I’m a black man who does not believe Tim Scott is a black token.
I’m also a black man who won’t be voting for South Carolina’s newest U.S. senator – the first black man from the Deep South to have such a post since the 1880s – when he faces voters statewide for the first time in 2014.
But he’s not an “Oreo.”
He’s not a sellout.
Never miss a local story.
He’s a relatively new member of the U.S. Congress with deeply conservative views and a voting record to match.
Gov. Nikki Haley appointed a qualified 1st Congressional District representative to replace outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint, despite the claims of tokenism from a variety of sources that include political science professors and commentators throughout the country.
His ascension into the Senate should be celebrated, not ridiculed by those so blinded by politics they can’t allow themselves to understand what it means.
That he was appointed by the first governor in the state’s history who was neither a man nor white makes it all the more remarkable.
South Carolina is known more for our fight over a battle flag that never flew over the Statehouse during the Civil War and our ugly, divisive past than racial progress, sins for which we continue to pay almost a century and a half after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
Now South Carolina is the state whose most powerful Democrat, Rep. Jim Clyburn, is black, whose governor is of Indian descent and where half of its Senate delegation wears skin with a hue that once would not have only disqualified him for any position of real power but made him the target of Klansmen disguised as law enforcement officials and judges.
The more progressive states of New York, California, Illinois and Massachusetts can’t make the same claim.
That fact alone makes Scott’s appointment astonishing – even more so because it comes via the major political party whose national fortunes going forward seem to be imperiled because it has yet to fully reckon with a more multi-cultural America that will be majority-minority within 30 years.
Maybe that’s what has gotten stuck in the craw of the opponents of Republicans, that one of their primary criticisms of the GOP has been undermined by Scott and Haley.
It doesn’t mean Republicans have solved their diversity problem, which runs so deep it can’t be remedied by a few high-profile positions being filled by members of minority groups.
That’s why the Democrat who runs against Scott in 2014 – no matter if he (or she) is black, white or Latino – will likely attract more black voters, just as white Vincent Sheheen will take more of the minority vote again in a race against Haley.
As it stands in the political world today, minority voters are more convinced that their interests better align with Democrats than Republicans.
That means health care policy, and educational policy, and immigration and justice system priorities, the same things that made them flock to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Scott’s views and rhetoric on those subjects match DeMint’s more than Obama’s, which is why if the state’s first black senator is to win a statewide contest, he must rely upon white conservatives more than black liberals unless he spends time the next two years cultivating coalitions with the likes of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as eagerly as he has done with the tea party.
I suspect that won’t happen. DeMint hailed Scott’s appointment because he knows Scott is unlikely to change his political stripes.
That’s the political reality. Voters and observers must weigh their support for and criticism of Scott through that lens, just as they do for every other candidate. That’s as it should be.
And that’s what most have done with Obama, despite claims that black voters chose him out of racial loyalty – their lack of support for Scott should put that myth to rest – and rural white voters avoided him because of race.
But that should not get in the way of the celebration that should come along with Scott’s appointment.
In the immortal words of our wise vice president, it is a big f---ing deal.