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April 14, 2024

Elston Howard becomes the first Black player on the New York Yankees baseball team on this date in 1955.

Steele’s Disappearing Act

POSTED: February 23, 2009, 6:48 am

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Just when we thought the Republican Party had made a turn in the right direction with the selection of Michael Steele as their new chair, the former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland is missing in action.

As a firestorm erupted over an offensive cartoon in the New York Post that equated a monkey with the President of the United States, the GOP chairperson was conspicuously silent. Steele, no stranger to the airwaves, was missing in action as protests against the paper took place in New York in front of the headquarters of its parent company, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. We did not see a statement from Mr. Steele on where he stood on the publication of the cartoon or the official position of the Republican Party for that matter. Not a word. Silence.

It is during moments like this that Blacks question the sincerity and integrity of the GOP and its Black operatives. This one seemed straightforward. It should not have taken much thought for Steele to express his displeasure with the Post for printing the cartoon and condemning the artist for using racist imagery of a bygone era to score political points. This is where the rubber meets the road for Black Republicans. Will they confront racism or be apologists, only concerned about their own personal standing in a party that has become clearly hostile toward Blacks? To listen to Black Republican strategist Ron Christie claim, during an appearance on CNN, that there was no racist intent in the cartoon reveals the depths to which some strange variant of Stockholm Syndrome has taken hold of Blacks within the GOP. Christie apparently missed the caption of the cartoon that clearly alluded to Mr. Obama.

In many ways Black Republicans, such as Christie, and to some extent Steele, are the greatest barriers to the GOP gaining Black participation in the party. Issues such as the Post cartoon should have been a no-brainer. If Steele had forcefully denounced the cartoon, it would have sent a powerful message to Blacks that the Republican Party is no longer subscribing to racist tactics to gain political advantage. Though the New York Post is of course independently operated, its owner, Rupert Murdoch, is a known conservative. The paper consistently leans to the right in its editorial focus and news coverage, and it has a history of portraying Blacks in a negative light. Despite all this, we witnessed one Black operative dismiss criticism of the cartoon, literally suggesting Blacks were fanning the flames and interjecting race where it did not exist. Steele, on the other hand, simply disappeared.

At the same time the New York Post controversy is churning, Some Republican governors are indicating they intend to refuse some of the funds attached to the federal stimulus package. It turns out that the renegade governors are from states with large Black populations that are in desperate need of assistance during this recession. Still, Chairman Steele is silent. It would be refreshing to hear Steele remind his Republican governors that they stand to lose more if they are perceived to have denied help to Blacks in need during this economic crisis. We would be very disappointed if he did not speak up for those communities that stand to lose if their Republican governors play politics with the stimulus funds.

Now would be a good time for Michael Steele to show a new face for the Republican Party. It is losing credibility by the minute among Black Americans who see the party as tone deaf on matters of race and complicit in race baiting by institutions closely aligned with the Republican agenda. Steele faces a window of opportunity to realign the GOP that is closing fast. He will quickly lose credibility if he maintains the same degree of racial avoidance that has marked the GOP over the last four decades. It does not matter that he is Black. In fact, it will make things worse for the party if he presides over continued hostilities toward Blacks. It is why, in the absence of leadership that acknowledges the racial fault lines upon which the nation was built and the GOP still takes advantage, the Republican Party may be destined to become known for white resistance to change even with a Black at its helm.

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