Paul Ryan – Does it make any difference to the election or the electorate if Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate, had a black girlfriend in college?
That was the question probed by Kelli Goff in an interesting essay on The Root.
Ryan reportedly revealed the hue of this past love in a 2005 profile in Milwaukee Magazine.
“I have a sister-in-law who’s African-American. My college sweetheart was black,” Ryan is quoted as saying. This tidbit was brought to light in a tweet by CNN’s Peter Hamby.
Because Ryan is currently the darling of the conservative right, a constituency widely seen as being hostile to the concerns of African Americans, this news about Ryan’s past—and his current connection to the black community—is certainly intriguing. One wonders how the party’s conservative base will feel about it. (Will this brother-in-law be trotted out onto the stage at next week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa?)
But since this nation’s history is littered with white men who railed against blacks publicly but had intimate relationships with black women privately—or perhaps might have even owned black women during slavery—it’s not hard to imagine even the most racist whites giving Ryan a pass on this one.
In her piece, Goff used the example of Strom Thurmond as one of the most prominent politicians in our lifetimes who carried on this bit of racial duplicity.
“Throughout his lifetime, Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina financially and emotionally supported the daughter he fathered with an underage black servant,” Goff wrote. “In addition to paying for her education, he was also known to play the part of proud parent by visiting her college campus and make inquiries to faculty about her educational progress. Yet at the same time he was doing this in private, he was publicly advancing policies that would have rendered his daughter’s education virtually useless. If those policies had succeeded, she and her children, with whom he also maintained a relationship, would have remained second-class citizens. Does this mean that Thurmond’s relationship with his daughter was not genuine?”
Goff pointed to research showing that in cases where people hold racist or stereotypical views of a certain group while having a close relationship with a member of that group, they reconcile the two things in their minds by concluding that their friend/wife/husband/girlfriend is an exception—not like the others.
“For the record: No, I am not calling Ryan a racist,” Goff wrote. “I am saying, however, that if you want to know where a politician’s heart lies when it comes to a particular community, it may be best to look at that person’s policies—such as his or her record on civil rights—rather than personal relationships.”
By the way, if there are any graduates out there from Miami University of Ohio, class of 1992, the world is eagerly waiting for some details about this Ryan love affair.