Republican Congressman: My Black Dad Taught Me How to Handle White Supremacist Rhetoric
It is unbelievable the number of times over the past few months that an event or statement has required me to remind people that racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism and misogyny have no place in our country. It is unfortunate that 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, the House of Representatives, a body that I have the honor of serving in, had to have a vote condemning white supremacy in response to the idiotic comments of one of our own.
Sentiments of hate towards one another still permeate today’s world and there is still much work to be done to heal the divisions of racial prejudice. However, we have come a long way along the path of achieving the revolutionary vision that all men and women are created equal.
My dad is black and my mom is white. It was not in vogue to be an interracial couple in the 1970s in South Texas. After my parents moved to San Antonio, it took almost a year for them to find their first home. Real estate agents would give encouraging signals to my mom, but when she would return with my dad, the house would suddenly fall off the market.
On business trips throughout Texas, my dad was turned away at restaurants and hotels. Some of those areas are now the very places that have sent me to the Congress of the United States. I am honored to say that my home district is filled with people who judge the content of one’s character, not the color of their skin. It’s how an African-American could be elected three times to represent a district that is more than two-thirds Hispanic.
I carry my father’s experiences with me every time I walk onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. I am the son of a salesman and now a member of Congress — currently the only African-American Republican in the House.
My dad was one of the first black salesmen in Dallas in the 1950s, working for the American Tobacco Company and selling Lucky Stripes. Each day, he would pull up to gas stations across Texas in a company car and a freshly pressed suit. Before going inside, he would practice his pitch and imagine the face of the clerk and think to himself, “Buddy, today is your lucky day.” He did this for years with pride, even though he knew as soon as he walked in the attendant would curse at him, call him terrible names or demand that he leave. My dad persevered and made the sale more times than not.
Growing up he would tell my brother, sister and me that by the end of the exchange with these attendants, he would be shaking hands and asked to come back. He always believed in himself and taught my siblings and me to do the same. He told us, “Always have a P.M.A — a positive mental attitude.” This is one of the lessons that guides my life every day. And while I was born a decade after Dr. King’s death, I think this is a lesson he would want us to follow while we celebrate his life and his impact on America.
As a Republican, I believe it’s unfortunate that a perception still exists in the minds of some Americans that the GOP condones racism. Our party was built upon the beliefs of Abraham Lincoln, who took the significant step to put us on the long path for equality. Sadly, some people affiliated with our party have made racist comments that give legitimacy to hateful ideologies. However, my P.M.A. forces me to believe that we can change this perception through actions.
The House Republican Conference, under the leadership of Kevin McCarthy, took quick, decisive and necessary action to repudiate the most recent remarks. Conservatives must speak out and condemn any who give credence to bigotry. Dr. King reminded us that, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Otherwise, our deeply held belief in giving everyone a chance at the American dream will be drowned out by the loud and unconscionable beliefs of a few. When people start believing that the average Republican holds these beliefs, then every Republican suffers by association.
As I have crisscrossed the 29 counties of my district that is truly half Republican and half Democrat, I’ve learned way more unites us as a country than divides us. My friend and Republican colleague, Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina, recently wrote: “This is a uniquely fractured time in our nation’s history, not our worst but far from our best, and it is only together that we will rebuild the trust we seem to have lost in each other.”
I believe if we all take my father’s advice and have a P.M.A., we will be able to rebuild this trust faster.