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Steele at the wheel - Joel Hall

This election season, African Americans came out in overwhelming support of Barack Obama. That support, however, was not an easy negotiation.

Due to his mixed-racial heritage, Obama first had to prove to many black people that he was "black enough." After that, he had to prove to them he actually cared about the plight of black Americans and that he, if selected as the Democratic standard bearer, could actually get elected to the presidency.

Obama had a lot of challenges, but somehow, despite a large amount of initial criticism, he was able to win over both educated and uneducated black Americans. That was quite a feat, given the fact that many black Americans stray somewhat from the liberal ideals for which Obama is so famous.

I would argue that most blacks in the Bible Belt, at least from an ideological perspective, are closer to Republicans than Democrats.

Of the black people I have met in the South, most are deeply religious, oppose the word "God" being removed from our money and the Pledge of Allegiance, and don't believe in the Theory of Evolution.

Most of the predominately black churches I have been to argue fervently against gay marriage. When the issue of Proposition 8 came up in California, many gay Americans reached out to black congregations, comparing their struggle for marital rights to blacks' struggles against segregation and Jim Crow legislation.

Many black Americans didn't see things that way.

On many levels, it would seem that black Americans and Republicans have a lot of common ground. In the 1860s, the Republican Party fought against slavery, and in the 1960s, fought against segregationists, many of whom were Democrats.

In modern times, however, Republicans have not taken advantage of those commonalties and, all too often, do things to push black people away.

During the election, shirts supporting John McCain surfaced which read "[N-word] Please," in response to the idea of Obama becoming president. Many of the McCain Southern rallies were Confederate-tinged and featured a long-line of second-rate country performers, rather than performers representing the cultural diversity of America.

Republican leadership has, at times, been guilty of marginalizing blacks as well. Chip Saltsman, the former Tennessee GOP (Grand Old Party) Chairman and a former contender to become the party's national leader, dropped out of the running when it surfaced that he was allegedly distributing copies of the song, "Barack the Magic Negro" to fellow committee members. While it was inappropriate enough to cause shame, there were some in the party who found it hilarious.

Now the national Republican Party has elected Michael Steele, a black man, to be it's chairman. While this is a milestone, I have concerns about the motivation behind it.

It was obvious that when Sarah Palin was selected to be McCain's running mate, it was an attempt to upstage Obama by offering voters a historic first that Obama had, in a sense, taken away from Democrats - the chance to have a woman in the executive branch.

Installing Steele so soon after Obama's inauguration comes off as a somewhat reactionary gesture. It is obvious that the party Steele will lead does not yet reflect the diversity he represents. However, Steele, like many Republicans, have expressed a need for more inclusion in the party.

Steele summed it up as bringing "Hip Hop Republicans and Frank Sinatra Republicans," into the fold.

While I am still skeptical of Steele's appointment, I am encouraged that Republicans are acknowledging the fact that the ways of the past cannot continue. It will be up to the GOP to decide if Steele's appointment heralds change, or becomes a hollow victory for black Americans.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at jhall@news-daily.com.