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.

Luke Visconti's Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. 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.


Question:

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"? 

Answer:

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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Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 18 years of experience publishing DiversityInc.

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