MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Melanie Collette knows racism is real, and said she has sometimes been treated unfairly by police.
“But more cops are helping than hurting,” she said.
For Collette, a pro-life Christian and conservative Republican, the liberal agenda — which she said assigns victimhood to people — isn’t the answer.
“They are not speaking freedom, they are speaking bondage,” she said of those who encourage black Americans to believe they need the Democratic Party and government programs to survive.
And that puts her at odds with many people in the black community. According to the Pew Research Center, black voters remain overwhelmingly Democratic, with 84 percent identifying with or leaning toward the Democratic Party. Just 8 percent of black voters identify in some way with the Republican Party.
“To say the color of my skin is the single thing that determines my political beliefs is ridiculous and racist,” said Collette. “It assumes that all African Americans have the same level of education, the same references, the same beliefs. A tenet of racism is believing everything is determined by the color of your skin.”
Many black Americans are silent conservatives, she said, who will tell her privately they agree with her ideas on self reliance, hard work and trust in God. But they are not willing to be public about their beliefs and subject themselves to the inevitable attacks that would follow.
Collette is one of a small number of black conservatives in South Jersey who are politically active and vocal about why they have rejected the Democrat agenda.
She has a radio show “MoneyTalk with Melanie” on SHR Media; has taught business technology at Rowan University and other schools; is a contributing writer at Politichicks and The Horn News; hosts weekly on SiriusXM’s “Patriot Tonight,” and is working on her doctorate in public administration, she said.
Always conservative in her beliefs, it’s only been in the last 10 years that she has gotten politically involved. She is the vice chair of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women.
“I have always been pro-life; always believed you should work for things you obtain; always believed in smaller government,” she said. “It’s been my experience things like affirmative action put a cloud over my education and experience rather than an enhancement.”
Her educational achievements, including a master’s in Public Administration, are often questioned, she said. She suspects that is because people assume her degree is more about affirmative action than hard work.
Since the end of the Civil War there has been a tension between two strategies for black Americans to move forward, said Temple University Professor Emeritus Thaddeus Mathis.
Political philosophies are determined by much more than just a person’s leanings toward a more conservative or liberal approach to life in general, said Mathis.
“Those natural tendencies are also being shaped by other forces, like what is happening in the family, in school, and how broad or narrow are a person’s social groups,” he said.
Especially since educational and professional opportunities opened up in the 1960s and 1970s, black families began leaving the inner city to live in suburban towns in integrated neighborhoods and send their children to integrated schools, Mathis said.
They may feel more comfortable joining the Republican Party and embracing conservative values, especially if they are successful business people and their economic interests are better served that way.
And if they live in an area where local politics are dominated by Republicans, such as much of southeastern New Jersey, they may gravitate toward the GOP as a way of participating fully, he said.
But other factors may still radicalize them, he said.
“Every time a young middle-class black person is stopped by the police, it makes them think twice about racial attitudes,” said Mathis.
Collette said she grew up, for the most part, in Cape May County, where Republicans are dominant.
“My cultural experience growing up near the beach was completely different than blacks growing up in an inner city. How can you say the black community is a monolithic, singular-thinking group?” she said.
She believes that religious beliefs and life experiences also give people different definitions of basic ideas like equality and liberty.
“In a liberal’s mind, equality means it’s OK to step on my conservative Christian beliefs. That’s not equality,” said Collette.
Black Americans didn’t join the Democratic Party en masse until the Franklin Delano Roosevelt era of the 1930s and 1940s, said Mathis.
The Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln was friendlier to black Americans than the Democratic Party for decades. It remained associated with emancipation, and the Democratic Party with the Confederacy, for almost a century.
“It was not until the Roosevelt era there was a major realignment of black people out of the Republican Party into the Democratic Party,” he said, during the Great Depression. “It had to do with the New Deal and policies more embracing of those left out groups in society.”