Massa Mitt Does South of the Border

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Over the past few months, the GOP has proudly reveled in Ronald Reagan’s old chestnut that “facts are stupid things.” First, Anne Romney told us at the Republican convention that her bootstraps moxie enabled her to work hard enough to marry a multi-millionaire.  Then Mother Jones broke the story that Massa Mitt rhapsodized at a private fundraiser in May about being Latino.  Romney joked about an alternative south of the border heritage shortly after he delivered his now infamous condemnation of 47% of the American people who suck up government handouts. He joked that “had he been born of Mexican parents (he) would have had a better shot of winning this” and that “it would be helpful to be Latino.”

Despite the mainstream media’s apoplexy, Romney’s sweeping dismissal of working class Americans—who, even though they pay payroll, property, and sales taxes, are still bonafide welfare queens—and his fantasy island paternalism should not be surprising to anyone who has been paying attention to the campaign.  His shucking and jiving about possible political gain from being Latino, while promoting nativist anti-undocumented immigrant policies that criminalize all Latinos regardless of citizenship status, attests to the business as usual racism of 21st century post-racial America.  His suggestion that simply being of Mexican parentage would help him win the election is a racist insult to a Latino electorate which has consistently rejected the GOP’s divide and conquer platform.  Exploiting the politics of white resentment, his entire campaign has been an affront to hardworking people of color who have higher poverty, unemployment, and foreclosure rates than whites with comparable income or education levels.  Both Obama and Romney are delinquent when it comes to specific remedies for racial discrimination against African Americans and Latinos in hiring, lending, home ownership, and wealth generation.  Yet, unlike Obama, Romney continues to shuttle around to select Latino business groups prattling about free enterprise, ignoring the fact that a majority of Latinos favor government social services and don’t view “free enterprise” and social welfare as mutually exclusive.  Romney and running mate Paul Ryan saber rattle about entitlements for lazy tax-dodging Americans yet support ending capital gains and estate taxes while amassing millions through the plunder of tax shelters, loopholes and offshore accounts.  Romney crows that small business entrepreneurialism is the key to American prosperity yet suggests that low-income college students stop whining and hit their parents up for a loan (like he did).

Not surprisingly, many of the white GOP voters who receive Social Security and Medicare aren’t bothered by Romney’s assault on lower income and middle class folks.  They don’t view themselves as being the target of his diatribe because the perception is that white retirees who don’t pay income tax earned their benefits after a lifetime of hard work.  Romney’s propaganda demonstrates yet again that race and class are inextricably linked—simply being white affords class status and “immunity” from the cultural perception that your poverty is destiny, rather than a special circumstance that free enterprise and a fair shake can cure.  Tim Wise outlines the benefits of white class privilege succinctly in his article “Collateral Damage: Poor Whites and the Unintended Consequences of Racial Privilege.”  Wise argues that poor whites are buttressed by social cues that they can succeed, that they are valued (i.e., that they are human and citizens), and that their poverty is circumstantial.  Discussing the emergence of poverty narratives that centered on black pathology and welfare dependency in the 1960s and 1970s he notes:

Importantly, the white poor, despite their economic condition, generally escaped the full weight of this emerging invective and were not the ones typified as the harbingers of social pathology. Even though roughly 40 percent of the long-term poor and welfare dependent “underclass” is white, virtually all media stories discussing the underclass — inevitably in highly critical ways — have portrayed people of color, with few if any exceptions.  The white poor, despite the growing backlash, have been able to remain the “salt of the earth” in the eyes of most, buffeted by circumstances not of their own making.

Because black poverty is the standard, white poverty is a virtual oxymoron.  Poor white people are essentially invisible as poor people.  When they do come into view they are proud victims of big government malfeasance who struggle to make it against the odds; not welfare recipients looking for the next handout.  Poor white people just need an honest break to facilitate their bootstrapping ala the Joads of the Grapes of Wrath or environmental crusader Erin Brockovich.  They are automatic beneficiaries of a narrative of heroism and rugged transcendence.  With a substantial part of his base subsisting on government “handouts”, it is this narrative that Massa Mitt taps into, circle jerking with the super-rich about his Mexican parallel universe.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars and the forthcoming Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.

Massa Mitt Does South of the Border

21 thoughts on “Massa Mitt Does South of the Border

  1. 1

    Very nice article. It seems that Romney’s father accepted such things as welfare when he first came from Mexico. So was he someone who only wanted the gov’t to take care of him? He was per Mitt’s words and no amount of work thereafter would make him “pure” enough for his son.

  2. 2

    I never can figure out the political opinions of poor white people, though part of it might be that when people talk about using tax money to provide some form of government aid or welfare to poor people, the white guy working for minimum wage has been taught that this means he’s going to get taxes so some non-existent ‘welfare queen’ can buy a Cadillac.

    A lot could be psychological though, but a lot could also just be racism. It’s likely that many poor white people, thanks to racial segregation, don’t actually know that many Black people so they can buy into the BS that they’re working while minorities are just sitting around waiting for a handout.

    1. 2.1

      Tim Wise (and others) have written extensively on how many working class whites reflexively disassociate from poverty and economic justice discourse because of the post Great Society association of “anti-poverty” programs with poor “inner city” (i.e., pathological) black folk. This has a lot to do with the GOP’s Southern Strategy-era coupling of Democratic social welfare policies with the specter of mooching criminal blacks in order to promote solidarity with a blue collar dixiecrat white electorate angered by the Dems championing of civil rights legislation in the 60s.

    2. 2.2

      for a while, in response to the “we are the 99%” slogan and picture-meme, there was a reactive “we are the 53%” meme of conservative whites holding signs with their narratives. When you read them, it turned out that quite a number of them weren’t actually in that 53%, because they were students, or underemployed, or veterans who can’t work. And many of them were scraping bottom as working poor, working multiple jobs, working the same job on an illegal double-shift-without-overtime, generally working themselves raw; but they still insist that THEY are not the poor.

      Total disconnect.

  3. 3

    Not all of us poor whites approve of Romney’s biases. I’m a 69 yo white female Southerner and I think he is a smarmy, lying, stupid man (as is his running mate, who’ll run Romney, too, if he gets the chance). I live on Social Security only but my politics are as liberal as possible. I’m also pro-union, though I live in a right-to-work state (NC). As usual, I’m an outlier on the monoliths that everyone constructs to talk about “they” and “we” and everything else.

  4. 4

    Discussing the emergence of poverty narratives that centered on black pathology and welfare dependency in the 1960s and 1970s he notes:

    Importantly, the white poor, despite their economic condition, generally escaped the full weight of this emerging invective and were not the ones typified as the harbingers of social pathology.

    I think the idea, among middle class and poor white people, that white poor people are unlucky and black poor people are shiftless and lazy started a while before the 60s and 70s. The Republicans just took advantage of a mind-set already in place. I can certainly remember people insisting that the abject poverty of black people near the Air Force base in South Carolina where we lived when I was a young girl girl in the 50s was the fault of their laziness, not the fault of systematic discrimination.

    One time I heard this was during the same conversation where a neighbor fussed at my momma because she insisted on paying the black woman who came in to clean and iron for a few hours twice a week (and who worked for several others in the neighborhood) the same fee that a white woman doing the same work was paid at the time (which was twice what our neighbors paid the black woman). My mother pointed out the contradiction in the neighbor’s complaints and tried to explain why the visitor didn’t see the contradiction. She wasn’t very successful, but I don’t think that was her fault.

    1. 4.1

      Yes, the cultural propaganda about lazy shiftless AAs began before the advent of racial slavery in the seventeenth century. It was one of the rationales for the enslavement and brutalization of Africans. Postwar political discourse merely exploited and fine-tuned this myth (highlighting the scourge of the irredeemable inner city) to mobilize greater numbers of working class whites around the GOP platform and coalition.

  5. F

    His suggestion that simply being of Mexican parentage would help him win the election is a racist insult to a Latino electorate which has consistently rejected the GOP’s divide and conquer platform.

    It also has about it more than a whiff of ridiculous Birtherism, which is also an almost completely racist thing.

  6. 6

    “while promoting nativist anti-undocumented immigrant policies that criminalize all Latinos regardless of citizenship status”
    Eh, not to defend the whiter-then-sourcream corporate stooge here, but could you cite a reference or something?
    And while I agree to the points presented, and the horrible racial dimension of American politics, Mitt Romney didn’t really start that, nor is he the worst offender.

    1. 6.1

      Not the “worst offender?” THe hell he’s not. Undocumented families are often of mixed citizenship status, hence, for example, the growing numbers of children of deported parents who are in foster care. During the GOP race to the nomination Romney jumped feet first into the fray and tried to out-demagogue the competition with xenophobic nativist rhetoric. As the GOP nominee Romney’s support for Arizona’s SB1070, which sanctions racial profiling, his staunch opposition to the Dream Act as well as his repeated entreaties for undocumented Latino’s to self-deport are well known.

      1. Well, I was referring to the exploitation of the racial dimension of American politics when I said that.
        However, let’s talk immigration. Having followed the race for head cleric of the church of Reagan, I’ve yet to see Romney support the infamous “check all mexicans” law in Arizona.
        Also, entreating illegal immigrants to self-deport is a douche move, but it’s a far cry from the extremist postition on the matter.
        FYI: Undocumented immigrants = illegal immigrants. I dislike US immigration policy as much as the next man, but the law remains the law.

        1. The reason people say ‘undocumented’ is because it openly states that the laws are bullshit deserving of no more respect than any other unjust laws. The law may be the law, but in writing, we at least don’t have to pretend to respect it if we don’t.

          1. I take your point but speaking of unjust laws as if they weren’t in fact laws seems more like shying away from the issue, than adressing it.
            Also, adressing the illegality of a persons immigration status makes it easier to adress the illegality of that persons employment, which in turn exposes the hypocrisy of having segments of economy which are dependant upon “illegals”.
            Showing how certain laws are bullshit is, I think, more effective then merely stating they are.

        1. My sister is a white-passing latin@ when people can see her in front of them. I am a brown Latin@.

          Race is a social construct; there is no biological basis on which to make the distinction. It’s driven by cultural narratives which is why when you look at other societies, people tend to be astounded by the differences in categories.

          Not that any explanation matters, you’re clearly a racist simpleton who thinks they’ve stumbled onto a novel concept. What about black latin@s? Passing native americans? It’s not as simple as you wish to believe, however much you hold onto your little narrative.

  7. 8

    First, very good post. As a (soon-to-be-60) white Southern male, I have seen/heard more racist bigotry and injustice than I ever would want to.
    As a response to some comments, though: The original, legal, theoretical basis for the enslavement of Africans and for bans on what we call interracial sex had nothing to do with “race.” Africans were pagans, so Christians were prohibited from sexual contact but allowed to enslave them. (Slave comes from Slav, as Christian crusaders captured so many pagan Slavs in centuries of warfare/raiding that Slav became synonymous with forced labor.) When the modern concept of race was developed in the later 18th century, slavery and bigotry had been entrenched for more than a century because of religious beliefs. The concept of race – blacks, Indians, Asians (and later Jews) were biologically inferior – then “explained” why they resisted conversion to the true religion and source of morality, Christianity.
    The stereotypes about Africans and their descendants, like Christian stereotypes about Jews, women, atheists, etc., start from theological beliefs in the inferiority/inherent immorality of non-Christians, which are then rationalized by “evidence” from life. (That individual black/Jew/atheist was lazy, a thief, an adulterer, whatever, which is proof that all are like that.

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