After last week’s "Anglo-Saxon" comment from the Mitt Romney campaign, I began writing an article about why the remark is intensely racist. Then I decided that if I waited just a few days until he visited Israel, Romney would have even more interesting and offensive things to say.
I have never been more disappointed in being right.
In a room full of Israeli donors Mitt Romney attributed “culture” to the vast disparity between the Israeli economy and the Palestinian one:
“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference.”
We are officially back to basics. Someone needs to tell Mr. Romney that even in the most complex of cases culture does not make all the difference. Culture is a racist explanation, and it answers absolutely nothing about income disparities, governance structures, violence, etc. Culture, rather, is a byproduct of structural, economic, and historical processes. As it were, in this situation there is an obvious reason why there is no growth in the Palestinian economy: the Israeli occupation.
Since 1967 Israel has illegally occupied and settled the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The borders of the West Bank are entirely controlled by Israel, including imports and exports. Israel collects Palestinian taxes and customs duties and either distributes them to the Palestinians or not, depending on the behavior of the Palestinian Authority. Israel withholds water from the Palestinians and confiscates their lands, making it impossible even to grow food. All the while Israel receives billions of dollars in direct and indirect aid from the United States. Now admittedly I am no economist, but it seems culture has very little to do with the income disparity between Israel and Palestine.
If the fact that Mitt Romney angered the Palestinians does not concern the American public (which it may not), the reason why he angered them should be disconcerting. His comments prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Romney’s thinking is too simplistic and racist. Aside from the failure of this preemptive diplomatic mission he has also shown this nation that he is entirely unfit to be the face of the United States.
Prior to the Palestinian culture gaffe, a Romney advisor reportedly said to journalists about the British-American relationship:
“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special. The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”
Obviously the reference to the “White House” is an indirect way of referring to President Obama. There are multiple layers to the problematics of a statement like this one.
To begin with it is important to deconstruct the term “Anglo-Saxon.” In British history the Angles and the Saxons were Germanic tribes that settled in the Southern and Eastern parts of Britain. Their invasion was followed by the invasion and settlement of Britain by the Normans during the 11th century. In the United States “Anglo-Saxon” refers to something different because no Germanic tribes invaded these shores per se. Actually in the history of the United States the term “Anglo-Saxon” was directly related to the old idea of Manifest Destiny. The Anglo-Saxon “race” was destined by divine ordinance to settle all of America as the more superior race intellectually with sole the capacity to implement the rule of law. There lie the foundations of racist thought in the United States.
Applying that term in the 21st century implies whiteness. But white Americans are far from a homogeneous category. Only 8.7% of Americans identify themselves as British, based on the 2000 census. And even then in the real sense of the term Anglo-Saxon we are really only talking about Eastern and Southern England, and even then only for several hundred years before they were exiled to other parts of England. As Max Fischer noted in The Atlantic, neither country is really Anglo-Saxon. The Anglo-Saxon construction in U.S. history justified a racial superiority and oppression that we still cannot as a society shake off.
One wonders then how campaign advisors could use language like this. Then again, this is a campaign that has repeatedly attacked Obama’s multiculturalism, multi-racialism, and internationalism. Romney’s comment about Palestinians nicely complements the Anglo-Saxon remark in that it reveals a preference for whiteness in the Romney campaign. Despite any efforts to suppress it, this sentiment is inevitably surfacing.
It is a real possibility that neither Romney nor his advisors recognize their racism, coming from privilege, money, and power. Calling a comment racist does not assume that the person who delivers it is malicious. It could be that the person making the comment is ignorant of their own racism. This is because race is deeply entrenched in our thinking, our institutions, and in our everyday lives.
While Romney complains that the media is pouncing on his overseas gaffes, this is actually a great teachable moment. It is important for us to focus on these comments and others like them that will surely come from both Republican and Democratic camps this election season. In a perfect world our country would stop dancing around race issues and see this year’s presidential elections as a great place to start addressing them head on.