Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
The Mitt Romney campaign has run a thinly veiled racist campaign.
By making an issue of welfare and work requirements, Romney has fed the stereotype that many whites have about people on welfare, even though a majority of welfare recipients are not black.
Similarly, he has picked up on Newt Gingrich’s comments about Barack Obama being a “food stamp” president. Romney even managed to sneak in the words “food stamps” twice in the foreign policy debate. But again, blacks are not the majority of the 44 million receiving food stamps. Of recipients identifying themselves by race, whites receive 34 percent of those benefits, blacks 22 percent, and Hispanics 17 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Romney’s surrogates and supporters have been playing the race card, too.
When ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Obama again, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a co-chair of the Romney campaign, said Powell did so because he’s of the “same race” as Obama.
Sarah Palin has also chimed in, criticizing Obama for a “shuck and jive” on Libya.
This is racial politics at its worst: When in trouble, blame black people.
A black former state senator from South Carolina, Kay Patterson, once put his finger on this. He said that white candidates often compete for white votes by showing how nasty they could be to black people.
Even Romney’s private comments about the 47 percent of Americans he called “entitled” and irresponsible may actually help him in this odd way. Many white Americans read Romney’s comments as applying not to them but to minorities.
But being poor and receiving government help isn’t a black thing.
The truth of the matter is that most U.S. citizens depend on the government for things large and small. The biggest welfare kings in the country are not the people standing in line to get help keeping their lights on. They are corporate chieftains with a hand out for more government funds and tax breaks. Yet the “welfare queen (or king)” stigma is reserved for blacks.
The great irony of this low tactic is that African-Americans have not thrived under Obama. Black unemployment is almost twice what it is for whites, and African-Americans lost more wealth in the Great Recession than any other group due to the collapse of the housing market.
Obama likes to say that we need to “grow our economy from the middle out.” But getting into the middle class is hard enough, and staying there is even harder, especially when the poor, working poor and middle classes are all bombarded by unsustainable, ever-rising debt.
At the Democratic Convention, Obama made little reference to race, race-related matters, civil rights or voting rights. And he only mentioned the poor once.
While African-Americans are almost 100 percent behind Obama, he doesn’t seem to be 100 percent behind them.
Kevin Alexander Gray is a writer and activist living in South Carolina. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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