TAMPA, FL — We can’t always control how other people interpret our behavior or view our actions and any two people can come up with wildly different interpretations of one action. For example, over the last month you’ve become convinced that your local barista is hitting on you. Why? Because it seems like every time you walk into Starbucks she looks at you a winks and then coyly turns away. Is it really out of line for you to think that she was flirting? How were you to know that since it’s August, she has horrible allegories and every time you open the coffee shop door, pollen flows in and she’s blinking and turning her head because she’s been overcome with snot and mucus? But the truth is that in life, just like in politics perception rules what may be objective ‘reality’ and nowhere has this become more evident than in the two recent ‘race controversies’ that have hit the Republican convention this week.
The first “fake controversy” occurred on Tuesday night when it appeared to many that Puerto Rico’s Republican National Committeewoman Zori Fonalledas was almost booed into silence during her short speech. The reality was that Republican delegates were not booing or chanting “U.S.A.” at Fonadellas , there was a shouting matching going on between booing Ron Paul supporters who were mad about their delegates not being seated and Romney supporters chanting U.S. to drown them out. Fonadellas was just caught in the middle. However to most observers who weren’t sitting here at the convention it looked like another nasty example of racist Republicans being hostile towards Hispanics.
The same ‘perception problem’ applies to another incident Tuesday night when a Republican convention attendee was accused of throwing nuts at a black CNN camera woman and saying “This is how we feed the animals.” Now my Politic365 colleague Lenny McAllister insists that the inside scoop is that the rowdy conventioneer was just attacking the perceived liberal CNN media with their animal comment but that doesn’t quite fit the smell test with most people. The perception is still that the Republican party is just generally hostile to black people in a pointless and indiscriminate way.
The enduring lesson from each of these incidents is that the Republican party has had such a lousy reputation with people of color for so long that any incident no matter how overtly hostile or even accidental becomes a PR problem for the party. In some cases this is just preaching to the choir, most voters who are convinced that the GOP is full of bigots and sell-outs are probably Democrats anyway, and those who think that the GOP is never racist at all are probably already gearing up to vote for Tom Tancredo again. However, for those few Americans that find such racially motivated stories to be problematic and who aren’t totally committed to one party or another these types of stories and the failure of the GOP to address the negative perception, become a problem. If that cute barista is sick and tired of hippie nerds asking her out because they’ve misinterpreted her winks maybe she should explain her allergies. Otherwise she can’t sit back with shrugged shoulders wondering why everyone thinks she’s such a flirt. Along the same lines the GOP can’t ignore or pretend that they don’t have racist and bigoted behavior in the party and then act shocked or disgusted when the simple actions are perceived to be a testament to their bad behavior.
DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more atwww.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson