Black Celebrities Have a Long History of Endorsing Republican PresidentsRoundup
tags: African American history, celebrity, Donald Trump, Ice Cube, 50 Cent
Leah Wright Rigueur is the Harry S. Truman associate professor of American history at Brandeis University and author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.
Black celebrities from Paul Robeson to Beyoncé have long been active in politics, using their bodies and their platforms to advocate for progressive policies, especially within the realm of race and civil rights. In the closing days of the 2020 election, a number of Black celebrities have channeled this “star” power into presidential endorsements. Figures such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, LeBron James and John Legend — who joined vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris at her closing campaign rally Monday — have all attempted to use their celebrity status and influence to boost voter turnout and raise money for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
But Biden hasn’t been the only presidential candidate to reap the rewards of celebrity recently. Over the past two months, a handful of high-profile Black celebrities — all of them men — have endorsed President Trump or revealed their willingness to work with him should he be reelected. Pointing to Ice Cube’s “Contract with Black America,” 50 Cent’s social tax tirade and Lil Wayne’s photo op and declaration of support for the president, many onlookers have struggled to make sense not only of Trump garnering this kind of support but also of the willingness of Black celebrities to provide it.
The alliances are made all the more surprising given that the president holds nearly a 90 percent disapproval rating among Black voters, while more than 80 percent see him as racist. Black voters dislike Trump not only for his racist policies but also because of their negative experiences under his presidency. The outsize reaction to these partnerships is rooted in a basic sense of betrayal: By endorsing or aligning with Trump, these Black celebrities are explicitly partnering with an administration, and an individual, who has been hostile to Black interests and Black life.
Though Trump’s newfound support from high-profile Black figures has ignited controversy, it’s not a new tactic. What may seem like a last-ditch effort to garner votes by the Trump campaign is in fact a well-worn political strategy designed to shield candidates from accusations of racism, while diverting attention away from individual candidates and their political administrations. In short, the GOP’s Black-celebrity strategy serves to distract the public from the fact that the party has long dismissed the importance of substantive political and policy outreach to Black communities.
Though rare, there’s a long history of Black celebrity endorsements of Republican presidential candidates, dating to the days when voting Republican was not yet taboo in Black communities. In 1936, Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens campaigned for Republican nominee Alf Landon, the governor of Kansas. In the midst of the Great Depression, Owens toured 30 states up and down the East Coast, declaring to more than 30,000 potential Black voters that the GOP candidate would protect economic rights, create more jobs and instill confidence in American businesses. That year, both parties believed that the support of a Black celebrity would help them make inroads among Black voters, but only one party offered to pay Owens, and he sided with the Republicans.
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