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African-Americans in a free society

By Keith A. Butler
web posted February 7, 2005

"A society is free if people have a right to express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm."  Natan Sharansky in his book, The Case for Democracy:  The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, presents this definition of a free society derived from his experience as a Soviet political prisoner for nine years and an Israeli politician for nine years after his prison release.  Mr. Sharansky further defines a critical benchmark in a free society:  "A society that does not protect the right of dissent, even if the society perfectly conforms to their own unique values and ideas, will inevitably turn into a fear society that endangers everybody."

The framers of our Declaration of Independence understood this principle when they adopted its language:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"  Unalienable means "not alienable; that is, not to be sold or transferred to another."  There are certain rights given to us by our Creator the ownership of which should not be sold or transferred to another.  Two of these are freedom of speech and freedom of thought.  These rights are afforded to all American citizens, African-Americans included.

Today minorities in this country are working to ensure that they receive their share in the American Dream. Noticeably, minority representation in both of our major political parties is evident:  their goal is the betterment of their community members.  With this common goal, differences in thought and how to solve the problems facing them are accepted and not viewed as some form of deviant behavior nor are they spoken of in mantras of betrayal.  Acceptance of these differing opinions does not translate into publicly berating or humiliating those differing.  Nor is their racial nationality disputed. 

While African-Americans in this country have made many strides forward we must strive further by accepting political differences within our communities.  Not all African-Americans think alike.  We do not do everything alike so why should all African-Americans belong to one political party.  We should not be monolithic in our political approach.  Our interests are better served by participation in both political parties.  Republican African-Americans should not be viewed as traitorous monsters who have defected to the "enemies" camp nor should we be branded "Uncle Toms" because we dare to believe that there are other solutions to the problems that plague our communities.  We do live in a free society where the unalienable, non-transferable rights of free thought and free speech are protected by our Constitution.  However, how free are we if any segment of society is forced to think only one way?  When the right to dissent is removed we are no longer "free."

African-American participation in the Republican Party is not an anomaly.  A careful examination of our history supports this.  In 1868 P.B.S. Pinchback and James J. Harris were African-American delegates to the Republican National Convention in Chicago; in 1870 Hiram R. Revels was elected to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Jefferson Davis.

As you journey through the years, you’ll find more African-American participation in Republican Party activities.  In 1960 Jackie Robinson, the first black Major League Baseball player, endorsed Nixon for President.  In 1966 Edward W. Brooke (R-MA) was the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate by popular vote.  The list continues to date with the current President, George W. Bush, in whose Administration we have seen a greater percentage of minorities, including African-Americans, participating in the Republican Party.

Too many issues -- high crime, poor education, and joblessness -- plague our communities.  The solutions to these challenges clearly do not rest in one school of political thought.  Working together in both parties is tantamount to the advancement and success of African-American communities around this nation.  We have fought a vigilant fight for our civil rights in this country.  We’ve marched, sung and protested.  Now what?  We cannot sit around expecting somebody to do everything for us.  We must do it ourselves.  We start by expanding our resource bases and using our talents and contacts in both political parties to find meaningful solutions to such issues as high crime, poor academic performance by our students and high joblessness rates that adversely affect members of the African-American communities directly and the collective communities indirectly.

The Scriptures teach us that a "house divided against itself cannot stand."  African-American participation in the Republican Party should be encouraged and not berated or demoralized by members of our community.  This schism does not serve the advancement of our people in this country.  African-Americans cannot continue down the vein of political myopia; we must look beyond one political party for the answers.  Many of us, either consciously or unconsciously, have "transferred" ownership of our thoughts to one political party.  We must be careful to avoid this lest we run the risk of becoming a monolithic population group within our free society.  If that happens, we negate the work of the civil rights movement; we negate the accomplishments of those before who have paved the way for the betterment of our communities.  If we are not careful 20 years from now we may find ourselves facing the same problems in our communities we have faced in decades past and present.

Keith A. Butler is the founder and pastor of the 21,000 Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield, Michigan.

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