The Mitt Romney secret video scandal has really caught fire, as it should, because it paints a less rehearsed portrait of a man who has been often charged with saying anything to get elected and gives us a glimpse at what he’d say if being elected didn’t matter. But while I understand the focus and concern on Romney’s contempt for the alleged 47 percent of Americans who “pay no income tax” — a distortion that has been debunked several times now — I am concerned about the second-tier relegation of Romney’s deluded insinuation that had his father “been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this.” Because this is something worth talking about too.
First things first: The cynicism embedded in this remark is insanely racist. Let’s not be polite about it. A subnarrative concerning Romney’s beliefs about race in America can be drawn out from this statement alone, and it’s important that these points be raised and explored for what they’re worth. That so many of the news establishments reporting this story have treated this as a somewhat throwaway remark belittles the relation between race and the American political process and hints at the media’s own subtle racism. So even if this post exists solely for the sake of saying it out loud, the discursive implications of such a statement need exposition. Full disclosure: I am an Hispanic American and my shots at winning the presidency are not as good as Mitt thinks.
Inference #1: Mexicans and other Hispanic Americans are becoming a majority class and white people will suffer under this population shift.
In the 2010 U.S. Census Report, Hispanics in America topped 50 million and accounted for one out of every six Americans. It is predicted that by 2050, Hispanics will make up as much as one-third of the American population. This is only a cause for alarm if you conflate America and so-called “American values” with whiteness and so-called “cultural superiority.” We already know that Romney believes that cultural superiority translates into economic prosperity; he literally said that in a slight to the Palestinians on his botched foreign relations tour. It is not a stretch, therefore, to assume that this version of ethnic anxiety extends to his own white-washed perception of America, and this is perhaps what compels Romney’s surrogates to fearlessly call press conferences and say things like “I wish this president would learn how to be an American” in reference to our first African American president. It’s the reason Romney himself is able to make “jokes” about how no one has ever asked to see his birth certificate. “I’m white,” he is saying, “so of course I’m American!”
In a great moment of candor, Rush Limbaugh perfectly expressed the kind of fear these implications are meant to generate: Obama hates white people, Limbaugh says, and he’s going to send us (ostensibly white) Republicans “to the back of the bus.” In other words, if we don’t “take our country back,” we are going to live under the thumb of the new majority — and if they treat us the way we treated them, we’re fucked.
Inference #2: Hispanic Americans are the recipients of handouts by birthright.
If we were to assign the “47 percent” that Romney has segregated into a categorical position, the implication is that there are two types of Americans in Romney’s mind: those that depend on government assistance and lack a sense of “personal responsibility,” and those who work hard and are “vilified” for their success. The hard-working success stories are Republican voters — natch! — while the 47 percent of Americans on the government teat, he clearly assumes, vote Democrat. Now, combine those numbers with the figures that represent Republican voters, and an even more interesting picture emerges. Indeed, almost 90 percent of all Republican voters in presidential elections are white. Which is to say that, in Romney-math, only 10 percent of all hard-working Americans are not white.
The sense that “they” are taking our jobs and that “they” are living off government programs is statistically untrue, but popular nonetheless, and in this case, Romney seems to be feeding into this white racist fiction while also alluding to the notion that Obama did not earn the presidency, but had it handed to him by virtue of his race alone. It has nothing to do with the fact that Obama is the only candidate in this race who does not treat people of color like unwanted statistical abstractions, Romney believes, but because “they” have it easier than we do. Obviously.
Inference #3: As a white man in America, Mitt Romney wasn’t privileged enough.
When you’re in a room surrounded by wealthy white men like yourself, it is important to assert your power not only with a copy of your bank balance, but with a Homeric-like myth that asserts your own storied ascent to the aristocracy. Nobody wants to hear about how easy you had it; they want to trade war stories and buy $150 shirts with WE BUILT THIS! slogans on them. So by mourning the purity of his Anglo-Saxon heritage, Romney is simply adding another layer to the epic. Elsewhere in the video, he explains:
I have inherited nothing. There is a perception, “Oh, we were born with a silver spoon, he never had to earn anything and so forth.” Frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you can have: which is to get born in America.
Which is, like, yes Mitt. Totally. Being born in America is the only reason you are successful. You never had a leg up. You were never the recipient of a handout. Your birthright only guaranteed your chiseled facial features. You’re a self-made man and this is your Odyssey. Except that it’s not and you weren’t. The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson sums it up quite nicely:
Romney was the son of a governor and an auto executive who gave him a wealth of connections, a private education, college tuition, a stock portfolio that he lived on while in graduate school, help buying a first house. That he recognizes the value of none of these things is both dismaying and discouraging for anyone who thinks that he will be able to do much to actually encourage opportunity in America. He is clear enough about one difference money can make in life, when he tells those present, “Frankly, what I need you to do is to raise millions of dollars.”
In other words, if only Mitt Romney were Mexican, only then would he have everything. For now, he’ll just have to settle for the privileges and entitlements awarded for being white, wealthy, and male. If only he were Mexican, he might finally become president too. What else could explain it? He’s worked harder for this than for anything else he’s ever done, so if Mitt Romney loses this election, it’s going to have to be somebody else’s fault. If only he could find someone to blame.