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Kay Coles James has had many leadership roles in government and nonprofit organizations: She was Virginia’s secretary of Health and Human Resources and President George W. Bush’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and is now president of the Gloucester Institute, a leadership training center for young African-Americans (see “Climbing out of the cradle,” Feb. 11, 2012).
Some conservative websites have examined voting patterns in last November’s election and charged fraud in those African-American precincts that voted 100 percent for Barack Obama. My sense is those results are real. What’s your sense? Real. If you have been a part of an African-American community as I have for all my life, it’s no surprise. Conservatives often think people are voting on the basis of policy analysis and if we just told our story better they would vote with us. The vote actually has a lot to do with the journey that African-Americans have been on in this country, and understanding where we are emotionally.
You recently saw the new movie Django Unchained—what did that show you? Django Unchained is about a slave who has the opportunity to be free and become a bounty hunter. He had a license therefore to—as he says—“go kill white people.” The movie is extremely violent. For the average person who may be skittish about those things, I would not recommend it. But if you are a culture warrior and want to understand a lot of the dynamics going on in our culture, you should go.
Why? Because when you understand the horror of slavery, and when you see it graphically on a screen in front of you, and when it is settled in your DNA and has been a part of the oral history of your family, you come to understand why large groups of people in this country say, “I don’t care if Obama runs the whole dadgum country off the cliff! I don’t care if Obamacare screws up the entire American healthcare system! We got a black president and I’m voting for him!” I saw that movie in an all-black theater with people cheering at what I thought were inappropriate times, but we need to understand that.
Do conservative Christians tend to understand that? I am extremely concerned about the inability of the Christian community, the conservative community, and the Republican Party to deal with the browning of America. We tend as conservatives to stay right in our communities, to hold rallies where we get ourselves energized.
I’ve interviewed white conservatives who say civil rights problems are part of history, but race now is not that big a factor. Is this—white folks talking? It certainly is and I’m glad you said it because I was about to. I was a part of that group that integrated the schools in the South. I had to go past dogs to go to algebra. I know what that’s like. Overt racism in America is gone. Thank goodness it is no longer socially acceptable to be a racist. But covert racism is alive and well. I see it every day in subtle ways. To be standing in a line at a cosmetic counter and to be ignored three times while they wait on the person next to you. One of my very dearest, best, closest friends became upset because her daughter was dating a black guy. To be involved in a white church and you’re part of a Bible study and everybody in the Bible study goes on vacation together but they didn’t invite you.
After last November’s election, do you see any new GOP attempts to reach out? I probably had a not-so-pleasant conversation with every conservative and every Republican leader during the 60 days after the election because they have given up on the black community. People were saying “Those precincts were 100 percent, write them off, let’s focus on Hispanics and women and maybe youth.” Well, I was involved in the Republican and conservative movements because I thought those values and ideals and principles were the ones that I needed to save my community. When they write off those precincts, they have written off my community.
You feel used? They’re telling me I was only important and significant to the degree that I could help them stay in power and advance their agenda. When I was no longer useful for that effort, I am no longer useful to them. I believe in self-sufficiency and independence. I believe in principles like “don’t spend more than you earn.” I believe in limited government because limited government gives you the most freedom. But I met recently with young African-American conservative professionals and said, “I have a newsflash for you: The cavalry is not coming. There is no one coming to save us. The conservative movement, the evangelical movement, and the Republican Party don’t care about us anymore.” … I am no longer useful. I had better change my name to Maria Sanchez and then maybe I can get some attention. We use people and then spit them out.
So you have white Republicans using you, and when we talked earlier you mentioned the depiction in Django Unchained of the difference between the field workers and the house workers—some African-Americans call you a house worker? Oh, you’re being kind but I get it, go ahead.
You don’t get respect. Yeah, yeah.
So, where’s your community? My community—First, I am a part of the Kingdom of God. I am the daughter of the Most High and I am an ambassador here traveling in a foreign land. Second, they’re all my communities. Yes, those of us who are black Republicans like to get together when there are no white folks around and talk about how they use us—but we allowed them to. They only used us because we let them, because we are pro-life and we do care about that issue. We allow them to use us because we do believe in limited government and we want to fight and make sure this country stays economically sound. So our agenda—you can use me as long as you’re using me for what I want to be used for.
And you use them ... And I use them, yeah—well, not as effectively as they use me but I’d like to. You can’t use me against my will. I am a conservative because I love my people and believe that conservative values will lift and empower my people. They’re not as much conservative as they are biblical values. … There’s nothing I believe that my grandmother didn’t believe: Black conservatives are nothing more than those who have the audacity to believe what their grandmothers taught ’em.
Watch Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Kay Coles James:
For more from this interview, see “MLK and today’s African-American opportunity.”