Marco Rubio is being upheld – water-bottle-gaffes aside – as the new face of the Republican party, taking the baton from Bobby Jindal as the right-wing’s token person of color. Per this Colorlines headline, his task is improbable: to make the endemic racism of today’s GOP palatable to Latinos. But while this formulation might sit well with liberal sensibilities, it overlooks the fact that Marco Rubio is actually being used very strategically to enact an old – and highly successful – tactic of capturing non-black minorities in a kind of extended whiteness.
What do I mean by that? As this post and video demonstrate, whiteness is an expansive concept; racial boundaries within the US are drawn not around whiteness or non-whiteness but rather blackness or non-blackness – which is why not only Jindal and Rubio can be upheld as “saviors” of the Republican brand, but Hispanics and Asian-Americans can be seen as natural members of the GOP. So long as an ethnic group is not black then they are not so otherized as to be beyond the salvific pallor of whiteness. America is a melting pot, goes this strain of thought, and although the ingredients added might be multi-colored they all – except those pesky black ones – eventually cook down to a nice creamy blend.
It’s a bit facile but the trenchant comparison is to the “salad bowl” conception of America’s ethnic heritage: for those on the left the goal is not to subsume all other ethnic groups into whiteness, but to allow and celebrate the differences while still working together towards common community. Within this framework, Marco Rubio’s task is an impossible one; but within the “melting pot” ideology, putting forth a Hispanic to represent entrenched racism is just a tried-and-true tactic of maintaining white supremacy.