Listening to black delegates

Black delegates to the Republican National Convention are saying things worth listening to, whatever one's party. By looking to the GOP as their hope, they challenge it to follow through with deeds on its new drive to win the allegiance of blacks. And they challenge the Democrats, who have for so long taken blacks for granted, to show they are capable of responding in fresh ways to the views these delegates represent.

"I don't think we can stand another decade of demeaning our government," one black delegate comments. From experience in Washington he knows there are federal programs that could give government a good name if they were carried through with zeal, efficiency, and the proper allocation of human resources. What he would like to see come out of this Detroit convention is a ticket including a vice-president who would take on the job of making government work. "We talk of private enterprise, but private enterprise looks to government for strong leadership."

Another black delegate says he is a Republican in order to restore a genuine two-party system, with the accountability it provides: "You can hold people responsible for what they do or don't do." He says that "if the black folk are ever to achieve their proper status in life there has to be a viable two-party system in the black community." He favors the free-enterprise approach of "the individual going as far as his individual merit will have him go." One key is to help black businesses develop.

But the path of the small businessman -- or businesswoman in this case -- is difficult, says another delegate: "In this country it's harder to borrow $5,000 than $5 million."

"Get government off our backs and let us produce," says a member of her delegation. "Blacks will never get into the mainstream of American society from the welfare side. It has to be from the productive side."

One of the worst things to happen to black Americans, they agree, is to take away their incentive to become productive citizens. Dr. Aris Allen, a black physician who is secretary of this GOP convention, gets specific. He looks for passage of a bill in Congress to help minorities buy homes, and of another to give employers incentives to hire minorities and train them for definite jobs. "If you create jobs, people will work," he says.

The Republicans today seem responsive to the black minority. The national committee reportedly has retained a black consulting firm to help white candidates in appealing to blacks and to recruit blacks themselves as candidates. And the 1980 platform deals at some length with black Americans, calling for equal rights, enforcement of civil rights statutes, nondiscriminatory government appointments, and attention to black economic problems through incentives to private enterprise and economic growth.

As of this convention there are only 56 black delegates, maybe 3 percent of the 1,994 total. Yes, sometimes one of them just sounds like a pol. But, as we said, this minority of a minority also has some things to say that the majority needs to hear.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.