Webb on the myth of white privilege

(Note: Perceptive comments have been posted about Webb’s article.)

John Hagan writes:

A United States senator, James Webb, standing up for white people, and white rights.

LA replies:

I haven’t read it yet, but a bunch of people have sent it.

Here is the article, from the Wall Street Journal:
Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege
America still owes a debt to its black citizens, but government programs to help all ‘people of color’ are unfair. They should end.

The NAACP believes the tea party is racist. The tea party believes the NAACP is racist. And Pat Buchanan got into trouble recently by pointing out that if Elena Kagan is confirmed to the Supreme Court, there will not be a single Protestant Justice, although Protestants make up half the U.S. population and dominated the court for generations.

Forty years ago, as the United States experienced the civil rights movement, the supposed monolith of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant dominance served as the whipping post for almost every debate about power and status in America. After a full generation of such debate, WASP elites have fallen by the wayside and a plethora of government-enforced diversity policies have marginalized many white workers. The time has come to cease the false arguments and allow every American the benefit of a fair chance at the future.

I have dedicated my political career to bringing fairness to America’s economic system and to our work force, regardless of what people look like or where they may worship. Unfortunately, present-day diversity programs work against that notion, having expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white.

In an odd historical twist that all Americans see but few can understand, many programs allow recently arrived immigrants to move ahead of similarly situated whites whose families have been in the country for generations. These programs have damaged racial harmony. And the more they have grown, the less they have actually helped African-Americans, the intended beneficiaries of affirmative action as it was originally conceived.

Lyndon Johnson’s initial program for affirmative action was based on the 13th Amendment and on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which authorized the federal government to take actions in order to eliminate “the badges of slavery.” Affirmative action was designed to recognize the uniquely difficult journey of African-Americans. This policy was justifiable and understandable, even to those who came from white cultural groups that had also suffered in socio-economic terms from the Civil War and its aftermath.

The injustices endured by black Americans at the hands of their own government have no parallel in our history, not only during the period of slavery but also in the Jim Crow era that followed. But the extrapolation of this logic to all “people of color”—especially since 1965, when new immigration laws dramatically altered the demographic makeup of the U.S.—moved affirmative action away from remediation and toward discrimination, this time against whites. It has also lessened the focus on assisting African-Americans, who despite a veneer of successful people at the very top still experience high rates of poverty, drug abuse, incarceration and family breakup.

Those who came to this country in recent decades from Asia, Latin America and Africa did not suffer discrimination from our government, and in fact have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs. The same cannot be said of many hard-working white Americans, including those whose roots in America go back more than 200 years.

Contrary to assumptions in the law, white America is hardly a monolith. And the journey of white American cultures is so diverse (yes) that one strains to find the logic that could lump them together for the purpose of public policy.

The clearest example of today’s misguided policies comes from examining the history of the American South.

The old South was a three-tiered society, with blacks and hard-put whites both dominated by white elites who manipulated racial tensions in order to retain power. At the height of slavery, in 1860, less than 5% of whites in the South owned slaves. The eminent black historian John Hope Franklin wrote that “fully three-fourths of the white people in the South had neither slaves nor an immediate economic interest in the maintenance of slavery.”

The Civil War devastated the South, in human and economic terms. And from post-Civil War Reconstruction to the beginning of World War II, the region was a ravaged place, affecting black and white alike.

In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt created a national commission to study what he termed “the long and ironic history of the despoiling of this truly American section.” At that time, most industries in the South were owned by companies outside the region. Of the South’s 1.8 million sharecroppers, 1.2 million were white (a mirror of the population, which was 71% white). The illiteracy rate was five times that of the North-Central states and more than twice that of New England and the Middle Atlantic (despite the waves of European immigrants then flowing to those regions). The total endowments of all the colleges and universities in the South were less than the endowments of Harvard and Yale alone. The average schoolchild in the South had $25 a year spent on his or her education, compared to $141 for children in New York.

Generations of such deficiencies do not disappear overnight, and they affect the momentum of a culture. In 1974, a National Opinion Research Center (NORC) study of white ethnic groups showed that white Baptists nationwide averaged only 10.7 years of education, a level almost identical to blacks’ average of 10.6 years, and well below that of most other white groups. A recent NORC Social Survey of white adults born after World War II showed that in the years 1980-2000, only 18.4% of white Baptists and 21.8% of Irish Protestants—the principal ethnic group that settled the South—had obtained college degrees, compared to a national average of 30.1%, a Jewish average of 73.3%, and an average among those of Chinese and Indian descent of 61.9%.

Policy makers ignored such disparities within America’s white cultures when, in advancing minority diversity programs, they treated whites as a fungible monolith. Also lost on these policy makers were the differences in economic and educational attainment among nonwhite cultures. Thus nonwhite groups received special consideration in a wide variety of areas including business startups, academic admissions, job promotions and lucrative government contracts.

Where should we go from here? Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African-Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end.

Nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens, including those who happen to be white. The need for inclusiveness in our society is undeniable and irreversible, both in our markets and in our communities. Our government should be in the business of enabling opportunity for all, not in picking winners. It can do so by ensuring that artificial distinctions such as race do not determine outcomes.

Memo to my fellow politicians: Drop the Procrustean policies and allow harmony to invade the public mindset. Fairness will happen, and bitterness will fade away.

Mr. Webb, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from Virginia.

[end of Webb article]

- end of initial entry -

Ken Hechtman, a Canadian leftist with connections in the U.S., writes:

Well said, Senator Webb.

Affirmative action was always supposed to end sometime and the administration of the first black president is as good a time as any. Unlike Jim Crow, it was never supposed to be a permanent feature of American life. It was supposed to jump-start the creation of an ultimately self-sustaining black middle class. It has done that.

If we move to a pure meritocracy now, everyone gets to call it a win and I mean everyone from your Jared Taylor to the right wing of the Democratic Party to the aging Communist veterans of the First Civil Rights Movement.

Natassia S. writes:

I was very annoyed with Sen. Webb’s disclaimer: “America still owes a debt to its black citizens … ”

He never really explained how “America” is supposed to pay back this debt (of which he gives no quantity nor does he explain how we’re supposed to know that the debt has been repaid), especially when most Americans have never been racist, have not benefited from racism, and certainly don’t seek to harm blacks in anyway. Am I supposed to pay a debt that I never accrued to someone just because of the difference in my skin color?

And are all black people owed a debt? What about all the African immigrants who willingly came here to take advantage of our economic opportunities, educational systems, and freedom?

He also doesn’t touch upon the black illegitimacy rate which has been steadly rising since the 1960s, a major factor in the downtrodden state of today’s black communities.

LA replies:

Here I mention again a spontaneous discourse a female friend of mine delivered in Central Park years ago, standing in front of me while I sat on a bench, tranfixed by what she was saying. She argued that whites’ debt to blacks was paid, it was finished. It was one of the most eloquent speeches I’ve ever heard, I thought it was of historic importance as I was listening to it. Unfortunately neither of us wrote it down afterward, and none of its arguments remain in memory. Only its power and the conviction of its truth.

July 24

Jim V. writes:

I’d also like to take issue with some of Webb’s language.

He writes of “African Americans” who “despite a veneer of successful people at the very top still experience high rates of poverty, drug abuse, incarceration and family breakup.”

The phrase “still experience” implies that this condition is some form of collective suffering forced upon them from some outside third party, and not a consequence of individual blacks acting upon their own free will. And I think we can guess just who is this phantom third party that brings suffering upon the community.

So, while Webb appears to speak of turning a corner and moving on, we see that he’s still stuck on the old paradigm of White Wickedness and Black Suffering. It’s as if white liberals and their black wards are locked in to an abusive co-dependency:

White Master / Black Servant, and

White Supplicant / Black Responder

They just can’t seem to break the embrace and move on.

I wish they’d just get a room and leave me out of it.

P.S. The Webb piece is also up at Protein Wisdom with some snark provided by Jeff Goldstein (who is a writer I think you would find interesting), along with an excellent short video clip of Morgan Freeman confronting Mike Wallace on the “ridiculousness” of Black History Month:

I was somewhat surprised to see the Webb article mentioned at Goldstein’s blog, as I’ve always seen Protein Wisdom as more or less part of the Hot Air/Gateway Pundit family of mainstream blogs that don’t often wade into, or even strenuously avoid, matters of race. The post seems to have sparked a healthy comment thread that I don’t now have time to read, although I don’t often read through the comments there ,as many at the blog are long-time commenters whose postings can be too self-referential.

I think that with the NAACP’s racist smear of the Tea Party and Andrew Breibart’s pushback which brought about L’Affaire Sherrod, we have finally begun that much heralded National Conversation on Race. And I believe it’s going to get ugly.

David B. writes:

I wonder if some Republicans will now denounce Webb as a white racist.

Robert B. from Minnesota writes:

As I read the replies to Mr. Webb’s column at the WSJ website, I couldn’t help but think that somehow, forty years ago or so, the government figured out a way to lower the testosterone levels of the average American white man. The numbers of respondents who justify this never-before-seen disenfranchisement of the very people who founded and built a nation? How else to explain the complete lack of caring about the fate of one’s progeny in a nation that has enshrined open anti-white bigotry and continues to do so even as our numbers shrink? At what point will this “Affirmative Action” turn openly to genocide of what is left of the historic American population?

Is that too much? I don’t think so, the first step in moving towards genocide is to dehumanize those you wish to be rid of—first the French egalitarians dehumanized the nobility, then the Soviets dehumanized the non-communists in their midsts, then the Nazis dehumanized the Jews. For Forty years, the Left has dehumanized the white man and at no time has the white middle class stood up and said “no.” At no time did they stop to think about the nation their progeny would inherit. Instead, they took the coward’s way out, keeping silent so they could buy peace for themselves.

Cowards, every last one of them.

Matthew H. writes:

Sen. Webb acknowledges, as if it were not at all remarkable, that “new immigration laws dramatically altered the demographic makeup of the U.S.” This, of course, in glaring contradiction to the smug assurances of all those, like Sen. Kennedy, who told the people that no such thing was intended or would ever occur.

The takeaway of Webb’s piece, as I see it, is this: The Dems now figure that the traditional Christian and Anglo-Saxon culture of this country is well and truly on its way to irreversible decline, so we can afford to throw these angry white “Falling_Down” types (who still, regrettably, have enough electoral heft to throw an election) a bone and make some reasonable sounding noises about race. So the Dems trot out their resident “right winger” to say something “brave” but which is, in reality, nothing more than what has been in the back of most white people’s minds for years.

We may well see similarly “surprising” rhetorical feints in the economic sphere and, who knows, perhaps even on the immigration front. We have no reason to expect that anything substantial will come of any it.

It’s Leftism 101: Two steps (or is it ten steps) forward, one step back. Or, rather, one rhetorical step back. It’s all about taking some of the wind out of the “opposition” prior to November.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 23, 2010 06:21 PM | Send

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