By Thomas Rudd,

After a recent Romney rally, a woman in the crowd said this to a radio news reporter: “I will not help those people.” She was referring to “welfare” recipients, who, according to Mr. Romney, would no longer be required to work or to look for work to qualify for these public benefits. She uttered the words “those people” with the absolute certainty that she or anyone she cares about would never be one of them. As a social scientist who studies issues directly related to race, I know that in the context of implicit racial bias, she is most likely referring to African Americans, the “racialized other” in her mind, and this is precisely what Mr. Romney and his tea party cohorts want her to do.

In a June 22, 2012 post on this blog I offered some possible answers to the question of why middle-class White Americans keep voting for Republican politicians who screw them over. I also asked who cares more fundamentally about the struggles of the middle class, Romney or President Obama. But more importantly, I asked why voters are not asking these crucial questions. The answer is both very simple and terribly complicated. On the simple side, the Romney campaign is spewing out distorted and blatantly false information about the President’s administration to side-track the voters’ attention away from the truth.

Every reputable fact checker, including the New York Times, has said that Romney’s campaign ad about the President’s welfare reform is either grossly distorted or an out-and-out lie. And yet, just yesterday, this ad was aired four times within sixty minutes on one of my local television stations. Romney and his people are keenly aware of the racialized mythology about who gets welfare and why (most welfare recipients are not Black). Heightened reaction to this myth channels cognition away from more fundamental issues like who will pay for tax breaks for the wealthy or who rode shotgun over the bankers who are responsible for the subprime lending crisis or who is sending American jobs overseas to increase profit, shareholder dividends and executive bonuses.

Romney and his people know what scholar and author Drew Westen knows: that most White Americans, irrespective of what people feel and believe consciously, harbor negative associations toward people of color. Did Romney play the race card? Yes he did, and he is likely to do it again and again as the election approaches.

Tom joined the staff of the Kirwan Institute in 2004. In his current capacity as Director of Education and Emerging Research, he is responsible for expanding the Institute’s research agenda on issues related to educational opportunity and envisioning and energizing new research in criminal justice, implicit bias and health/health care with a focus on the social determinants of health. Tom received a Bachelor of Science in sociology and a Master of Science in higher education, student affairs from Iowa State University. He has pursued doctoral study in educational policy and leadership at The Ohio State University. Prior to joining the staff at the Institute, Tom served on the professional staff of the Ohio Board of Regents where he directed the Department of State Grants and Scholarships and then served as Director of Student Financial Access in the division of educational linkages and access. Tom has worked extensively on issues related to strategies for improving access to higher education and the quality of preK-12 education. He recently completed a funded project aimed at broadening awareness of the ways in which traditional approaches to merit in the college admissions process have created barriers to educational opportunity, limited racial and ethnic diversity and obscured the democratic mission of the academy. Tom is originally from White Plains, New York. He is married to Dr. Nancy Rudd, a professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at Oho State. He has three adult children. His youngest son is currently enrolled in a combined masters/doctoral program in biomedical engineering at Ohio State. Tom is an avid amateur photographer. Research interests: Structural and cognitive barriers to opportunity; education; criminal justice; health care; democratic merit; the meaning of race; racial discourse; race and cognition; implicit racial bias.