Saturday, November 3, 2012

Three Basic Concepts that Will Help You Understand Mitt Romney's Appeal Among White Voters

There is a real, airtight bubble in this election, but it's not Obama's. As a middle-aged white man, in fact, I'm breaching it. White people—white men in particular—are for Mitt Romney. White men are supporting Mitt Romney to the exclusion of logic or common sense, in defiance of normal Americans. Without this narrow, tribal appeal, Romney's candidacy would simply not be viable. Most kinds of Americans see no reason to vote for him... 
Tom Scocca's piece at Slate about Mitt Romney and the white vote is sharp and worth your time to read. However, folks like me, and a few others, have been discussing the relationship between Whiteness and Mitt Romney for some time. The Right, and some on the Left, are quick to deride and mock "identity" politics. That category of fighting over "who gets what, when, how, and why" is apparently abnormal political behavior best left to the gays, women, blacks, brown people, and those others whose citizenship is somehow made contingent when compared to the de facto "Americanness" of white men.

Good white men would never indulge in such things. The irony is clear: the United States is a country built upon maintaining, expanding, and protective the privileges of Whiteness. Mitt Romney has based a whole campaign on white identity politics and white victimology. Few in the mainstream media have had the courage to call attention to his strategy. 

Folks like me are also part of the problem as well. 

I often use "technical" and "academic" language when plain speaking would be more helpful for equipping readers with a vocabulary that can be used in their day-to-day conversations about race and politics. 

I am also open to self-correction when appropriate. As such, Scocca's points about white folks, and my claims about why white men in particular support Mitt Romney--and the Tea Party GOP's, deranged, anachronistic, and retrograde throwback politics--can be summed up in simple terms. 

America is a white supremacist country by design. Racism has (of course) changed and evolved over time. However, Whiteness as a racial identity predicated on privilege and superiority over non-whites remains in many ways very much unchanged. The need to maintain white control over America's political, social, economic, and cultural institutions is manifest in overt and subtle ways.

For example, despite their great advantages in wealth, income, power, social mobility, resources, and all other socioeconomic measures, many white people--especially white male conservatives--are terrified and upset by the symbolic power of a black man who happens to be President of the United States. 

Ultimately, White Masculinity is imperiled by the idea of Barack Obama. White men rule this country; ironically, no group of people, especially on the Right are as insecure. 
Broad social categories such as class, gender, and sexuality are all operative here as well.

White men, as a group, are full of anxiety because of a perception--there is scant if any evidence to support this belief--that they are a group in relative decline. Romney's campaign to mine white racial resentment, and his overwhelming support among white people, is a reflection of that fear.

The misogyny, perverse obsession with women's reproductive rights and their bodies, and a fixation on the right of white men to rape women--and yes, in its most basic form the whole discourse about "legitimate" and "real" rape is about white men's (and never black men's) "right" to women's bodies--is fundamentally about control and power.

In the Age of Obama, White Masculinity imagines itself as at risk and obsolete. Because of their authoritarian streak, white conservative men must have control of women and the Other. White Conservative Masculinity's overreaction to the Age of Obama, and the social and political gains of people who are not white, male, and straight, are a function of this standing decision rule. 

There are three concepts that are especially helpful for understanding why white people, and white men in particular, support Mitt Romney. These frameworks are also very useful for making sense of white racial resentment, an enraged type of White Privilege, and the rise of anti-black and brown affect in the four years since President Obama became president. 

The first is the idea of "cognitive mapping"

For Jameson, cognitive mapping is a way of understanding how the individual´s representation of his or her social world can escape the traditional critique of representation because the mapping is intimately related to practice – to the individual´s successful negotiation of urban space. Cognitive mapping in this sense is the metaphor for the processes of the political unconscious. It is also, however, the model for how we might begin to articulate the local and the global. It provides a way of linking the most intimately local – our particular path through the world – and the most global – the crucial features of our political planet...

The second is the concept of a "lifeworld"

By this means, lifeworld describes a person’s subjectively experienced world, whereas life conditions describe the person’s actual circumstances in life. Accordingly, it could be said that a person’s lifeworld is built depending on their particular life conditions. More precisely, the life conditions include the material and immaterial living circumstances as for example employment situation, availability of material resources, housing conditions, social environment (friends, foes, acquaintances, relatives, etc.) as well as the persons physical condition (fat/thin, tall/small, female/male, healthy/sick, etc.). The lifeworld, in contrast, describes the subjective perception of these conditions.


The third idea is the "white racial frame":

Since its development in the 17th century, this racial frame has been a “master frame,” a dominant framing that provides a generic meaning system for the racialized society that became the United States. The white racial frame provides the vantage point from which European American oppressors have long viewed North American society. In this racial framing, whites have combined racial stereotypes (the cognitive aspect), metaphors and interpretive concepts (the deeper cognitive aspect), images (the visual aspect), emotions (feelings), and inclinations to discriminatory action. This frame buttresses, and grows out of the material reality of racial oppression...

When you watch Fox News and it makes not a bit of sense to you because you are not part of that subculture and skewed reality, these three concepts will help you. 

When you try to understand why many white conservatives are brought to mouth frothing rage at the mere mention of Barack Obama, and then proceed to recycle nonsense about birtherism, "affirmative action," and how he is oppressing white people, these three concepts will help you. 

When you want to make sense of why so many white people, and white men in particular, are supporting Mitt Romney, even while admitting that his policies will hurt people like them, these three concepts will help you.

Knowing is half the battle. Knowledge will also make you more calm, at peace, and happy. An understanding of these concepts is also indispensable for making sense of the outcome of the election this Tuesday. Mitt Romney was not been playing three dimensional chess in order to beat Barack Obama. No, he was simply using a centuries old strategy, one that dates back to the founding of the republic, to defeat the country's first black president. When viewed from that perspective, Romney's strategy of wholesale lying and naked racial appeals is a thing of simplicity, one that is deeply rooted in the American political tradition.

22 comments:

nomad said...

"Folks like me are also part of the problem as well. Consequently, I believe in the merits of critical self-reflection.

I often use "technical" and "academic" language when plain speaking would be both more useful for my arguments, as well as for equipping readers with a vocabulary that can be used in their day-to-day conversations about politics.

I also tend to write long. Consequently, some folks may get the gist of what I am offering, but do not have the time to hang around for the punchline. I am also not interested in talking points. I will not sacrifice rigor for either bullet points, or a list of ideas that can be circulated without a deeper understanding of the deeper dynamics in play."
Well, yeah, but there is at least one other problem. What you see and say is quite accurate and convincing. The problem is that you seem to have a blind spot. In this case I might call it a blind hemisphere. It's kinda big. Let's call it, until I can think of something better, the mythologizing of Barack Obama.

chaunceydevega said...

@Nomad. You have a blind spot too called an obsession with untenable politics and fantasies of 3rd party candidates and an obsession with critiquing everything Obama does because he is not black superman. Time is down to the wire so I will have to rush a few of my pro-wrestling posts. I also have a great interview on 3rd party supporters who for reasons of silly and childish ideological purity are going to help vote in Mitt Romney.

nomad said...

I may indeed have a blind spot. But not with regard to this issue. My eyes are wide open. It's your prerogative advocate for who you wish. But your advocacy leaves out some critical issues. I'm just filling in that hemisphere you pretend doesn't exist.

chaunceydevega said...

@Nomad. I know your perspective exists. And I welcome your comments. But matters and stakes are too high to indulge utopian thinking about 3rd party candidates who by design cannot win the presidency.

nomad said...

BTW, there's one of those other problems you have. Not everyone that disagrees with you are silly and childish.

chaunceydevega said...

@nomad. of course they are :)

but seriously, the notion that voting for a 3rd party candidate this time around is a viable solution is based on a type of naivete and utopian dreaming that in the face of Romney and what he will further usher in is yes, very problematic. some dreaming is childish btw; that does not mean that dreaming is a bad thing.

Sternlettertofollow said...

I become mouth-frothing over those who support Romney. He is, first and foremost, so inured to lying, that I am unclear as to whether he discerns the membrane between fact and the imaginings of his pea-sized brain. He is an horrific racist. He spoke (in debate) to our commander-in-chief as if Obama were a lesser employee who had tracked dog poop onto his white carpet. His voice drips with contempt. He is irrelevant. Which leads to the mouth frothing disbelief that any thinking person could choose to support him.
You have covered a number of issues which define the framework of white supremacist thinking. A dangerous cocktail when combined with fundamentalist religiosity and politicization of moral issues.
I am glad to have found your site. I was lead to it by concern over the Mole People. Please follow up when you receive more information.

chaunceydevega said...

@Stern. I have not heard anything. So many people are in denial about this matter and the homeless more generally. If you hear anything do share as well. Glad you found WARN. Do stick around!

Shady_Grady said...

Chauncey..when would you EVER be supportive of a third party vote? In every election people say the stakes are too high to vote for third party candidate...

chaunceydevega said...

@Brother. Dog catcher? Alderman? A serious contender nationally, or if I wanted to strategically vote to sabotage a candidate, i.e. supporting Perot to hurt Bush.

nomad said...

"But matters and stakes are too high to indulge utopian thinking about 3rd party candidates who by design cannot win the presidency."
That's the dimension I'm talking about. The one dimension left out of the discussion is the only one with a hope of remedy for the present situation; which really is new: this Bush/Obama era. It's only been around since 2001. How quickly we get used to nooses around our necks. What you do in voting for either of these 2 party corporate puppets is validate the new status quo, the one created by George Bush. You just move a step closer to fascism. I notice that your advocacy of Obama never includes any thing positive about his policies. Primarily you focus on the fact that he is a victim of discriminatory attack and for the reason of race identity we should rally around him. Well, there's too much at stake for epidermal politics. What difference does it make what color the downpresser is. He is still the downpresser. And if you encourage people to vote for a downpresser then at least tell them that that's what they're voting for. So they want be surprised when he starts downpressing. Matters and stakes are much too high. Know what you're voting for.

As for the possibility of a third party candidate winning...Everything is impossible...until it happens. Stranger things have happened. Anybody remember the Berlin Wall?

nomad said...

I'm gonna dig up some credible third party advocates in a moment; you know; serious people. In the meantime, this was just too funny.

"This is your brain on Obama:

Smoking Obama increases apathy and reduces empathy, regardless of race, creed or color. Now blacks, as well as whites, don’t care in the least how many dark-skinned people America kills throughout the world. Before the Obama epidemic, the entire American working class had no class consciousness, but now it’s most historically progressive element (blacks) has no race consciousness either. (Blacks, like all factions of the Democrats, only have symbol consciousness — tangible improvements are never required.) For American capitalism, that Obama is some good shit."
http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/11/02/your-brain-on-obama/

makheru bradley said...

No doubt about it John Qunicy Adams and W.E.B. Du Bois were just “silly” and “childish.”

"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection
that your vote is never lost." – Adams


“In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no ‘two evils’ exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.” – Du Bois

I would not call people who have not broken the monopoly which the corrupt two-party system has on their minds silly and childish. The seductive power of “spiritual wickedness in high places” is strong. On the other hand Dr. Asa Hilliard did say “mental slavery is invisible violence.” It’s crystal clear Nomad, these people have been psychologically traumatized.

My position is that Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer did not get beaten in the jail in Winona, Mississippi and Mrs. Viola Liuzzo did not get killed by the KKK on Highway 80 in Alabama for me to choose between injustice (Barack Obama) and immorality (Mitt Romney) in a presidential election. However, if people want to vote for a war criminal or someone who is dying to become one, that’s their prerogative.

Perhaps on November 7 we will know if the contradictions in American society will continue to be nebulous, or if they will become clearer.

Dave said...

I am a 59 year old white male living in the bible belt of California. I voted for Obama in 2008 and voted for him by absentee ballot last week

chaunceydevega said...

@Dave. We need more reasonable folks like you. Yes, there are large numbers of white folks--and white men--who voted for Obama. We need more of them to talk to their kin, other white folks, and other to get them to see the light. Romney may be white but his Whiteness ain't theirs...nor is it working in their interest either.

Now, I will leave it up to someone to make the obvious Obama joke.

nomad said...

its not a joke. but it is obvious. so much so that i don't even have to say it.

Enon said...

I grew up in a very white neighborhood, in a very white town, attending a lily-white church. I have had very little personal interaction with blacks in my lifetime, some good, some bad.

I do know a little something about black American culture. The answer to Freud's famous question about what women want has a simple answer: Gee, Dr. Freud, don't you know there are any number of women novelists, poets, historians and biographers you could read? The same thing applies to understanding the African-American experience.

I had thought that White attitudes had changed for the better in my lifetime. When I am in a group of only white people, I am much less likely to hear nigger jokes than I was decades ago. (Jokes about Jews are still common.)

Things have not changed as much as I wished to believe. The stuff that's going around by email makes my skin crawl.

We have serious political and economic structural problems in this country. Mr. Obama is a calm, thoughtful, middle-class chief executive who has most effectively seized the levers of power of the imperial presidency. The problem is with the imperial presidency, not Mr. Obama personally.

Vote for Obama, not the mendacious plutocrat. Then continue to work for change. Work to elect legislators who will push back against the imperial presidency. Support getting rid of first-past-the-post voting in favor of instant-runoff voting. Get active, stay active.

Anonymous said...

you do know the Obama is half white?
Why can't we celebrate his whiteness?

Steven Augustine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chaunceydevega said...

@SA. good point. corrected.

Steven Augustine said...

(I considered writing the message in pig-latin, but I realized we're all fluent)

Anonymous said...

What do you think of the fact that the white vote is divided? Because if 60% of white people voted for Romney, that means 40% of white people voted for Obama. We (yes, I'm white and yes I vote) are *ALSO* the white vote. I know a lot of older white men who voted for Obama. Not all of us are an electorate to be bought and sold at the whim of a racial dog whistle. Not all of us are right wing Christian either.

As a black race man, what do you think about the 40% of white people who willingly vote themselves into a plurality amoung not-white people? I know I feel more comfortable there.

Hilary