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Language in Thought and Action

Last week I was reflecting on how to better help the Republican Party get more Blacks engaged in the party and ended up taking a mental stroll down memory lane.

In my freshman year in college at Oral Roberts University, my freshman textbook for my English class was Language in Thought and Action. The author was former Republican U.S. Senator, S.I. Hayakawa from California. He was a university professor and linguist by training.

This book is must reading if you want to truly understand the art of communications and how to better ensure that the message you want to deliver to a person or group is properly received.

Herein lies the problem with the Republican Party when it comes to the Black community.

Republicans are horrible at messaging, especially when it comes to the Black community. In the rare event that the party or a campaign hires a Black, in most cases these hires have absolutely no understanding of messaging and communications.

One of my favorite quotes from Hayakawa’s book is, “meanings are in people, not in words.”

Republicans constantly talk about being the big tent party and the party of Lincoln. Well, that is not what the Black community is hearing by the words and actions of the Republican Party.

I have told this to Republicans ad nauseam, but they have yet to learn this lesson.

For example, when Blacks of a certain age hear Republicans use the term “conservative,” what they hear is Strom Thurmond or Jesse Helms (who were both members of the U.S. Senate and were strong segregationists during the Civil Rights movement). As soon as Blacks hear the word conservative, they shut down because no one ever takes the time to define the word and its meaning in the 21st century.

Another example is when Republicans obsessively talk about giving more power back to the states. Well, to many Blacks this evokes a painful memory and a painful history that they would rather not relive.

I thoroughly understand what Republicans are saying about giving more power back to the sates, but “meanings are in people, not in words.”

In effective communications, it’s not what you say that is important; but rather how your words are received by your targeted audience.

Just imagine a Republican standing before a Black audience today and constantly using the word Afro-American or Colored when referring to Blacks.

When Republicans today attempt to communicate with Blacks, they are using the functional equivalent of words like Afro-American and Colored.

The party and its candidates for various offices are totally wasting money and time with the current approach of communication they are using.

In any effective communications strategy, there must be two elements: an awareness phase and then a call to action.

The awareness phase asks the question what is it that I want to communicate to my audience; what is the takeaway message I want to communicate to my audience; and why am I talking before this audience?

The call to action phase asks the question, now that you have heard my speech, heard my radio spot, or read my comments to you, what is it that I now want you to do?

If you use the two above elements to analyze any Republican communication to the Black community, you will begin to understand why there is no mass movement within the Black community towards the Republican Party.

So, in order for Republicans to begin to effectively communicate with the Black community, they must first define their terms of engagement. When they use the term conservative, what do they mean; how do they define states’ rights? Why should Blacks be open or even listen to the Republican Party and its message?

I challenge Republican to answer these questions without talking about Abraham Lincoln, slavery, or mentioning Civil Rights; or using meaningless phrases like the party of smaller government, less government regulation or individual freedom.

In other words, what is the relevance of the Republican Party to the Black community in 2016?

Notice when Republicans engage with the Black community, there is never a call to action. There is never an email address given to contact a specific person; there is never anyone asking the Black community to “join” the Republican Party by doing this or that. In other words, no one asks for the sale.

If the actress Halley Barry gives you her phone number so you can stay in touch with her and you have many great phone conversations; but you never ask her out to dinner, what have you accomplished?

I had lunch last week with a Black A-list football player who has coached a major Republican presidential candidate’s son. I asked him has this candidate ever asked him to campaign with him and he said no.

You have got to be kidding me. They talk frequently and he has all of this candidate’s private numbers. This is exhibit A in my frustration with the Republican Party.

Republican Presidential Candidates Lack Diversity

Once again, Republican presidential candidates are proving that they are either truly colorblind or just blind to people of color.

What is it that all these declared Republican presidential candidates all have in common: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump?

The answer is none of them have any paid Black staffers or consultants. Let me be perfectly clear when I say staffers or consultants; I am referring to people who can get meetings on the calendar with the candidate, call the candidate on his private cell phone, or get the candidate to show up somewhere.

In other words, staffers or consultants who have power and influence to make things happen.

How can you run for president of the United States in the 21st century and have absolutely no diversity on your staff?

Lawdy, lawdy, I can hear their responses now. We are focusing on Iowa and New Hampshire; and then if we become the nominee we will look to hire Blacks they will say. So, in their minds, a Black staffer or consultant can only operate in states that have Blacks? Oh really?

To be a Black Republican, we must be able to operate in a White environment as well as a Black environment simultaneously.

Republicans have absolutely no understanding of this dynamic. So, if you are dealing with limited funds and you have to hire staffers or consultants; you are better off hiring a Black simply because you get a twofer.

You can’t take a White staffer and put him in the Black community and expect success because this staffer does not have an understanding of the various nuances within the Black community. Conversely, you can send a Black to deal with the White community if they have the right skill set.

For example, as a graduate of Oral Roberts University, I have deep relationships within the White Evangelical community second to none; but I also have deep personal ties with the heads of almost every major Black professional organization in the country (journalists, accountants, lawyers, physicians, M.B.A.s, etc.).

So, just on the fiscal issue alone, there is an immediate return on investment for having a policy of diversity at the highest levels of a presidential campaign since you get a twofer by hiring the “right” type of Black.

The other issue is that of optics. You have yet to see a Black person get off a plane or out of a car with any of these candidates. The sad part is the candidate nor his staff is even cognizant of this situation.

The candidate is ultimately to blame for this; but it is also the fault of their pollsters. I know most of the Republican pollsters very well, and with the exception of one, they all tell Republicans to ignore the Black vote.

On several occasions I have nearly come to blows with these pollsters over this issue. They are propagating this myth of the Hispanic voter and Republicans are buying into it. Blacks far outnumber Hispanics in voting age population (VAP); Blacks vote in far higher numbers than Hispanics; and Blacks have a far higher turnout percentage than Hispanics.

Isn’t it amazing that some of these candidates are courting Hispanics in Spanish; but refuse to speak to Blacks in a language that they understand?

Blacks understand the language of entrepreneurship. Under Obama, Black businesses have been decimated. Blacks have gone from receiving 8% of S.B.A. loans under Bush to 1.8% under Obama (their own numbers).

Blacks understand the language of education. Under Obama, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been decimated because of the policies coming out of the Department of Education.

These are two issues that play to the Republican’s strength; but yet they refuse to go into the Black community with this message. Instead, they foolishly go into the Black community talking about prison reform issues. H-E-L-L-O! These are not major issues within the Black community.

This is a typical case of Republicans trying to do the right thing; but doing it the wrong way. Too many Republicans think they and their White staffers know more about the Black community than a Black person from the community.

Message to Republicans: you can’t run on a platform to represent all of America when America is not represented on your campaign staff.
As the old folks used to say, “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a damn thing you are saying.”