Politics

11.06.12

Black. Female. Undecided.

It’s not easy being a Republican African-American woman—-particularly with Barack Obama on the ballot, writes Sophia Nelson.

Like many Americans, I take seriously the sacred privilege of being an American and exercising my right to vote each Election Day. Yet, as of the writing of this piece, surprisingly, I am still “undecided” in this hotly contested, very close presidential election. As a black woman, that makes me an anomaly because black women are the most loyal voting base of the democrats and President Obama.

Black Woman Redefined by  Sophia Nelson
"Black Woman Redefined," by Sophia Nelson. ()

I voted in my first U.S. presidential election in 1988, as a 21-year-old college senior living in California. I voted for then–vice president George H. W. Bush largely because I met this dynamic Republican named Jack F. Kemp, who was also running for the GOP nomination at the time. Kemp inspired me, impressed me, and sold me on the fact that our destiny as Americans (and maybe even more so as black people) was tied to our unique ability to be a nation of thriving compassionate capitalists, who could build our own businesses, keep government out of our lives, strengthen our national defense, and lessen our tax burdens, all while being committed to uplifting and empowering the poor and disenfranchised among us.

Being a young black girl raised in the suburbs of southern New Jersey and Philadelphia, I grew up in heavily Democratic territory, and the elected leaders who influenced my life were all Democrats. But after my encounter with then-representative Jack Kemp, former U.S. senator Pete Wilson (who I interned for in Washington) and two years later meeting a woman named Christine Todd Whitman, who almost defeated popular U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley in the 1990 Senate race in New Jersey, I realized much to my dismay that I was in fact a Republican.

I became a rising star in my political party pretty quickly, getting the nod to run for countywide and federal office all before I was 30 years of age in my native southern New Jersey. I performed exceptionally well for a young, black female moderate Republican in a Democratic stronghold. But somewhere along the way I became deeply disenchanted with the GOP, as I could see where it was headed. And for a young black woman, it was not a party with which I could identify at all on social and some economic issues that mattered to me as a woman or as a person of color.

Being a black Republican or conservative is not easy. In fact it is downright hard. Your blackness is questioned, you are called vile names,and you are labeled a “sell-out” or worse. Just ask actress Stacey Dash, who dared support Mitt Romney, or ask any number of African Americans from Armstrong Williams, former GOP chairman Michael Steele, to former GOP congressmen Gary Franks and J.C. Watts, or former secretaries of state ColinPowell and Condoleezza Rice. Your very right to choose who you want for president is condemned if you don’t toe the Democratic Party line. Worse than having your own racial ethnic group come at you with daggers is the abuse you take from within the very white, very conservative modern GOP itself. It simply adds insult to injury.

In 2008, I had had enough. The young senator from Illinois captured my attention with his mantra of “Hope and Change,” and his wife, now first lady Michelle Obama, just stole my “sister’s” heart and I knew then that I would support them if they won the nomination. Like many, I voted for President Obama in 2008 because of history. Yes, I wanted to see a well-qualified, passionate, visionary black man become president in my lifetime. Yes, I wanted to see a beautiful sister like Michelle Obama redefine the image of “womanhood” in America as the first black first lady. You got me. I plead guilty.

But I also voted against a Republican Party that nominated an old, yet honorable man in Sen. John McCain and an untested Alaska governor who had trouble with her words and knowledge of the issues. I voted against a Republican Party that has for decades veered from its best days. I voted against a Republican Party that slowly drove out good people like myself and many others, who were loyal, hardworking and committed to the values of economic freedom, growth, and prosperity the party heralds. We were driven out by people in leadership who frankly are racists (yes, I said it), who don’t like people who look like me or Michael Steele. They don’t see the need to reach out to black voters, or to talk to women about equal pay for equal work or equality in the workplace.

But like a good friend of mine (who is a prominent black Democrat) who watched the second presidential debate—and posted on her Facebook page that she was “impressed with both candidates because they were both attractive, smart, good men, who showed us democracy at its best”—I have been attacked on my Twitter page and elsewhere for daring to say there are some things I like about Gov. Mitt Romney, just as I like things about President Obama. This has got to stop. This is America, and we as black people should have a right to speak our political views without being assaulted verbally if we happen to like the Republican. So what is the conclusion? Whom will I vote for?

For the record, I don’t think journalists, columnists or pundits should say how we will vote. But in reality, we all know who Chris Matthews supports for President, just as we know who Britt Hume will support. We know that Rachel Maddow loves the President, and that the Rev. Al Sharpton would march into hell for him. We know that Sean Hannity detests the president and that Anderson Cooper probably leans Obama

So here is who I will likely vote for today: President Barack H. Obama. And here’s why:

I have had the privilege of covering the president and first lady for several years as a journalist and author, and I like them enormously as people. I like what they represent in their marriage, with their kids, and for young black kids who see their role modeling and aspire to be like them someday educationally and as people.

In 2008 I had had enough…. I voted against a
Republican Party that has for decades veered from its best days.

President Obama deserves what presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush had before him: A second term to right the ship of state, and deal with the issues he campaigned on in 2008 that will create more jobs, build a stronger America, help small business, and foster better bipartisanship. I do not agree with President Obama on many things, but he has earned a second term. I also expect the president to start addressing in the open black issues, 14.9 percent unemployment, etc., as loudly as he supports gay rights, Latino rights, and those for other groups.

Lastly, I think that Governor Romney is a good man and a smart businessman, too. I love the way he loves his wife and family. I think he would make a fine president if elected. Paul Ryan is a friend of 16 years. If he wins and I am asked to help him build a new GOP that is inclusive and cares about people like me, I will answer that call. I don’t want a job with the GOP, don’t need one. Been there, done that. I don’t like the people Romney has around him. I know them. But I would help a President Romney build a more moderate-centrist GOP, which is where it must head. But I cannot vote for Governor Romney this time, even though I am a lifelong Republican, because of his flip-flopping from past positions, because his surrogates like Virginia State Delegate Barbara Comstock (whom I worked for in the 1990s) and Gov. John Sununu are divisive, and because his lack of stances on women’s issues like equal pay, choice, affirmative action, and things that matter to me as a woman are not positions I can support.

In the final analysis, what matters is that you vote today, if you have not already. I wish each of the two candidates well. And pray that whoever wins will lead this nation back to prosperity, greatness, and strength abroad.