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A SMALL BAND OF BROTHERS

Black conservatives go online to find kindred spirits sharing their minority view.

The barbs have become like a soundtrack to Richard Ivory's life: Uncle Tom, sellout, self-hater. Being black and Republican does indeed have its challenges. And even though the remarks sometimes wear on Ivory, they mostly seem to have emboldened him.

Ivory started a blog, HipHopRepublican.com, four years ago to voice criticism of what he perceived to be the political pigeonholing of blacks.

The blog is part of a small but vibrant collection of black Republican sites that have given right-leaning blacks a sense of community during an election in which Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy has made their political stance seem particularly unlikely.

Indeed, Ivory, despite being a devout Republican, feels history tugging at his loyalties.

"That a country that was founded by slavery could actually elect a black person to be its highest person in office, it's just amazing," said Ivory, 30, who lives in Manhattan and works as a counselor to mentally ill patients.

It was in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that Ivory engaged in politics and became interested in the Republican Party. As a staunch supporter of the Iraq war, he was often the only black person at prowar rallies, he said.

At one demonstration in New York in 2004, he recalled, an antiwar protester, who was white, used a racial slur against him, and black demonstrators with the protester kept silent.

Ivory said he was incensed that blacks would ignore such a slur because it was aimed at someone with opposing political views.

"There was something annoying about the idea that if you were black, you had to be Democrat," Ivory said. "The blog started out as a means to vent." Beyond his support for the Iraq war, Ivory considers himself a conservative on economic issues who believes government should help people help themselves.

More than 20 people regularly contribute essays to his site, Ivory said, and it gets more than 1,400 hits a day.

The site has caught the attention of Sen. John McCain's campaign, which invited him to attend the Republican convention, he said. (Ivory accepted the offer and blogged for The Root, an online magazine affiliated with the Washington Post.)

Michael Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor and a prominent black Republican, said that he regularly reads HipHopRepublican.com.

"It's just refreshing to know that there is this spectrum of opinion out there that exists," said Steele, chairman of GOPAC, a group that cultivates Republican candidates. Though Ivory has succeeded in finding a niche in cyberspace, his message certainly runs counter to what polls of black voters have found. Polls show that likely black voters overwhelmingly support Obama over McCain.

Several black conservatives also said there was a perception among many blacks that Republicans did not care about them.

Even Ivory is sparring with his conscience. He said he was about 80 percent sure he would vote for McCain.

"I always say my heart is with Obama but my brain is with McCain," Ivory said. "That sums up the struggle with me."

He added: "The appeal of Barack and Michelle Obama in my life is that when I look at them, I also see members of my family." Still, Ivory said that while his site might not win many votes for the Republican Party, it could at least show that political activism among blacks is not monolithic.

While some blacks lean conservative on issues like abortion and gay marriage, Web sites like Ivory's raise issues important to blacks that many Americans are concerned about: health care, affordable housing, the economy, the environment and education.

Many black Republicans believe that conservative policies are more beneficial to the black community than liberal policies.

Ivory believes that his Web site addresses Republican issues in a way that a black audience can relate to them.

It is difficult to gauge the size of the black conservative blogosphere, but Michael Bowen, 47, a senior management consultant for a global information technology firm, said it had mushroomed in recent years. Booker Rising, a blog started in 2004 by Shay Riley, a 37-year-old freelance writer from Chicago, is another popular forum for black conservatives.

The virtual networks are a refuge for conservative blacks who might be reluctant to publicly espouse their views. Other than these Web sites, Bowen said, "there's no support for them, there's no place they could go and not be ridiculed."

Being black and Republican, however, can still be very lonely. Kimberly Brown, 26, a personal trainer in Chicago, said she lost about 100 friends from her MySpace page after she revealed that she was Republican. "I think it's just ignorant," Brown said of the reaction.

Steele said he believed sites like Ivory's could help inject greater diversity into the Republican Party.

"The only way the party is ever going to be able to gain momentum in the black community is if it understands those issues, embraces them and is ready to speak about them in a genuine way," Steele said. "The only way to do that is to get the word from black folks. This is one opportunity to do that."

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