John Blake, CNN, March 4, 2011
“We went from being a privileged group to all of a sudden becoming whites, the new victims,” says Charles Gallagher, a sociologist at La Salle University in Pennsylvania who researches white racial attitudes and was baffled to find that whites see themselves as a minority.
“You have this perception out there that whites are no longer in control or the majority. Whites are the new minority group.”
Call it racial jujitsu: A growing number of white Americans are acting like a racially oppressed majority. They are adopting the language and protest tactics of an embattled minority group, scholars and commentators say.
They point to these signs of racial anxiety:
* A recent Public Religion Research Institute poll found 44% of Americans surveyed identify discrimination against whites as being just as big as bigotry aimed at blacks and other minorities. The poll found 61% of those identifying with the Tea Party held that view, as did 56% of Republicans and 57% of white evangelicals.
* More colleges are offering courses in “Whiteness Studies” as white Americans cope with becoming what one commentator calls a “dispossessed majority group.”
* A Texas group recently formed the “Former Majority Association for Equality” to offer college scholarships to needy white men. Colby Bohannan, the group’s president, says white men don’t have scholarship options available to minorities. “White males are definitely not a majority” anymore, he says.
* Fox talk-show host Glenn Beck led a march on Washington (attended primarily by white people) to “restore honor,” and once called President Obama a racist with a “deep-seated hatred for white people and white culture.” He later said he regretted making that comment.
* Conservative news outlets ran a number of stories last summer highlighting an incident from the 2008 elections, in which activists from the New Black Panther Party appeared to be intimidating voters at a polling place. Those claims were never proven.
Mass rallies in Washington, voter intimidation at the polls, creating ethnic studies programs at colleges to promote racial self-awareness–it sounds like a script from a civil rights documentary.
But not everyone buys that script. Mona Charen, a conservative columnist for the National Review, challenges that view with this question: If more white Americans feel like an embattled minority, why did they elect President Barack Obama?
“Did they become racist after electing the first black president?” she asks.
The proof, she says, isn’t just in the fact that the nation elected its first black president. She cites the rise of more interracial couples.
“When I grew up, it was incredibly rare to see interracial couples,” she says. “People would turn their heads on the streets. Now it’s so common that no one notices it anymore.”
When white is no longer the norm
The notion that many white Americans feel anxious about their race is not new. Today, however, economic anxieties are feeding those racial fears, says Tim Wise, author of “White Like Me.”
Many white Americans have lived under the assumption that if they worked hard, they would be rewarded. Now more white Americans are sharing unemployment lines with “those people”–black and brown, Wise says.
Economic insecurity is what Colby Bohannan says convinced him to form the “Former Majority Association for Equality.” The association is awarding $500 scholarships to five deserving white men because they aren’t eligible for scholarships reserved for women and minorities, he says.
Some white Americans not only feel ignored in higher education; they feel excluded by popular culture.
This racial unease is more pronounced among older white Americans, who grew up in an era where America’s icons were virtually all white, Wise says.
“The idea that we’re losing our country is something that’s not going to have a lot of resonance for someone under 30,” Wise says. “These are white folks who don’t remember the country that their parents are talking about.”
“Whiteness Studies” began popping up in a few isolated academic institutions in the 1990s. Now such programs can be found in places such as the University of Wisconsin and the University of Utah. These courses examine what whiteness has meant during different periods of American history.
For many decades, white people saw themselves as individuals, not as members of a race, says Matt Wray, a sociologist at Temple University in Pennsylvania, who writes books about white studies.
‘Diversity is not strength’
Some white commentators are unapologetic about this racial anxiety.
Peter Brimelow, author of “Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster,” asserts that much of white America’s anxiety derives from living under a black president and changing demographics.
Diversity, he says, “is not strength.”
Some may see him as extreme, but Brimelow argues in his columns that more white Americans are moving toward his stance on immigration and other issues.
He cites as proof the rise of the Tea Party movement and the racial makeup of Beck’s march on Washington. He says more whites recognize, even if it’s only on a subliminal level, that they have common interests to defend.
James Edwards, host of the “Political Cesspool” radio show, isn’t shy about naming those interests. He says white Americans have become the “dispossessed majority” and that coming demographic changes may turn the United States into a “Third-World flop-house.”
“There is nothing wrong for Jewish organizations to promote the self-interest of Jews or black organizations to promote the interest of blacks,” he says. “There is no organization to stand up to advance the interests of the dispossessed majority.”
Those white interests have been compromised by what he sees as the “preferential treatment” blacks have received in the job market to compensate for slavery, Edwards says.
Both Brimelow and Edwards reject outright the Southern Poverty Law Center’s description of their organizations as extremist.
‘It’s not a race issue, it’s a principle’
Ginger Howard is a white Southerner who doesn’t feel dispossessed. She attended Beck’s rally last summer and described it as a religious event, not a political one.
“It’s not a race issue, it’s a principle issue,” says Howard, owner of the Ginger Howard Selections clothing store in Atlanta, Georgia.
Chris Plante, a conservative talk show host, says white racial anxiety isn’t a race issue but a smokescreen by leftists. Plante says they yell racism to avoid talking about Obama’s “unpopular liberal expansion” of the federal government.
Plante, who says he grew up in a Chicago home with a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. on the wall, attended both Beck’s rally and a follow-up rally by Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show.
“The Beck crowd was no more white than the Jon Stewart rally, but nobody in the news media described the Stewart crowd as overwhelmingly white,” Plante says.