Monday, May 28, 2007

race consciousness

Via IOZ, the indomitable John Derbyshire shares his concerns about the projected “majority minority” future of the United States.

As the racial generation gap opens up, with the oldsters being noticeably more white and Anglo than the kids being educated, the grumbling will escalate into action — most likely, the simple action of yet further residential segregation, the old and white-Anglo living here, the young and dark Hispanic living there.

I wonder where my fiancée and I will live, or our children (she’s black, I’m white). For that matter, where will Derbyshire’s family live, since they don’t fit the categories of "white-Anglo" or "young and dark Hispanic" either—his children being, as he puts it, “Half English coal-miner, half Chinese peasant, one hundred percent American.”
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I, at least, have looked forward glumly to my last days, most likely spent stuck, incapable, in some cruddy nursing home with a bunch of other helpless white geezers, my daily needs in the hands of resentful black and brown orderlies whose educations featured long catalogs of the wrongs done to Them by Us.

Maybe Derbyshire should consider being nicer to those youngsters in his columns.
Back of all that is the question: As white Anglos decline into a minority, will we see the rise of white-Anglo race consciousness? The common understanding at present is that open expressions of race consciousness are taboo for white-Anglo Americans, but just fine for everyone else. A leading black presidential candidate subtitles his best-selling biography “A Story of Race and Inheritance”; the main lobbying organization for Hispanics carries the proud title “National Council of the Race”; and so on. This word is, however, not available to white-Anglo Americans in reference to themselves, and white-Anglo Americans are indoctrinated from childhood to believe, or to pretend to believe, that race is an empty category.

I think it is true that there is very little space for discussion of whiteness between the official fiction of a colorblind society and the ravings of white supremacist groups. I’m talking about whiteness, not “Italian-American-ness” or “Irishness” or “Jewishness”. [Noting that I'm not implying that these groups are not white, but that in recent decades, there's been little room for discussion of "whiteness" as an umbrella category similar to "blackness" or "latinitud".] This is a discussion that makes many people uncomfortable, but it needs to happen. I’m unsure how that discussion will unfold, but I place Derbyshire’s contribution towards the “unhelpful” end of the spectrum. He continues:
This taboo is left over from the old pre-1960s order of unassailable (as it then seemed) white-Anglo supremacy. It was really just a form of noblesse oblige, a patronizing courtesy from the vast-majority race, who owned and ran pretty much everything in the U.S. up to about 40 years ago, to minorities about whom they nursed a mildly guilty conscience.

Noblesse oblige is a wonderfully satisfying, self-flattering attitude: “Look at me — not only powerful and rich, but gracious and kind, too!” Whether it can survive as white Anglos dwindle to minority status is not clear to me. It might: it runs strong today among the white-Anglo inhabitants of Washington, D.C., even though they are (see above) only 32 percent of the population there. I suppose it depends how the economics shakes down.

I think Derbyshire is misreading the racial history here. As he says, back in the day, whites ran the show. Whites assumed they were superior to the other races in every way that mattered. But this presumed superiority wasn’t just politely implied, as Derbyshire alludes. It was made explicit at every level of society, from segregated public facilities to racial pseudoscience coming from the nation’s most respected universities. Before the civil rights movement, many whites did not refrain from proclaiming their racial superiority at every opportunity.

As for Derbyshire’s question, I’ll defer to IOZ once again:
Will Whitey develop "race-consciousness" as he slumps into the minority? I suspect not but hope so. In a hundred years, some well-heeled Black guy can take to the pages of The National Review to ask, "Why are they allowed to call each other cracker but I'm not allowed to call them cracker?" and to lament to glorification of spousal and alcohol abuse in degenerate country-western music.

But picking apart the writings of John Derbyshire is like shooting spam in a barrel—it seems easy at first, but soon you wonder what the hell you are doing.

The more I think about it, the more befuddled I am. The contradictions seem insurmountable. For instance, Derbyshire is a confessed illegal immigrant who steadfastly condemns illegal immigration. From Wikipedia:
Derbyshire has also expressed the opinion that foreigners who overstay their visas in the U.S. should be permanently banned from the country. Derbyshire has admitted that he overstayed his visa in the United States by nearly five years.

His own children are biracial. Yet it never occurs to him, in his examination of the racial future of America, to take into account a growing multiracial populace that increasingly defies tidy classification into “black, white, hispanic, asian, or ‘other’.”

At the magic moment that the national race counter ticks over from 50.00001% white to 49.99999% white, what exactly is supposed to happen? Will anyone notice? Will anyone care? What happens if somebody most people would classify as “white” actually considers himself to be “other”, or someone formerly known as “black” takes a DNA test and finds only Cherokee, Mayan, and Scottish genes? If a census respondent checks the box marked “asian” this time around, but upon further reflection, ticks the “white” box for the next census, will John Derbyshire’s head explode?

It must be terrifying to be John Derbyshire. He’s being displaced by his own children, and can no longer trust the younger generations to care for him in his dotage. It's a bleak future, indeed.

No comments: