Have you heard the good news? Now that Barack Obama has been elected president, racism in America has ended. And we must turn our attention to the new racism -- against whites. At least, that’s what Republicans would have us believe.
This isn’t exactly a new argument. In 1990, Jesse Helms, the senator from North Carolina, won his re-election with the infamous "Hands" commercial:
You needed that job and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority, because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?
That was the argument 20 years ago -- that undeserving minorities were benefiting from an unjust system that discriminated against whites.
And things really haven’t changed much. In fact, they’ve gotten worse.
Conservatives are complaining about a whole shift in the balance of power in America, where women and minorities have all the advantages, and white men -- the real Americans -- can’t get a break.
Even the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has turned its focus almost exclusively to investigating charges of "reverse racism."
While the Commission is supposed to be bipartisan, six of its eight members are conservatives. According to Michael Yaki, one of the two Democrats on the Commission:
"The commission has been used as a tool by the right-wingers to legitimize taking far-out positions, because we still carry the brand of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a bipartisan body that has been anything but bipartisan under their leadership," he said.
The Commission has spent the past year investigating what it claims are "racially discriminatory policies," from health care reform to affirmative action policies in Ohio to ACORN's "culture of corruption," to the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act. And, just for good measure, the Commission also sent a letter to Senate leaders, opposing passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
You would think, given the incessant complaints from the rightwing media and even the U.S. Commission on Civil rights, that America has undergone a total transformation, that the nation has become an unjust, even dangerous, place for whites to live. It doesn't matter that the complaints are unfounded, even absurd; what matters is the effectiveness of spreading fear.
Just look at how it's worked in Arizona, where conservatives, including Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. John McCain, have repeated the lie that Phoenix, Arizona is the "number two kidnapping capital of the world."
It isn't true, but that hardly matters. Arizona is a scary place, and brown people, with their brown children and their accents and their violence, are to blame. That's why we need draconian laws -- to protect white Americans, real Americans. To preserve our very way of life. Hell, to preserve Western Civilization.
That's the argument they've been touting for years. Remember in 2006, when John Gibson warned that white people needed to have more babies to counteract Hispanic birthrates?
To put it bluntly, we need more babies. Forget about that zero population growth stuff that my poor generation was misled on. Why is this important? Because civilizations need population to survive. So far, we are doing our part here in America but Hispanics can't carry the whole load. The rest of you, get busy. Make babies, or put another way -- a slogan for our times: "procreation not recreation."
This was not just the rant of one crazy conservative on Fox News, though. This is what conservatives believe. They even have a name for it: demographic winter.
Conservatives have taken to using "demographic winter" as a catchphrase for turning the discussion into another battle in the culture war. For many on the Right, demographic winter describes a future of economic catastrophes, the decline of Western Civilization, and the destruction of the "natural" family.
Demographic winter -- or "birth dearth" as it is sometimes called -- is the ultimate culture war battle, rooted in the rise of feminism, legalized abortion, the acceptance of homosexuality, illegal immigration, and the growth of minority populations. All of this is supposedly the result of a multi-decade campaign by liberals to undermine "natural law" and the "natural" family.
In other words, our entire civilization is at risk because of abortion and immigrants and equal pay and environmentalists and all the other things that rightwing Christian fundamentalists don’t like.
Be afraid, because one day, there will be more of them than you. They will surround you. And take your jobs. And your money. And steal your elections. And your White House. And your Medicare.
And that, conservatives believe, is why they must fight back. Fight back against the black president, against the minorities, against the women, the gays, ACORN. They must fight to take back their country, to preserve their way of life. Because they are being robbed, punished, discriminated against. They are victims.
Like the National Organization for Marriage:
"We've taken great pains to make clear what were all about. We view ourselves as a new civil rights movement ... committed to something that in the 1960s was key: the right to vote."
This organization is devoted to passing legislation that strips gays and lesbian of their civil rights. And yet, it claims to be leading a civil rights movement. NOM and its supporters apparently are victims of oppression, fighting for their rights, shouted down and persecuted for their beliefs. They hold demonstrations to proclaim their hatred, and then cry outrage when their hatred is shouted down. They are struggling for their right to oppress others, for fear they will be oppressed by those they oppress.
Conservative women are now "fighting back" by "reclaiming" feminism from the very women who have actually fought for the progress they are trying so hard to undo. (Hell, the Mama Grizzlies don’t even support equal pay for equal work.) They are "fighting back" so they can deny women the right to make decisions about their own lives, so they can be deprived of health care, so they can be denied any government assistance to help care for their children, so they can earn less than men.
This is the movement they are leading to preserve the status quo.
But it’s not just the extremists on the right who are perpetuating this myth of institutionalized discrimination against white Americans. Recently, even Sen. James Webb (D-VA) got in on the action last week, in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, to "debunk" white privilege. Webb complained of "government-enforced diversity policies have marginalized many white workers" and "special programs" that allow "recently arrived immigrants to move ahead of similarly situated whites whose families have been in the country for generations." Apparently, in Webb's view, those white workers who have been in this country for generations are more deserving of opportunities than minorities, and particularly immigrants.
Even as he claims there is no such thing as white privilege, his article is the perfect demonstration of exactly that -- an assumption that any systems in which whites do not first and foremost benefit must somehow be discriminatory. As Tim Wise explained, in his detailed critique of Webb's article:
Among the "special programs" about which Jim Webb appears to know or care nothing, one might include the Homestead Act (which gave out over 200 million acres of virtually free land to whites, beginning in the 1860s), several key programs of the New Deal, from which blacks were mostly excluded for years, but which saved millions of struggling whites--such as the Federal Housing Administration loan program, which by 1960 was being used to finance 40 percent of all white housing--and the GI Bill, which in theory was meant for all returning veterans, but which in practice favored whites, since segregation was allowed to trump the "right" of black and brown GIs to use their job or educational benefits under the program. These and other programs suggest the greatest irony in critiques of affirmative action: namely, that the nation has been engaged in affirmative action for whites virtually forever. But only now has the specter of "preferential treatment" become a problem.
All of this -- from the complaints of "reverse racism" to the fear-mongering about immigrants to investigations into so-called discriminatory policies -- are all part of a reaction to a perceived threat, not supported by facts but, at most, anomalous anecdotes. It denies the very real evidence that shows that white men still enjoy huge advantages over women and minorities by nearly every metric imaginable.
Earlier this year, The Atlantic published a cover story titled The End of Men, which has since been cited, ad infinitum, as evidence that men are indeed becoming obsolete, that the power they have always enjoyed is slipping away from them. And that's, of course, a bad thing. If more women are entering college, it’s bad for men. If more women are succeeding in the work place, it’s bad for men. Women are stealing from the rightful owners those jobs, those paychecks, those corner offices that have always belonged to men.
But despite these worries, despite complaints of the "mancession," women still aren't doing as well as men. A study from the U.S. Labor Department, released in June of this year, showed that women still earn about 20 percent less than their male counterparts. And it’s true in nearly every single line of work, from real estate brokers to designers to chief executives to pharmacists to bartenders. (Good news for female postal service clerks: they make 4 percent more than their male counterparts.)
And while the proponents of male victimhood will often cite numbers that show the majority of law school and medical students are women, guess what? They’re still not going to make as much as their male counterparts once they graduate. In fact, the medical and legal fields have some of the worst wage gap numbers of all. (Women physicians and surgeons make 40 percent less than their male counterparts. Women lawyers make 22 percent less than their male counterparts.)
But the numbers don’t matter. Because the balance of power has shifted. A black president will now use his power to seek "revenge" upon white America. A Latina’s appointment to the Supreme Court raises concerns about her inherent bias, simply by virtue of her life experience as a woman of color, while more than a hundred white men appointed to the court are deemed "neutral," as if their experience as white men has not informed the way they see the world. As Eugene Robinson explained:
Republicans' outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor's musings about how her identity as a "wise Latina" might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any "identity" -- black, brown, female, gay, whatever -- has to be judged against this supposedly "objective" standard.
Thus it is irrelevant if Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. talks about the impact of his background as the son of Italian immigrants on his rulings -- as he did at his confirmation hearings -- but unforgivable for Sotomayor to mention that her Puerto Rican family history might be relevant to her work. Thus it is possible for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to say with a straight face that heritage and experience can have no bearing on a judge's work, as he posited in his opening remarks yesterday, apparently believing that the white male justices he has voted to confirm were somehow devoid of heritage and bereft of experience.
Yes, discrimination is real. Racism is real. Sexism is real. But it is not now, nor has it ever been, straight white men who are the victims of systemic discrimination. And the election of a black man to the presidency doesn't change that. And the appointment of a woman -- or even two women -- to the Supreme Court doesn't change that. And trumped-up charges against ACORN, or the New Black Panther Party, doesn't change that. And the fight for equal rights for gays and lesbians -- a fight that has seen more failures than successes -- doesn't change that.
There are no new victims of new oppressors in this new era. There are only the same oppressors spouting the same garbage, clinging to the same imbalance of power that has privileged them. And that is why every progressive who cares about justice and equality must fight, not just against Republicans, but even and especially against those members of the Democratic party who have bought into the heinous lies and fear-mongering from the right. Because complaints of reverse discrimination perpetuate a fictional narrative that has nothing to do with equality or justice, and everything to with an increasing desperation to cling to an old way of life that should, that must, meet its deserved end.