Featured Image: Graffitti painted on a Confederate monument, Augusta, Georgia, 2009
An NPR poll released on October 24, 2017 found that a majority of Whites say discrimination against them exists in America today. This has, predictably, led to much crowing about “fragility,” “lost privilege” and “victim complexes.” A closer look at the poll — and at American history — reveals a far more nuanced story.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary racism first appeared in print in 1902, when Richard Henry Pratt said:
Segregating any class or race of people apart from the rest of the people kills the progress of the segregated people or makes their growth very slow. Association of races and classes is necessary to destroy racism and classism.
Pratt rejected the idea that races or ethnicities were inferior: instead he believed the problem lay in culture. As he explained in an 1892 speech:
Left in Africa, surrounded by their fellow-savages, our seven millions of industrious black fellow-citizens would still be savages. Transferred into these new surroundings and experiences, behold the result. They became English-speaking and civilized, because forced into association with English-speaking and civilized people; became healthy and multiplied, because they were property; and industrious, because industry, which brings contentment and health, was a necessary quality to increase their value.
The Indians under our care remained savage, because forced back upon themselves and away from association with English-speaking and civilized people, and because of our savage example and treatment of them. . . .
To save them from the disease and famine plaguing their reservations, Pratt removed Indian children from their parents and placed him in boarding schools. There they were given new names, baptized as Christians and educated in vocational and technical skills. Pratt felt it necessary to “kill the Indian… and save the man:” to that end students were forced to cut their hair and forbidden from speaking their indigenous languages under pain of beatings.
In her 1972 essay Developing New Perspectives on Race: An Innovative Multi-media Social Studies Curriculum in Racism Awareness for the Secondary Level Patricia Bidol-Padva redefined “racism” as “Prejudice plus Power.” Later Judith H. Katz would expand on this for her 1978 White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training. In that book Katz insisted that workshop facilitators:
… push for the understanding that racism is prejudice plus power and therefore people of color cannot be racist against whites in the United States. People of color can be prejudiced against whites but clearly do not have the power as a group to enforce that prejudice. Although participants may not, at this point, totally accept this view or feel comfortable with it, it is important to establish the concept as a working definition. As the course progresses it will be better understood by participants.
Like Pratt, Bidol-Padva and Katz believed the problem of racial inequality lies in culture rather than genetics. But where Pratt sought to remake the underclasses in the model of their betters, Bidol-Padva and Katz hoped to overthrow systems of oppression by re-educating White people. Where Pratt inspired the construction of hundreds of Indian schools Bidol-Padva and Katz created a narrative of race relations which quickly became the dominant paradigm within American higher education.
[I]n the pantheon of American history, conservative old white people have pretty much always been the bad guys, the keepers of the hegemonic and reactionary flame, the folks unwilling to share the category of American with others on equal terms.
Fine, keep it up. It doesn’t matter.
Because you’re on the endangered list.
And unlike, say, the bald eagle or some exotic species of muskrat, you are not worth saving.
In forty years or so, maybe fewer, there won’t be any more white people around who actually remember that Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Opie-Taylor-Down-at-the-Fishing Hole cornpone bullshit that you hold so near and dear to your heart.
There won’t be any more white folks around who think the 1950s were the good old days, because there won’t be any more white folks around who actually remember them, and so therefore, we’ll be able to teach about them accurately and honestly, without hurting your precious feelings, or those of the so-called “greatest generation” — a bunch whose white contingent was top-heavy with ethical miscreants who helped save the world from fascism only to return home and oppose the ending of it here, by doing nothing to lift a finger on behalf of the civil rights struggle.
84% of the Whites surveyed by NPR agreed that racism exists against racial and ethnic minorities today. But when asked if they had personally experienced discrimination themselves, only 19% of Whites said they had experienced discrimination while applying for jobs; 13% in receiving salary or promotions and 11% while applying to college. (The survey noted that lower- and moderate-income Whites were more likely both to believe anti-White discrimination was a problem and that they had personally experienced it). As for the rest, their responses may have less to do with “white fragility” than with the wording of the poll and the reinterpreting of “racism” by and for the educated folks.
As I have noted in the past, poor White America has been waiting 50 years for a break. After the factories closed we found minimum wage jobs in shopping malls and big box stores: now they are going away too. And while the corporate and academic worlds work overtime to increase their “diversity,” few consider poor White folks to be any kind of desirable minority. An African American from a lower-class background is 1,087% more likely to be admitted to an elite U.S. college than a white applicant from a lower-class background. I spent a fair bit of my college career washing dishes at various restaurants and a good bit of my youth working for my grandfather’s landscaping company. Today many of those job opportunities have been taken by immigrants. It’s not hard to understand why a poor White person might feel the deck is stacked against them, or that people of color have more opportunity to get ahead than they ever will.
Judith Katz may insist till she is blue in the face that only Whites can be racist. A White person tortured by Blacks until he said “fuck White people” may feel differently. As may the three Whites shot by a Black man hunting “White devils.” Or White people who have been robbed, beaten or raped by Blacks targeting White victims. Or the many White people who shared the experience of Professor Howard Kainz of Marquette University:
When I started working at Marquette University in 1967, at a time of civil rights marches and demonstrations and riots, the exodus of whites to the suburbs in great numbers had already begun. My wife and I, in hopes of helping to stem prevailing practices of discrimination in housing, took part in systematic undercover testing of realtors, and were successful in recording incidents of “steering,” for which some realty companies were later indicted or fined. And we took advantage of one of the departing white families to purchase their beautiful 1890s house near to the campus.
But within a few years, numerous challenges arose—our house and garage broken into and ransacked, thefts of bicycles, murders on our block and adjacent blocks, drug traffic and prostitution, two muggings by African Americans on myself (spurring me to take a self-defense course, and purchase mace and pepper spray), and assaults on our children…
[After returning to Milwaukee from a Fulbright fellowship in Germany] I consulted with the police department about crime statistics, and moved to what they characterized as one of the safest neighborhoods in the city, still in biking distance from the campus. Here we found a great integrated neighborhood, with the best sense of community I have ever encountered in any neighborhood. Nevertheless, here again, both our house and garage were broken into and ransacked, bikes stolen, and one summer afternoon an AA hoodie broke into my house one afternoon and held a knife to my neck for money …
According to the 2010 National Crime Victimization Survey, the number of violent attacks on whites by blacks, who constitute 13 percent of the population, vastly exceeds the number of violent attacks of whites on blacks; and while there were 13,000 black-on-white rapes and 29,000 black-on-white robberies in 2010, the amount of white-on-black rapes and violent robberies was negligible. Thus many of our cities with large black populations have become dysfunctional areas where it is risky to go out at night, even to put the car in the garage.
The persistently elevated crime rates among Black Americans may be embarrassing and discomforting, but inconvenient and incorrect are two different things. And given that the majority of Black crime takes place within the Black community — 90% of all Black homicide victims were killed by Black offenders and Black Americans are almost eight times as likely as Whites to be homicide victims — I submit that those who ignore this data do so more out of fears of being perceived as “racist” than for any genuine concern for Black America’s well-being. And while Bidol-Padva, Katz, Wise and their co-ethnic crusaders for social justice may scream “prejudice plus power” till they are blue in the face, their redefinition of racism has gained little traction outside the halls of academia and the Leftist echo chambers of social media.
Are White Americans oppressed in the same way Black Americans are? Of course not. Oppression has never been a one-size-fits-all affair. But many working-class and moderate-income White Americans feel that they have been disproportionately burdened with the Civil Rights movement’s costs while receiving none of its benefits. They have been the targets of knockout games and other forms of historical retribution, only to find authorities unwilling to acknowledge these were racial attacks. When they were run out of their old neighborhoods by rising crime they were chastised for their bigoted “White Flight.” When they put their children in private school to avoid race-based attacks on White students, they were blamed for the subsequent collapse of their city’s public education. And when they sought help for five decades and counting of economic problems, they were instead told to “own their privilege.” Depending on how you insist on defining “discrimination,” anti-White discrimination may or may not be illusory. Their grievances, and the causes underlying those grievances, are not.