Did Romney Play the Race Card?

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.