Former RNC Chair Michael Steele Gets Real About Race in Politics: ‘You Can’t Be Too Black’

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Former RNC Michael Steele
Former RNC Michael Steele

Former Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Michael Steele has offered some candid views on race and politics. In a recent interview, he said that you can’t run for political office if “you’re too black.”

Steele made the comments in an interview on Candidate Confessional, where he recounted his experiences in the political system. Steele said Black candidates have to mute their personalities and be less aggressive to be accepted.

“You can’t be black when you’re a candidate,” said Steele. “We’ve seen this play out with Barack Obama. I think he’s taken the short way out, which is not to deal with the issue of race at all effectively, except for when he really has to. He can’t be seen talking about black issues because all of the sudden, now it’s ‘Oh my God, then all you care about are black people.’ …. But then again, if you don’t say enough, then you have black folks pissed off at you.”

Steele has had mixed fortunes as a political candidate. He was the first Black candidate to win statewide office when he was elected lieutenant governor in Maryland in 2002, but he failed in a 2006 senate race, even though he had been recruited to run by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

In the Huff Post interview, Steele said he often received flak from both Democrats and Republicans. He was criticized by the Black community for being a Republican and accused of being an “Uncle Tom.” But he also was criticized by Republicans when he appointed a Black chief of staff. Steele said the criticism was unwarranted.

“I had a black chief of staff and everyone threw a hissy fit, didn’t know how to deal with the brother,” Steele said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, he’s a political operative like everybody else. He’s a chief of staff. Just deal with him.’ But that was a problem.”

After losing the Senate race, Steele was elected RNC chair, where he had a checkered history. He helped the GOP takeover the House of Representatives, but was criticized for poor fundraising and excessive spending. Steele said some Republicans also didn’t like his blunt and aggressive demeanor. According to Huff Post, this criticism had racial undertones.

“When I was at the RNC,” Steele said, “I actually had a member say to me ‘you know what your problem is?’ I was like ‘What? I have many, but tell me.’ [He said,] ‘You sound too black.’”

While it’s easy for the Black community to label, Steele, who is now a MSNBC contributor, a “sellout” or an “oreo,” he tried to broaden the Republican Party’s appeal. He has also said the party is not doing enough to attract Black voters.

“What the party has to do is have it’s own, sort of internal come to Jesus [moment]. Do we really want black folks to vote for us? Do we really see them as a viable constituency as they once were within our party?,” he said on MSNBC. “It’s hard to go to a black audience and say legitimately we want you when everything we do says we don’t.”

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