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Fear of a Black Republican

“Does the Republican party really want more African Americans?” That’s the disingenuously phrased question asked by this documentary. Of course the answer is yes—no political party wants fewer voters. The real question is, is it willing to do anything to get them?

A white resident of Trenton, New Jersey, a city that in the last 50 years has experienced “white flight” on a level similar to Buffalo, Kevin Williams thought it odd that all of his local politicians were Democrats. When he offered to put up door hangers for George W. Bush in 2004, he had to badger the local Republican party office to get the materials. So he decided to document the efforts of African-Americans running for national office, to see what kind of hurdles they faced and what kind of support they received from the national party.

Fear of a Black Republican makes its most important point early on. In a system where only two parties have any real access to public office, a group that is written off by one party will be ignored by both of them. If Republicans assume that blacks will vote for Democratic candidates and fail to go after their votes, there’s no reason for the Democrats to put any effort into courting them either.

But it hardly follows logically that African Americans should therefore vote for Republicans. Williams takes it as a given that his party is the one to go for, but offers no reason why African Americans should agree with him.

What makes watching Fear of a Black Republican an odd experience is that it doesn’t believe it’s a partisan effort. The Democrat-bashing is minimal (though inevitable given filming at CPAC and an appearance by Ann Coulter). Williams is right in saying that democracy functions most effectively when competing interests have to work for votes. But his film overlooks the most fundamental calculation: If most African Americans are working class, and the Republican party is seen as the party of the rich and the upper class, then they are going to vote for the party that is seen as standing up for their economic bracket. It’s not a race issue, it’s a class issue. Rather than address this seemingly obvious factor, we see too many Republican backers and strategists condescendingly suggesting that African-Americans vote Democratic simply out of habit, as if to imply that they’re not smart enough to do otherwise.

Fear of a Black Republican will be screened next Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings (October 26-28) at Squeaky Wheel, 712 Main St (884-7172). Filmmaker Kevin Williams will be in attendance for all three shows.

Watch the trailer for Fear of a Black Republican

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