You’ve probably been so distracted by how Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan for his veep slot over the weekend means Republicans are drawing up plans for one-way wheelchair ramps to be mounted on cliffs nationwide that the obvious racism of the pick escaped you.
By obvious, I mean Romney’s racism is so prevalent that you need a couple of lefty college professors to explain it to you. That’s the way his hate works, but we will get to that a little later on.
To understand the racism inherent in Romney’s choice of Ryan, you really only need to know one thing—Ryan is a white guy. What makes things worse is that he is a white guy from Wisconsin, a state that is 88 percent white bread.
If you are still having a little trouble getting how racist the Romney/Ryan ticket is, understand that simply running for president against Obama is a racist act. It’s like using the word “welfare” six time—count them, six—in a Romney television ad critical of Obama’s plan to remove welfare work recipient requirement obligations.
It’s known as “dog whistle racism,” as MSNBC host Rachel Maddow explained last week with a little help from Tulane professor Melissa Harris-Perry, who also has a show on the network:
It’s easy to understand how people can have trouble spotting the “obvious” racism from people like Romney in light of the the welfare-to-work program being signed into law by Bill Clinton. Clinton’s act was merely cowardice, as Harris-Perry pointed out. Republicans using a law enacted by a Democratic president in a campaign ad is racism, of the dog whistle variety. Harris-Perry is whiz at spotting a racist under every rock, don’t you know.
Maddow’s logic might seem a little hard to follow—an ad about welfare is racism to distract from the real issue, Romney not releasing more tax returns. Less enlightened types might think that people like Maddow are trying to paint the ad as racist to distract from what the ad is really about, Obama gutting work requirements from Clinton’s welfare reform. The really clueless might even think that the whole “Romney didn’t pay his taxes” thing is a trumped up issue with no facts to support it created to distract from what the campaign is really about, the shoddy economy under Barack Obama. Shutter the thought.
So there won’t be any confusion identifying Romney-racism, two professors—Charlton D. McIlwain of New York University and Stephen M. Caliendo of North Central College in Chicago—recently created a primer that gives five question viewers should ask themselves to check whether the Romney ad they are watching is indeed racist.
Dog whistles are kind of hard to hear. As the report explains, “A crucial question is: How will we know when pro-Romney ads are potentially racist? It’s not always so easy to recognize.”
Here are the questions you should ask yourself to spot the racism lurking in a Romney ad:
1. Does the ad reference racial stereotypes?
Does the ad reference a longstanding racial stereotype historically associated with African-Americans? Does it state or suggest that President Obama is untrustworthy or prone toward criminality? Does it imply that he takes advantage of the system or is lazy?
A recent ad from the Romney campaign, for instance, has the effect of presenting the untrustworthiness stereotype, calling Obama’s statements “not true,” and “misleading.” Then the ad goes a step beyond, by saying, “but that’s Barack Obama,” that is, the kind of person who misleads and says things that are not true.
2. Does the ad show a Obama’s image alongside a racial stereotype?
Does the ad feature an image of President Obama alongside a stereotype reference? This is an important sign because the image serves as a cue. It tells the viewer not only to associate the allegation of, say, criminality with President Obama, but with Barack Obama, who is black.
In the same ad mentioned in question No. 1, while featuring the image of a smiling Obama, the announcer says, “he also attacked Hillary Clinton with vicious lies.” This provides the opportunity to make the association: Obama, who is black, with “lying,” not to mention the descriptors “attacked” and “viciousness,” which also conjure the association with stereotypes of black aggression.
3. Are all the people surrounding a Romney white?
If there are other people in the ad besides Mitt Romney, are they all white? Having people surrounding a candidate in a political ad sends the message that those people are whom the candidate ostensibly represents. Featuring an all-white cast of supporters alongside a white candidate makes an inherent critical contrast. It says that “we” whites, represented by Mitt Romney, are different than “those” people.
In a two-and-a-half minute ad Romney ran last month he spoke at length about “Americans,” about how “we” are tired. He talked about “all of the thousands of good and decent Americans” who “love America.” Yet of the dozens of images included in the epic ad, every single person is white, making the association clear: “We” “good and decent” Americans who “love America” look like the folks featured in this ad.
4. Does the ad create an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ racial contrast?
In fact, another crucial question to ask is whether Mitt Romney explicitly states such a racial contrast (between “us” and “them”) by using first- and third-person language. Does he talk explicitly about “us,” “we,” or “our?” And, if so, based on the images of those portrayed in the ad, are “we” most or all white?
In the same “good and decent Americans” ad from question No. 3, the imagery of all-white supporters surrounding Romney helps to clarify who “we” and “us” are, and implies who “they” are. If “we” are all white, by virtue of those pictured in the ad, then “they” – those who don’t love America, and so on, could be interpreted as those who are not white.
5. Is the audience where the ad runs mostly white?
Are whites the majority constituency where the ad is run? The demographics of a targeted audience can automatically color code “us” and “them” as white versus black, respectively. Having an intended majority audience that is white helps an ad define “us” (whites) and distinguish “us” from “them” (those, including the candidate of color, who embody negative, stereotypical character traits).
So how does Romney put out ads that aren’t racist? Easy, just make some with the governor surrounded by non-white people that in no way imply that Obama ever mislead the public or is gaming the system in any way. Can’t use coded language like “decent people” or allude to Obama doing anything that might be construed as underhanded or illegal. These enlightened college professors understand that all white people believe that the only decent people who love America are other white people. Also, only black people break the law, lie and are aggressive—unless you are Romney or Ryan lying about cheating on your taxes or dumping old ladies over cliffs. It’s a good thing that we have a post-racial president in office to prompt college professors to explain all of this.
Romney ads can only run in non-white markets, too.
His poll numbers should skyrocket by shedding the campaign of all this obvious racism—as obvious as a dog whistle. Sadly, that’s going to be nigh impossible with the choice of Ryan to fill the bottom half of his presidential ticket. That was obvious racism, given the criteria laid out by people like McIlwain and Caliendo
There were many non-whites to choose from, from Condolezza Rice to our own Gov. Bobby Jindal, that would have been a lot more politically correct and helped Romney out with the racism charge. Could it be that Romney looked more at the content of character than the color of skin with his veep pick? What kind of racists would ever think to do something like that?