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

Steve

July 23rd, 2010
4:55 pm

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

Who wouldn’t ?

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
4:57 pm

RF:

I hear you but I’m just telling you ……….. you would be dead.

Now “that’s” bigotry !

Stonethrower

July 23rd, 2010
4:58 pm

What a waste of ink. No meaningful dialogue will come from this piece of work you call journalism. My attitudes and opinions as well as those of the other readers and bloggers here were formed long ago and nothing said here or anywhere else will change that. As far as I’m concerned there is and always will be white privilege but has it or will it stop me from being and upstanding and productive citizen trying to achieve the best? No, and I don’t need affirmative action so whites can whisper about how unqualified we are for our positions. However take and look at the makeup of the boardrooms of the most wealthy and influential businesses, think tanks and the ultimate, the US Senate and what do you see? I’m not saying that those in charge are not qualified. But, it reminds me of the lyrics of a song, “hey little boy you can’t go where the others go cause you don’t look like they do. I said hey old man how can you stand to think that way, did you really think about it before you made the rules and he said son, that’s just the way it is!”

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
4:59 pm

Cynthia:

I left you two questions 4:39 and 4:51)

Would sure appreciate a response if you get time ……………………..

Some people are stupid

July 23rd, 2010
4:59 pm

I never thought I would see the day that I agree with Scout

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:00 pm

The Nerve, First off, there’s nothing new about whites’ use of “uppity” and “arrogant” to disparage blacks who “get out of their place.” Very old usage.
Secondly, Nerve, if you knew anything my history, you would know I’ve sharply criticized Jesse Jackson and Cynthia McKinney when they were still dominating the public spotlight. (For his part, you may remember that Al proudly took Bill O’Reilly to a Harlem restaurant a few years ago, so I think Al is trying to have rational conversations with people with whom he disagrees.) In fact, I proudly take credit for helping to run McKinney out of office. But when is the last time either one of them was a dominant public figure? By contrast, Rush, Glenn and Andrew are ruining the public discourse right now.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:01 pm

Scout, Why don’t you listen to Shirley Sherrod for yourself? ARen’t you tired by now of having other people tell you what she said?

Libertarian

July 23rd, 2010
5:01 pm

Pat Buchanan makes a similar point regarding ivy league college admissions in an article he wrote earlier this week (Bias and Bigotry in academia). Basically, he says that these policies are mostly hurting poor and middle class whites because white elites still get in and hispanic and and black students get in with lesser credentials. Here is an excerpt:

There is yet another form of bigotry prevalent among our academic elite that is a throwback to the snobbery of the WASPs of yesterday. While Ivy League recruiters prefer working-class to middle-class black kids with the same test scores, the reverse is true with white kids.

White kids from poor families who score as well as white kids from wealthy families – think George W. Bush – not only get no break, they seem to be the most undesirable and unwanted of all students.

Though elite schools give points to applicants for extracurricular activities, especially for leadership roles and honors, writes Nieli, if you played a lead role in Future Farmers of America, the 4-H Clubs or junior ROTC, leave it off your resume or you may just be blackballed. “Excelling in these activities is ‘associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds on admissions.’”

B Crawford

July 23rd, 2010
5:02 pm

Scout – are you arguing that double standards exist, no argument here. When the ratio gets even then we can talk about things being equal.

The Nerve

July 23rd, 2010
5:05 pm

CT….I appreciate the response but I think you are still missing the point. Throw any whatever names you want in the sentence about anybody.

In a dialogue such as this, it did not help to throw in a sentence that, to me, was meant to divide. It wasn’t needed. It could have been left out and promoted even more meaningful dialogue. My goodness, you even have Some People are Stupid agreeing with Scout so something magical must have been started.

And just for my own history, I grew up and went to a predominately black highschool. I had never heard those two terms described as derogatory towards African Americans until today. I always thought “uppity” meant stuck up and “arrogant” meant you thought you were better than everybody else. I know lots and lots and uppity arrogant white people.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:06 pm

Mike K., You need to go and read some scientific journals from about ten years back, when scientists first started publishing their results about the human genome. Scientists said that race is a cultural construct, not a biological one. I’m sorry you don’t want to hear that.

RF

July 23rd, 2010
5:06 pm

@Scout- “I hear you but I’m just telling you ……….. you would be dead.” LOL As possibly anyone would who even looked like they had some money. Perhaps that’s the distinction- I bet you could walk right through if you were pushing a grocery cart and smelled like a wino. Hmmmm, maybe my fashion sense wasn’t so good when I was living in that part of town….but I digress.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:09 pm

RF, I think you’re right about some of the programs. First, they’re unaware. Second, there’s a stigma. But it’s also true that, in some cases, those programs don’t exist. In the 90s, Michael Adams discovered that his freshman classes at UGA contained very few white males from rural areas, so he included them in the “affirmative action” program — which I thought was a fine idea. They tended to be working class kids without the advantages of many suburban white kids. But when Lee Parks’ group sued UGA over affirmative action, that program was thrown out.

The Nerve

July 23rd, 2010
5:09 pm

Gotta check out CT and go move this economy forward. Thank you for the responses. I did enjoy the article. Have a good weekend.

B Crawford

July 23rd, 2010
5:10 pm

Libertarian – I like the way he puts white elites into the same category as Black and Hispanics. The real comparison would be Black and Hispanics elites (might be pretty hard to find) to white elites. He simply lumped them together to make his point. Since we are taking away things that give points let remove the whole legacy thing. It doesn’t matter if your dad or granddad went to that school.

Wayne

July 23rd, 2010
5:13 pm

Although he was not as explicit as you about remedy, I read between the lines as Webb as also calling for class-based affirmative action (perhaps in individual programs rather than 1 “diversity program). Certainly, he didn’t oppose the concept.

I'm here from the government and I'm here to help

July 23rd, 2010
5:13 pm

Granny Godzilla,

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

You forgot free medical care and why not throw in a few virgins in a Mercedes!

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:14 pm

Wayne, No, he didn’t. And I think class-based “affirmative action” would be a good idea, esp for college admissions

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
5:14 pm

Affirmative Action is used to ‘end the badges of slavery’ . What BS! Chris Rock said it best
onstage.” There’s not a white person in this audience that would trade places with me and
I’m Rich.” AA is used to give the white race the illusion that it’s doing the right thing and
benefits few black people. Obama said ‘Plug the damn hole.’ I say pay the damn reparations.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:14 pm

You too, Nerve

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:15 pm

Some people are smart:

Thank you !!

Libertarian

July 23rd, 2010
5:16 pm

@ B Crawford, if you truly want to be “fair” why not remove your name and ethnicity from college apps?

Here’s another quote from the article (btw the whole article was based on a study conducted by Princeton University, it is an interesting read if you google it):

“To have the same chance of gaining admission as a black student with a SAT score of 1100, a Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have 1230, a white student a 1410 and an Asian student a 1550.”

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:16 pm

Cynthia:

I’m disappointed you won’t answer my other questions but in response to yours ……….. I don’t have the 43 minute tape.

So, are you telling me she didn’t (as I have heard) call Republicans racist for fighting against Obama’s health care plan? Yes or No ?

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
5:18 pm

@ctucker,
Maybe some journal said that 10 years ago, but they don’t say that now. There’s obviously a genetic component to race – the notion that there’s a set of physical characteristics that we can identify visually that can’t be identified in the human genome is preposterous on its face.

Look at the link I posted to a 2006 article from The Independent. There is a genetic basis for race. From the bottom of the article,

“The scientists looked at people from three broad racial groups – African, Asian and European. Although there was an underlying similarity in terms of how common it was for genes to be copied, there were enough racial differences to assign every person bar one to their correct ethnic origin. This might help forensic scientists wishing to know more about the race of a suspect.”

I can’t paste links so I’ll do it with a space before and after www.

http:// www. independent.co.uk/news/science/genetic-breakthrough-that-reveals-the-differences-between-humans-425432.html

RantsRaven

July 23rd, 2010
5:18 pm

The full Webb article is here:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703724104575379630952309408.html

The phony argument that whites are being oppressed by affirmative action laws is a laughable as the misleading statistic about 5% of southern whites owning slaves in 1860, when statistics show that 90% of blacks in that year WERE slaves.

I'm here from the government and I'm here to help

July 23rd, 2010
5:20 pm

Reptile,

I got your “reparations” hanging. Want some?

Libertarian

July 23rd, 2010
5:22 pm

Honesty about race:

I think affirmative action was certainly needed in the 70’s, 80’s and possibly the 90’s but it is an outdated practice. Like so many other government programs, it goes too far and ends up creating an even bigger problem. Honestly I think women are probably still discriminated against more than black men. Women still consistently make less money than men-many studies have shown.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:23 pm

RantsRaven, There is no contradiction there. Webb’s point is that the vast majority of slaves were owned by a very few very rich white people. I have no reason to doubt the stat.

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
5:23 pm

ihftgaihth; i don’t qualify i’m not the descendant of a slave.

RF

July 23rd, 2010
5:24 pm

Cynthia- point well made! I had heard about the UGA program and had forgotten that. Considering how the wealthy were favored in tax codes, etc. over the last thirty years, I have to agree with you, as Shirley Sherrod pointed out in her unedited video, it’s about the poor vs. the rich now more than about race. That would shake up the powers-that-be to have to deal with that one!

One other point about white privilege. My mother grew up on rural farm in Alabama, poor as the dirt they farmed in her recollections. She didn’t even get to have a Christmas tree until she was grown because they couldn’t afford such a “luxury”. She spent several summers as an early teen hired out to a well-to-do white couple in town as a nurse to the ailing wife. The woman taught her about manners and etiquette and often told her she only need apply herself and she could rise above her situation in life. As mom pointed out, there were plenty of wealthy white people to provide the example for her to see that a better life was indeed out there. Up until what, the last couple of decades, there wasn’t a large enough middle or upper class among African-Americans for poor kids to see as examples. That has changed quite a bit, IMO, so perhaps what was once seen as white privilege is now wealthy privilege? I just proved your point, didn’t I? LOL

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:24 pm

RF:

LOL !

1) Let’s have a white man walk down MLK, midnight tonight, wearing a Confederate Battle Flag emblem on the back of his T-shirt and a $100 bill taped to his forehead. That is his Constitutional right ………….. let’s see if he encounters any bigotry. I say 99 out of a 100 white people wouldn’t make it to the end of the block.

2) Then, since you mentioned WalMart earlier, let’s let a black man, same time, walk in the most rural WalMart you can find wearing a “Black Power” T-Shirt and a $100 bill taped to his forhead…………….. also his Constitutional right. I say 99 out of a 100 do just fine.

Wayne

July 23rd, 2010
5:26 pm

Here’s how Kevin Drum summarized his read on the article:

Sen. Jim Webb (D–Va.) argues in the Wall Street Journal today — as he has before — that although we still owe a debt to African-Americans who have faced centuries of both private and state-sponsored discrimination, we should stop using ethnicity in general as the basis for affirmative action programs.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:26 pm

RF & Cynthia:

BTW ………. I know what poor is. My earliest memory is of my dad sitting in a wash tub (no inside plumbing except for the sink) on the back porch and me wondering why he was so black while he washed the coal dust off from his shift in the mines.

T-Town

July 23rd, 2010
5:26 pm

Race, Religion, and Politics. Items that can surely move the hearts, minds, souls, and brings out the bigots. That said, most have been very cordial today. Congrats, Ms. Tucker.

Wayne

July 23rd, 2010
5:26 pm

Broke in mid-comment – I guess it all depends on how one reads this sentence in his article:
Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African-Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end.

Libertarian

July 23rd, 2010
5:27 pm

@barking frog

So I guess only the direct descendants of a slave owner should pay them?

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:27 pm

Mike K, I read the piece in the Independent. It also says this:

They have found that each of us is more different genetically than we previously believed. Instead of being 99.9 per cent identical, it may turn out to be more like 99 per cent identical - (emphasis added) enough of a difference to explain many variations in human traits. Instead of having just two copies of every gene – one from each parent – we have some genes that are multiplied several times. Furthermore these “multiple copy numbers” differ from one person to another, which could explain human physical and even mental variation.

It also didn’t contradict what I said before.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:28 pm

B. Crawford:

While your so-called “ratio” supposedly gets even we are immorally discriminating against individuals ……. which is a clear violation of our Constitution.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:29 pm

Oh, Mike K, the piece also said this:

Another implication of the finding is that we are more different to our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, than previously assumed from earlier studies. Instead of being 99 per cent similar, we are more likely to be about 96 per cent similar

I'm here from the government and I'm here to help

July 23rd, 2010
5:30 pm

Scout,

I wouldn’t take that bet in million years. You are correct. So what does that tell you. Simply that blacks are less tolerate than whites period. Of course that’s the whites fault.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:31 pm

Libertarian @ 5:27 :

You are trying to cause trouble ……….. the liberals won’t like you for that ……………. :o

P.S. Don’t leave out the black slave traders in Africa who actually caught the slaves which without their help none of this would have been possible.

RF

July 23rd, 2010
5:31 pm

Scout- if he’s got a $100 bill taped to his forehead, I’d jump him, regardless of what he’s wearing!! I’m facing 12 furlough days next year…a Benjamin here and there sure would help a lot. You get some volunteers together and I’ll play the part of the jumper…if I can get it from him, I keep it, right??

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
5:32 pm

libertarian; slaveowners didn’t write the laws that allowed slavery and certainly didn’t
repeal them.

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
5:32 pm

@ctucker
I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make. You said “Scientists said that race is a cultural construct, not a biological one”. If that were correct then the scientists conducting this study would not have been able to correctly identify the race of 269 out of 270 individuals.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:33 pm

I’m here from the government and I’m here to help :

O.K. Which “whites” fault?

Rich, poor, liberal, conservative, those who ancestors fought for the Union, Northern bigots, Southern gentlemen, etc., etc., etc. ?

RF

July 23rd, 2010
5:34 pm

Scout- miner, huh? That’s a way of life I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Perhaps the struggle is now more about the have-nots vs. the haves? Seems like it used to be easier to rise up into the middle class or above than it is now, just IMO.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:34 pm

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:35 pm

RF:

Miner then a preacher. I have been blessed in more ways than I can count.

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:36 pm

Mike K., Scientists are also able to identify individuals from their DNA, distinguishing all but identical twins. Fathers from sons, mothers from daughters, etc,. So?

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
5:36 pm

@ctucker
I’m just not sure why you think that the fact that the study concludes that individual humans (and humans and animals) are more different genetically than previously thought, means that there’s no genetic basis for race.