The Recast Power List: Tim Scott
As the only Black Republican in the Senate, Tim Scott of South Carolina thrust himself into the national spotlight with his response to President Joe Biden’s first joint address to Congress.
“Race is not a political weapon to settle every issue the way one side wants,” the senator warned. Leaning simultaneously into his racial identity and his conservative credentials, Scott said he has “experienced the pain of discrimination,” while insisting “America is not a racist country.”
Although he is the first Black senator from South Carolina, the first Black senator to be elected from the South since 1881 and the first Black Republican to serve in the Senate since 1979, Scott was subjected to virulent social media criticism for his speech.
Scott has emerged not only as a leading Black conservative voice, but as one willing to condemn some of the GOP’s excesses — from criticizing former President Donald Trump’s response to the Charlottesville white nationalist rally to urging him publicly to delete a tweet attacking demonstrators and showing a Trump supporter chanting “white power” during protests after the death of George Floyd. While he sometimes appears to be a lonely conservative for his position on racial issues, Scott could represent a multicolored future for the GOP in an increasingly multiracial country.
Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.
When did you realize you could impact politics? Was it something you always planned for?
When I was in 8th grade and my brother was a sophomore in high school, there was a race riot at his school. As a 13-year-old Black kid, thinking about having to go to that same school the next year was a scary proposition. Fast forward four years, and I was elected student government president of that same high school — something I could have never dreamed of. While that helped me see leadership potential in myself, I didn’t realize the real-world impact I could make until serving on Charleston County Council.
What will have the biggest impact on U.S. race relations (over the next year, five years)?
The biggest chasms between haves and have-nots today, and disproportionately impacting people of color, are generational wealth, health care and incarceration. The nexus of those issues is education. If we want to improve fairness and opportunity for all Americans, we must be laser-focused on providing access to a quality education to every person in America.
What’s your advice for people who want to shake up “politics as usual”?
Find an issue or two that you’re passionate about and become an expert. Following your passion will keep you motivated even on the hardest days.
What song gets you amped up or through tough days?
If I’m having a tough day, “The Blessing,” by Kari Jobe, gets me through. If I want to get pumped up, it’s “Word Up,” by Cameo.