Tokenism 101

Last week, whether you parked at the 50 Yard Line or rolled on the Informative Avenue, the GOP’s much-vaunted new Latino outreach efforts did not appear to be going well. Even Senator Don Young’s non-apology apology for casually tossing out a racial slur – “in my day, the word meant something different,” which, no it didn’t – indicated a much deeper problem.

Similarly, when Rand Paul went to Howard University last week, he offended the audience by assuming that they – elite students at a top university – did not know that Frederick Douglass was a Republican, while appearing to forget entirely about the Republican Party’s more recent racial history. According to Jamelle Bouie,

At no point did Paul acknowledge Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Lee Atwater’s racial demagoguery, or Ronald Reagan’s decision to denounce “welfare queens” and embrace “states’ rights” while campaigning in Philadelphia, Mississippi—where three civil-rights workers were murdered by white supremacists. Instead, he focused his time and attention on the 19th-century history of the GOP…I’m not sure Paul deserves any praise for his performance. It would be one thing if Paul had gone to Howard eager to listen as well as speak. Instead, he condescended with a dishonest and revisionist history of the GOP. “He didn’t say anything I didn’t expect,” said one student, a senior majoring in sociology and economics. I couldn’t agree more.

The modern Republican party believes that the only kind of racism that truly exists is reverse racism, and that affirmative action exemplifies this. However, this point of view results in considerable cognitive dissonance, as it requires overlooking basically any statistical or objective form of measurement (income levels, educational achievement, professional advancement, incarceration rates, political offices, and so forth) in favor of more…dubious explanations. Mitt Romney, in addition to his infamous 47% comments, offered one such insight after he was booed by the NAACP: “…if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy – more free stuff.”

“They,” meaning considerably more than 47% of the country (including 93% of black voters, 71% of Latinos, 73% of Asian Americans, 69% of Jewish voters, 67% of Native Americans, 76% of gay voters, 60% of youth under 30, and 55% of women), were not buying what the Republicans were selling. Due to these staggering deficits, Republicans find themselves with a particularly shallow bench of minority talent. Yet somehow, the powers that be within the GOP have decided that it is not their product, the actual policies, that voters have rejected; the problem lies only in the packaging.

However, with this dearth of qualified conservatives of color, over and over again Republicans have pulled up unripe backbenchers (Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson) who promptly embarrassed themselves on the national stage – because if you don’t believe in affirmative action, chances are you won’t execute it very well.

If Republicans intend to win over any voters outside of their core white male demographic, simply re-wording their mission statement more politely won’t cut it. Nor will sprinkling in a few Spanish words, or having them read by a person of color; it’s a form of condescension that is both blatant and deeply offensive. According to reporting by Buzzfeed,

One former RNC field staffer, who is Hispanic, described a culture of cynicism among his predominantly white colleagues when it came to minority outreach. He said that in his office, whenever they were notified of a new Republican outreach effort, they would pass around a Beanie Baby — which they had dubbed the “pander bear” — and make fun of the “tokenism.”
“Any kind of racially specific campaign activity was often treated with skepticism by white staffers,” he said.

I know that feel, bro.