Posted on May 20, 2008

The Fear of White Decline

Gregory Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2008

Hillary Rodham Clinton is right. She has the broader and whiter political coalition, so she should, by all rights, be the Democratic presidential nominee.

After all, in other realms of the political process, we routinely refer to “black districts” or “Latino districts” and speak of the necessity of those jurisdictions to be represented by black or Latino elected officials. Well, then, because the American population is 66% white, maybe the United States is a de facto white district that should be represented accordingly.

Don’t scoff at the idea. Ethnic and racial self-determination have been underlying factors in the formation of modern nations. Israel is one example, along with anti-colonial revolutions and states in the Third World. The principle of ethnic self-determination made its way into the United Nations Charter, and it lurks in contemporary domestic discussions about the political and cultural rights of every kind of minority.

The Clinton campaign’s assertion of her electability based on “hardworking white American” voters {snip} isn’t a sign of the resurgence of white supremacy in America. Rather, it is a formal re-articulation of whiteness as a social category and a racial interest group.


Since the civil rights movement, though, it’s also been taboo to speak of the collective interests of white people in polite company. To mention whites as an interest group—in the way we do minority groups—hearkens back to segregation and worse.


But the Obama-Clinton rivalry seems to have changed all that, and we’re now openly discussing white working-class voters in ways that make clear that their racial interests play a role in their political preferences. {snip}

Is this white supremacy? No, in fact it might be its opposite, an acknowledgment that white privilege has its limits. With immigration and globalization reformulating who we are as a nation, it isn’t the white elites that are threatened by the changes; rather, it’s the nearly 70% of whites who are not college educated who figure among the most insecure of Americans. Many feel that their jobs are being outsourced or taken by immigrants—legal or otherwise—and that their culture is being subsumed. When Clinton promises to make their voices heard, she’s appealing not to Anglo-Saxon racial triumphalism but to the fear of white decline.


Like black or Latino activists who insist that a particular congressional district should be represented by one of their own, the disgruntled white working-class, non-college-educated voters might be demanding that their majority status still translate into something at least symbolically meaningful to them.

But that doesn’t make it right. {snip}

Romantic notions of ethnic self-determination and multiculturalism may have once served to dismantle empires and garner attention for forgotten minorities. But today they are more likely to nurture the kind of white nationalism on which Clinton has placed her last political hopes.