Thursday, June 29, 2006

Out of the Republican closet: Black Like Me

Reginald Bohannon is a Republican.

That in and of itself is not remarkable. But what is unusual--although certainly not unheard of--is that he is a black Republican, raised in a culture in which 90-95% of the ethnic group to which he belongs is Democrat, and in a family with a politically active Democrat mother.

Not altogether unlike myself, actually, come to think of it (although I'm not a Republican; I'm an Independent).

And, in another similarity, Bohannon has written about his "change" experience, in a book entitled Coming Out of the Republican Closet: Coming to Terms With Being Black, Patriotic, and Conservative (it could be subtitled: not an oxymoron.)

Here's a recent interview with Mr. Bohannon. His "coming out of the closet" metaphor is especially apt, I believe. It's one that has come up quite often on threads on this blog that discuss the experience "changers" have had (see this, for example).

As you all no doubt know, "coming out" is a phrase that previously had been used primarily to describe the experience of gays who'd been hiding their sexual identities for fear of discrimination and recrimination, and who finally decide they can no longer live the secret life. They tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may; sometimes they fall hard and painfully.

Before my own change experience, I would not have believed in any possible comparison to the experience of gays; I actually might even have considered it preposterous if someone had asserted discrimination from liberals because of "turning" in a conservative--or a neocon--direction.

But now I'm a believer. Personal experience, and being the recipient of emails from all over the world describing the phenomenon, have convinced me. And yet I still feel some amount of shock at the depth and breadth of it all. I like to think--and really, I know, since I always had a few conservative friends--that in my liberal days I would never have had this reaction to a "changer." After all, doesn't it seem especially antithetical to the openmindedness and respect for opinions of others that liberals profess to feel?

But, as I've written before, a political identity is much more than that: it often becomes a moral and personal identity, and there are groupthink aspects that lead to ostracism of the apostate. Zell Miller likens political identity to a birthmark, and in a way it is.

In his interview, Bohannon discusses the tagline to his book, "Not wanting to disappoint his family and bring ill-repute on them, Bohannon chose to keep his political viewpoints to himself." He feared name-calling and anger directed not only at him, but at his family.

But over time he gained the courage of his convictions, bolstered by the history of the Republican party's support of freedom for blacks during and after the Civil War. An especially interesting aspect of his position is that he believes black people to actually already be more conservative on many issues than they themselves know. He sees himself as a person willing to point this out and make it easier for more of them to cross over into formerly-dreaded Republicanism. Bohannon sees the scarcity of blacks in the Republican Party as a function of lack of education as to what Republicans really stand for--now, and historically--and an incorrect perception of the Party as racist.

Bohannon says: takes some intelligence to be a black Republican because you have to do your homework. ...To be a Democrat, you just have to join the Party that your family belongs to and you don't have to learn anything at all.

No, it's not true that black Democrats--or Jewish Democrats, or any other ethnic or socioeconomic group that's predominantly and overwhelmingly Democratic, for that matter--are unintelligent. Not at all, and I would strongly quarrel with Bohannon's use of the word.

But I do identify with Bohannon's larger message--which is that, as I grew more interested in reading about political events, both domestic and international, as well as historical--I grew away from the Democratic Party and more to the right.

That certainly is not an inevitability; I know that some people go in the opposite direction. But, as I've written here, it appears to be a trend. Reginald Bohannon is part of it--and, if he has his way, more black people will join him.

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