'The Whitest Man in America'

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Lee Siegel dubs Mitt Romney:


Pundits have already begun the endless debate over whether Mr. Romney's wealth and religion are hindrances or assets. But there has yet to be any discussion over the one quality that has subtly fueled his candidacy thus far and could well put him over the top in the fall: his race. The simple, impolitely stated fact is that Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory. 

Of course, I'm not talking about a strict count of melanin density. I'm referring to the countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways he telegraphs to a certain type of voter that he is the cultural alternative to America's first black president. It is a whiteness grounded in a retro vision of the country, one of white picket fences and stay-at-home moms and fathers unashamed of working hard for corporate America.

In this way, Mr. Romney's Mormonism may end up being a critical advantage. Evangelicals might wring their hands over the prospect of a Mormon president, but there is no stronger bastion of pre-civil-rights-America whiteness than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yes, since 1978 the church has allowed blacks to become priests. 

But Mormonism is still imagined by its adherents as a religion founded by whites, for whites, rooted in a millenarian vision of an America destined to fulfill a white God's plans for earth.

I think there might be an interesting point to be made about the specific kind of "Leave It to Beaver" whiteness embodied by Romney and his family (emphasis on "might"). But this feels like an headline in search of piece. The notion that Mormons imagine their religion as "for whites"--and more so than other whites--is basically an act of mind-reading.

We often think of personal qualities, or personal faults, as representing something about the collective. I don't know. I think Mitt Romney is just really awkward--whether he's yelling "who let the dogs out" or whether he's giving that fake laugh at some Perry jab. 

I'm not really sure why Romney is whiter than Ron Paul or John McCain. Maybe our the Ivory Horde can explain?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/01/the-whitest-man-in-america/251454/