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

ctucker

July 23rd, 2010
5:37 pm

RF, I think you did prove my point

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
5:39 pm

@ctucker
So there’s a genetic basis to race. The reason that scientists can distinguish individuals by their genes is that there’s a genetic component to who we are. What this study shows is that, by looking at our genes, scientists can tell our race with pretty high certainty. They wouldn’t be able to do that if race were a social construct. That’s why your genes can tell a scientist whether you’re a man or a woman, but not whether you’re rich or poor, a doctor or a lawyer, etc.

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
5:44 pm

Mike K;5;39;could they tell what race President Obama is? supposedly he is asian(whatever
that is)black and white. where would he be classed/

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:45 pm

Cynthia and Mike:

I can solve this …………. not sure exactly when but we are all from Adam & Eve …………….. :o

Not trying to start a Biblical debate ………. just sayin !

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
5:45 pm

barking frog:

Skunks are black and white.

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
5:47 pm

Scout 5:45; not in the dark.

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
5:47 pm

@barking frog
I don’t think Obama is part Asian. I think you’re thinking of someone else.

I don’t know whether they could identify Obama’s race, or that he is bi-racial. Look – the only point I’m making is that Cynthia is denying that there is a biological component to race. That’s nuts.

RF

July 23rd, 2010
5:48 pm

Mike: does it matter if there is a genetic basis for it? Does that mean then that there’s a genetic reason not to be able to live together with some degree of harmony? Does that mean that one race is genetically better than another? Regardless of reasons, it is a sad fact that humans spend a lot of time justifying animosity towards each other based on race.

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
5:51 pm

Mike K. 5:47; Oh yes, that’s right. the asian part was a social construct.

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
5:52 pm

@RF
Oh – I don’t think it matters the way you’re saying. My initial comment was that Cynthia blogged that most people can’t have a rational discussion about race. I responded that I often thought she approached the subject irrationally. As evidence, I brought up a statement she made on this blog about a month ago that there is no genetic basis for race. That’s obviously not true, but she’s sticking by her position. That’s the definition of irrationality.

Didn’t Cynthia write a piece last week about how people refuse to acknowledge facts that conflict with their understanding of reality?

Mary Elizabeth

July 23rd, 2010
5:52 pm

Mike K
Who cares about the race of the 269 or 270 people ? Look inside – not outside each person. Look at the spirit inside each person – into the unique soul of every separate human being blessed by God to be born to Earth. It is the spirit, or soul, of humankind that will heal this world – not insignificant exteriors which only divide, not unite people, if we think that narrow. Those exterior traits all fade in time anyway. Only the spirit remains. Look deeper inside others, and in yourself, and you will be personally rewarded in spirit, in turn.

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
5:55 pm

@Mary Elizabeth
Agreed – it’s not that big a deal. It’s just like evangelical Christians who don’t believe in evolution. They’re wrong, but it doesn’t matter. It’s just like Mormons who think Joesph Smith was a prophet. They’re wrong, but they’re nice people with a religion that preaches mostly good things.

However, if you’ll see my comment above, I just object to Cynthia attacking others for being irrational on the subject of race, when she herself is guilty of the same level of irrationality.

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
5:56 pm

By the way, my normal IP address appears to have been banned from posting on this blog. That’s also why I’m using a slightly different variation on my name than usual.

T-Town

July 23rd, 2010
5:59 pm

We fear those who are not like us as the enemy, instead of friends with a different culture or opinion.
Mike K: How do you know that Evangelical Christians and Mormons are wrong?

RF

July 23rd, 2010
5:59 pm

Mike- considering the mixture of gene pools we all come from, I have to wonder if eventually you’d get back to same primordial ooze that spawned us all, or to Adam and Eve, as the Bible calls it. Think about it, most of the largest religious groups in the world acknowledge some sort of genetic beginning of humans. I really don’t see how genetic differences that may have developed over time would prove your point. Most people believe, and I think science will eventually find if they haven’t already, that our modern concept of genetic distinction of race is irrelevant if you follow the basic genetic codes back their singular starting point. Something to think about perhaps?

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
6:00 pm

Mike K;5:52; I believe Einstein said that all reality was in the mind of the observer, maybe
her reality is changing.

RF

July 23rd, 2010
6:03 pm

Scout and Frog- day or night, you ever smelled one? After one very suddenly disappointing camping trip involving a foolish friend (and alcohol), I discovered that whatever colors the skunk might be or even choose to wear ceases to matter entirely when he takes charge of the moment. And my dad can clear a room pretty quickly too when he gets going…but that’s beside the point.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
6:05 pm

Mike K.

I hear you but it takes more faith to believe in macro-evolution (vs. micro-evolution) than it does to believe in an “intelligent designer”.

If you were to see a computer laying in the middle of the road would you say it just “evolved” there or did someone design it and then put it there? No, you would say a human being did that. Now we have to by logic take it one step further. How did the human get the intelligence to design it?

Evolved or designed?

Just sayin ………………..

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
6:06 pm

barking frog/Mike:

Einstein also believed in a “designer”.

Mary Elizabeth

July 23rd, 2010
6:07 pm

Mike K
I’m trying to say that I perceive that your focus is on genetics, which is so very insignificant – as Cynthia pointed out with the percentage she gave, 99%. I believe your focus on genetics takes away from your focus on the spirit. As humans, we have limited focus with our energies and since yours seems to be so much on the flesh, not the spirit, I believe that narrow focus has to take root in your own soul. I am appealing to you to recognize this, and to change your heart and, thereby, your focus.

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
6:09 pm

RF;5:59 Wouldn’t Adam and Eve’s Genetic makeup being the same explain that cain the
farmer was a homicidal maniac that hunted down and killed his hunter brother thereby
forever demeaning hunters as incompetent? This would prove your point about genetics.

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
6:12 pm

Scout;6:06; He believed in a jewish god who was not a gambler.

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
6:17 pm

RF;6:03; this might be a good way to determine college admissions rather than by class.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
6:25 pm

barking frog:

True ………….. but Who also was a “designer”

“Is it possible to combine energy quanta and the wave principles of radiation” he merrily wrote to a physicist friend. “Appearances are against it, but the Almighty – it seems – managed the trick.”

“Einstein” by Walter Isaacson

RF

July 23rd, 2010
6:29 pm

Frog: what, give them a drunk test to see how they deal with skunks or get a genetics profile? I know some college graduates who clearly should have had “no swimming” signs around their gene pool and some who are much more intelligent after a few shots of whatever libation is available. The night in question was not a good example for that, mind you, and come to think of it, I probably would question his genetic makeup sober.

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
6:32 pm

@Scout
I’m pretty certain that Einstein accepted the theory of evolution as the most likely explanation for the development of higher life forms.

As barking frog mentioned, he just didn’t think God played dice. As I mentioned, I don’t care what evangelicals believe about evolution. Most of them are nice people and their religion has a positive impact on their lives. I’m a fairly resutls-oriented person.

Mike K.

July 23rd, 2010
6:35 pm

A fairly results-oriented person who, evidently, can’t spell “resutls”.

JacobLocke

July 23rd, 2010
6:39 pm

I guess not.

White America ruins everything. I mean, how many fundamentalist, gun-toting, flag-waving, aggressively ignorant jerks do you know who aren’t white. White Americans blow up abortion clinics, protest war-veteran funerals, sit in isolated cabins making bombs, chop up people and put said people in freezers for winter stews. White Americans revile soccer, are solely responsible for gentrification projects, and have pretty much ruined music and film by exploiting stereotypes of other races. Without white people, America might just be an alright place to live, but so long as we have a white majority, you can forget about improving a crippled education system or lessening environmental rape because, heck, white people love crappy education and raping the land – they practically invented both.

JacobLocke

July 23rd, 2010
6:41 pm

Since the beginning of the European discovery of America, white folks on this continent have been incredibly fearful of anyone who isn’t white. First, they brought diseases with them that wiped out 95% of indigenous peoples in the Americas- wiped them out in a span of about 100 years (1492-1608). Then, to really screw them over, the ancestors of future white Americans began a 300-year campaign of cheating, slaughtering and generally giving the shaft to the remainder of those indigenous groups. F’n A. But, destroying the cultures that were already here wasn’t enough for these jerks. Nope. They went to another continent, rounded up hundreds of thousands of brown people living there, brought them over to America and THEN proceeded to shaft those people for about 300 years.

Calvin B.

July 23rd, 2010
6:42 pm

Can you believe this. Michael Thurman won the democratic nomination to face one Johnny Issakson.
Not a word said other than saying He won. Not a comparison of the race. It overwhelms the Governor’s race when you take into consideration the tough sledding he has in front, ala Alvin Greene. Come on AJC. pick it up. Its going to be a good one.

JacobLocke

July 23rd, 2010
6:42 pm

Anyone who doesn’t believe the white establishment is a real entity and that it DOES control the way of the world is incredibly delusional, in denial, or a liar.

JacobLocke

July 23rd, 2010
6:47 pm

And we’re all from Africa – I think the current genome project has all but proven that one.

Mary Elizabeth

July 23rd, 2010
6:48 pm

JacobLocke,
Not only did I say this to Mike K, I feel I need to say it to you. Look inside the spirit of each person, don’t focus on exterior flesh. You are angry at white people which you visualize as generality – not as unique persons. I continue to pray that this world will one day evolve spiritually to the point that we will see the spirit of unique individuals. We will, in that day, celebrate diversity as we celebrate differing flowers, but we will judge others (if we must judge) by their individual and unique souls, not by anything exterior. When we can do that, our own souls will bloom.

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
6:57 pm

Scout; i was concerned because most designers i have known were of the third gender.
RF; No. admission by smell.
Mike K; Even Darwin in his later years repented accepted jesus and hoped for heaven.
don’t know if he made ir or not.

Lil' Barry Bailout

July 23rd, 2010
6:58 pm

Too fkn funny! CT doesn’t believe something until a Democrat politician says it.

I think that’s pretty much the definition of “koolaid drinker”.

Lil' Barry Bailout

July 23rd, 2010
7:01 pm

JacobLocke: Anyone who doesn’t believe the white establishment is a real entity and that it DOES control the way of the world is incredibly delusional, in denial, or a liar.
——————–

So who’s controlling Obama?

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
7:02 pm

Jacob Locke; I guess the genome project makes us all African Americans. better make
that the light majority.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
7:14 pm

Mike K.

Oh, I hear you ………….. he believed in “evolution” as the method but still felt a designer had to be involved in the planning.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
7:15 pm

Hey, for you eggheads out there I thought this was pretty interesting ………. Hummmmm !

“Out of the supercharged intellectual world, three jarring theories of the twentieth century emerged: Einstein’s relativity, Heisenberg’s uncertainty and Kurt Godel’s incompleteness.”

“Godel (one of the most significant mathematicians of all time) decided to become a U.S. citizen in 1947. He took his preparation for the exam very seriously, studied the Constitution carefully, and (as might be expected by the formulator of the incompleteness theory) found what he believed to be a logical flaw. There was an internal inconsistency, he insisted, that would allow the entire government to degenerate into tyranny.”

“Einstein” by Walter Isaacson

“He rather excitedly told me in looking at the Constitution to his distress he had found some inner constradictions and that he could show in a perfectly legal manner it would be possible for somebody to become a dictator and set up a Fascist regime, never intended by those who drew up the Constitution.”

O. Morganstern, Memorandum, September 13, 1971

kevinbgoode

July 23rd, 2010
7:17 pm

Basing affirmative action on class would never work with conservatives. This is a group who feel that people choose to be poor basically out of laziness and lack of motivation to pick the pockets of others and call it “profit” – so therefore they shouldn’t receive assistance to contribute to greater society.
It also flies in the face of other core conservative “values” – such as the principle that people hire and promote people most like themselves. Why did we need affirmative action in the first place? Because it was common practice in this country to reserve the best and brightest occupations and educational opportunities for the white male minority. And since everyone knows that being in a “network” is a requirement for getting ahead, reserving that network for mostly white men, themselves a minority, was the social custom in this country. Conservatives contend that those barriers to other American citizens are now completely removed, and the minority most disadvantaged has become the straight white male. Of course, some of them still advocate that private businesses should be allowed to discriminate in hiring and serving the public, presumably with the exception of the minority straight white males. They certainly support special rights for “churches” to exclude qualified gays, for example, from employment and/or enrollment in schools and universities.
The heart of conservatism is a deeply-held belief in supporting classism – reasoning that those with the means handed to them are entitled to opportunity and the rest aren’t intelligent or willing to work hard enough to magically break into the proper network. The large elephant in the room of opportunity is our failure to recognize or discuss a system which has always favored the connected over the talented.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
7:24 pm

kevinbgoode:

It also flies in the face of the Constitution.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
7:25 pm

Time for chow ………………….

kevinbgoode

July 23rd, 2010
7:25 pm

One recent report indicated that Tea Party members believed, among other things, that gays were overrepresented in political life and influence in this country. Of course, one question that is never asked, is if the minority straight white male population in this country is overrepresented and wields influence far beyond their numbers. It wouldn’t take more than a quick look at the demographic makeup of governmental bodies in this country to confirm that – but you won’t see anyone talking about that situation at all or why it is perpetuated.
Do conservatives resent that overrepresentation of one minority group running the lion’s share of our country’s affairs? Of course not – it is considered an entitlement, a remnant of “affirmative action” which helps coddle the one minority group who has always believed the rights of other Americans must be “given” at their pleasure.

Lil' Barry Bailout

July 23rd, 2010
7:53 pm

kevinbgoode, if there was a button that would undo all the effects of the white man’s original sin–slavery–would you push it?

If not, then STFU.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
7:56 pm

This is getting dull. Time to stir it up a little:

Christians, Jews, Buddists, Shintoists, Hindus, Sikhs, Wiccans, Atheists and even Satanists are by and large living peacefully among each other around the world …………. but the Muslims, oh, those Muslims!

Lil' Barry Bailout

July 23rd, 2010
8:05 pm

The Muslims most profitable “industry” is the religion-based equivalent of Jesse Jackson’s race-hustling.

Cutty

July 23rd, 2010
8:07 pm

Cynthia, why argue with fools……

James

July 23rd, 2010
8:09 pm

Wow, another article about race by Cynthia Tucker. There are certain people have sit back and play race bait games for a living. Racial harmony is something that don’t want or believe in. This is why your readership continues to drop, whites are tired of tuning in each day to hear how racist they are. Look in the mirror for someone who sees EVERYTHING in terms of race Cynthia. I’m sure all your liberal co-workers, everyone in your in-town neighborhood, and all your friends see things the way you do, but it’s not reality.

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
8:12 pm

scout;7:15; He was probably looking at Article II Section 3. that allows the prez
to convene Congress on exrtaordinary occasions and then upon any disagreement
as to time to adjourn(pretty easy to arrange) adjourn Congress to a time that he thinks
proper. Its the language. it doesn’t mean he can adjourn them forever(covered elsewhere)
just that he can pick the time of adjournment. couldn’t have slipped that one past
those good ol boys.

D. Truth

July 23rd, 2010
8:14 pm

Amen Richard!!