Sen. Webb says ‘white privilege’ is a myth

It’s pretty difficult to have a rational discussion about race, for the reasons my colleague Jay Bookman has outlined today. Quite frankly, his list of reasons is incomplete: Today’s political and civic climate includes a host of loud mouths who are not interested in a rational conversation about race. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart come to mind.
Nevertheless, I sally forth in the hope that a few reasonable people might come across new information that gives them pause, makes them think, changes their minds. Today, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has a fascinating column in the Wall Street Journal that ought to provide fodder for reasonable conversation. UPDATE: A reader pointed to a link to the column, so here it is. )
The column, which has a rather provocative title, “Diversity and The Myth of White Privilege,” argues for the end of government-sanctioned affirmative action programs. But it’s not a simple-minded argument which pretends that discrimination, especially against blacks, never existed. Instead, Webb points out that broad-based diversity efforts boost “people of color” who never suffered historic discrimination in this country, while excluding whites who have suffered poverty.
I don’t agree with everything Webb says. He exaggerates in places, claiming, for example, that “WASP elites have fallen by the wayside,” a gross exaggeration which ignores the concentration of WASPs among the wealthy and powerful. (George H.W.Bush and sons come to mind.)
Nevertheless, Webb raises valid points:

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.

How so?

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.

I would choose a different remedy than Webb’s. I would argue that affirmative action programs still have a role to play, but they should be class-based and not color-based.

378 comments Add your comment

Richard

July 23rd, 2010
3:35 pm

education education education- no more cutesy “no child left behind” programs. This country will continue to thrive only with a culture formed on a basis of education and furthered by a desire and the ability to think and innovate.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
3:38 pm

Richard, you thought ‘no child left behind” was cutesy? That seems an odd thing to call it. Ineffective, yes. Cutesy? I’m not getting that.

Ponder

July 23rd, 2010
3:42 pm

Okay Cynthia, I’ll bite — what are your “class-based” categories, how are they defined, and which class or classes are the recipients of affirmative action programs, and why?

RF

July 23rd, 2010
3:43 pm

Well, as if we hadn’t had enought with Breitbart, some jealous, attention seeking fool has to try to get his share of the news time. Did Webb grow up at the North Pole or something? White privilege has been documented throughout our history. Come on, even this guy has to be aware of the Jim Crow laws?? How much more white privilege can you get? Some people can’t seem to understand the concept because they’ve been the recipients of it. I don’t think it’s as bad as it was decades ago, and certainly AA and other programs have helped push us away from it. I’ve seen it too many times in my life not to know it exists- and I’m a white male.

Granny Godzilla

July 23rd, 2010
3:46 pm

” I would argue that affirmative action programs still have a role to play, but they should be class-based and not color-based.”

That makes good sense, but it will be called class warfare by those
who have no desire to help the less fortunate.

JacobLocke

July 23rd, 2010
3:46 pm

C’mon Cynthia – don’t leave me stuck in moderation … it’s satire. It’s fun. We’ll all have a laugh :D

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
3:47 pm

Cynthia:

Much of my career was spent giving minorities and women a leg up over white males. The pecking order was black females, then white females, then black males, then all other, then white males. I really resent that I was involved in that and wish now I hadn’t “caved” and participated.

Class discrimination is just as wrong as race discrimination.

As long as we keep going down this road we will never heal and in fact continue to Balkanize even more.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
3:48 pm

Granny:

Should a poor white basketball player make an NBA team over a rich black player who just happens to also be better at basketball ?

JacobLocke

July 23rd, 2010
3:51 pm

C’mon … Bookman let me get away with it ….

RF

July 23rd, 2010
3:55 pm

Scout- as painful as it was, didn’t you see at least some need for it there for a while? I’ll agree with you that it isn’t as needed now, but should be applied where there is an obvious discrepancy. I was in the corporate world during those early days and worked for a company that had no problem with their predjudice against women and minorities, especially in senior positions. But after the first round of it, even the executives at that company had to admit that they benefitted from the albeit forced diversification of their work force. Sales actually went up and profits rose because they had a better view of the market they were serving through the more diverse make up of their management team. It’s like exercising- the pain resulted in a healthier, stronger body.

Pogo

July 23rd, 2010
3:56 pm

Cindy, what the about the “Loud Mouths” in the NAACP and the Black Panthers? And your melodramatic thing about “American blacks suffering at the hands of their government” is hogwash too. Why don’t you try looking at what is happening in Africa or Haiti even to this day? You are full of crap. It is nothing compared to the suffering that is still going on the African continent. The strange thing is, that the blacks in certain African nations (and in Haiti) are responsible for large scale genocide and repression that has not been seen since Hitler. And nobody seems to care, not even you.

Peadawg

July 23rd, 2010
3:56 pm

“argues for the end of government-sanctioned affirmative action programs.”

AMEN!

Granny Godzilla

July 23rd, 2010
3:59 pm

Scout

Thanks for the favor you did me…..It was very gracious of you and I really appreciate it.

“Should a poor white basketball player make an NBA team over a rich black player who just happens to also be better at basketball?”

That is, I think, carrying the concept to an extreme.

I do think a bright young person of little or no means should get help with food, clothing, shelter and education.

Jon Swift

July 23rd, 2010
4:02 pm

RF, it’s to easy to resort to knee-jerk reactions. Dig deeper into Webb’s comments.

First of all, you should know that Webb is a born and bred southerner, so obviously he’s familiar with white privilege, Jim Crow, etc. Secondly, Cynthia pointed out Webb’s clear exaggerations, but to me the substance of his argumenet rings true. I support Affirmative Action but it has been twisted, cynically so in the last 10-15 years. In fact, do you realize that officially or not, even the term “Affirmative Action” has changed. Most employers and colleges have been calling it “Diversity” for several years. The name change was a deliberate attempt to remove the political sting out of the cultural battles over redress to Blacks for de facto and de jure racial discrimination.

As I say, I support Affirmative Action, but I’ve felt for a long time that it’s damaged. I think AA has become a ceiling or limit for black folks, as in “Oh, we got our 12% of blacks, so there’s no need to hire any more of them.” And as Webb pointed out, groups of people whom were never subject to Jim Crow are getting Affirmative Action benefits; latinos, Pakistani/Indians, Asian Pacific Islanders. As an example, look at some of Obama’s appoinments. I expected him to be the President of all Americans, yet he seems to have gone out of his way to promote persons of third-world minority ancestry and white women. That is not inherently wrong but let’s not call it Affirmative Action either.

Blue

July 23rd, 2010
4:09 pm

thanks for letting us know that only right wing talk show hosts are the people that cannot have a rational conversation about race. One of your worst traits is that you always imply or flat out say that only the ‘right’ does certain things. Cynthia, I have met many, many people on the ‘left’ who cannot have a rational conversation about race, and I have seen many people on TV who are “left” that cannot have a rational conversation about it (like the “Reverend” Jesse Jackson). Nice try though…race baiter.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
4:12 pm

Blue, I take it that it wasn’t worth your time to read the entire post and comment on its substance. You have proved my point.

Blue

July 23rd, 2010
4:13 pm

GG; who determines who is “bright” and what is the cutoff to “little to no means”. And more importantly, who will determine and how will it be determined whether certain bright people of little means are in that position because of poor decisions or actions of their own volition? There are MANY of those people that ARE deserving of help, but there are many of them that, quite frankly, I should not be forced to help (with my taxes) because they have put themselves in those situations.

Blue

July 23rd, 2010
4:15 pm

you prove your point every day, CT…and no, I commented on your comments…not the post. I don’t have to read someone else’s words to know what you said leading up to it. I only reference your written words…and there was no gray area.

RF

July 23rd, 2010
4:19 pm

Jon- I agree that AA isn’t necessary anymore except in cases where there is a clear discrepancy. I also don’t think basing on socio-economic class would be any better. But here’s an experience that taught me a lesson about it.

I was a college student in the early 80’s, working two jobs to try to pay my way and scraping every dime up I could. My parents were divorced and yet we still couldn’t make the cut for much Pell grant money. As I walked in to pay for a quarter’s classes, a well-dressed African-American girl ended up in line in front of me- after seeing her get out of Mercedes at the curb. I couldn’t help but hear the woman tell her what she had from Pell in her account and asked her what she would like to do with the remainder. Remainder, I thought?? I got $50 from Pell, which would barely cover my Marta tokens for the semester, let alone tuition and books. I was steamed, of course, and went home fuming. My mom listened to me whine about why the girl got so much more and how I couldn’t help but think it was because of her race. My mother looked at me and told me that first, I didn’t know anything about the girl except what I heard in line. Second, she reminded me that just twenty years earlier, that girl wouldn’t have been allowed on the campus I was attending, much less been given any money to go there. She said it’s all about perspective, and I needed to be careful not to make it an issue of race because we had done too much of that for too long. She said, and I had to somewhat grudgingly agree at the time, that we had some fixing up to do before the playing field would be leveled. I ended up with my degree, even if it did take two years longer because of running out of money so many times. I think now, and have since that day, that we need to be careful to encourage diversity because there are still a lot of places where it doesn’t exist. One day, when we’re the minority, we’ll clamor for it too.

We have outlived the pressing need for AA, but white privilege, while not a legally stated process, was very real for a long time, and thank goodness we’ve done the hard work to get where we are.

Chris

July 23rd, 2010
4:20 pm

God forbid we ask our Senators to read through a couple thousand pages of a bill before voting on it, but didn’t the Bank Reform Bill that Jim Webb voted for contain certain quotas that would stand in staunch opposition of his view here?

And regarding Affirmative Action, don’t you think that if we keep telling young black kids that they need certain government programs in order to make anything of themselves, that they will start to believe it? We need to stop spreading the poisonous message of victimhood being peddled by the likes of Rev Al and Rev Jesse. Webb is right about this. I just wish he voted his conscious.

Priviledge

July 23rd, 2010
4:23 pm

I am priviledged to be called a ‘racist’ if i have critique on other cultures than my own.
I am priviledged to be called a ‘racist’ if i have critique on liberals.
I am priviledged to be called a ‘racist’ if i don’t support Obama’s current policies.
I am priviledged to be called a ‘racist’ if i do not support handouts and entitlement.
I am priviledged to be called a ‘racist’ if i say that illegal aliens have commited a crime and are not exempt from consequences.

A Lumpkin Resident

July 23rd, 2010
4:23 pm

White privilege IS a myth. I lived in Gwinnett county for many years, with several black and hispanic families in our neighborhood. There was no real difference in the quality of life or possessions or grades or anything else.

Here is where I can sympathize with blacks and where there IS a difference:

In that suburban home, I had FOUR grocery stores within 5 miles (closest 2 miles), one open all night. I had a THREE Home Depots within 8 miles. My point? When I lived in midtown and did not have a car, NOTHING was easy. I trip the grocery store was a 4 or 5 hour trek on Marta… to a store that charges more than the same items in the suburbs. Despite what urban planners would have you believe, inner city living in the blighted areas is not easy. And who lives there? Primarily poor blacks. Crime keeps things closed at night, and crime keeps stores from setting up shop. The corner store that charges 3x more for everything is often the only choice. Life is both harder and more expensive in urban poor neighborhoods. But Cynthia is correct: this has more to due with class (and crime) than it does with race. Looking at a poor inner city neighborhood in comparison to an integrated middle class suburban neighborhood demonstrates the point.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
4:23 pm

RF, Your mom was an unusual and clear-headed thinker. But please let me tell you that something very similar happened to me! Since my parents were school teachers, I didn’t qualify for Pell grants either. But my parents weren’t rich, and I went to college without a car because they couldn’t afford to buy me one. But my (black) neighbor, an only child, went to college with a brand new car! I was POed! But the same moral applies: my parents would have readily reminded me that the girl’s parents barely scraped by, and that they put every penny they had into their daughter. There was no reason for me to be jealous.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
4:24 pm

Granny: You dodged ! You usually don’t do that. The question is should a poor white male who is a better qualified applicant be passed over for a lesser qualified black female from a well to do family because of things that happened that neither one of them had any part in one way or the other.

In my heart I know the answer …….. and I am ashamed of what I once participated in.

The Nerve

July 23rd, 2010
4:25 pm

And once again, without fail, what could perhaps be a meaninful discussion gets submarined in the first few sentences.

“Today’s political and civic climate includes a host of loud mouths who are not interested in a rational conversation about race. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart come to mind.”

I don’t listen, read or watch anything these 3 do. I had never heard of BigGovernment.com or Breitbart until earlier this week. But surely….surely…..surely…….somewhere in your mind CT, there are some on the left who are just as guilty. Surely there is enough intellectual honesty in you to admit that. You want to start a discussion, but then immediately throw out some hate to push the buttons and alienate a certain group.

“Nevertheless, I sally forth in the hops that a few reasonable people might come across new information that gives them pause, makes them think, changes their minds.”

Start by looking in the mirror before you hop. I don’t think you’re there yet.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
4:25 pm

RF:

See my 4:24 above.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
4:26 pm

Pogo, That particular bit of “melodrama” (some of us would call it ‘history’) came from Jim Webb, white guy.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
4:27 pm

RF, read the post. As I said, I think Webb’s comments deserve some serious reflection.

JohnnyReb

July 23rd, 2010
4:32 pm

Speaking of “loud mouths,” John, I served in Viet Nam, Kerry has been found to be docking his new sailboat in Rhode Island to save/avoid a half million in taxes should it be docked in Massachusets. There is nothing illegal about doing so, just severly hypocritical. He has NO problem putting forth legislation to tax everyone (cap & tax among them), but does not want to pay taxes himself. And someone asks why I am an angry white man!

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
4:33 pm

RF:

From you post on Bookman’s site ………………..

A little racism is Rural Georgia at the WalMart? You’re kidding?

I’ll tell you what ………. I can send you to certain places in L.A., Chicago or Detroit where if you set foot you (if you are white) stand a good chance of not getting out alive ……… in broad daylight.

What would you call that ????

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
4:35 pm

BTW folks ……….

If you are “racist” you believe your race is genetically superior to another. Not many of those left out there.

However, you may not be “racist” but you could be as a white or black person “bigoted, biased, prejudiced or just plain picky” !

Let’s PLEASE ty to use the right word !!!

B Crawford

July 23rd, 2010
4:37 pm

Scout – The question is should a poor Black male who is a better qualified applicant be passed over for a lesser qualified White male from a well to do family because of things that happened that neither one of them had any part in one way or the other. Like being the same race as the person hiring them. If everything was based purely on merit the concept of networking wouldn’t be a factor in hiring period.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
4:39 pm

JohnnyReb :

1) I heard that today and it is so true but that’s the way liberals are ……….. the old double standard ……….. don’t do as I do – do as I say ……….. I know what’s best for you peasants.

2) Kind of like the news commentator Cark Rowan (now deceased) who was a scathing anti-2nd Amendment/gun control advocate who believed no one should own a gun. Then he shot some kid with an unregistered handgun who was just “hanging out” by the pool in his backyard.

3) Cynthia ………. didn’t you know Carl? Any comment ?

Oh, the tangled webs we weave …………………..

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
4:39 pm

Scout, One agree on something: Words matter!

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
4:40 pm

The Nerve, Did you bother to read the rest of the post?

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
4:41 pm

B. Crawford:

This is simple. The answer is both situation are morally wrong.

Everyone gets a fair chance and then you go with the best qualified candidate just like you pick the best NBA player.

This is NOT brain surgery …………. just political correctness gone amok !

B Crawford

July 23rd, 2010
4:41 pm

Scout – often the root cause of person being bigoted, biased or prejudiced is the belief that they are superior to another group aka as racism.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
4:42 pm

Ok, Priviledge, You don’t bother to read the post. Next time, try reading before you rant

JohnnyReb

July 23rd, 2010
4:42 pm

I would choose a different remedy than Webb’s. I would argue that affirmative action programs still have a role to play, but they should be class-based and not color-based.

Ms Tucker, there you go again wanting the government to engineer a social outcome that would not occur if laws are applied equally regardless of race. Your postion is indicative of a true Obama supporter who wants to spread the wealth, but also shows why Dems will lose big in November and Obama will be a one-term regret.

If America is to truly move past the race issue, we cannot operate on Social Justice. It must be equal justice; equal for all.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
4:45 pm

B Crawford :

If that’s what it is then so be it. But you don’t know what is inside a person’s head so let’s try to use the right word.

RF

July 23rd, 2010
4:48 pm

Scout: I responded to you on Bookman’s page. Go there and read it- I’ll choose to respectfully disagree with you on some points, perhaps.

Cynthia- I think his words do deserve some serious reflection. I agree that it is high time ALL poor Americans get some help. What I wonder is this: Is there a lack of understanding among poor whites as to what is available to them based on income? I have a niece who went through a hard time while her husband was out of work, and she didn’t have a clue where to begin applying for income-based aid. I think because the poverty level is so much higher among other cultural groups that there is a greater likelihood they’ll know someone who can help them navigate the process. I also think there is a cultural stigma attached to government aid that labels it an “entitlement” for minorities, and I’ve seen in my own family a distaste for government aid because of that. My dad was livid that his granddaughter was applying for a “handout” when her kids were hungry and had no medical care, but it’s long been seen as a minority program based on race.

Cordel Faulk

July 23rd, 2010
4:49 pm

Ms. Tucker, the Webb column is NOT protected behind a pay wall.

It’s here for everyone to read on the WSJ’s free opinion site:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703724104575379630952309408.html

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
4:49 pm

B Crawford

July 23rd, 2010
4:49 pm

Johnny Reb – they already engineer social outcomes. Tax breaks for children, home owner ship , charitable donations, etc. We should pretend that everyone is equal and given equal opportunity. It sounds nice as a principal but the practice is totally different.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
4:51 pm

P.S. to B. Crawford:

For example …………………

It is my understanding that the Lady (can’t think of her name right now) who got fired from the Department of Agriculture this week called Republicans who disagreed with Obama’s health care policy “racists” (in another part of that tape).

She is calling me a racist ! In my opinion she should stay FIRED just for that ! That is not her function as a government employee when speaking to other groups.

I spent 34 years in a major federal law enforcement agency. If I had said something during a speech to the Lion’s Club to the effect that I thought all Democrats were racist over some policy ………….. I would have been disciplined for sure.

I have no sympathy for her once I heard the FULL story.

Cynthia …………… what say ye ????

Slick

July 23rd, 2010
4:52 pm

Would the comments deserve the same reflection had the been proffered by someone with a “R” next to his/her name?

JohnnyReb

July 23rd, 2010
4:52 pm

Ms Tucker, I posted a link to the article America’s Ruling Class–And the Perils of Revolution by Angelo Codevilla that went into moderation. It is not a racist article and I believe your readers would find it very interesting.

The Nerve

July 23rd, 2010
4:52 pm

Mrs. Tucker. I did. And my point is that what could have been a very good conversation was instantly polarizing to some because of that sentence. It wasn’t needed. It was just another jab that continues to divide. It just wasn’t necessary.

I learned earlier today on Bookmans’ blog that the term “uppity” and “arrogant” are new terms meant to disparage the African American. Never knew it. What if I wrote this column and changed that sentence to “Today’s political and civic climate includes a host of uppity and arrogant loud mouths who are not interested in a rational conversation about race. Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton and Cynthia McKinney come to mind.”

Would that not immediately cast my column in a negative light?

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
4:52 pm

I would argue that Cynthia Tucker rarely engages in rational discussions about race. That’s why she frequently shuts down comments for blogs about racial issues. I remember once she posted that there is no genetic basis for differentiating people by race (which is simply not true).

I wasn’t a giant fan of the Webb piece, but I think it’s interesting that finally even Democrats are taking notice of the widespread resentment among whites about racial issues. My wife and I discussed it as we drove to work, and we both agreed that many blacks have developed an anti-white mindset that justifies any and all acts of hostility towards whites. I’m shocked when I hear crazy arguments like “blacks can’t be racist” or that “nothing will ever make up for slavery”. The point being, when you see black teenagers with 2 kids before they’ve graduated high school and when they hear the broken English so common to many poorer blacks they start to thing that the black community is primarily at fault for its problems. When you combine that with the active racism and hostility that every white person who has ever lived in an urban area has experienced plus the obvious discrimination that whites face in obtaining an education, it’s easy to understand why whites start being much less sympathetic to the argument that blacks deserve special consideration.

I think there’s going to be a backlash against the PC mindset that forgives atrocious behavior and provides special consideration to certain groups in the name of racial justice. When even a Democrat writes a piece like this, you know the tide is starting to turn.

RF

July 23rd, 2010
4:54 pm

Cynthia- there’s a series of books by Ruby Payne about educating children from poverty that might explain some of my ideas. There is a fundamental difference in the way cultural groups look at poverty and government aid. Some of that comes from what we call “white privilege”. In the past, it was easier for whites to find a way out of poverty and they were more likely to see it as a changable situation. Melissa Harris Lacewell, who I often enjoy listening to when she is interviewed, has often mentioned the fundamentally different views of power and privilege that exist among cultural groups. I do think Webb is pointing out an important point, but to call “white privilege” a myth is reaching a bit far.