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

Gator Joe

July 25th, 2010
4:56 pm

Cynthia,
The disadvantages still existing in the Black community, with regard to education, employment, and health are the directly attributable to slavery, Jim Crow, and the continued ingnorance of the connection. A relative few decades of “affirmative” action will not ameliorate centuries of racism and a continued refusal of society at large for social responsibility. America will never be truly great until genuine affirmative action is taken to correct the result of pas,t grave injustices which plagues so much of Black society today.

Avenger

July 25th, 2010
5:05 pm

Charlie. ” I never owned a slave, nor has a member of my family tree.

So would I pay reparations?” Classic double talk. Unless you know some thing that I don’t know, America declared it’s independence in 1776. No other country has invaded it and took over. This government screwed it’s Black citizens with the sanction of the majority of the American people. The government is responsible for the safety ( which people love to say) of it’s citizens. This government completely failed to do one of it’s primary duties. The government of 2010 is still responsible for that failure. You enjoy all the privileges of this government. You don’t get to decide to enjoy the goodies and not share in it’s debts. You don’t get a say in going to war, but you have to pay for it. I am a old Navy guy, I didn’t like it one bit that a penny of my taxes was use to pay for the carrier USS Carl Vinson to honor this bigot, but guess what – I am a citizen of this country. I have to take the good with the bad. This double talk ( I wasn’t born, my parents didn’t own slaves, my grand parents didn’t own slaves, and ect) is meaningless in the big scheme of things – just ask the citizens of Iraq. Their evil government caused them pains that you couldn’t even imagine.

Halftrack

July 25th, 2010
5:08 pm

Affirmative action is legal discrimination against WASP’s. It has been 50+ years since desegregation in schools has been accomplished. Nearly all the public schools are putting out the same kind of student who has to take remedial math & english at college. Affirmative Action as first administrated has outlived it objectives including quota’s that was enforced upon the South or be cut out of any Federal funds for the Southern State. New parameters are now required. DBE companies should have a Sunset time so as to encourage them to become a viable competitor in the market place. Blacks and Whites are now approaching equality of opportunity in the jobs market.

Thomas

July 25th, 2010
5:54 pm

Avenger- hogwash and silly. Your claim is that the Civil Rights Act and countless other acts have provided zero value. Your double talk is such acts coupled with progressive income taxes and other wealth transfer mandates such as the “rich” (middle income) now being taxed on their social security benefits and the knowledge that the “rich” (middle income) will not receive social security is worthless. Also, we are the government- sick and tired of the ignorant speak that the gov’t is somehow different that its people.

Scout

July 25th, 2010
7:35 pm

Avenger:

Hey – I’m glad you chose a .45 ! That’s what I carry ………. Glock Model 30 (.45 caliber). Wouldn’t have anything else !

“AND SO HE BOWED”

Scout

July 25th, 2010
7:37 pm

ghostwriter:

Appreciate the comments. Slavery was horrible. Wished it would have never happened. But reparations will only continue the divisiveness and it can never be implemented fairly.

Kamchak

July 25th, 2010
7:45 pm

Just remember, reparations spelled backwards is snoitaraper.

Scout

July 25th, 2010
8:06 pm

Well, well, well ………. What have we here ?

Headline (Yahoo News) : “Migrants sell up and flee Arizona ahead of crackdown”

Mr Charlie

July 25th, 2010
8:13 pm

Avenger, so you took one sentence out of context and used it as the pillar of your argument. I thought only republicans did that.

So, if I “owe” due to my government failure, as I asked before, does Oprah have to pay? How about Bill Cosby, Labron James? For they too are beneficiaries of this same government and system I am.

How about Shirly Sharrod? She has won millions in a lawsuit, she has also been offered a job as deputy director of the USDA, should he “give back”? Did she earn her rewards through hard work, character and intelligence, or was she privilige in her own right, was she just “given” these things as payback for being discriminated against?

Avenger

July 25th, 2010
8:29 pm

Thomas. ” Also, we are the government- sick and tired of the ignorant speak that the gov’t is somehow different that its people.” You just agreed and validated the fact that I made. People are responsible for the actions of their government, especially if they sanction what it does. If the government is sucessful and prosperous, it’s citizens enjoy the benefits of that. If their government committ evil deeds – guess what -it’s citizens will suffer the consequences. You can’t just enjoy the goodies.

Scout

July 25th, 2010
8:45 pm

Del:

If you’re out there check this out !!!

Headline Article: “The White House responded swiftly and sharply to publication Sunday evening of more than 91,000 secret documents painting a bleak picture of the Afghanistan war, calling the leak “irresponsible” and saying that the source – the whistleblower website WikiLeaks — “opposes U.S. policy in Afghanistan.”

It’s quite interesting to see how LIBERALS squawk when the shoe is on the other foot. They sure didn’t seem to mind when Ellsberg released the PENTAGON PAPERS ON THE VIETNAM WAR now did they ???

WHAT HYPOCRISY !

Avenger

July 25th, 2010
8:46 pm

Charlie. ” So, if I “owe” due to my government failure, as I asked before, does Oprah have to pay? How about Bill Cosby, Labron James? For they too are beneficiaries of this same government and system I am. ” I will try again – citizens living under any government ( whether black,green,white purple,red,or chartreuse) will be held responsible for it’s actions. You are absolutely correct – people are the government. As for Ms Sharrod getting money from a law suit. You do realize that the American system is that if you are harmed, you go to court to try to get justice. As a citizen, are you suggesting that Ms. Sharrod doesn’t have that same right as you?

Mr Charlie

July 25th, 2010
9:01 pm

No, I believe Mr Sharrod has every right that I do, and then some. But was her winfall due to her character, intelligence and hard work, or was she just a person of privilige?

Personally, I think she deserves everything she gets, and I feel most people in this country get what they deserve. I believe about 10% of what happens to you is caused by external conditions, and about 90% is what you do about it. She is exhibit A. Barak Obama is Exhibit B.

killerj

July 25th, 2010
9:14 pm

Gee,old Abe didn,t have a degree,how bout that slam from judge roy to the black sanitation worker?man,he would have to find a way to get rid of his own trash if I had his route.

Avenger

July 25th, 2010
9:29 pm

Charlie. You need to stop listening Beck and Limbaugh. You are stuck on Ms. Sharrod as being priviliged. This is a woman who was part of a validated law suit. The millions were for the whole group. I personally know about this law suit. The discriminatory practices of the USDA are well documented. This is why Vilsack said he fired her so quickly. He knows how rampant discrimination was in the USDA. My 92 year old dad lost his farm during this time. He didn’t take part in the law suit. His attitude was – I got screwed again. What else is new. He and the double talkers have one thing in common – he doesn’t trust the government. Of course (the difference is) he has more than a good reason to not trust the government.

Mr Charlie

July 25th, 2010
9:50 pm

No, I am just trying to determine who is “priviliege” and who is not. I never said he she was, nor do I think she is. You keep putting words in my mouth.

I am just trying to determine what the parameters are, as to who has “benefited” by this system and who has “earned” what they have.

I do have a lot in common with her, I do not trust the government either. I personally perfer less of it.

For the record, I have not heard Rush in 3-4 years, I have watched about 5 minutes of Glenn Beck in the past 2 years. I learn more about what they say and do on this thread to be honest.

Scout

July 25th, 2010
11:10 pm

TWO HEADLINES:

TODAY: More NATO troops will die in Afghanistan as violence mounts over the summer, but Washington’s goal of turning the tide against the Taliban by year’s end is within reach the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs says.

1969: More Allied troops will die in Vietnam as violence mounts over the summer, but Washington’s goal of turning the tide against the NVA and Viet Cong by year’s end is within reach the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs says.

Scout

July 26th, 2010
12:14 am

TAPS !

And don’t forget our President ……………. “And so he bowed”

fleur

July 26th, 2010
1:30 am

fleur

July 26th, 2010
1:33 am

Webb is a phony and a lying hypocrite. He campaigned here in Virginia as a moderate, lucked out when his opponent blew it with a careless comment which enabled Webb to win by the slimmest margin in congressional history -
Webb has voted with obama, Reid and Pelosi EVERY SINGLE TIME…..including that wretched healthcare bill and for Dodd-Frank which is full of quotas and set-asides.
He is a gutless little coward who only Says No to his constituency.
A chameleon.
A hypocrite.
He only looks out for himself.
He has flip-flopped parties several times and always according to how the political winds blow.
This article is a pathetic attempt to reinvent himself as something far more palatable.
It is a joke. He is grooming himself for a re-run in ‘12.
He stumbled into office on obama’s coattails in ‘08 but now that those coattails have been clipped, Webb is trying to court the white vote.
He’s a total creep and will not win in ‘12.

Oliverga

July 26th, 2010
8:59 am

“I’m tired, so tired, just tired, tired”. Those are the lines of Pete Bancini (played by Josip Elic) continually declared throughout the movie “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest”. Though we may have an African American President, The United States inability to contructivey confront he oppressions of racism is liken to that of the Christianity and Muslim beliefs: The both will NEVER see eye to eye. Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) states that “white privilege” is a myth, and argues for the end of government-sanctioned affirmative action programs. I agree the NAACP at its original conception differs a great deal in today issues, but is still desperately needed.
Bill Dedman: 1989 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting wrote a series of articles that disclosed lenders making loans to the poorest white neighborhoods of Atlanta, did not lend to middle class or more affluent black neighborhoods. This article ignited a focus on lenders across the nation in 1988, yet as recent as August 4th 2009 Wells Fargo is sued for racist lending practices against people of color.
The elements of racism and oppression are defined by common norms of rightness and often righteousness wherein all others are judged in relation to it and this norm is backed up with institutional and economic power. The United States norm is male, white, heterosexual, Christian and has access to wealth and resources. This norm does not necessarily represent a majority in terms of numbers, it represents those who have the ability to exert power and control over others. The U.S. Congress is defined by this common norm, the criminal justice system which carries out the law which white males predominate in congress create. Then we must look at the percentage of each race that is incarcerated, that is affected by these laws. Lack of representation in the financial institution, churches, syngogues and military. Primary literature and history are taught about the exploits of white men, shown through their eyes. Another major institution is the media, it remains controlled and dominated by white men and their images of themselves. Once economic control is in the hands of the few, all others can be controlled through limiting access to resources, limiting mobility and limit employment options.
The frequently used excuse of suggesting that our resources are limited and blames the poor for using up too much of what little there is to go around is a myth often used when those in power talk about immigration through our southern borders (immigrants who also happen to be people of color). The warning is clear: if you let these people in they will take your jobs, ruin your schools which are already in economic struggle, and destroy the few neighborhoods that are good for people to live in. People are pitted against one another along race and class lines. Meanwhile, those who have economic power continue to make obscenely excessive profits, often by taking their companies out of the country into economically depressed countries occupied by people of color where work can be bought for miniscule wages and profit is enormous for the 10% of the population.
People of color simply don’t have institutional power to back up their being deemed racist. Therefore there is no such thing as “reverse racism”. This is confusing racism with hatred, bigotry or prejudice, and it too must be addressed in order to have a healthy dialog. Yet when confronting those who simply refuse to see the obvious of this much needed debate that is part of the fabric of America, I too feel like Bancini, “Im tired, so tired, just tired, tired”.

George

July 26th, 2010
9:47 am

Americans..black and white keep fighting among yourselves. Eventually all jobs will move abroad, foreigners will stop investing here and we will end up loosing everything.

hahahahahaha!!!!

July 26th, 2010
1:04 pm

That was taken out of context CT and you know it. See, this whole newly invented spin technique by the kooks is actually pretty fun. When someone slips up and actually speaks the truth, or at least the truth in their own warped little minds, all you have to say is “it’s out of context” and all is forgiven.

This is the bed you made last week CT, now you are stuck with it!! LOL!!!!!

Drawing Black Lines

July 27th, 2010
4:10 pm

Cynthia, take things out of context? LMAO!

[...] you to read a few of the reactions out there and judge for yourself. I find myself leaning towards this one from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but there’s also the Richmond Times-Dispatch article [...]

[...] you to read a few of the reactions out there and judge for yourself. I find myself leaning towards this one from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but there’s also the Richmond Times-Dispatch article [...]

Tom1

July 28th, 2010
6:19 pm

Cynthia, you seem to be returning to a state of balanced thinking and journalistic reasonableness. Since you and Jay drank the koolaid and jumped onto the Obama bandwagon/stampede without one shred of critical thought of the consequences during the primaries, I had to finally turn my back on the AJC editorial page. But now those consequences of bad judgement from you and the “Fourth Estate” are coming home to roost. But that is a discussion for another time.

What Jim Webb writes about here just scratches the surface of reverse descrimination that has run amoke in this country for years. Just try to be a qualified white manager or director applying for an executive position with any non-profit in Atlanta. You will be actually told up front you are the wrong color.

luzmejor

July 30th, 2010
9:14 am

Something got lost in the shuffle, folks.
Why do we have the idea that only the people who can test the brightest can go to college? Who made this a national competition?

It’s a false idea. While we are arguing over who is the best and most deserving, people who live in other nations are being better educated and prepared for life in the 21st century.

The solution is very obvious. We should put more of our money into education, tax the wealthy more and stop giving so much attention and TLC to businesses that are simply looking for a handout.