Whitney Houston died at the age of 48. Most articles about her death said something like, “Houston struggled with drug and alcohol problems for years…”
But Houston also struggled with something else that black Republicans and black non-Democrats can understand: ridicule and ostracism for “selling out,” or “acting white,” or not being “black enough.”
Ebony, the black monthly magazine, wrote about the then-27-year-old: “Black disc jockeys have chided her for ‘not having soul’ and being ‘too white.’… She was booed at the Soul Train Music Awards…. It’s enough to drive a good Christian girl to drink, drugs or at least to cursing. But not Whitney. Though it hurts her deeply, she handles it all with aplomb.”
After Houston’s marriage to Bobby Brown, and after years of Houston’s erratic behavior and rumors of drug abuse, I spoke to singer-actress Della Reese, a longtime Houston family friend. Reese and I were in the greenroom of a television studio, and we talked about Reese’s career. I told her that my mother remembered having seen a young Reese at a Washington, D.C., nightclub called either “The Cave” or “The Cove.”
She laughed and said, “The Cave.”
We talked about then-current Whitney Houston/Bobby Brown headlines. “I have a theory about Whitney Houston,” I said. “I’ve been called ‘Uncle Tom,’ and I know how that feels. I think Whitney was so hurt by being called a ‘sellout’ and ‘acting white’ — and crap like that — she wanted to change her image. What better way to do that than to marry a bad boy? And the drug abuse makes her a flawed person fighting to overcome her demons. Makes her relatable.”
Reese, a close friend of Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mom, said: “I know the family well. And there’s a lot of truth in what you’re saying.” Reese gave me permission to discuss our exchange, as long as I made one thing clear. Reese said: “The human voice is very forgiving, and Whitney is working things out. And she will come back.”
Black Republicans can relate to the name-calling.
A black St. Petersburg Times columnist wrote this about black Republicans: “Some creatures are just plain strange, making us do double takes because their compositions or habits or appearances defy our sense of logic and our way of viewing reality. Take the wildebeest, the warthog, the hyena, the brown pelican, the Shar-Pei. These animals, seemingly wrought by committee, make us laugh or shake our heads.
“Another such creature, of the human kind — and perhaps the strangest of all — is the black Republican….Black Republicans fail to understand that white Republicans will never accept them as equals. Although they will not acknowledge the truth, white Republicans, like most other whites, view black Republicans as strange creatures.”
The 27-year-old Houston, in Ebony’s 1991 interview, admitted being called “too white” hurt her: “‘Picture this,’ she says…. ‘You wake up every day with a magnifying glass over you. Someone always is looking for something — somebody, somewhere is speaking your name every five seconds of the day, whether it’s positive or negative….
“‘And don’t say I don’t have soul or what you consider to be ‘blackness.’ I know what my color is. I was raised in a black community with black people, so that has never been a thing with me. Yet I’ve gotten flak about being a pop success, but that doesn’t mean that I’m white….Pop music has never been all-white.'”
Black Republican Michael Steele was a lot older than 27 when, during his 2002 Maryland campaign for lieutenant governor, he was derided as “Simple Sambo” and depicted as a black-faced minstrel. At a gubernatorial debate, Oreo cookies were distributed by the opposition. The Washington Times later wrote: “Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, a black Baltimore Democrat, said Mr. Steele invites comparisons to a slave who loves his cruel master or a cookie that is black on the outside and white inside because his conservative political philosophy is, in her view, anti-black.”
You don’t have to be black to demean a black Republican.
The tea party supported Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., a black man who denounced Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, and urged them to “get the hell out of the United States of America.” Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., a white man, said that West is “not representative of the African-American community.” About West, a former Army colonel who saw action in Iraq, Moran insultingly said: “[West] just seems clueless now that he has climbed aboard ship. He’s climbed this ladder of opportunity that was constructed by so many of his ancestors’ sweat, sacrifice, blood. You know they did everything they could for his generation to be successful. But now that he’s climbed on board ship, instead of reaching down and steadying the ladder, he wants to push it off. You know — ‘I’m up here, if you’re not with me, too bad.'”
So, a white Democrat — whose party hasn’t carried the “white vote” in nearly 50 years — tells West, a black Republican, that he is not “representative of the African-American community.”
Bet Whitney could relate.