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 prefaced 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.