Ask the White Guy: Why Gov. Romney’s ‘47%’ Comment Probably Isn’t Racist

DiversityInc’s CEO is asked an interesting question about Gov. Mitt Romney and former President Ronald Reagan.

ATWG Romney: 47 percent, romney, mitt romneyLuke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his column, readers who ask tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Is Mitt Romney’s video about the 47 percent of “dependent” Americans another example of thinly disguised racism, much like Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens”?


You’re referring to Governor Romney’s talk at a private fundraiser at Marc Leder’s home in Boca Raton. In response to a question about how he was goinm, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what … These are people who pay no income tax.”

Watch the video below, also found on Mother Jones, and read Romney’s ‘47%’: Racism or ‘Insensitive’ Rhetoric From ‘Out-of-Touch Man’? for some of our readers’ top responses.

I don’t find anything overtly racist in his comments. I think they’re more in line with other things Romney has said, such as in the video below. He’s pragmatic—he’s not focused on people he doesn’t think will vote for him.

A Lesson for Corporate Leaders? 

But there’s a larger story, if you break down who is in the 47 percent that Romney cites. According to the Tax Policy Center, more than half of that 47 percent are working people who pay payroll taxes but fall below the minimum threshold for paying tax. Most of the rest are elderly people whose income falls below the minimum threshold. It is noteworthy, however, that more than 100,000 American households with between $211,000 and $2.2 million in income also did not pay income tax.

As an entrepreneur, I find it impossible to not also mention that Romney reports that his income-tax rate was only 13 percent—an amazingly low percentage that must only be available to people who have better lawyers and accountants than I can afford. I pay more than half of my income in taxes. Just saying.

Here is a lesson for corporate leaders: You can be pragmatic to a fault; Black and Latino people are far more likely than the average American to have a poor person in their family or a person who has no “household food security.” On the surface, they may not mean anything to your profitability. But that doesn’t mean that expressing an opinion so unfeeling, so crass in its dismissal of people, doesn’t result in huge repercussions.

Aside from hurting the feelings (and productivity) of your Black and Latino employees and customers, there are more white people by number than any other group who have no “household food security,” and there are plenty of white people who have been devastated by this recession. People who have parents who receive Medicare sure care. Those who feel they are their brother’s and sister’s keeper also care. That covers a lot of people, and alienating them will hurt your company to a remarkable degree.

Racism, Bigotry & Politics

By the way, I remain a fan of Ronald Reagan. I was on active duty during his presidency and think his handling of the former Soviet Union during the Cold War prevented World War III. However, it must be noted that he started his campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., in an acknowledgement of the Republican Southern Strategy. President (then candidate) Reagan used the key phrase “states’ rights” (referring to the argument that desegregation was to be decided by each individual state, not the federal government) in his 1980 speech. For those of you who don’t remember, Philadelphia, Miss., was the town where three civil-rights volunteers were murdered in 1964 by members of the KKK.

Prior to this speech, in 1976, Reagan became famous for his “welfare queen” speech where he said “She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.” The identity of this person was never substantiated. It’s widely acknowledged that the character in his story was a fabrication.

In my opinion, these actions and words were completely bigoted and I’m sorry an otherwise accomplished man felt it necessary to stoop to that low level.

No, I don’t think Romney’s comments were racist, but they were so unfeeling, so grossly oblivious to the majority of Americans, so horrible in their scope and so in keeping with other rather scarily unfeeling, undiplomatic and insensitive incidents and comments that I feel it’s reasonable to question his competency to run anything of consequence, much less the world’s superpower, leading economy—and liberator of billions of people, most of them poor.


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  • Just because when you dig further you find that the majority of the people falling into that 47% are white doesn’t mean that the comment was not “meant” to cast aspersions on blacks and Latinos. If Romney had blacks and Latinos in mind when he made the comment, then it was racist – pure and simple.

  • Kimberly Willis

    No, Govenor Romney’s statements about the 47%, of which I am a member, were not targeted at any particular race color or creed, but are a demonstration of the uncaring, uncharitable and general disdain for individuals that do not have the same standard of living. Mr. Romney is completely clueless of how a “normal” American lives and generally has no desire to find out what life is like if you are not a millionaire. Mitt Romney is yet another out of touch rich man who is does not give a whit about the “average” American and demonstrated by his words – “…the words you speak come from the heart–that’s what defiles you” (Matthew 15:18, NLT).

  • Erica Contreras

    Alright so in your opinion Romney’s 47% comments were not racist. Why are we not talking about the comments that were clearly bigoted though? When he talked about having a better chance at being President if he were Mexican, this was clearly offensive to me and other Mexican Americans and simply unacceptable. For a white man to claim to even begin to understand what it means to live as a Latino in the United States is disgusting. For someone like him to even take it a step further and claim that he would excel in his race for President if he were a minority makes my blood boil and I am even more angry that the media is not talking about this more. This type of hateful rhetoric is unacceptable yet it is happening more and more by Republicans. And they wonder why it’s getting harder and harder to keep Latinos on their side. Just a few months ago, a candidate running for judge in Harris County made a similar biogted comment saying he could “beat a guy with a Mexican name”. (referring to Justice David Medina). At a time when many Latinos are facing such hate, scapegoating and racisim in our society by places like Arizona, I would expect someone in the public eye to be more sensitive to Latino voters to emphathize and really try to understand the issues that are important to them. But Romney’s priorites just simpoly don’t match those of Latino voters these days. It is our job as voters to stand up and denounce behavior and attitudes like this.

  • LaJuana Caldwell

    Mr. Romney’s statement is not racist. Its is a mere reflection of his political philosophy. I think the racism lies in the perception that only minorities are on welfare or that the so called entitlements were intended to help only minorities. People forget that many of these programs stem from Goverment’s efforts to address the Great Depression era. All nationalities that make up the fabric of America have benefited from Social Security, Medicare, and Welfare. Our parents and grandparents paid into these systems. When Congress and the White House effectively manage our economy, these programs work and are sufficent to cover those who have worked for and invested into the these programs. Continuous review and reformation must occur to address current needs. One can’t expect systems built 60+ years ago to be relevent today.

    • Lend me your hand so I can stand
      Lend me your hand to I can feel
      Lend me your hand so I can move
      I’ll take your so I could walk with you or follow you.

      I am learninig each day that I am my borther’s keeper and my role is to reach out to those in need, encourage those who are battered and weary, support those who are alone and to provide, love and touch those who are less furtunate.

      To care is true Christianity and true leadership.

      Maybe Mr Romeny should reflect on his words and examine his principles to determine where he stands and who’s hands he should be holding.

    • Sheila Hightower-Allen

      I agree with you LaJuana. Mr. Romney’s statement on the surface is not racist. But, I must say his statement is based on racial tinged statements that have been made over the years with relationship to all minorities. His statements he has a lack of concern or sensitivity for other who are different from himself.

  • Medicare wasn’t built 60+ years ago and is needed more now than when enacted, due to the continuing, meteoric, rise in health care costs. In fact, some people — insurance companies excepted — believe that the ideal health care reform would be Medicare For All. The reason 47% don’t pay income taxes — especially those working — is the result of Bush Era tax cuts, which the Republicans championed. It’s disheartening how quickly things can change, solely due to cynical, hypocritical, political partisanship.

  • The remarks were clearly racist because he characterized the 47% as dependent on government; voting for President Obama no matter what; having a victim mentality; and being irresponsible. Each one of those statements are negative stereotypes of African Americans that are frequently used by racist disciples of Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Strom Thurman. How can you ignore the comment about claiming that being Mexican born would help him politically? That’s not being pragmatic, that’s just one of the numerous examples of Romney Racism 2012.

    • I agree with Andrea completely, and am only surprised it has not come up in the media more widely. I am white, but even I know that when the GOP starts talking about ‘dependent on govt’ and ‘victim mentality’, they’re not talking about whites.

  • At times I wonder if Romney’s words reflect his true feelings, or if he is flip-flopping (again) to pander to the rich folks whose money he is courting.

    Romney is an enigma. He is either unashamedly ignorant, or cunningly sly.

    He either wants the rich to know he’s on their side, supporting their superiority complexes and snobbishness towards the rest of society; or he wants them to believe the hype he’s spewing, letting the rest of society (primarily the other Republicans that follow him) to believe he truly cares for their best interests and really wants a less government-focused society.

    It’s hard to tell. He does a great job of hiding who he really is and what he is really selling.

  • Gov. Romney’s comments weren’t racist. Insensitive, yes………but not racist. It made me better understand how he would focus his efforts should he become President. It’s unfortunate he doesn’t seem to realize the “47%” are part of the middle class, and as such are the buyers of goods and service that will be a vital part of any economic recovery.

  • Mr. Visconti, with all due respect I disagree somewhat with you analysis. True, the makeup of the 47% in question is truly multiracial, but the coded language, the dog whistle as it were, still conjures up a black face. Try singing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” and change the color, but yellow still pops up in your mind no matter what word you say. So it is with “free stuff,” “dependent on government,” and no “personal responsibility” when uttered by Gov. Romney and his ilk. The reality of his words may be one thing, but the perception in the minds of those there I’ll wager was that of a black welfare mother with multiple children. Ultra-conservatives now say “urban” instead of ghetto, and “African-American” instead of the N-word. Though the words have changed the intent remains the same, to denigrate and demonize people based on race. Yes, the 47% includes folks who will vote for Romney, but most of them feel they deserve their tax deductions unlike blacks whom they feel have never worked in their lives. Was it racist, without a doubt, and spoke loudly to the subconscious racism that abounds in America, and its institutionalization into the very fabric of our society.

    • Luke Visconti

      You’re right, but I don’t think Governor Romney put that much thought into his comment. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Mr. Romney’s comments may not be racist, but they are certainly stereotypical. When he labels this enormous group of people as “dependent opon government”,as believing that “they are victims”, and as people who “believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it” (in other words, people who are unable or unwilling to take personal responsiblity for themselves) – those are stereotypes. Granted, there are some people who do abuse the system and who don’t have the personal work ethic or motivation to get to a better place, but that is a very small minority. (Just as there are some millionaires who enjoy nothing more than ripping off the little guy – but that’s certainly not the majority). But as Luke and many others have pointed out, most people who receive direct government benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, college tuition assistance, Section 8 housing, Medicaid or Medicare,or Social Security are hardworking every-income Americans who have done everything they were supposed to do to get ahead in our country. Notice I said “direct” – as we are ALL beneficiaries of government ‘benefits’ (roads, street lights, bridges, police, fire departments, FDA, environmental protection, TSA, our armed forces, air traffic control, the list goes on). Stereotypes are inflexible generalizations at best, and inflexible generalizations with no factual basis (such as this one) at worst.

  • You people don’t get it! You’re focused on your sensitivities. If Obama wins – forget 47%. We’ll be on our way to much worse. The poor (no matter the race) will be poorer. The rich will not hire the poor. We cannot sustain on this course! …and for crying out loud V. London. Caring is one thing. Entitlement is an entire different story. Do your homework people. Stop listening to mainstream media to form intelligent opinions. Stop being so sensitive to your feelings and realize you’ve fallen into a trap -like a bunch of sheep. Look at who is in charge and what he has done. Anything? Then take a look at a man that became wealthy with hard work and without handouts. You have problems with the idea that you too can apply yourself, work hard and become wealthy? I work for people like this! We NEED them. I wish America would wake up!

    • Luke Visconti

      Governor Romney grew up in a very wealthy household. His father was a governor of Michigan and the CEO of American Motors. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s clear that Governor Romney’s father was a great American – and a proponent of civil rights – but young Mitt Romney had every possible opportunity, every possible door opened for him, and had every possible connection made for him throughout his life. Oh, by the way, it’s President Obama who grew up relatively poor. He is a model of a person who applied himself and became successful. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Yes, I agree. This is why the middle class are important to America. I do not believe Romney is openminded of these things. Romney need a diversity class.

    • I think you should check your facts, and hope they’re not coming from Fox News, who apparently don’t believe in fact-checking.

      Government is of, by and for the people. That is what the founding fathers of this country intended, and I think that the GOP has forgotten this. The people Romney was referring to, the 47%, are the people who have either worked for or defended this country — seniors and veterans — or are the people who we will be looking to to work for and defend this country — children and college students.

      And who are “you people”? That seems to be the Romney attitude, the “us” and “them” mentality. As far as I’m concerned, Obama is one of “us” since he started out the same way that many of us did: hard-working parents who worked to allow their children to go to college to better their lives.

      That’s how I started. My parents didn’t go to college, but they made sure that I did. I pay taxes; I work hard; I helped my children go to college; and I’m voting for Obama, not only because I believe he can CONTINUE to improve this economy, but also because I’m really fearful of what this country would be like with Romney and those with his values running this country.

  • His goose is cooked!!!

    These latest comments from Romney are not racist, but…

    Romney’s many many comments over the months have demonstrated his ignorance. He lacks what it takes to be president-he has mispoken far too many times. You can not take back your comments on the international stage; once the words leave your mouth it’s fact.

  • Mr. Romney’s foregone conclusion that the 47% are all for President Obama and his typifying them as freeloaders plays to the image of Black welfare recipients for life. Forget the fact that Whites are the numerical recipients of welfare, his statement plays to the latent, unconscious, embedded racism that exists in America today. If I were white, I myself would have the perspective that what he said is not racist, and let’s assume that he’s not being racist. In this case he is being classist and also writing off all those whites who make up the 47%, those who by some turn of fate need help to bridge them over a tough time. How does that feel?

    • Luke Visconti

      Forty-seven percent is too large of a number for him to be racist: I agree that it plays into some stereotypes and that it’s classist. Dismissing people this way is also the hallmark of a person who feels their success is due to providence. That “feels” scary to me. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Camille Cooper

    Was his statement racist, ABSOLUTELY, without a doubt and history has shown it. But also let me explain what I consider “Divine Intervention”. Had Mr. Romney used the numbers 20% or below, this would have been a TWO maybe THREE day story at best. After that it would have been a talking point for the GOP and excited his base. When the democrats complained, it would be described as “using the race card”. Let me that it a step further and as a matter of fact, his numbers would have gone up with white americans because the lower numbers would have played into their conscience or unconscience racism that has been instilled in our society that ONLY BLACKS are dependent upon government, believe that they are victims, believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, believe that they are entitled to healthcare, food, housing, you-name-it. That’s an entitlement, and the government should give it to them. But when he said 47%, you don’t have to be educated or political savvy to understand that that number includes more than just African Americans. When he stated 47%, that’s half the population and NO WHITES, not even FOX news could spin that one, so therefore they were forced to have to look at themselves and KNOW that he was certainly talking about them ALSO.

  • Governor Romney’s comments about the “47%” are not a surprise to me. Let me just say the people in the room knew exactly who he was referring to when he used the words “victims” and “entitlement”. Republican leaders, journalists, the media, and social media have done a masterful job of promoting the narrative that black Americans are the problem, a large number of black Americans are getting handouts, and all blacks feel they are “victims” and therefore entitled to government help. That narrative keeps the white working class Republican base and Reagan Democrats angry and revved up so they will keep voting Republican while the Republican leaders/establishment continues to do what they have always done…Look out for and support the very wealthy and big business.

  • The key to understanding the value of diversity in business, in my opinion, is fully integrated, objective truth, all analyzed within the proper context. That said, Mr. Visconti I think this was a brilliant response to an off the cuff comment being spun out of control during election time. Also, folks, remember that Romney is a absolute business man. He thinks in terms of objective growth, not subjective emotions. His comment was basically cold hard fact, but people are breaking it down based on cold hard emotion. The two do not mix, period.

    Like Luke’s response, I agree his comment wasn’t racist. Go ahead and speculate back and forth, it’s a waste of time, because nobody will ever, ever, EVER know the truth except Mr. Romney himself (in fact, the title of this article speaks to that fact). However as leader you must be sensitive to the pulse of the nation, because we are a dynamic, living collective, and this is an important fact to be aware of. So, Romney’s comments do show (but don’t PROVE) that he’s out of touch with that aspect of leadership. Remember his specific audience, and don’t lose context of the setting, because he was pandering to a group of donors.

    So, I think both perspectives were objective, fair, and of course left room for alternatives. A healthy way to look at things on a level playing field, which is important when there are an infinite amount of perspectives on the issue. In other words, this article sums up the recent media storm quite nicely, and remember it ‘s only being twisted out of control due to the fact it’s a presidential election.

    This was a fair, understandable, but speculative question. Mr. Visconti’e answer was also fair, objective, and understands the speculative nature of the question without lost context of it’s importance in the bigger picutre. Great question, and great response, in my opinion.

    • Luke Visconti

      Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. To further your comments, I’d like to point out that the problem with a purely “objective” approach using “cold hard fact” is that there’s no such thing when you’re dealing with people—facts are subjective. One person’s joke is another person’s insult. One person’s imposition of order is another person’s oppression. (For example, states that force poor people to take time-consuming and costly identification requirements to vote.)

      I think understanding this concept of facts being subjective gives you empathy. Empathy does not mean you agree with everyone, empathy does not mean you must surrender your own principles. People can operate in a bubble of self-important lack of empathy successfully if they’re obliviously privileged and never told they’re wrong. However, empathy becomes urgently important when you’re a leader negotiating with people in an unstable government who have nuclear weapons (Iran) or with people who hold trillions of dollars of our debt (China).

      It is clear to me from his own statements, taken at face value, that Governor Romney would make for a very dangerous president. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Mr. Visconti,
    I find it unnecessary that you give your stamp, as the standard bearer for “the white guy,” that Romney’s words were “not racist.” Romney has stated that he will not apologize for his words because it is what he meant. He did not need you to interpret his intent for Diversity readers.
    Your intent is questionable when, in one paragraph you praise Ronald Reagan for “his handling of the former Soviet Union during the Cold War,” and excuse his actions that blatantly embraced the roots of American racism and his words that openly espoused the stereotypes of American racism. While you acknowledge Reagan’s words and actions as bigotted, you apologize that “he felt it necessary to stoop to that low level.” What in the world does that mean, necessary? Applying your reasoning to Romney it seems you are stating that because a presidential election is at stake, it’s not racist if Romney concludes it is necessary to make not so veiled allusions to racist images, especially because it is evidence of his disdain for many other people as well.

    • Luke Visconti

      I don’t think Governor Romney should apologize for his comments for exactly the reason you state: He meant every word. As far as President Reagan—to paraphrase Dr. Cornel West—we are all cracked vessels. By the way—I am not the standard bearer for white men—the title of my column is meant to be ironic. I don’t represent all white men any more than the average Black guy represents all Black men. It’s my way of poking a little fun at stereotypes—kind of like saying “some of my best friends are white men.” (If you’re a baby boomer, you’ll remember that phrase from your youth). Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • can you say that welfare in this country is in a good place? that it is fairly distributed?

    NO!!! You can’t!!

    The system that provides for so called “under privileged” is beyond corrupt and needs a change. If that is what he means by entitlement; then i have to agree with Romney. Its easy to see that most welfare recipients (most in my state are white btw, not that i think that matters at all but apparently this article thinks skin color matters) abuse the system when they have a body that is healthy and can work……


  • I never took the comment as being racist. Although I can’t understand how Romney is still in this race after making such a comment. I find it unbelievable that Americans are stupid enough to find him believable or trustworthy.

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