Culture

Whiteout

May 20, 2009

Multiple Pages
Whiteout

Thanks to a group of disgruntled firemen, the question of what it means to be white is back in the news. By late June, the Supreme Court will decide whether the city of New Haven, Connecticut was right to throw out the results of a promotions test for lieutenant and captain only because the top scorers were white. The city badly wanted blacks, so it has left the jobs unfilled rather than promote any more undesirable white men. The city argues that since the scores of every test-taker—black, white, and Hispanic—were all thrown out, there can have been no discrimination.

That argument reminds me of the one Bob Jones University made when the Supreme Court lifted its tax-exempt status in 1983. Bob Jones was letting in students of all races but banned interracial dating on Biblical grounds. It said this could hardly be discrimination, since the ban applied to all races, who were equally benefitted (or inconvenienced, depending on your point of view). Somehow, the justices did not go along, though they failed to explain what was wrong with an argument that, for a private religious college, seems pretty close to airtight. We shall see whether the court buys the argument that since New Haven threw out the scores of the black losers as well as the white winners there was no discrimination.

There is nothing new about what happened to these firemen. Ever since the 1970s, whites have been the only people you can discriminate against legally and openly—and you can claim to be fighting discrimination when you do it. But it may be that after 30 years of this, even the white worm has begun to turn. In a letter about the firemen that the New York Times published on April 22, someone named Audrey Abramov seems to have stumbled onto the view that “it appears that being white not only is no longer an advantage, but is now a liability.”

The Times should know better than that. It has long agreed with black columnist William Raspberry, who used to say that “it’s always illegitimate for white men to organize as white men,” and that is exactly what the New Haven firemen are doing, even though they brought one Hispanic into the suit for protective coloring. Another black columnist, Shelby Steele, has described accurately the kind of ideological foreclosure that has informed racial discourse in America since the ‘60s: “eyond an identity that apologizes for white supremacy, absolutely no white identity is permissible. In fact, if there is a white racial identity today it would have to be white guilt—a shared, even unifying, lack of racial moral authority.” 

White men can organize after all, but only to apologize. Fortunately for them, they love to apologize. Only since 2008, the state legislatures of Alabama, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida all officially apologized for slavery. Colorado never had slavery so it apologized to Indians instead. 

Australia has apologized to the Abos, the American Medical Association apologized to black doctors, the Baptist Church apologized to black Christians, Canada is in a perpetual state of apology to “first peoples,” and when Mayor Ken Livingstone apologized in 2007 for London’s role in the slave trade, he was so excited he broke down in tears. By sticking up for their rights as white people, the New Haven boys are breaking the rules.

Of course, it’s always good to know what the rules are, and in 2005, a fellow named Justin Moritz discovered one. He applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a trademark on the words “White Pride Country Wide.” The USPTO turned him down, say that “the ‘white pride’ element of the proposed mark is considered offensive and therefore scandalous.” Mr. Moritz reports that the USPTO had already trademarked “Black Power” and “Black Supremacy,” and that the agency finds nothing scandalous in pride so long as it isn’t white. These and a host of other “prides” are all trademarked: “African Pride,” “Native Pride!” “Asian Pride,” “Black Pride,” “Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride,” “Orgullo Hispano” (Hispanic Pride), “Mexican Pride,” and “African Man Pride.”

Whatever firemen may think, the important people in this country agree with the USPTO. The California Supreme Court is about to take up the case of Proposition 209, the ballot initiative passed in 1996 that bans state discrimination in contracting or college admissions. California has been squirming its way around the ban ever since, and former governor and current state attorney general Jerry Brown has filed a brief asking the court to dump the ban once and for all. He has the official line down pat:

A ban on discrimination fosters discrimination because it is discrimination against non-whites not to discriminate in their favor.

So what’s a (white) boy to do? There is an honorable tradition in the history of hopeless causes: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Just wait a few decades and whites will be a minority, too, and can all jump on the affirmative-action band wagon. Except it may not work out that way. Whites are already a minority in California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas, and there is no sign it does them any good. Whites are really a minority in Detroit, but they are somehow not flocking to the city to enjoy the benefits.

The real solution may have to wait another generation or two after which, if some who call themselves conservatives have their way, there will have been so much miscegenation there will be no more white people left to worry about. “My great wish,” says conservative pundit Michael Barone, “is that 50 years from now we will be so mixed there will be no more racial categories.” “It would be a lot easier if each of us were related to someone of another color and if, eventually, we were all one color,” writes Morton Kondracke in The New Republic. Douglas Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute says miscegenation may be “the best hope for the future of American race relations.” Ben Wattenberg says that once we are all “bland and blended . . . we will fulfill our difficult destiny as the first universal nation.” Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic writes that “miscegenation has always been the ultimate solution to America’s racial divisions.”

Europeans want the same thing. Ségolène Royale was the Socialist candidate in the French presidential elections in 2007. “Miscegenation is an opportunity for France,” she said, adding that as president she would encourage immigration and would be “president of a France that is mixed-race and proud of it.” Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative who beat her, spoke fondly of “a France that understands that creation comes from mixing, from openness, and from coming together—I’m not afraid of the word—from miscegenation.” Jozef Ritzen, Dutch Minister of Education, Culture, and Science, explained that “this is the trend worldwide. The white race will in the long term become extinct. . . . Apparently we are happy with this development.”

If those New Haven firemen got a raw deal, I guess their parents just married the wrong people.

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