A good (white) man

5 Dec

In his NY Times op-ed “Mitt Romney: A good man. The right fight,” Romney chief campaign strategist Stuart Stevens describes how Obama’s second presidential campaign turned the Democratic Party’s “problems” of “being too liberal and too dependent on minorities” into advantages (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-good-man-the-right-fight/2012/11/28/5338b27a-38e9-11e2-8a97-363b0f9a0ab3_story.html).

Stevens then laments, “But he was a charismatic African American president with a billion dollars, no primary and media that often felt morally conflicted about being critical.”

Morally conflicted about being critical?

What do you think that means?

As Stevens made a point of calling out Obama’s African Americanness (as opposed to his relatively young age, newness to politics on the national level or another descriptor) in the same sentence, my gut tells me that he means to suggest that media felt conflicted about being critical of Obama because he is African American (and white, Stevens. And white).

Quick gut check for you: do you agree?

And what are you basing that on?

That’s what I want to ask Stevens. If, in fact, his implication is that Obama’s African Americanness cowed the media (and it’s not clear if he’s talking exclusively or mainly about white-owned, -produced and -centric mainstream media sources), he needs to back that up.

Yes, I know that’s asking a lot. But without any substantiation, Stevens plays into racist beliefs: the notion that people of color actually have it easier than white people because we are of color and that is too much ultimate power for white people to deal with. Beyond being insulting to both people of color and white people, it’s a ridiculous assertion in the absence of any acknowledgment of just how improbable it still is for a non-white politician to be a viable presidential candidate. No, one Obama does not mark the end of racism.

Now, I’m not saying some folks didn’t bite their tongues. Particularly among white folks, there is a researched and documented fear of appearing to be racist (read “Seeing Race and Seeming Racist? Evaluating Strategic Colorblindness in Social Interaction” by Apfelbaum et al.) But to claim “media” (as a collective) hesitated to criticize is to suggest that Obama had a systemic advantage. And for that, I need some proof. I also need some counterbalance. Does Stevens also believe that it was tough for “media” to criticize a Mormon candidate’s record and position?

In writing this one small sentence, almost a casual addition toward the end of his op-ed, Stevens reinforces white privilege by granting immunity to Romney–ironically, on the basis of his whiteness–of any whiff of unfair advantage based on race. It’s brilliant. Mind-boggling. And irresponsible.

I’m all for calling bias. Let’s just try to base those calls on something more than… our bias.

* You can read Apfelbuam et al.’s study here: http://www.people.hbs.edu/mnorton/apfelbaum%20sommers%20norton.pdf

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