.
I'm doing something I don't typically do during a presentation of this nature, and that's reading from a prepared text. I'm very comfortable speaking extemporaneously, because when you speak what you believe, and you believe it's the truth, you don't need a script or a teleprompter to make your point.
I feel very strongly, however, that this is a unique occasion, and I wanted to make sure that I laid all my cards on the table. So I have prepared remarks, which isn't a guarantee that I won't go off on a tangent at some point. It's just to make sure that everything I'd like to say to you tonight is said. I assure you that I wrote and take full ownership of every word.
I was honored to see I was promoted as a "nationally renowned speaker." Some of you in this room who received this invitation probably punched up my name in Google, only to find out there's a heck of a lot of Ron Millers out there! So who am I and why did the planners of this event think it was important for you to hear from me tonight?
Well, first of all, I am the oldest child of a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant and his bride of 52 years, as of tomorrow.
I moved an average of every two years before I turned eighteen and, after my graduation from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, I served in the U.S. Air Force myself for nine and a half years as an intelligence officer. In my lifetime, I've lived in twelve states and three foreign countries.
I've been a senior executive in the Bush Administration, giving me the distinction of having worked for George W. Bush twice in my life, although 23 years apart. The first time I worked for him, I was a volunteer on his failed 1978 campaign for the U.S. Congress in 1978 while still a student at Texas Tech.
I've worked in the private and non-profit sectors as well, and I'm currently self-employed, so I have a broad perspective on American life, and it's that perspective that I share with the world these days through my articles, public and press appearances, and my book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom's Porch.
The first question I get from people when they hear that title is, "How did you come up with that?" My answer is simple: when you're a Christian conservative American who happens to be black, you inherit a lot of names your parents never gave you.
One of the names I'm on a one-man crusade to reclaim is that of Uncle Tom. How many of you have read Uncle Tom's Cabin, the anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe?
In today's culture, Uncle Tom is a pejorative, used to describe a black man who panders to white people, desires to be white, or “acts white."
Let me give you an example from the news. I’m going to commit apostasy and mention the University of Michigan, specifically the “Fab Five” of University of Michigan basketball fame. In a recent ESPN documentary, Jalen Rose, the producer and one of the Fab Five, expressed his dislike as a teen of the black players recruited by Duke University, and he referred to them as “Uncle Toms.”
That set off a firestorm of controversy, and even I got pulled into it. An AP reporter covering the “race and ethnicity beat” – bet you didn’t know they had such a thing – stumbled across the title of my book, and reached out to me for an interview. I was quoted extensively in the article and given the last word at the end.
It seems that the black Duke players committed the grievous sin of being born into two-parent middle-class families, growing up in safe, well-kept communities, and behaving in a responsible, well-mannered fashion. In other words, according to the black community’s definition of “Uncle Tom,” they were “acting white.”
"Acting white," by the way, is one of the dumbest phrases to escape the lips of any black person. When a black person is accused of "acting white," that usually means that they speak standard American English, dress well, comport themselves with dignity and affability, are academically or professionally accomplished, and generally lead a solid American middle class life.
If that is "acting white," then the implication is that black people are the opposite of all those things, and that's not even remotely flattering or positive. And they say we black conservatives are the ones who are self-hating! If there's one thing I've learned about black people who dare to stand before the world and proclaim themselves conservative, their self-esteem is high, and there's not even an iota of self-loathing within them.
So while the Uncle Tom of today is described as a boot licking apologist for white people, the original Uncle Tom was a dignified and gracious man, and a devout Christian as well - he was no panderer to the white man.
Tom refused an order from his white master to beat a fellow slave, and he was savagely beaten himself as a result. That white master, Simon Legree, continued to torture Uncle Tom to get him to renounce his faith, which he also refused to do.
Eventually, when Uncle Tom encouraged two of his fellow slaves to escape, he was beaten and eventually died at the hands of two of Legree's black overseers, Sambo and Quimbo, because he refused to divulge the runaways' whereabouts to Legree. Just before he died, he forgave the men who beat him, and they were so moved by his grace in the face of death that they repented and became Christians, too.
Does that sound like the Uncle Tom of today? Not even close. This is one of many examples where I encourage everyone - black, white and every shade in between - to be skeptical of everything you read, and to do your own homework. Verify, verify, verify everything, and go back to the source materials and draw your own conclusions. The United Negro College Fund's famous slogan is, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." I agree - use it and don't let someone else think for you.
That's how I came to the conclusion that I was a conservative. The values which my parents instilled in me, like respect for life and family, personal responsibility, accountability, and dependability, and their beliefs on issues like abortion, marriage, gun ownership – my grandfather owned several guns and would point one of them at anyone who might try to take them away! - and taxes, just to name a few, were decidedly conservative. Their political allegiances, however, were not. They were dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and, until I went to college, so was I.
It was there, however, that I compared my beliefs with my political party's platform, and I was stunned to learn that I had practically nothing in common with the Democrats. So I went home on break and asked my parents why we were Democrats, because they rejected nearly everything we believed in.
The answer I got: "Republicans hate black people." I didn’t understand where they got that impression and, given their backgrounds, it made no sense to me. Let me explain. My mother was born and raised in southwestern Louisiana. My father was born and raised in east central Georgia. They came of age in the late 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Every white person who could have conceivably discriminated against them in the South during those decades was a Democrat.
Condoleeza Rice noted that her father was registered to vote in Alabama as a Republican because they were the only ones who would allow him to register.
So, without examples or evidence of Republicans hating on black people, that answer didn't cut it for me, and I joined the Texas Tech chapter of the College Republicans. Three months later, I found myself elected in a landslide as the executive vice chairman of the College Republicans of Texas, and I remember thinking at the time, "If Republicans hate black people, they have a funny way of showing it."
Every now and again, my mother will express her consternation at me being a Republican, and I gently remind her, "Mom, you raised me that way."
I used to think that I was a black conservative before it was cool – at least I think it’s cool, judging from the celebrity status of people like Herman Cain, Tim Scott and Allen West.
Incidentally, I met Rep. West about a month ago, and his confidence and clarity of conviction, his poise under pressure, hi fearlessness and his humility are more impressive in person than they are on YouTube. He will be a leader of national prominence someday soon, and his decision to run again for the seat in Congress which he currently occupies was so well thought out and presented that it increases my regard for him even more.
So, some would say that conservatism is a recent phenomenon in the black community. But an examination of our history reveals that the first prominent black leaders in America, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, if they were alive today, would have been considered conservative.
Both men overcame slavery to achieve greatness. Frederick Douglass never received a formal education, but is regarded as one of the great orators and writers in American history. Booker T. Washington's life was characterized by constant hard work and education, and his leadership of the black community emphasized both as the pathway to success.
Neither Douglass nor Washington sought special consideration for the newly freed slaves of their day. When Douglass was asked "What shall we do with the Negro?", his passionate response was, "Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us." In his famous lecture, "Self-Made Men," he dismissed luck and even opportunity as the keys to good fortune, saying:
"Fortune may crowd a man’s life with fortunate circumstances and happy opportunities, but they will, as we all know, avail him nothing unless he makes a wise and vigorous use of them. It does not matter that the wind is fair and the tide at its flood, if the mariner refuses to weigh his anchor and spread his canvas to the breeze. The golden harvest is ripe in vain if the farmer refuses to reap. Opportunity is important but exertion is indispensable."
He went on to say, "we may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!!"
Washington declared, "The individual who can do something that the world wants done will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race."
He also said, "Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him."
These men embraced the American Dream, which promises great things to those who work hard, never stop learning, and never give up.
There were black elites, however, who were impatient with what they perceived as the slow pace of change, and who believed in agitation for greater political power. These same elites became infatuated with the socialist and Marxist movements from Europe, because they thought they held the answers over capitalism for rapid black ascendancy.
Black historian G. Carter Woodson was skeptical of this dalliance with socialism, saying, "If the excited whites who are bringing to the Negroes such strange doctrines are insane enough to believe them, the Negroes themselves should learn to think before it is too late."
Woodson also said the idea that blacks couldn’t succeed in a capitalist society “is to deny actual facts, refute history, and discredit the Negro as a capable competitor in the economic battle of life.”
So you see, conservatism has a well-established and honorable place in black American history. It is our legacy, and like Esau from the Old Testament, we have been tricked into surrendering our birthright for a bowl of stew which, once devoured, doesn’t prevent our hunger for something more from returning.
Let me say something that might not be widely known or believed. Despite our status as a nation of immigrants, we don’t necessarily have a history of rolling out the red carpet to new arrivals. Nonetheless, people who left their homelands to come to America came for the opportunities that awaited them in a land of freedom, and they didn’t let their circumstances or how they were treated deter them.
They governed and disciplined themselves, built up wealth for their families and their communities, and earned their way into the American mainstream. As I like to say, they handled their business and, in doing so, gained respect. That is the way of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, and it is in returning to that legacy that we will find our way.
So how do we make that happen? I don’t like to talk about problems without offering solutions, and you came here tonight to hear about solutions. Specifically, how do we attract more blacks to the conservative message of the Republican Party?
The first piece of advice I’m going to give you might sound obvious, but it’s not put into practice as broadly as you’d think.
Please support your friendly neighborhood black Republican.
I’ve been very fortunate since my election as the vice-chairman of the College Republicans of Texas. I’ve been treated as a valued resource within the Republican Party wherever I’ve lived and been active in politics. I was even named the Republican Man of the Year in Calvert County for 2006, and the chairman of the local party appointed me as their communications director, a position I’ve held for four years.
Because of my personal history, however, I’m always surprised at the stories I hear from black conservatives who believe the party has shut them out of key decision-making roles, or treated them as tokens and little else.
Friends, if you’re serious about outreach into the black community, you’ve got to start with the ones who are already on your side. The heavy lifting has already been done. We’ve rejected the path of socialism, and translated our beliefs in the sanctity of human life and traditional two-parent families into support of the Republican Party platform.
We have paid the price in our communities, many times even in our own families, for being conservative, and it can be demoralizing to encounter indifference or hostility from the political party that most aligns with our values.
If you expect to launch an offensive in the black community, you’re going to need to send in the Marines, and that’s us. We’re already battle-tested; let us join the fight.
For what it’s worth, I’ve heard good things about the Erie County GOP in this regard, and I commend you for your commitment to bringing the black community back home where it belongs.
The second piece of advice is to be where they are, not where you’d like them to be. One of the endearing characteristics of conservatives is their desire to be free of identity politics. When they hear arguments for tailored outreach strategies to attract the black community, they wring their hands and say “Can’t we all just get along? We’re not black or white Americans – we’re just Americans!” I assure you, that is where I want to be, and that’s how I live my everyday life in interaction with others and the world around me.
You must understand, however, that the black community has been set apart for practically the entirety of its presence in the United States, whether by slavery, Jim Crow laws, or the welfare state which the Democrats have cultivated by fanning the flames of racial separation and entitlement. We haven’t learned yet to view ourselves as equal heirs to the American Dream.
I’m not suggesting that you compromise your principles to appeal to the black community. Just show an understanding of their specific problems and how conservative solutions can fix them.
This next suggestion is related to the previous one. Don’t pander to the black community. Have you ever watched a McDonald’s commercial where all the actors are black? There’s some soulful background music, and one of the actors might throw a “Mickey Ds” out there to describe the place. Frankly, that turns me off, because it assumes things about black people that don’t always apply. I don’t like rap music, I can’t dance, I don’t play basketball, and the only time I ever say “Mickey Ds” is when I’m ordering the sweet tea for my son.
Honestly, when the former RNC Chairman, Michael Steele, who is a friend, started talking about bringing a “hip-hop” culture to the GOP, I cringed. Those kinds of campaigns are staged and insincere, especially coming from Republicans. Just be yourselves. Authenticity will win you more respect than pandering, which most people can spot a mile away.
By the way, as a corollary to pandering, don’t assume that running a black Republican candidate in a majority black district guarantees that person will get the most black votes. Black solidarity ends at the party line and, as a black state senator from Baltimore declared in 2006 when Michael Steele ran against, and lost the U.S. Senate race to Ben Cardin, a older white candidate who garnered the majority of the black vote, “Party trumps race.”
My next bit of advice is this: when you reach out to the black community, take off your Republican hat and put on your human hat, and show them that you care. Don’t rush in with an agenda of signing people up for the party; they don’t trust the GOP because the Democrats have done a masterful job of turning them against us. Pick an issue and build mid-to-long term alliances around that issue to show you’re committed to making their lives better.
School choice is one of my favorites, because increasing educational opportunities for black children is critical to their futures, and it’s one where the Democrats are determined to stub their toes rather than buck the unions. They’re counting on us to remain loyal in spite of the fact they’ve replaced George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door to deny us entry to a better education, and that gives us in the GOP an opportunity like none other to win hearts and minds in the black community.
Is your passion the sanctity of life? Work with the churches and community leaders to staff and support crisis pregnancy centers and adoption services as alternatives to abortion.
Are you an entrepreneur or financial expert? Set up classes on how to start and run your own business, or how to save and invest your money.
The old saying, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is true in every human relationship, and I always consider the example of Christ, who showed compassion for the poor and broken, and met their needs before he preached to them the Good News.
The next step is: be a Republican. I recall as a candidate for office, members of my staff were advising me not to sign a no-taxes pledge because it would tie my hands as a state legislator. I sought the advice of a political ally and longtime friend, and his response was simple. “Be a Republican.” I signed the pledge.
Republicans stand for certain values – limited constitutional government, fiscal responsibility, low taxes, reasonable regulation, free markets, the sanctity of human life, marriage and family as the first and most important component of an ordered society, national security, legal immigration and the rule of law.
Don’t change your values to win people over. If you go in as “Democrat Lite,” why should they come to you when there’s a real Democrat for them to choose from?
Last piece of advice; stay with it. When I was with the Bush Administration, I received an invitation from the White House to help them with their black outreach program. I enthusiastically signed up – and never heard from them again. The RNC gave a minority candidate college which I and several other potential candidates for office attended, and we networked and learned about how to run for office. We expected this to be the beginning of a long-term relationship between us and the GOP. I’ve never heard from anyone in the RNC since.
The RNC Coalitions office was recently disbanded after only a couple of years, and the function relegated to a secondary duty of the vice chairman. That sends the signal that outreach isn’t a priority – and perhaps, at the national level, it isn’t since they aren’t willing to invest long-term in anything that doesn’t win them elections in the short term.
The Republicans seem to give up on outreach when it takes too long to garner results. They have to realize that it took generations for blacks to move from the GOP to the Democrats, and it’s going to take a sustained effort to bring them back.
I don’t read minds, but odds are there’s someone out there thinking, “Well, heck, if we got to work that hard to get ‘em on our side, why bother?”
Good question. And here’s your answer: because you need us, and we need you, and time is running out.
You need us because without us, the liberals will continue their stranglehold on the black vote, and it will make it that much harder to defeat Barack Obama in 2012. Black votes in 2008 took Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio out of the Republican column, and there’s no reason to except they won’t go overwhelmingly for Obama again, although probably not in the record numbers that turned out in 2008.
More importantly, you need people of color to sustain the conservative movement, especially as we’re undergoing a vicious and concentrated assault from the other side. Columnist and author John Fund says the left became unhinged after the 2000 election recount was ended by the Supreme Court in favor of George W. Bush, and they’ve become increasingly thuggish and vitriolic ever since.
Whether we like it or not, this is a war for the soul of America, and conservatives need soldiers for the fight.
According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, America is on track to become what some call a “majority minority” nation by the middle of the century, so if you ignore people of color in your battle plans, you are planning to lose. You need us.
We need you to save us from the liberals and ourselves. The liberals have been experimenting on blacks, especially in urban areas, for 50 years, spent tens of trillions of dollars, and made things worse rather than better. In 1965, three out of every four black children were born into two-parent homes. Today it’s one out of every four. The black poverty rate has remained at twice the national average since the late 1960s, and currently stands at about 25 percent. These two statistics are inexorably linked; the poverty rate for black families with a married mother and father is at 8.3 percent, while among single-parent black families it’s 40 percent.
More black people have been killed by abortion than all other causes of death in the black community combined. 3,446 black people were lynched in America between 1882 and 1968. Abortion kills that many blacks in less than two and a half days.
Twenty-one percent of black children drop out of high school; among black males, the dropout rate exceeds 50 percent.
Black buying power is projected to be at $1.1 trillion this year, but the percentage of American wealth in the black community hasn’t changed appreciably since the Civil War.
The bottom line is that liberal policies put in place to help black people either kill or demean them – period.
We need the ideas and optimism and, most critically, the activism of conservatism to revive our communities and give us hope.
We need you to fight alongside us for school choice so the next generation of black children has a shot at a quality education.
We need you to work with us and “teach us how to fish,” how to turn buying power into investments and wealth through entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
We need you to defend life at all stages of development and make adoption in America an efficient and viable alternative so our babies not only survive, but thrive in loving, caring homes. There should never be any such thing in America as an unwanted child.
We need you to defend the importance of fathers to the upbringing of black boys to become men, because the black family has been devastated by welfare policies that discouraged fathers in the home, and contributed to 72 percent of black children being born out of wedlock.
We need you to create jobs and eliminate regulations and mandates that keep black unemployment, especially among our young people, unacceptably high.
Finally, time is running out for all of us. You’ve all read the reports about China overtaking the U.S. as the world’s dominant economy in just five years. You’ve heard about Standard and Poor’s issuing the first negative outlook on the U.S. credit rating in our nation’s history. You’ve seen nations like China and Japan seriously consider divesting themselves of U.S. debt, in China’s case up to $2 trillion. You know the states have a cumulative pension fund deficit of $1.26 trillion, and no ideas on how to close the gap. The nation has a $14 billion plus national debt, and Social Security and Medicare unfunded liabilities are at $107 trillion and counting.
To paraphrase an old saying, “When America sneezes, the black community catches a cold.” If America goes down, we’re hitting the ground first because we’re closest to the bottom.
Even before the global financial crisis struck, time was running out every year for another generation of black children lost in unsafe and ineffective public schools. Time runs out daily for the 1,452 black victims per day of abortion. Time runs out for the jobless, the penniless, the hopeless.
The clock is ticking.
We need each other. America needs us. It’s time for us to get to work.
Thank you for having me here tonight. I invite you to peruse and purchase my book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom’s Porch. This book is an autobiography, a history lesson, a challenge, a worldview outside the mainstream of black American thought, and a call for forgiveness, redemption and freedom from the shackles of race that still bind this nation more than 485 years after the first Africans touched American soil.
I promise you will be informed, moved, and blessed by it. Thank you for your kind attention.