Republicans are normally hesitant to acknowledge how race can play a role in how an individual experiences life in America.
But after two black men were fatally shot by police this week, and after a Thursday night ambush attack claimed the lives of five officers in Dallas, some in the GOP took a markedly different approach when discussing race relations.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is on Donald Trump’s short list for vice president, said Friday that white Americans “instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk” black people face in the US.
“If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America,” he said.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a top Republican who ran an unsuccessful bid for the White House, issued a similar statement.
“Those of us who are not African American will never fully understand the experience of being black in America,” he said.
Rubio, referring to the shooting death of Philando Castile, added: “But we should all understand why our fellow Americans in the black community are angry at the images of an African American man, with no criminal record, who was pulled over for a busted tail light, slumped in his car seat and dying while his four year old daughter watches from the back seat.”
“All of us should be troubled by these images. And all of us need to acknowledge that this is about more than just one or two recent incidents,” he continued.
Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest ranking elected Republican, praised Black Lives Matter demonstrators in his Friday speech reacting to the Dallas attack.
The “values that brought these protesters to the streets,” the speaker said, were those of “respect, decency, compassion, humanity.”
Ryan added that both Republicans and Democrats hunger for “a world in which people feel safe regardless of the colour of their skin.”
“And that’s not how people are feeling these days,” he concluded.
In conversations with Business Insider, two GOP strategists said such comments indicate the party is “headed in the right direction.”
“I think many leaders in our party have waned to be more sensitive to racial issues,” said Matt Mackowiak, founder and president of the Potomac Strategy Group. “I think you’re going to see more and more of that.”
Mackowiak told Business Insider that there is a “new generation of leaders in the party” who are more eager to speak on issues regarding race.
“Part of this is generational,” he said. “There certainly was racism 30 or 40 years ago. There was less sort of outrage over it, broadly speaking. And now, these incidents are just so shocking. When you add video — it’s one thing to read a news story. It’s another thing to see a video and it’s another thing to see video in real-time.”
Evan Siegfried, author of the upcoming book “GOP GPS: How to Find the Millennials and Urban Voters the Republican Party Needs to Survive,” agreed and said he welcomed the shift in tone.
“Rubio has been saying this for a while, but it is good that others are recognising that this is an issue that we must address together,” Siegfried told Business Insider.
He added: “These acknowledgments will enable us to have more meaningful conversations about race and equality with communities that have seen Republicans as out of touch with them. Senator Rubio, Gingrich and other Republicans know that this is something we must confront together.”
Republicans even received some praise from the Black Lives Matter movement.
Prominent movement leader DeRay McKesson told Business Insider the remarks from Gingrich and Rubio were a step in the right direction.
“Rubio and Gingrich’s statements highlight the beginning of an understanding of the need to understand the perspectives of black people, especially in their roles as public servants,” McKesson said.
“If this newfound understanding does not translate into action, especially with regard to their policies and practices, then it is simply useless rhetoric.”
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