One of the most difficult things about being a black politician in the Republican Party is dealing with people "trying to figure out what is wrong with you," South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott told a group of Howard University business students, noting that he hopes people will judge him on his record instead of the color of his skin.
Scott spoke Tuesday for about 45 minutes with students at the historically black Washington, D.C., university, The Washington Post
reports, telling them that he felt it was his responsibility as a Republican to speak to them about why he's different.
"What I hope [you] will do consistently is not judge a book by its cover and open the book and see what's in it," Scott said.
One student, political science major David Thomas, stood up near the end of Scott's session to say he saw the "R" next to the freshman senator's name on a flier for the event earlier in the day, and decided he had to attend and ask him why a black man would become a Republican.
"I'm interested in hearing why you're a part of the Republican Party when most black politicians are Democrats," Thomas said. "It just really stood out to me."
Scott said, "People ask me about if, being a Republican, you guys want to cut everything and stop everything and not help people. I find that patently false."
Scott explained that he became a Republican thanks to his first mentor, a conservative Chick-Fil-A owner named John Moniz, who encouraged him to enter the business world. Scott credits his mother and Moniz for turning his life around, and added he was drawn to the GOP because of its stance on military funding and because it includes the Christian faith in its party platform.
Being a black Republican is challenging, Scott said, when "you start off with people walking in with chips on their shoulder trying to figure out what is wrong with you," responding to a student who asked him if his political affiliation makes things difficult for him in Washington, D.C.
"I hope that people will judge me on my agenda, what I say, and how I vote," Scott told him.
Scott's remarks at Howard follow a speaking tour of all the historically black colleges in his home state, and came about 10 months after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., addressed students at the school.
Both appearances have been considered part of the party's attempts to make progress in the minority community, reports The Post, after 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney captured only 6 percent of African-American votes and 27 percent of the Hispanic ballot.
But Scott's appearance seemed to influence the Howard students more, reports the conservative website Red Alert Politics.
"I always thought that African Americans were mainly just Democrats," Howard junior Deja White told Red Alert. "I was close-minded to the whole Republican thing, but the way he was raised, his mentor, and the things he believed in … I'm big on those aspects. It made me relate to him."
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