I have just under 24 hours to contribute my thoughts about how evil Paul Ryan is, and I have only now gotten angry enough to consider doing so.
What riled me up was finally realizing that Paul Ryan is a white supremacist.
Paul Ryan said the following this past Sunday to the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a group of religious conservatives. Ryan was discussing Obama’s alleged path for the United States:
“It's a path that grows government, restricts freedom and liberty, and compromises those values, those Judeo-Christian, western civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place,” Ryan said.
Can we talk about coded racism and xenophobia? Can we talk about white supremacy?
Such language evokes the ‘birther’ conspiracy that paints our president as an Islamic fundamentalist and an evil, Muslim, African ‘other.’ When half of all Republicans believe the president was not born in the United States and 18 percent think he’s Muslim, Ryan’s statements lack the innocence they might have on the surface.
Ryan could make these same claims against a white, American-born candidate (other politicians have), but they ultimately are tantamount to questioning the ‘whiteness’ of opposing candidates or their policies.
Here, ‘whiteness’ can be taken to mean ‘Christianness’ and continuing ‘the Western tradition,’ but all three of these ideas have been used to justify racist and discriminatory American policies.
Let’s talk about how the “Judeo-Christian and Western civilization values” that “made us such a a great and exceptional nation in the first place” that Ryan cites were the same ones that enabled white Americans to wage genocide against indigenous North Americans, dehumanize and enslave black people and to put up as much resistance to their participation in the body politic once slavery was abolished.
In other words, these “American” values emerged out of a legacy of settler colonialism that required constructing strict color boundaries to justify the killing and enslavement of fellow human beings. These boundaries were harshest when white settlers and later politicians needed to decide who was a ‘person’ and a ‘citizen’ and who was not.
By labeling Africans and American Indians as ‘savages,’ and by defining ‘savage’ as antithetical to being a ‘Christian,’ white Americans could justify excluding these ‘savage’ voices from the very policies that harmed them so greatly. Such dehumanization was ‘justified’ in the eyes of these groups because Africans and American Indians came from a ‘different’ ‘alien’ ‘other’ culture.
Let’s also take a look at who else has used similar language to Ryan’s and examine the implications.
The Klu Klux Klan cites their national director on their homepage as saying: “Stay firm in your convictions. Keep loving your heritage and keep witnessing to others that there is a better way than a war torn, violent, wicked, socialist, new world order. That way is the Christian way - law and order - love of family - love of nation. These are the principles of western Christian civilization. There is a war to destroy these things.”
Ryan and the Klu Klux Klan utilize the same rhetoric to appeal to an increasingly defensive and reactionary demographic.
Some might defend Ryan saying, ‘He’s talking about Obama’s policies and not Obama himself!’ or ‘He obviously didn’t intend this to be racist!’
But there is no way Ryan is ignorant of the historical implications of his statements. Ryan knows the anxieties of this particular audience, white and increasingly marginalized, and he seeks to exploit them. Why else would he make these statements only to this particular group and not incorporate them into his larger end-of-campaign speeches?
Consider Mitt Romney’s 47 percent remarks, which were also made to a private, anxious audience:
“There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it,” Romney said.
Historically, this rhetoric of social welfare as a bad system and negative attitudes towards ‘entitlement’ have been coded language to refer to people of color and the poor. The same phenomenon of racial ‘othering’ is used to help parts of our electorate justify the paltry conditions of housing, health and education that disproportionately affect people of color.
And the fact that Romney and Ryan can use language so coded that it could appear completely benign to some readers and deeply malignant to others further indicates the gravity of challenges racial minorities and their allies have to overcome. (The fact that our ‘western’/’American’ media so uncritically filtered Ryan’s message also speaks to the media’s implications in perpetuating this system of racial injustice.)
Pundits have argued that, due to demographic shifts, this is the final election where a potentially successful campaign strategy could be one of appealing to whites and ignoring minority voters. While there is a demographic shift, I am worried that comments like Ryan’s represent the mildest of tactics future politicians may use during interracial elections.
It is possible that campaigns might shift even farther to extremes, that is to say that politicians may focus double the energy and attention on increasing turnout among ultra-conservative, white Christian groups. The move towards voter disenfranchisement in the form of voter ID laws that disproportionately affect the poor and people of color also suggests that the future may see politicians looking to suppress as much of the minority vote as possible.
I’m not sure whether to go as far as saying voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket makes you a racist. (I might.) But I know that I can say voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket means that you’re complicit in, and enabling, a racist campaign strategy that believes the best way to secure last minute votes is to divide the electorate along lines of race, ethnicity, and religion.
To elevate the culture and tradition of one group, and by implication devalue the culture and tradition of another, is to be a supremacist. In a society like our American one where the majority of the population will soon come from non-Anglo-American contexts, it is important that our leaders do not reflect such a perspective as Paul Ryan’s.