Since Michael Steele became the chair of the RNC, he has attempted to change the image of the Republican Party in the Black community. We have heard much about “hip hop conservatism” in his bid to make it appear as though the GOP are interested in racial diversity.
The GOP is very much aware that a change in racial dynamics means that the Southern strategy, which they have employed as a path to the White House, must change if they are going to remain politically relevant. Rather than making substantive changes that people can believe in, they have decided to get themselves a figurehead, a.k.a Michael Steele.
When Steele appeared at last year’s State of the Black Union, he was the only panellist to be booed. Despite his race, he has failed to make even the most basic connection with the Black community. Some would say that his tenuous position was forever destroyed after he apologized to Rush Limbaugh for comments he made on the now defunct D.L. Hugley show. Limbaugh is a demagogue who preys upon the fears of a decline in White privilege to maintain his talk radio empire. Few so clearly embody the face of White hatred as Rush Limbaugh, and it was to this man that Steele apologized.
Steele has not been able to resurrect his image since. In yet another disastrous attempt to connect with the Black community, he started a blog called “What Up.” His efforts continue to seem insincere, even offensive. Obama appealed to the Black community not because he used phrases like “yo my brotha,” but because he was authentically himself. Blackness cannot be reduced to a few catch phrases and a good jump shot.
Michael Steele has been repeatedly referred to as a sell-out and an Uncle Tom. Ironically, this implies that Steele is not Black enough, even while it is critical of Steele’s reductive approach to the Black community. In response to the “What Up” blog, a Twitter tag, #BlackerThanMichaelSteele, appeared. The twitterverse made its feelings clear with tweets like:
The Osmond family is #BlackerThanMichaelSteele, Casper the Ghost is #BlackerThanMichaelSteele and Michael Jackson’s ghost is #BlackerThanMichaelSteele.
By simply using the #BlackerThanMichaelSteele tag, Twitter users were able to display their displeasure with the pandering that Steele has engaged in. This little game went on for hours and is a reflection of exactly how out of touch Steele is with the community he seeks to gain approval from.
Yet ultimately, both Steele and his detractors have actually fallen into the same trap. What exactly is Blackness? What does it mean to behave like someone who is Black? In many inner city areas, there is a belief that speaking grammatically or getting good grades is acting White. During the election, despite identifying as an African American and having an African American wife, Obama faced the same sort of criticism.
We use the term “Black community” because there exists a shared experience of racism, but this does not account for the diversity that this label subsumes. Blacks are homeless, Blacks are astronauts, civil servants, criminals, lawyers, etc. How can we say that there is one way to be Black or even perform Blackness, when so many different people are already involved in this so-called community?
Michael Steele inspires anger, because he is understood as not acting on behalf of the greater good. No matter where you fit in the great community that is Blackness, positive gains are always desired. Racism clearly acts to hamper everyone. Therefore, when a Black man is understood to be facilitating White hegemony, he is found universally contemptible.
We must remember, though, that the problem is not that Steele isn’t “Black enough,” because throughout the history of African Americans in the Global North, there have always been those who put their interests ahead of the collective. We may not want to own Steele because of his actions, but to question his Blackness is to reduce the community to a living, breathing hive mind.