If you tune in to the Republican Convention on television this week, you might get the idea that the delegates were cast by the Rainbow Coalition. Tight shots on the TV screen are full of African-American faces -- and not only the one belonging to that embarrassingly enthusiastic B.E.T. anchor who is helping add color to the coverage at CNN.
But inside the hall, the Republicans' red, white and blue doesn't leave a whole lot of room for black. Of the 4,853 Republican delegates and alternates, just 290 are African-American. The number may seem small -- and it is -- but the Republican Party takes pride in the fact that it's growing. A GOP press release says that African-American participation is up 65 percent since the last Republican convention.
Still, African-Americans comprise only 6 percent of the delegates and alternates in New York; by contrast, nearly 20 percent of the Democratic delegates and alternates in Boston were black. According to U.S. Census estimates, about 13 percent of the country's population is black. That means that blacks are over-represented, at least numerically speaking, among Democratic delegates and alternates and under-represented among their Republican counterparts.
Bush won just 9 percent of the black vote in 2000, and, even here in Madison Square Garden, there's little hope that he will do any better this year. "No, probably not," said Eric Brown, an African-American delegate from Tampa, Fla. Brown, a management consultant and the only Republican in his family. Brown added that Republicans and African-Americans need to do a better job of reaching out to one another. African-Americans are conservative, he said, but the party hasn't done enough to court them. "Both of us have got to work together. The Republicans have to sit down at the table with African-Americans and find a common ground."
So far, he said, the Republican Party has sent only one message to African-American voters: "Come in if you want to." Meanwhile, he said, "angry quote-unquote black leaders are out there saying, 'We don't support Kerry but you can't support Bush.'" Those leaders -- especially Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton -- have kept African-Americans from joining the Republican Party in anything but miniscule numbers.
That's the reality on the convention floor -- where you can walk through entire state delegations without seeing a black face -- even if it's not the one reflected on TV.