The debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney has been analyzed six ways to Sunday. However, there was and is one major factor that has been underplayed consistently. And that is the fact that Mitt Romney had and continues to have the unfair advantage of a privileged perception. Now some might argue that his numerous gaffes leading up to the debate did away with any advantage, but that's not what I'm referring to. What I'm citing is his advantage as a white man of privilege. And as a white man who belongs to "the club", who has always belonged to the club, and always will, Romney doesn't have to worry how he will be perceived.
Mitt Romney never worries that he will be seen as hysterical, angry, or overly-aggressive. No, quite the contrary. If Mitt gets in someones face, he will be seen as "take-charge" "a leader" and "knowing what he wants." Because that is how white men in the club are perceived. In general, if a well-dressed and well- groomed white adult male is yelling at someone - most people would assume that he must have good reason to do so. However, take that very same scenario and instead it's a well-dressed black man yelling at someone and I can just about guarantee that he would be seen as an "angry black male who is out of control" and maybe even dangerous. And although different stereotypes are at work, the same goes for a assertive woman who would most likely be described as "hysterical, emotional, and unhinged." When an individual doesn't belong to "the club," (the club of male birth-right, the club of privilege, the club of white skin color and inheritance,) that individual is not given the same benefit of the doubt and will often be judged based on stereotypes.
Obama grew up with a single Mom, a funny name, and darker skin. Therefore, to be a straight A student and get into, get along, and graduate from Harvard, Obama had to fit in. He could never be seen as "aggressive" or angry. He had to work very hard to dispel any preconceived stereotypes . . . and do that every single day.
Did Mitt Romney ever have this worry? Not likely. With a wealthy father who was a well-know business executive and Governor, a young Mitt would have every "nice guy and upstanding citizen" prejudgment assigned to him from the day he was born. Even his alleged attack on a effeminate Prep School classmate yielded no recrimination, and most likely was described as "horsing around" or "in good fun." However, had a young Obama pinned a classmate on the ground, sat on his chest and cut his hair (as it was alleged Romney had done) - he would have been labeled as a dangerous and violent troubled black youth and potentially expelled from school.
My point is that when you are a member of the club - the rules work in your favor. And you aren't even aware of your good fortune, since it's all you know. You don't experience the heavy burden that others unlike you have to carry constantly, resulting from stereotyping and preconceived notions. As a woman, I can attest that when women speak their mind or are assertive with their viewpoints, they are seen as "bitchy, manic, emotional, or hysterical." Further, women are described in the same terms most often used to describe children. However, when was the last time you heard a white man described as hysterical or manic and in childlike terms? So, in response to that, what many women choose to do is to smile, state their opinion meekly and with reserve, and hope that their audience can see through any unconscious filter to really hear what they have to say.
And with that in mind, when I watched the debate and saw Romney go with gusto and Obama's detached, low-key, professorial response, I appreciated just how fine a line Obama had to and has to walk in these debates. He needs to be seen as a take-charge leader, but not as an angry, unstatesmanlike black man. And if you don't agree with me, the next time a confident, assertive black male or out-spoken woman takes charge over a white male - tell me just how comfortable you feel.