GOP minority outreach needs major work
Esther Cepeda November 9, 2012 2:20PM
Updated: December 12, 2012 6:32AM
Of all the morning-after fretting about the future of the Republican Party’s relevance in a majority-minority country, GOP strategist Chuck Warren’s comment was my favorite: “To be frank, we’re a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ world.”
That’s a clever way to describe what many Republicans have said for a long time — there’s no way for the GOP to swim against the current demographic tide.
A similar day-after treat was Newt Gingrich preaching what’s been apparent to everyone, it seems, except party elders. He told The Wall Street Journal the GOP must connect with minority voters and “simply has to learn” to appear more inclusive to minorities — Hispanics in particular.
Amen, Newt, but with a caveat. “Appear” more inclusive? No, that’s nowhere near good enough. The Republican Party must be more inclusive, and it can’t make the mistake of courting Hispanics at the expense of other minorities.
Easier said than done, sure. But though the task isn’t easy, it is pretty simple. The Republicans need only stick to a simple trifecta of inclusiveness — just remember what all constituents desire from their leaders: To be “connected, respected and reflected.”
I heard this little nugget of wisdom at a round-table discussion I participated in last month, “The Power of the Multicultural Consumer,” about new Nielsen consumer research on Asian-Americans, Hispanics and African-Americans. It was dropped in passing by Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, Nielsen’s senior vice president of public affairs and government relations.
“Being ‘connected’ to people of other backgrounds means you can’t just talk at people; you have to get them to feel something that makes them think you understand their culture,” she said.
One good way to start is to research the three largest minority groups and learn what they’re really about, as opposed to what you’ve assumed you knew.
For instance, African-Americans, the voting group with the longest history in America, is a deeply misunderstood, socioeconomically diverse electorate that, it seems, Republicans have ignored since Barack Obama was elected president.
Has there been a better time to capitalize on the disillusionment and doubt so many African-Americans felt as they re-elected a president who has been criticized for not embracing their issues in order to avoid showing favoritism?
“ ‘Respected’ means you have to value and respect me full time, not just during Black History Month or Asian-American Month,” Pearson-McNeil said.
I’ve complained plenty about selective “heritage month” attention, but Asian-Americans are an example of a minority that is overlooked completely. Amid the hubbub about the Latino vote — and as the black vote was being taken for granted — the fastest-growing racial group in the country again was left out of the conversation.
On Election Day, the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development sent out a news release repeating the quadrennial fact that most Asian-Americans were not asked by any campaign, political party or community group to vote or register to vote. Talk about a missed opportunity with a population that boasts the highest average sales and hiring among all immigrant-owned businesses.
“ ‘Reflected’ means I can see myself, my culture, my lifestyle in whatever you’re doing,” said Pearson-McNeil.
In truth, the Republicans did a pretty good job of this in one case with the number of diverse national political leaders — Hispanic, Indian-American and black — who spoke at the national convention in Tampa.
But obviously, this is not enough. The GOP’s young leaders must school their party elders on the prerequisite mind-shifts for connecting, reflecting and respecting: Hispanics are not all immigrants and not all immigrants live here illegally, Muslim-Americans cannot be routinely smeared with the term “terrorist,” and no politician needs to learn a foreign language to reach out — our common language is English.
See? Not easy, but simple.
Esther Cepeda is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.