One of the more offensive moments from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney‘s now-infamous hidden camera fundraiser features the former Massachusetts Governor lamenting his father’s accursed birth to American parents, instead of Mexicans, who would have given him a leg up in this presidential election. The remark, made in what Romney thought was a private setting, has gotten a lot of attention, but it should be noted that Romney made similar comments months ago, right out in the open, to a national audience. In fact, the remarks he made on Fox and Friends in January were arguably momre offensive than those he made in “private,” but only marginally so.
Here’s what he said at that May 17 fundraiser:
my dad, you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company, but he was born in Mexico. And had he been born of Mexican parents I’d have a better shot at winning this, but he was [audience laughs] unfortunately born of Americans living in Mexico. They’d lived there for a number of years, and, uh, I mean I say that jokingly, but it’d be helpful if they’d been Latino…
This is offensive on several levels, not the least of which is the notion that the 74% of Hispanic voters who don’t support Mitt Romney are just put off by Romney’s whiteness, and not his policies, or the fact that he constantly refers to undocumented immigrants as “illegals,” even when he’s on Univision, or any of a dozen other reasons a “normal” voter wouldn’t support him. It’s also a stunning failure, on his part, to acknowledge the tremendous privilege he’s been handed in life, as well as a denial of the challenges that people of color have faced in this country, yes, even in Mitt Romney’s lifetime. Finally, his remark demonstrates a contemptuous disregard for the culture he wishes to exploit, not wanting to be Mexican-American because he appreciates that culture, but simply to peel off some votes.
As cold and dismissive as those remarks were, though, at least he said he really wanted to be part Mexican. When asked by Steve Doocy, in January, if his father’s Mexican connection was helping him with Florida voters, here’s what Romney said:
“You know, I wish I could claim that I’m Hispanic, and it would help me with the Latino community here in Florida and around the country, but my dad was born of American parents living in Mexico.”
Did you catch that? He only wished he could claim that he’s Hispanic. That’s in line with what he told that fundraising audience, but he only implied, to that audience, that the only use he had for Mexican blood was to woo votes from his unthinking “brethren,” whereas he was explicit about that to F&F.
Here’s video of both sets of remarks:
In my view, though, the cherry on Mitt Romney’s racial ignorance/white privilege banana split was his comment about the attack that’s been concocted against Massachusetts candidate for U.S. Senate Elizabeth Warren, whose claim of Native American ancestry has come under attack from conservatives. One of the well-heeled attendees at Romney’s fundraiser, following his remarks about his own non-Mexican lineage, yells out “Pull an Elizabeth Warren!”
Romney explains the controversy the same way a lot of white folks, like Sen. Scott Brown, would. “She’s the woman who’s running for US Senate in Massachusetts,” Romney says, “who said that she’s Cherokee, has put in her application over the years that she’s Cherokee, and Harvard put down that she’s one of their minority faculty members. It turns out that at most she’s 1/32 Cherokee, and even that can’t be proven.”
Now, I don’t know or care if Elizabeth Warren is part Native American, although her explanation at Thursday night’s debate sounded reasonable and convincing. While Warren’s ancestry isn’t convincing enough for Mitt Romney and Sen. Scott Brown, it was enough for her father’s racist family. Believe her or don’t, but to base your attack on a lack of documentation is to display profound ignorance of the fact that underlies Mitt Romney’s offensive desire to exploit Hispanic identity: being a person of color in this country is not some big advantage.
It’s possible there’s little documentation to support Warren’s claim because it isn’t true, but it’s just as possible that it’s because many people of color in the history of this country, if their complexion and circumstances allowed it, would “pass” for white in order to avoid persecution, and even murder, by white people. That’s just one of the many ways that racism has messed with people’s family trees in this country, but that’s something about which Mitt Romney wouldn’t know, or care, and another example of how members of a privileged majority find it easy to ask for papers they, themselves, already have.
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