This weekend, a book by Reginald Bohannon called, Coming Out of the Republican Closet: Coming to Terms With Being Black, Patriotic, and Conservative, caught my eye. So, I contacted Mr. Bohannon and set up a phone interview with him. What you’re about to see is an edited transcript of our conversation.
John Hawkins: I found this tagline from the description of your book interesting:
“Bohannon soon discovered that he was conservative. Not wanting to disappoint his family and bring ill-repute on them, Bohannon chose to keep his political viewpoints to himself.”
Tell us about that. Why would being conservative disappoint your family and “bring ill repute on them?”
Reginald Bohannon: Well, for one, 90-95% of blacks vote for the Democratic Party and my mom was — and still is — active with the Democratic Party in Lexington, North Carolina. If I..came out and told her that I was a Republican, she would…get (called names) and so would I — Uncle Tom, sell-out, Oreo and things of that nature.
So, once I did find out that I was conservative …I didn’t want the name calling and I hadn’t gotten up the courage to come out of the closet at that time. Once I learned more about conservatism and educated myself through talk radio, columns, and books, that gave me the courage to say, “Yes, I am conservative and I do vote for Republicans.”
John Hawkins: Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of polling data and I think that at least a third of black Americans should probably be voting Republican based on their views. Would you agree with that estimate? Do you think it’s high, low?
Reginald Bohannon: I think it’s much higher because blacks by and large are conservative, but what happens is that we automatically jump to the Democratic Party…without even determining whether we are conservative or liberal. That’s what I did. I basically went with the Democratic Party because that’s who my mom is with.
The majority of blacks are conservative, but they’re not aware of it. When I talk to people who are running for office or blacks in general, I tell them that I’m not necessarily trying to get them to change into Republicans, I just want them to see who they really are.
John Hawkins: The tag line for your book says that you, “grew up Democrat but switched to a Republican. Find out why.” So why did you switch from a Democrat to a Republican?
Reginald Bohannon: In 1988, I was in Atlanta and that was when the Democratic convention came to town — and Jesse Jackson was running. I said, “Great! This will be a good time for me to really get into politics.” I had never voted before and…so I volunteered with the Jesse Jackson campaign.
At that time, the Rainbow Coalition was at its height with Jesse Jackson getting blacks and Hispanics around the country (to register) for the Democratic Party. So, I thought to myself that if Jesse Jackson does not get the Presidential nomination outright, then he certainly would be selected as the Vice-Presidential nominee because (he brought in so many new voters for the Democratic Party).
Of course…they selected Lloyd Bentsen. That’s when I really got disgruntled. I said, “Wait a minute. I thought the Democratic Party was for minorities? Why didn’t they select Jesse Jackson?” That’s when…I decided to do my homework on both parties.
…(I) found out that the Republican Party was founded to combat and get rid of slavery. After the Civil War, they enacted so many laws that were favorable towards blacks. Then when the Democrats got control of the House and Senate, they repealed a lot of those laws.
…Once I discovered those things, I tried to take the easy way out by becoming an independent…Later on, as I got more knowledge and the courage, I finally just came out and told my mom after a big argument, over Christmas, about President Clinton and his peccadillos. I said, “By the way, I voted for Bob Dole!”
John Hawkins: (Laughs)
Reginald Bohannon: That was my official coming out right there, after a big blow up and argument with her. It was like I was coming out of the closet, like a gay person does with his parents.
…That was when talk radio was getting really big with Rush Limbaugh….Before Rush Limbaugh, a lot of people were in the closet with their conservatism, even whites. But, when Rush came out it gave conservatives a bigger voice and an understanding that yes, we’re out here and willing to debate the issues.
John Hawkins: How do you think the GOP should deal with the NAACP? Should they try to engage them, treat them as a partisan liberal organization, or do something else?
Reginald Bohannon: I would like to see (the GOP) try to engage them. Show them how they are conservative. Show them how the Republican Party was founded. A lot of people that are in the NAACP are into the church. More blacks go to church on a percentage basis than whites. So, it’s like we get our conservative principles from the Bible, in church, but when we step outside of that church then we all of a sudden become liberal. A lot of times, liberalism goes against our conservative beliefs, beliefs that we’ve gotten in the church.
What I would like to see the RNC do is point out the fact that blacks are conservative and even if you’re going to remain a Democrat, do not give up on your conservative beliefs and principles. Just like with gay marriage — blacks know gays, we have them in our families — we love gays, but by and large, we do not want to see them get married. But, the Democratic Party wants to see them get married, so in turn, the black elected Democratic leaders have to go along with that, even knowing that (most) blacks do not agree with gays getting married.
…The Democratic Party wants to accept any and everybody and whatever your issue is, once you come on in their tent — everybody has to agree with everybody else’s stance. That doesn’t bode well for black people in general.
John Hawkins: If, let’s say, George Bush, Ken Mehlman, Bill Frist and some of the other leaders of the Republican Party came to you and said, “We want to reach out to black Americans and bring them into the Republican Party. What do we need to say or do to make that happen?” What would you tell them?
Reginald Bohannon: …Get some talking points and show what the Republican Party stands for, what conservatism is. Reveal who these people are, reveal that they’re conservative. …A lot of blacks think the Republican Party is racist, but they (need to) hold onto their conservative beliefs and say, “This is the party I’m supposed to be in and if I think it’s racist, let me get into it and make changes.” But once they get into the (Republican) Party, they’ll see that the Party is not racist (like) the opposition is telling them…The Republican Party, conservatism, is our home. People like Bill Frist, President Bush need to say, “Come on home. This is your party. This is where you belong.”
Have blacks not just coming in to vote, but running for meaningful positions around the country. You see a lot of intelligent blacks running for office all around the country. Whether it’s in Maryland with Michael Steele or Ken Blackwell in Ohio…and it takes some intelligence to be a black Republican because you have to do your homework. …To be a Democrat, you just have to join the Party that your family belongs to and you don’t have to learn anything at all.
John Hawkins: …Thanks a lot for taking the time. I appreciate it.
You can get Mr. Bohannon’s book, Coming Out of the Republican Closet: Coming to Terms With Being Black, Patriotic, and Conservative, here.