Conservatives have a "racist jokes" culture problem

The right needs to address its own pathologies before it can expect more support from the rest of us

Published March 25, 2014 1:25PM (EDT)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott                  (AP/J Pat Carter)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (AP/J Pat Carter)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's reelection campaign had one of those days yesterday. You know, one of those days where you hold a press call with the lieutenant governor but instead of asking about your latest campaign ad like they're supposed to, all the reporters insist on asking about how the campaign's finance co-chair recently stepped down because campaign staffers made racist jokes.

Billionaire healthcare mogul Mike Fernandez was Rick Scott's top fundraiser until last week, when he abruptly quit. The Miami Herald offered some detail on what led up to the decision:

Despite the praise, Fernandez has been unhappy for weeks with the struggling campaign’s direction and and the attitude of some of its workers.

Fernandez began expressing his frustrations at least a month ago when he sent an email to top Scott allies and complained about two campaign aides who had joked around in a cartoon-style Mexican accent en route to a Mexican restaurant in Fernandez’s home town of Coral Gables.

The Scott campaign can assure you that it was not that bad:

“Mike was not in the van,” Scott’s campaign manager, Melissa Sellers, said in an email to the Herald.

So no harm done! Sellers also said: “If something was said in an accent, no one remembers what it was." (Obviously someone remembers, but fine.)

The incident was reminiscent of the recently released internal emails from the staff of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Those emails revealed an office where campaigning and politicking trumped governing, but they also showed a staff that saw absolutely no issue with forwarding deeply offensive (and stupid, and unfunny) "jokes" involving the inherent hilarity of people of color.

There has been some debate recently on the subject of urban "culture" and its relation to poverty and white supremacy. Conservatives argue, essentially, that the structural forces (white supremacy) holding back "urban" economic advancement have largely receded, and so, where there is still poverty, the problem is "cultural."

With that in mind, I'd like to posit that one reason conservative minority outreach fails so often and so consistently is because of a tailspin of culture, among Republicans, of generations of men being giant racist pricks. Not just racially "insensitive," like an old man who doesn't know it's not OK to say "Oriental" anymore, but actively, intentionally, overtly, aggressively racist pricks. Like "attend a blackface-themed frat party on MLK Day" racist. Most of us don't think forwarding a racist joke or speaking in an insulting "comedic" accent is appropriate at the workplace. Unfortunately, for those raised in the toxic culture of conservatism, the sort of mentality that leads government employees to do those things is widespread.

There will be no successful minority "outreach" for the GOP -- not even among the "high-achieving" groups -- until this culture is addressed. They'll have to do this work for themselves. Charitable groups have tried for years to educate and help conservatives, but they keep falling back into the same tragic patterns: asking "why isn't there a WHITE history month," demanding access to institutions of higher learning based not on merit but on skin color, infringing on free expression merely because it makes them uncomfortable. The list goes on and on. It's time for the right to stop feeling entitled to lessons in basic human decency, and start addressing their own pathological culture.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Conservative Movement Race Racism Republican Party Rick Scott Scott Walker