My wife and I went out for a bite to eat at the local cafe yesterday as we tried to move beyond this. While there, I couldn't help but overhear a conversation between two local Pittsburghers, who were absently talking politics, a newspaper folded under the ketchup.
HIM: You know that Romney would have supported Jim Crow?
HIM: Seems to me like Romney is a racist.
HER: He's not a racist.
HIM: I think he is.
HIM: [Unfolding the paper and pointing to a headline] You see what he said in Israel? That
Israelis are rich and Palestinians are poor because the Jews have a better culture.
HIM: Damn racist.
HER: How's that racist?
HIM: You think more blacks are poor because whites have a better culture?
HER: No. Of course I don't think that.
HIM: Right, 'cause it's all about power. Just like in Israel.
HIM: So it's racist to think culture is why Palestinians are poor. They're poor because they
don't have a chance.
HER: He made a mistake then. People make mistakes.
HIM: Damn right he made a mistake. And I bet he would have thought blacks during Jim
Crow were poor because of culture. Hell, I bet he thinks that today.
HER: You really think that?
HIM: I do.
HER: Well, that would be racist.
This is something that I have been thinking about at length -- Romney's racism -- since the GOP's presidential candidate attributed "culture" to the economic disparities between Israelis and Palestinians. And the last thing I expected to encounter, out for lunch at our neighborhood establishment, was two locals -- middle-aged and white -- discussing this exact issue.
Of course, the man is right. Romney's view of Palestinian culture, in the face of a crushing Israeli occupation, as being responsible for Palestinians' disproportionate lack of wealth is nothing short of racist. Its articulation is politically motivated, sure, as Romney scratches for Sheldon Adelson's approval (and, in turn, millions of dollars of financial support).
However, the view itself is unabashedly racist.
It would be akin to blaming black culture for the massive economic disparities between whites and blacks that existed during Jim Crow, during a time in which economic opportunities and political rights were explicitly withheld from millions of Americans (not to mention the immediate shadow of a little something called slavery).
At the National Journal, this is what Michael Hirsh had to say about Romney's "culture" remark:
It's not just that Romney oversimplifed historian David Landes's thesis about the importance of culture in economic success, as I wrote yesterday. Or that Romney, the supposed data whiz, got the per capita numbers comparing Israelis and Palestinians wildly wrong. It's that he got the Palestinians so totally wrong. I didn't think it was possible to generate much sympathy among American Jews--moderate, middle-of-the-road ones, that is-- for the Palestinian plight, but Romney seemed to manage to do it when he suggested that "culture makes all the difference" in explaining the "stark difference in economic vitality" between Israelis and Palestinians.Of course, Hirsh is correct that Romney showed ignorance in failing to acknowledge the Palestinians' vibrant history of innovation.
Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat retorted that the Israeli occupation is a key reason for Palestinian economic backwardness, and anybody with even a vague idea of Mideast politics, Jew or Gentile, knows this to be true. But Romney's mistake goes even deeper. In truth, the Palestinians historically have had a very vibrant merchant culture, one that is fabled in the Arab world and second only, perhaps, to the Israelis'. So to denigrate their culture, even by implication, is only to show ignorance.
However, it's more than that. It's his racist worldview that informs such ignorance, a worldview that sees white men of European ancestry as having superior breeding, as being cultured, as belonging to a privileged fraternal order that is, well, just plain better.
Which makes me view Romney as nothing more than a business-savvy, silver-spooned David Duke, willing to let slip his racist views when it's seen as politically beneficial. As was the case in Israel.
And you know what? It seems there are some Americans out there who are beginning to think like me.
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