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

RF

July 23rd, 2010
8:17 pm

Scout: You dare mention that hateful word?? We all know they’re out to destroy the rest of the world!

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
8:28 pm

Scout; We’re probably the nation with the most Christians and we’ve been at war with other
nations with large groups of christians since 1940(Germany,Italy,Korea, Vietnam). These
countries also had Warring factions within(Germany, christians and jews)(Vietnam,
christians and buddhists)If we didn’t have our foot on Israel they’d be kicking butt,
The japanese(shinto,buddhist,christian) would like to kick hell out of N. Korea but
we won’t let them. Muslims don’t do war well i.e. Iraq.

godless heathen

July 23rd, 2010
8:31 pm

Of course there is a genetic component of race. See Sickle Cell Anemia. See white boys dance.

skeeter

July 23rd, 2010
8:36 pm

Scout ol’ buddy, I figure you for BATF since that’s where they put the federal law enforcement that couldn’t cut the grade 30 years ago. I know Shirley Sherrod. Losing her was a travesty for Georgia. She got it. She understood the mission and she gave heart to the folks in the field. I am appalled by the willingness of our society to sacrifice the good folks at the altar of ideology. Shirley’s treatment makes be sick to my stomach of both sides. But I guess it’s nothing new. Melville covered it in Billy Budd. Oh sorry Scout. Didn’t mean to get beyond your field of reference.

Lil' Barry Bailout

July 23rd, 2010
8:39 pm

As one of our wisest Supreme Court justices said, if you want to stop discriminating against people, stop discriminating against people.

T Knight

July 23rd, 2010
9:09 pm

“I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity” Frederick Douglas

Webb is on the right track.

840

July 23rd, 2010
9:16 pm

Let’s sentence caucasians into slavery for half the time history calculates blacks were slaves and call it even, after that we call it even no need for reparations…

namaste

July 23rd, 2010
9:18 pm

christians are proof that god is a canard…

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:21 pm

Lil’ Barry Bailout ”

Very true. Wonder where he has been lately? Jesse and Barry just don’t get along !

concerned mother

July 23rd, 2010
9:22 pm

CT, I read both this article and the one you had in the print edition Sunday and all I can think is that this race problem is a two way street. Just like there may be white privilege, there seems also to be an undercurrent of black entitlement. The fact of the matter is that white privilege means particular wealthy families–not the general population who sharecropper and did without like their black counterparts after the Civil War.

The playing field is more equal now than it was thirty years ago. If white privilege exist today, it’s at the cost of the working class. In order to deal with the race question, people of color need to understand that the question runs both ways.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:23 pm

namaste:

As I always say, you will change your mind about .0002 seconds after you hit eternity.

I hope and pray you do before then.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:26 pm

840 :

Good grief ! Did you sleep all through “World History” ? Whites were probably in slavery much longer in the history of the world than blacks (who were isolated way down there in Africa) ever thought about.

…………. and it’s not the same but have you ever heard of “indentured servants”? They didn’t exactly get a head start over here either.

namaste

July 23rd, 2010
9:26 pm

scout,

like a fly to a pile of poop you are a easy mark…

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:27 pm

T Knight :

That means Frederick Douglas would be an “Uncle Tom” today.

kevinbgoode

July 23rd, 2010
9:27 pm

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

The white male is a minority in this country. Is there some reason they continue to dominate the power structures, the boardrooms, and the institutional units of government?

lil' baby jesus

July 23rd, 2010
9:29 pm

Allah is not mocked. Allahu Akbar….

Karl Marx

July 23rd, 2010
9:31 pm

What’s a “hops?” I thoughted youse beez was an “editor.”

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:31 pm

skeeter :

LOL ! It’s four letters but not BATF …….. I’ll give you a hint ………. U – - S ………….. :o

Now, let’s get serious. Did she or did she not during her 43 minute diatribe state that Republicans that were fighting Obama’s health care plan were mean spirited racists? Yes or No?

If she did (and that is what I have heard) she DESERVES TO STAY FIRED because that’s even worse than what she said about the white farmer 24 years ago in my opinion.

If you want to debate ANYTHING and want to take me on ………. let’s go ! I enjoy it !

Karl Marx

July 23rd, 2010
9:31 pm

P.S. Screw Allah.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:32 pm

skeeter:

I’l give you another hint …………… founded July 5th, 1865.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:32 pm

Karl:

I hope you are locked and loaded ……………. :o

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:33 pm

kevinbgoode :

Yep.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:34 pm

namaste:

GBY !

billie jean queen

July 23rd, 2010
9:38 pm

Shangri la is within grasp. The bigotry of Christian religion and division by race is knocking on heavens door. Apologies to the great B. Dylan. Soon (15-18 yrs) christianity will be a dead religion and the white man will blend into a beautiful moccha allowing the World to live in peace as one.

Dan Deacon

July 23rd, 2010
9:38 pm

Cynthia…..you continue to be a racist individual, happy to pull a race card because you have no credible excuse for blacks that are irresponsible being that way and then believing that affirmative action in any manner is acceptable. That’s like saying to blacks….okay, whites will be chose before any blacks, irregardless as to your character, experience or education. What an idiot!!!

Do you think because more blacks are chosen to earn millions and play basketball that perhaps now whites should be chosen instead due to the imbalance. Hell no you don’t feel that way. You wish it could only be one sided and in favor of blacks. Wish in this hand and well you know in the other.

You really think it’s acceptable to choose over race or class (whatever that means…sounds like slick willie talk to me)? That confirms your racism. Go crawl back up in your little hole and hide.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:38 pm

barking frog:

1) Maybe that was the section he was looking at but I think it was much more than that. We’ll never know for sure but just remember that a democracy (Constitutional Republic) is the only form of government that allow for its own peaceful destruction.

2) I think you will find that most if not all of those other wars (although fought by people of different religions) were political wars. Iraq and Afghanistan are relgious wars. In other words, did a Viet Cong terrorist ever show up over here and blow up anything? No. And after we left they were quite happy to leave us alone.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:40 pm

Dan :

I already brought up the basketball/sports thing. They are not going to answer you on that because it doesn’t fit nicely into their equation.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:41 pm

billie jean queen :

“Heaven and earth will pass away but my Word will stand forever”

I hope you know that hundreds of thousands have said what you just said ever since 33 A.D.
You will soon follow them.

Tommy Maddox

July 23rd, 2010
9:42 pm

White privilege? Been down town lately?

BD

July 23rd, 2010
9:42 pm

@RF, I knew you were an educator by your previous comments and even then was pleasantly surprised by the Ruby Payne reference :-) .
Not many parents would have told you what your mother did and that was refreshing.

@ Scout, most cultures had slaves, even whites here started as indentured servants. The difference is that slavery didn’t exist in other countries the way that it was carried out in America. In Africa, slaves were treated as family in many aspects and some were allowed to gain freedom. Because Africans had no knowledge about the type of slavery that existed in another “world” (basically), they did not know what they were getting their rivals into.
There are no words to describe the differences between our history of slavery and how other countries treated their slaves

John

July 23rd, 2010
9:43 pm

Why should class based affirmative action exist? What did our government historically do against the lower socioeconomic class? Why does the government have to favor any class or anyone for that matter?

godless heathen

July 23rd, 2010
9:48 pm

Scout: “As I always say, you will change your mind about .0002 seconds after you hit eternity.”

And I always say, “Prove it.”

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:49 pm

BD:

I’m sorry, you are correct – “the noble savage thing” and all. S

And sometimes the African people even “ate” the people they captured from other tribes ……… after torture of course. And of course in the Muslim world then (and now) slaves were treated very humanely.

Oh yes, and don’t forget of all the slaves brought to the new world about 90% went to Central and South America where they were able to bask in the tropical paradise. They were real happy they went there instead of up here.

I’m glad you reminded us of all that. Thanks.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:49 pm

godless heathen :

I won’t have to.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:50 pm

John :

Because our government likes violating the Constitution when they want to achieve a certain result.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:51 pm

Hey guys ………….. keep ‘em coming ………….. I’m loving this !!

sud

July 23rd, 2010
9:53 pm

“The divinity of Jesus is a convenient cover for abusrdity.” J. Adama 2nd Prez

“I don’t find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.” T. Jefferson 3rd Pres

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
9:56 pm

sud:

May I refer you to my 9:41

Join the group.

Harold

July 23rd, 2010
9:56 pm

Cynthia, please don’t take this personally, but all of your responses to the posters in here sound like you have a chip on your shoulder.

godless heathen

July 23rd, 2010
10:00 pm

Well then Scout, I won’t sweat it. When you and I die we will both be the same degree of dead.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
10:03 pm

godless heathen:

Nope !

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have ETERNAL LIFE (emphasis added).”

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
10:04 pm

Cynthia: This is VERY interesting. You need to do some investigative reporting and check this out ! Can you be fair and unbiased enought to do that ? Just once ?

Headline: “Shirley Sherrod’s Disappearing Act: Not So Fast”

Here are just a few questions about Ms. Sherrod that deserve answers:

•Was Ms. Sherrod’s USDA appointment an unspoken condition of her organization’s settlement?
•How much “debt forgiveness” is involved in USDA’s settlement with New Communities?
•Why were the Sherrods so deserving of a combined $300,000 in “pain and suffering” payments — amounts that far exceed the average payout thus far to everyone else? ($1.15 billion divided by 16,000 is about $72,000)?
•Given that New Communities wound down its operations so long ago (it appears that this occurred sometime during the late 1980s), what is really being done with that $13 million in settlement money?

READ THE DETAILS BELOW ……………… HUMMMMMM !

Read more at the Washington Examiner

Rafe Hollister

July 23rd, 2010
10:06 pm

Jim Webb? Hasn’t he long been discredited and found to be untruthful about his past. Who cares what he says.

Regarding Diversity at UGA, Adams has tried to “significantly transform this” university. I think someone else is also guilty to trying to do something similar. He should try to give a break to those needing a break, i.e., if an African American and a white are remotely close in qualifications, lean toward diversity. However, people who have lived in Georgia all their lives, parents and grandparents living here for years paying taxes to support UGA, should not be shunned in favor of out of state students and illegal aliens, as Adams prefers. While working on diversity, maybe it high time we had some academic diversity. How about occassionally hiring someone who believes in the Constitution and American exceptionalism. Now that would be a diverse university. Adams need to be fired, maybe when his protector, Sonny leaves, we can make that move and improve UGA.

Beleck

July 23rd, 2010
10:06 pm

all these so called Christians who keep stuffing their religion down my throat. i do get tired of their blasphemy.

As Ghandi said about Christ. A great many called themselves Christians, but obviously not many followed Christ’s teachings.

something somewhere about doing unto the others/poor as you would do unto Christ, in that Bible story, i gather. i just never see it practiced. this intolerance for the poor, the weak, the other. et al.

and the meek shall inherit the earth. lol.

Ken S.

July 23rd, 2010
10:07 pm

Wow! Cynthia references an article written by Jim Webb and she’s branded a “race baiter”? Jim Webb wrote the original article.

On another note, I like how many of you proudly decontextualize the history of this country. As long as we remove the context, the myth of our current meritocracy can proudly continue.

Rev Wright

July 23rd, 2010
10:07 pm

My sister…you are a bigger racist than me! My brother Obama will rule this country like a Prince of Africa!

sud

July 23rd, 2010
10:08 pm

“This would be the best of possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.” J Adams. 2nd Prez

cooter

July 23rd, 2010
10:12 pm

Oh! tiny sky cloud diety please stop giving me free will to believe you are a fart in the cupboard…

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
10:12 pm

Beleck:

Jesus covered the very thing you just talked about many times. Here is just one example:

“Not everyone who calls Me Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven”

The key is to be one that does ! It’s never too late to get on board. I wish you well.

Scout

July 23rd, 2010
10:13 pm

Ken S.:

Please expound on your brief thesis above.