Mike the Mad Biologist

Recently, I ripped into Kathleen “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer” Parker for mainstreaming white power garbage. But Gregory Rodriguez makes a good point about the “formal re-articulation of whiteness as a social category and a racial interest group” (italics mine):

To be white in America meant that you were a member of the default category that just isn’t discussed. In 2000, journalists didn’t incessantly mention that George W. Bush was seeking to become the 43rd white male president of the United States. No one even thinks in those terms. It’s implied. It’s one of the perks of dominance. We generally mention race when we speak of nonwhites.

Since the civil rights movement, though, it’s also been taboo to speak of the collective interests of white people in polite company. To mention whites as an interest group — in the way we do minority groups — hearkens back to segregation and worse.

Sure, we’ve discussed the importance of subgroups of whites — soccer moms and NASCAR dads. But analysts didn’t treat their whiteness as the primary thing that determined their political behavior, in the way that, say, Latino voters are almost always presumed to vote based on ethnic considerations.

But the Obama-Clinton rivalry seems to have changed all that, and we’re now openly discussing white working-class voters in ways that make clear that their racial interests play a role in their political preferences.

A minor quibble first: while “analysts” might not be focusing on whiteness, many in the lefty blogosphere have been.

That quibble aside, it’s pretty clear that the Republican Party is the white people’s party–in particular, the white Protestant party. Speaking of which, many whites have been hit with a double whammy. Not only is whiteness becoming less dominant, less of a cultural default, but so too Protestantism, as I noted regarding Amy Sullivan:

To the extent that many Democrats–including religious Democrats–feel uncomfortable with religious displays by political figures, I think it revolves around the related issues of validation and exclusion.

I don’t need or want a political figure to validate my religious beliefs. On the contrary, as a member of a religious minority (and here’s where the post title comes in), I feel very uncomfortable when politicians do this, because, almost certainly, they are excluding (or invalidating) other religions, even if they don’t realize it…. From personal experience, this sort of exclusion feels awful. And, most importantly, unless you feel the need for religious validation from political figures (and that’s just fucking stupid), it is not necessary.

….Protestant Christians have been the theological default setting in the U.S. (while at the same time, some claim to be discriminated against. Go figure…). Now that they’re not, they get to join the rest of us religious minority types. If every time their religious beliefs and practices will not be granted special ‘supraecumenical’ status (even when they’re actually quite sectarian), they think they’re being discriminated against, then they’re going to have a very long next couple of decades.

Welcome to Minorityville.

It’s one thing to continually feel marginalized–that’s one kind of frustration. But to lose one’s status of primus inter pares* has to be very disconcerting, particularly if that loss of status has accompanied economic and social dislocation:

The reason Donohue and his fellow religious warriors are so worked up is that there is no enclave to which they can withdraw. Unlike the massive resistance strategy, which ultimately found expression by southern whites (and to a considerable extent by northern whites too) in flight to the newly created suburbs, if Walmart adopts a ‘happy holidays’ strategy (shudder the thought!), there is no suburb to which they can flee.

I think this is a major reason why the culture wars, including the War on Christmas, have been fought with such intensity by the Right the last several decades. As America has changed–and I think, for the better–groups and views that used to either be discriminated against or ‘only’ marginalized have become integrated into American culture. If this is viewed in the framework of a ‘zero-sum game’, and if there is no place to set up your own ‘ideal’ social arrangement due to the nationalization of culture via mass media (and federal law), then the only alternative remaining is to fight these battles vociferously.

As Robert Schaller put it in Whistling Past Dixie (italics original):

The civil rights reforms that began in the middle of the twentieth century ended the Democratic South’s one-party hegemony and regional autonomy. The Republican potentates who took over the postreform South realized that if America would no longer permit southerners to divorce themselves from Washington, their only recourse was to dominate national politics.

I think an analogous dynamic is at work in the ‘culture wars.’ Too bad they’re on the wrong side of history. Again.

Make no mistake, there’s also a long history of flat out racism and prejudice interwoven in all this, some of which still exists today. Mind you, I’m not excusing this backlash. It’s not only unjust, but has actually been harmful to many of those who hold these views, never mind the rest of us (I sure as hell don’t deserve George W. Bush). Ultimately, they do have to be held accountable for the consequences of their actions and beliefs, regardless of the social and economic contexts in which those beliefs arose–personal responsibility should not be the sole purview of single, poor, minority mothers.

Besides, most of us in Minorityville are pretty decent people.

Not folks, by the way. People.

*Or not so pares.

Comments

  1. #1 zy
    May 27, 2008

    As a member of a so-called “mainline” protestant church, I would welcome more of a sense among my peers that we aren’t the default and cannot assume the majority agrees with us. I think this is how a lot of the extremist groups manage to grab all the attention, when the traditional Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc. who are rather liberal, become complacent and assume they don’t need to come forward in defense of progressive social policies and correct science in the classroom.

  2. #2 King Solomon
    May 27, 2008

    The nuance between “folks” and “people” escapes me.

  3. #3 decrepitoldfool
    May 29, 2008

    I’m not sure exactly what’s intended by the use of the word here, but on Bill O’Reilly’s show, “folks” are “real people, hard-working honest, real Americans” as opposed to, well you know, them.