A recently published letter to the editor of a Philadelphia-area newspaper laments the Republican Party’s growing focus to be more inclusive of non-white minorities (at the expense of the white majority), using South Carolina’s Governor-elect Nikki Haley as an example:
But the GOP leadership is just as obsessed with diversity and skin color as white liberals are; in fact, they seem almost embarrassed to be the de facto party of whites, and they work hard to change this image. They have made inroads in 2010:
The new Republican governor of South Carolina is Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian/Sikh immigrants and a Tea Party darling. Susana Martinez will be the first female Hispanic governor of New Mexico, the first female Hispanic governor ever, and a Republican.
The author of the letter has a point, in as far as the Republicans targeting minorities is concerned. However, his claim that the Republican Party is losing its focus on white Christian America, is simply an exaggeration.
According to Nick Ayers, a director of the Republican Governor’s Association, Haley’s appearance was politically advantageous:
“I thought it would be icing on the cake that she had darker skin and was Indian-American.”
Her appearance would allow the Republicans access to the Indian American vote, while still campaigning on Republican principles.
However, icing does not make the cake, as appearance does not make reality. The letter’s author misses the trials Haley faced during her campaign because she looked different, despite every effort to distance herself from her ethnic, cultural and religious roots:
Haley’s religious background surfaced as an issue during the primary, forcing her to clarify that she’s raising her two kids Methodist, that the family regularly attends a Methodist church, and that she only occasionally visits a Sikh temple, when invited by her parents.
Among rank and file Republicans, it appears that non-Christian/non-white minorities still encounter barriers to acceptance. During her campaign, ” …the two-week runoff featured a whisper campaign challenging Haley’s Christian credentials“. Another prominent Republican used an ethnic slur to describe her. That she wasn’t Christian enough was considered a weakness, and Haley made it a point on her campaign website to describe her conversion and dedication to Methodist Christianity. Any attachment to Sikhism, Punjab or India was portrayed to be only superficial.
It is unfortunate that Haley’s background was made a target and considered a weakness. As Haley describes, her parents insulated her from the “limitation of being Indian“. However, for many of us, our religious and cultural background is a strength. Those who succeed by using their background as a foundation to build on (rather than a wall to be destroyed) are, really, the true pioneers.
The effect that minorities have on the Republican Party is probably much less than the effect that the Republican Party has on minorities, especially those who wish to join that party on shared ideologies. The letter to the editor only gives credit to the theory that at best, those of color or other religious background are only welcome in so far as it might confer to the Republican Party an in-road to the minority voting bloc to facilitate representation of the majority.
As such, the Republican Party is still, for all purposes, the party of white America. Those candidates who come from minority communities and who take up this cause need to, as Haley has done, find a balance between being different on the outside, but not too different. You can vary the icing, but the cake must remain the same.