Virtual Event: Chryl N. Laird and Leah Wright Rigueur at Boston Book FestivalSteadfast Democrats (Laird) and The Loneliness of the Black Republican (Rigueur)

At the same time that racism is being used as a call to action by Republicans, Black voters are poised to be the determining voter block in 2020.  On-air political analyst and founder of The BeatTiffany Cross examines how the political system has excluded Black voters and how the media has been complicit in her “lively memoir and polemic,” Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy.  Bowdoin professor of government Chryl Laird, co-author of Steadfast Democrats, argues that Black voters are uniquely influenced by the social expectations of other Black Americans to prioritize the struggle for equality. Laird’s work explores how Black political norms are enforced and what it means for the future of Black politics. In her award-winning book, The Loneliness of the Black Republican, Kennedy School of Government professor Leah Wright Rigueur adds fascinating texture to the discussion with her study of conservative Black activists who fought to influence Republican policy. This discussion, led by Callie Crossley, host of Under the Radar on GBH Radio, is essential pre-election viewing. Sponsored by the Wagner Foundation, with media sponsorship by GBH.

About Steadfast Democrats by Ismail K. White and Chryl N. Laird

Black Americans are by far the most unified racial group in American electoral politics, with 80 to 90 percent identifying as Democrats—a surprising figure given that nearly a third now also identify as ideologically conservative, up from less than 10 percent in the 1970s. Why has ideological change failed to push more black Americans into the Republican Party? Steadfast Democrats answers this question with a pathbreaking new theory that foregrounds the specificity of the black American experience and illuminates social pressure as the key element of black Americans’ unwavering support for the Democratic Party.

Ismail White and Chryl Laird argue that the roots of black political unity were established through the adversities of slavery and segregation, when black Americans forged uniquely strong social bonds for survival and resistance. White and Laird explain how these tight communities have continued to produce and enforce political norms—including Democratic Party identification in the post–Civil Rights era. The social experience of race for black Americans is thus fundamental to their political choices. Black voters are uniquely influenced by the social expectations of other black Americans to prioritize the group’s ongoing struggle for freedom and equality. When navigating the choice of supporting a political party, this social expectation translates into affiliation with the Democratic Party. Through fresh analysis of survey data and original experiments, White and Laird explore where and how black political norms are enforced, what this means for the future of black politics, and how this framework can be used to understand the electoral behavior of other communities.

An innovative explanation for why black Americans continue in political lockstep, Steadfast Democrats sheds light on the motivations consolidating an influential portion of the American electoral population.

Ismail K. White is associate professor of political science at Duke University. White is the coeditor of African-American Political Psychology: Identity, Opinion, and Action in the Post-Civil Rights EraChryl N. Laird is assistant professor of government and legal studies at Bowdoin College. Twitter @chryllaird

About The Loneliness of the Black Republican by Leah Wright Rigueur

Covering more than four decades of American social and political history, The Loneliness of the Black Republican examines the ideas and actions of black Republican activists, officials, and politicians, from the era of the New Deal to Ronald Reagan’s presidential ascent in 1980. Their unique stories reveal African Americans fighting for an alternative economic and civil rights movement—even as the Republican Party appeared increasingly hostile to that very idea. Black party members attempted to influence the direction of conservatism—not to destroy it, but rather to expand the ideology to include black needs and interests.

As racial minorities in their political party and as political minorities within their community, black Republicans occupied an irreconcilable position—they were shunned by African American communities and subordinated by the GOP. In response, black Republicans vocally, and at times viciously, critiqued members of their race and party, in an effort to shape the attitudes and public images of black citizens and the GOP. And yet, there was also a measure of irony to black Republicans’ “loneliness”: at various points, factions of the Republican Party, such as the Nixon administration, instituted some of the policies and programs offered by black party members. What’s more, black Republican initiatives, such as the fair housing legislation of senator Edward Brooke, sometimes garnered support from outside the Republican Party, especially among the black press, Democratic officials, and constituents of all races. Moving beyond traditional liberalism and conservatism, black Republicans sought to address African American racial experiences in a distinctly Republican way.

The Loneliness of the Black Republican provides a new understanding of the interaction between African Americans and the Republican Party, and the seemingly incongruous intersection of civil rights and American conservatism.

Leah Wright Rigueur is assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.