Julian Bond Urges a Consideration of Race and Politics in Upcoming Elections
NAACP chairman Julian Bond delivered a spirited defense of affirmative action and affirmed African Americans’ growing political clout in the kick-off to Black History Month 2007 at Reed.
Listen to the full lecture.
PORTLAND, OR (February 13, 2007) – Veteran civil rights leader and NAACP chairman Julian Bond told a packed auditorium at Reed College that the Republican Party should try to compete with the Democratic Party for black votes, and that the race of political candidates should be one of several factors that African American leaders and voters consider as they assess the upcoming presidential and congressional elections in 2008.
Bond spoke in the kick-off event for Reed College’s Black History Month celebrations on February 2. After delivering his formal lecture, “Civil Rights: In the Day, Today, and Tomorrow,” Bond answered questions posed by members of the audience.
He was asked by a Reed College student whether blacks should support black candidates just because of their race. “I understand that for many black people, if John Smith runs for office, and John Smith is black, then many people feel a natural attraction to him,” said Bond. “You assume that because he’s like me, then he feels what I feel, and will act in my interests once [he] is elected into public office.” But, Bond added, not all African American politicians have blacks’ political interests—including voting rights—at heart. He cited as an example the African American former secretary of state of Ohio, Kenneth Blackwell. “He made it oh-so-difficult for people in Ohio to register to vote,” Bond charged, ”when in fact, his job was the opposite—to make it easy for people. He rejected voter registration forms because the paper was too thick—he did all sorts of awful things, and black Ohioans, having known him for a long time, did not support him. They supported the man who won, Ted Strickland. Strickland is the governor of Ohio today. So all I can say about this is, everyone who is my color is not my kind. . . . I like to examine what people stand for in addition to how they look, so if they’ve got both, that’s just great.”
Bond was also asked about recent efforts by the Republican Party to appeal to African American voters, and whether Republicans are making inroads among socially conservative African Americans on issues such as gay marriage.
“I would hope there would be a relationship between the Republican Party and black Americans, just as there’s a relationship between black Americans and the Democratic Party,” said Bond. “But whenever one political party aligns itself with the most retrograde and reactionary ideas in the public, I’d hope that black people would not align themselves with that. If you look at the political profile of black Americans, about 10 percent of black Americans are Republicans and regularly vote for the Republican Party in every election. In the most recent election, that figure went up about two or three percent, and I don’t doubt that it’s due to the party playing to the prejudices and ignorances of certain members of the community who believe that if people are gay, they just say ‘I don’t want to be gay’ and then they won’t be gay anymore. But that’s like me saying ‘I don’t want to be black anymore, and hey! I’m not black anymore!’”
Bond also said that President Bush’s religious politics had enticed some black ministers to support the Republican Party. “I know that the president’s faith-based initiative spread lots of money—not just to conservative ministers, but to ministers of all stripes and shades of opinion. . . . If you give me some money, I’ll feel more kindly disposed toward you. But I like to hope that black Americans maintain a fairly long tradition of being on the progressive side of things, not on the reactionary side of things.
“But that doesn’t mean I don’t want the Republican Party to compete for my vote,” Bond continued. “When I go into the polling place, I want to be able to say ‘I’ll vote for these people because they’ve done A, B, and C, but maybe these people because they have done E, F, and G.’ But right now, I’m going to the polling place and these people have done A, B, and C, and these people haven’t done diddly-squat and are trying to tell me they’ve done something.”
Bond was also asked by a Reed College student whether he listens to hip-hop, and whether he thinks civil rights leaders of his generation need to understand the music that is popular with young people. Bond replied: “This is not a subject on which I’m really qualified to speak, since it’s not the music I listen to. I know it’s immensely popular worldwide, with hundreds and thousands and millions of advocates and supporters—but not for me. But I’m sure that some of it has important political messages—in fact, I know some of it has important political messages. . . . My musical tastes were arrested in about 1967-68, maybe 1970, and since then, I dedicate myself to one theme, and that is: see them before they die, because I’m thinking about all the people I could have seen, I didn’t see, and I can’t see now.”