If you had to go to court to prove that these comments were race-ish, you couldn’t do it. In each case, there’s an explanation — however implausible — that race had nothing to do with it. But like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s well-known take on pornography, when it comes to playing the race card, most people can comfortably say that “I know it when I see it.”
That’s how Romney took “put y’all in chains” — and rightly so — because if you really want to hear it that way, it sounds like Biden’s saying that Romney’s out to get black people.
It’s also how most black people take a lot of the disrespect that’s been thrown at Obama.
No one’s used the n-word, and no one ever will. But starting from the once incessant demands to see his long-form birth certificate and going all the way up to the condescending charge that Obama “doesn’t understand” the economy, African Americans can point — and rightly so — to a steady stream of chatter that’s never quite outright race-baiting but sure feels that way.
So if it’s the first time Romney’s felt like this, or if he had to endure Mormon jokes as a kid — which is just as bad — either way, he gets a mulligan for overreacting and accusing the president of having a campaign based on “anger” and “hate.” Obama’s a lot of things; angry just isn’t one.
But maybe next time, if Romney hears something foul come from his side of the aisle, he’ll be the one who calls it out first. Because now, at least, he knows how black people feel.
And, after all, he’ll surely know it when he sees it.
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.