Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why America is Ready for a Black President--but not a Mormon President

Don't get me wrong--there's a good chance America will soon have a Mormon President. Try as they might, it seems improbable at this point that the Republican Party's right wing will be able to stop a Romney nomination. And if gas prices are too high in the fall or things turn particularly ugly in Afghanistan or something else happens that's mostly out of Barack Obama's control but for which he'll still be blamed, then people are likely to vote for against him and--voila--put Mitt Romney in the White House.

But even if Americans elect a Mormon President, I don't think they're really ready for one--because among both liberals and conservatives, the capacity to stereotype Mormons is still too high.

See, when Barack Obama passes something controversial, people blame him, not all black people. Nobody thinks "man, those black people need to leave the Catholic Church alone" or "I hate how black people are cozying up to the Europeans all the time" or even "black people are so indecisive sometimes." And when a black person does something negative in someone's life, no one seems to think it's evidence to oppose the President. No one says, "I had a black boss once who I didn't like, so I can't support Barack Obama."

But I don't think America is ready to make the same differentiations yet between a Mormon President and Mormons. I've read plenty of online comments in which people did attack Romney because they had a bad Mormon boss or because they heard all Mormons are against women or racist or trying to take over the world. And if Mitt Romney does become President, I think we'll see the stereotypes go the other way. Imagine for a moment:
"%&#$@ Mormons took away my health insurance!"
"Why'd you Mormons have to push us to the brink of war with Iran?"
"Of course he nominated another man to the Supreme Court. %(#@$# Mormon!"


So, I'm pretty sure I'm right that many people expect Romney to be accountable for all of Mormonism, and I'm pretty sure that many people would expect individual Mormons to be accountable for things Romney would do as President.

But I'm wondering now whether the same doesn't seem to be true for Barack Obama because he's actually biracial, raised in a white family, and more difficult to associate with black Americans as a group. If we had a President who was closer to people's image of what a black man in America is like, would there be more crossover between the President's acts and the cultural stereotypes?

Maybe another useful example is Nikki Haley in South Carolina. I don't think anyone is going to judge all South Asians based on her, or expect her to explain why bad things happen in India--but they probably would do those things to an Indian-origin candidate who was closer to their stereotypes.

And would Americans still be talk about a Presidential candidate's Mormon-ness the same way if the candidate were, say, a Mormon Latina?
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