Early in the 2016 election cycle, GOP chairman Reince Priebus declared that the GOP was “likely to have the most diverse presidential primary field in history—of either party.” If diversity is considered in terms of the varied ethnic heritages of the presidential primary candidates, he was right. And yet, 90% of the voters in GOP primaries this year have been white.
Reflecting on this reality, Stanford sociologist Corey D. Fields recently argued in the New York Times that “the image of black Republicans that the G.O.P. disseminates may actually dampen enthusiasm for the party–not only among the black electorate in general, but also among black Republicans themselves.”
Fields locates the problem in the fact that many high-profile black Republicans are committed to “colorblind” politics. He gives as examples Ben Carson, Mia Love, and Tim Scott who “acknowledge that being black is part of their life experience but reject the idea that racial identity should orient their political decision making. They often decry efforts, like affirmative action, to address racial inequality explicitly, claiming that such politics undermine black success.”
Colorblind politics, Fields argues, fails to represent race-conscious black Republicans as well as black citizens who might potentially vote Republican. These types of voters are more consciously linked to black communities and leverage their conservative politics to uplift the black community. They support the Republican platform but root their support in the particularity of their black identity. Fields gives the example of school vouchers, which race-conscious black Republicans would support not just for the sake of a free market, but for the empowerment of black parents.
Why should the GOP reject colorblind politics? Fields offers a pragmatic reason: if the GOP doesn’t move beyond colorblind politics, it will continue to lose potential black voters. Its national conventions will continue to look like a sea of melted marshmallows. Fields is right.
But for evangelical Christians, there is also a theological reason. Of all people, Christians should coalesce to move beyond colorblind politics into a new era of color-affirmative politics. Scripture teaches that God’s creational design for our world includes—and invites—unity-in-diversity. He gave each domain of nature an almost infinite diversity of variation. Where can you look in the created world and not see a multiplicity of colors, dimensions, and forms?
Scripture also teaches that Christ will return in order to institute a new political order that is characterized by ethnic unity-in-diversity. We are told that the new political order will consist of persons from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Rev 5:9-10) and even cultural treasures from those nations (Rev 21:24). The picture painted by the Bible is that God the Creator loves and affirms his creation in its diversity.
What should the GOP do? First, it should reconceive its platform to make clear that it is attentive and sympathetic to the concerns of black communities. It should address black voters in their particularity as black voters. If not, the GOP will continue to communicate implicitly that one must choose between blackness and conservatism.
Second, it should foster within its own ranks a healthier emphasis on particularity than the sort of “identity politics” that would seek only the interests of its own group. Black, white, and Hispanic communities should feel free to voice their interests within the Republican Party, and to voice those interests in distinctively black, white, or Hispanic ways. But in voicing those interests, they can be communicated in such a way that displays their merit for the common good.
Unity-in-diversity means that, in fact, these interests can be put on full display and at the same time reveal their merit for the common good. Our nation is now more diverse than ever in its history. Republicans will certainly make a tactical error if they do not move beyond colorblind politics. More significantly than that, however, they will fail to do the right thing.