The Fears of A White Mormon Presidential Candidate
You were probably hoping to read a contrarian post in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ latest artice for the Atlantic, Fear of a Black President. While I did not find Coates’ article perfect, he did a nice job of doing a geneaology of racial discrimination in U.S.American political practices. The article became timely and relevant because the very next day, GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney came out of the closet as a birther. No one ever had to question where his birth certificate, and why would that be Mitt? Could it be the color of your skin? Perhaps being raised in an affluent background and privilege? The “joke” obviously aimed at President Obama (of whom I am not a supporter) was rather beneath Romney who’s struggling with his identity as a Yankee elitist by trying to play to the worst of conservative populism. Republicans and Democrats claim to be color-blind and accepting of people of other creeds, but can we really be color-blind when race is the very creed of U.S. American politics?
Take for example this post on Romney’s Mormon roots and race: Origins of a Race-Baiting Birther: How Did Mitt Rommey’s Upbringing in a Racist Religion Impact His Attitudes Towards People of Color?:Chauncey DeVega; has the American public grappled with this history, which only 34 years ago declared blacks to be evil and unworthy of the priesthood? What are the implications of voting for a man who follows a religion that once believed that blacks would remain 2nd class citizens even in the after-life? The answer is that we have not even grasped the impact of African enslavement and Jim & Jane Crow legalized segregation (along with lynching), and so really, until we do, we have no right to ask that question of LDS Christians. I know of a friend who brought up slavery during a Bible study, and there were moments of awkward silent. Now, while I do say that the Church of Latter-Day Saints errs in several of its teachings, as Ben Witherington III points out, I am not not voting for Mitt Romney on the basis of his religious preference. No, its policy that matters, and I am not voting for the President either.
What I am saying is this: Romney only had to make one speech about his religion to do away with his critics, and that was during the primary season in 2007. Of course, for such a “ground-breaking speech” about religious tolerance/freedom, Romney first posits Muslims and the Chinese as the Oriental Wild-Men Others: “America faces a new generation of challenges. Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us. An emerging China endeavors to surpass our economic leadership.” Why not start with our history of freedom? Why the “threats” to us all? No, I am not saying there is no such thing as “radical violent islam”; what I am saying is that I am sick and tired of Sino-phobia in the name of our other religion, not-so-free market, corporate driven capitalism. I am saying that I am sick and tired of Muslims, Sikhs, and other groups from the “Middle-East,” heck, people of color, being labelled as the angry, violent threats lurking behind America’s decline.
Even in Romney’s speech on religion, the rhetoric is racialized because race is the religion of our electoral politics. President Obama on the otherhand, because he is recognized as African-American/black, he will always have to be utterly aware of his particularity. Romney speaks to the general public, his Mormon supporters are called patriots, while blacks who vote for BHO are called racist. The double-standard nature of identity politics when it comes to electoral politics: whites have the privilege to vote for people who look like them on city, state, and national levels, but when blacks get a chance, their patriotism, their self-hood is always put into question. The Romney campaign‘s worst nightmare is having Mitt’s whiteness challenged, based on his Mormonism: Is Mitt white enough? Mormonism violated one of the fruits of Western civilization (monogamy) from its very conception, but it also baptized modernity’s racist belief systems that was constructed by Christians that came before them. Romney has nothing to worry about today though, it’s not 1830, where New Yorkers once said, “LOOK! A WHITE PERSON!”