While local Black Republicans say they often feel like anomalies, many are active in the local community and believe their political views can work for the betterment of both the African-American community and Indianapolis as a whole.
Conservatives in our community
One such individual is Adrianne Slash, who became interested in politics at a young age due to conversations with her father, Joe Slash, who served as Indianapolis’ first Black deputy mayor under Republican Mayor Bill Hudnut. She considers herself a conservatively leaning moderate.
“The (Hudnut) administration got us to a place that doesn’t sleep at five, but is growing and advancing,” Slash said. “Growing up in that environment, you can’t help but get a bug for wanting to be a part of it in some way, shape or fashion.”
Her father, an accountant by trade, taught Slash the value of being fiscally conservative at a young age. While her views keep her right of center, as a Black millennial she strongly values diversity and inclusion.
“I want to see people who look like me, and for everyone to get a fair shot,” Slash said. “I don’t want anyone’s rights to be trampled upon because my people have tons of history of being trampled upon.”
Indianapolis resident Jillean Long Battle agrees that diversity is important. Long Battle is a Compton, California, native and a graduate of UC Berkeley, which she calls “The most liberal university in the world.” In undergrad, she learned the value of entering diverse rooms and being open to hearing out unique perspectives.
“I feel like anyone who keeps themselves in places where everyone looks and thinks like you, you are not growing, you are conforming,” Long Battle said.
She moved to Indiana in 2006 to attend law school, and her desire to open her mind led her to join a Republican group.
“I was the only Black person. When I walked into the room for the first meeting they all stared at me. I guess they weren’t sure if I was there just for the pizza or what,” she laughed. “Nonetheless, I stayed just to hear what the conversation was like in the room.”
She later formed an unlikely friendship with Richard Earl Mourdock, the 53rd treasurer of the state of Indiana.
Over time, Long Battle decided many of her views aligned with the Republican party, much to her family’s dismay.
“When my mom found out I had become a Republican, she stopped talking to me and didn’t want me to bring it up because she didn’t want to be embarrassed,” Long Battle said. “But when people asked me why, I say, ‘My goal is to provide for my kids, and I want a community that helps itself, that doesn’t rely on anyone. I understand why government programs are there, but I don’t want to ever be tied to them, or my children to be, or the generations to follow. Even though you are a Democrat and I am a Republican, we can champion the same things.’”
Donald Easton, senior pastor of Fall Creek Parkway Church of Christ, says family and fiscal values are at the forefront of issues that led him to the Republican Party. Easton grew up in a family of Democrats. In the ‘90s he was a precinct delegate with the Democratic party in Detroit, but had a change of heart about his party after a conversation with a man running for governor.
“I asked him ‘What are you going to do for my community,’” Easton said. “I could go across to the suburbs, and they had mom-and-pop shops all over. I wanted to know how they could help the entrepreneur and they literally told me to be quiet. They said, you ask a lot of good questions, but let’s not kill our candidate before he gets into office. From that point on, I started looking at the issues.”
He says the Republican Party is the “party of freedom and choice,” and feels many values that are important to the Black community – religion, family and economic growth – are key conservative values as well.
“As African-Americans, we sold our votes to the Democrats, and they don’t have to do anything for us because they know we will vote for them. On the other hand, the Republican party knows our vote is already sold to the Democrats so they don’t have to do anything for us either. What we have done is put ourselves in a place where we do not have value,” said Easton.
Laura Wilson, assistant professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis, says minorities that run or vote under the Republican ticket provide diversity of representation and cause all parties to fight for the Black vote.
“Oftentimes, I’m sure the Democrats take for granted that African-Americans are going to vote for them,” Wilson said. “They should not do that as a party. When you look at Doug Jones in Alabama, it was decided by African-American female votes. It’s clear who they support can be indicative of the winner.”
Trump and political perceptions
Since Trump became president in 2016, many individuals in minority communities feel race relations have worsened.
Wilson says both Obama and Trump’s presidency changed Americans perceptions of our two major parties and the state of race relations in our nation.
“Before Obama’s administration, a lot of people thought we were a post-racial society. It quickly became clear that race was still an issue,” Wilson said. “You have Trayvon Martin with Obama, and with Trump we have had Charlottesville, and they handled it very differently. Oftentimes, politicians on the Democratic side see race relations as important. The Republican Party does not see it as a major issue, certainly not a priority. You can see that difference in who supports them. It’s fascinating to see the Republicans transition in terms of race because they were the part of Lincoln.”
Long Battle says the months following Trump’s election have been hard on her. She has felt “emotionally sad” and “depressed” due to the increased division in the country.
She feels more Republican leaders should speak up for minority issues, and against the negative rhetoric that divides the country.
“So much in the media is not valuing the Black community. I actually have to stop (watching the news) for a second, because you can really become depressed,” Long Battle said. “What’s really hurting the party right now is that when you hear negative rhetoric, you don’t have enough conservative leaders standing up and saying, ‘That’s not our party.’ With the rhetoric that divides us, we don’t have enough leaders saying ‘That’s not who we are, this still is the party of Lincoln, of Frederick Douglass. We don’t have that, and so many people are disenchanted.”
Easton, on the other hand, says he supports many of Trump’s policies and feels they are “helpful to our community.” For example, he supports decreasing taxes and protecting his Second Amendment right to bear arms. However, he does not wish to be compared to Trump just because he is a Republican.
“They try to attach me to him, but I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me, and he is probably not looking to meet me,” said Easton.
Nationally, the Republican party isn’t known for promoting inclusivity and diversity, however, Long Battle says she remembers that what makes headlines is often not the full story on either side of the isle.
“I have to look and say, what are the stories not making the headlines that I can focus on?” Long battle said. “My son, a little Black boy, has a best friend who is white. They call each other brothers. If we put a wall up in opposition to someone and say ‘This is where I stand,’ we are never going to make any breakthroughs. When I look at my life, my white neighbors, and look at my son I know there is still hope, and there is still time to better the next generation.”
Slash says her dream is for moderate politicians looking to unite the country to make headlines.
“Many (Black people) can identify with the values of the (Republican) party, but they can not identify with the people representing it. And if the spokesperson is not great you ended up voting against your interests,” Slash said. “There are not many of us on this side because a lot of us are blinded by what you see on TV, who represents the party loudly rather than what your views are. I would like to get more people on the mainstream that are closer to moderate, but that is me asking for a tall order.”