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A lot is being said about how Romney “won” last night’s debate. By virtue of his passion, he came out ahead in most public opinion polls. Speaking out of turn, spouting falsehoods, and defensively talking over both the President and moderator Jim Lehrer, Romney took the debate in a landslide. Granted, plenty of people are angry with Lehrer, and many paint Obama’s willingness to yield to the interruptions as “losing.” It might have been the President’s strategy to let Romney hang himself from his own noose, but when it comes to public perception, unfortunately it’s a white man’s game. In order to be perceived as “a leader” and “strong” and “the winner” you need to talk angrily out of turn so other white men will see you as someone who “takes what’s rightfully yours.” In other words, you overpower your opponent by force.

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Now, this strategy won’t work for Obama. He may be the leader of the free world, but he’s still a black guy. As well-educated and “elitist” as some might portray him, his blackness is still scary to a lot of white people, including the traditional teachings of Joseph Smith. Watching how Mitt Romney spoke to the President last night, it’s sort of a wonder he didn’t call him “boy.” While many have lauded Romney’s performance as a win, he’s also been described as hyperactive. Had the President acted the way Romney did, you can bet the word being carelessly thrown around wouldn’t be hyperactive. It would be uppity, with all of the connotations that go with it.

If you think the President seemed passive, lethargic, or weak last night, consider Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Fear of a Black President.”

Black America ever lives under that skeptical eye. Hence the old admonishments to be “twice as good.” Hence the need for a special “talk” administered to black boys about how to be extra careful when relating to the police.

When defending himself against a man like Mitt Romney, the President is being twice as careful, because he’s dealing with twice the scrutiny. As a white man, Mitt’s allowed to be as emotional -aggressive, rude, even angry – as he wants to be. All of those qualities make him strong. But as a black man, any of those qualities would hurt the President. The same goes for other historically underrepresented groups. If it were either Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin, getting angry would have people accusing her of being too volatile to hold such an important position. Really, the only way you can be aggressive and rude and have it perceived as a strength is when you’re a member of the group who makes and universalizes the rules — in other words, the white majority.

When reading articles that laud Mitt Romney for winning, keep in mind that they’re celebrating the fact that Mitt Romney can get away with behaving like a white man and Barack Obama, the President of the United States, still can’t.

 

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