Racism & Bigotry: Will 'Wetback' Slur Derail GOP's Rebranding Efforts

Crushing defeats in last year’s election left Republicans aching to reposition their political platform, but continuing cultural-competency gaffesnamely, Alaska Congressman Don Young’s recent racial slursuggest that the GOP is far from improving its relevancy with an increasingly diverse American population.


During a recent interview with KRBD radio, Young “accidentally” used a racial slur when referring to the Latinos who used to work on his family’s farm.

“My father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 or 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine,” said Young.

Young immediately was slammed by both the media and his fellow GOP members for the racist comment, but it wasn’t until Speaker of the House John A. Boehner demanded that Young apologize that any sign of remorse was issued. A full three days later, Young finally said: “I apologize for the insensitive term I used. There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words.” Young noted it was a term used back when he was growing up and, as such, he did not consider the term’s present-day connotations.

It’s an excusenot a heartfelt apology that conveys a sense of sincerity or mindfulness, which the GOP needs to convey.

Diversity and cultural competence have become key differentiators in political success. During the 2012 presidential race, 71 percent of Latinos voted for President Obama, and Latinos comprised 10 percent of the total electorate for the first time.

Is the GOP for Whites Only Young’s gaffe is a classic example of yet another “we don’t get it moment,” says Mike Allen, Chief White House Correspondent for Politico. Last year, gaffes by Republican candidates such as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, along with racist voter laws, negatively impacted voter opinions. And Young’s slur “gives critics and people who are skeptical of the party a new reason to say it hasn’t changed.”

What will it take for a turnaround in the Republican Party Jason Johnson, who debated the issue on a CNN panel, had this to say in his column on Politic365.com:

One of the problems that the Republican Party has about race issues is that the party is full of non-repentant bigots who want to treat racism like it’s an outlier and exceptional instead of the basic thought process of many, many (all too many) Americans. Earlier today I was on CNN with Amy Holmes from the Blaze (Glenn Beck TV) and she responded with the typical talking points of the GOP: “Joe Biden says racist things too,” “Other Democrats have said racist things,” etc., etc. Trying to place blame on all sides does not solve the GOP’s major electoral and reputational problem. All Republicans, white people, conservatives and Southerners are not racists. In fact, the majority of these groups are not necessarily racist. However, the GOP refuses to take responsibility for its own bad press and would rather say that the media is blowing things out of proportion, unfairly targeting its members (instead of Democrats) or that Blacks and Latinos are too sensitive. All of these outfits and fashion flips rather than cleaning up their act.

The biggest issue for Johnson The level of comfort with which Young said “wetback,” he writes, is representative of the “casual simple ‘it’s a fact’ bigotry that is churned out every day in the halls of power, where denying someone a job, acceptance into a college or a promotion is not the result of some large diabolical plot, it’s just how large portions of white people have done things in America for years and continue to do.”

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