It may have surprised some people that U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a hero of the Civil Rights Movement, came to South Florida recently to endorse a white incumbent congressman over a black candidate. Rep. Lewis, through the influence of another black congressman, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, came to help Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, repel a strong challenge from retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, a Republican and tea party favorite.
But it should not have been a surprise. As Rep. Lewis said, the whole purpose of the Civil Rights Movement was to shape an America where there were no color distinctions. It is a mission for which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life. It is a mission that helped pave the way for President Barack Obama to be elected to the White House in a nation that is overwhelmingly white.
Indeed, crossing racial lines to cast their ballots for white candidates is nothing new for black voters, just as millions of whites did for President Obama. The motivation, as in all politics, is serving one’s interests. But, for the most part, blacks have had to choose within the Democratic party, which they support in lopsided numbers. The ethnic line-crossing has generally been within the Democratic fold.
This year, both locally and at the national level, there has been a sharp increase in the number of black candidates who have offered themselves for election as Republicans. Increasingly, the choice is becoming not between a black and a white candidate but two black candidates. That is a good thing, on the surface. The complaint that the Democratic leadership takes blacks for granted has some validity and some diversification does not hurt.
But the main concern must always be what interests a candidate, any candidate, black or white, serves. That a candidate is black does not automatically mean that candidate is totally committed to the issues that are of great concern to blacks. Some may say it should but it is not always the case.
By that same token, as history has shown, being a white candidate does not, by any means, signify opposition to causes dear to the hearts of blacks – though, historically, that is where the opposition has come from.
The contest between Rep. Klein and Lt. Col. West provides a vivid example of how that scenario is changing. That the Civil Rights legend saw fit to come here to endorse Rep. Klein and repudiate Lt. Col. West merely underlines the chasm that exists between the challenger’s policy positions and the causes that the black community has traditionally held nearest to its heart.
Blacks may one day gravitate to some of the issues that Republicans espouse but it is highly doubtful that they will embrace any time soon some of the extremist positions of folks like Lt. Col. West.
Black, in the final analysis, is more than skin color.