White Identity Politics

Of all the conservative raps in circulation, the one I have the most trouble with personally is the anti-anti-racism meme: the idea that white people are being persecuted for the color of their skin by a dominant coalition of minorities and honky quislings. And invariably, the proof of that proposition is that those crying “racism” are themselves race-conscious, which makes them guilty of the original sin.

In his latest column, the Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto ups the ante a bit, warning “race-card” wielding Democrats that they are being so bigoted towards white people that they may soon encourage the rise of a White Power movement:

This seems likely to weaken the taboo against white identity politics. Whites who are not old enough to remember the pre-civil-rights era–Rep. Duncan, for instance, was born in 1966–have every reason to feel aggrieved by being targeted in this way.

The “Rep. Duncan” in question is Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, who authored a letter to the president denouncing Susan Rice, which was criticized by the Washington Post. The Post in passing noted that the letter was heavily subscribed to by white males from the former Confederacy, which is what sent Taranto off on his anti-anti-racism tangent.

So poor Jeff Duncan is a victim of bigotry because he’s too young to have personally stood in the door of a schoolhouse trying to block desegregation, and probably too young to have shouted racial epithets in public and gotten away with it. According to Taranto, this man who represents a South Carolina tradition of entrenched and militant white conservative power that is one of America’s most distinctive and universally understood and historically significant (it did, after all, touch off a bit of a war once upon a time) phenomena should feel “aggrieved” for being suspected of anything other than pure motives in singling out an African-American diplomat for a rare House letter to the president on a potential cabinet nomination.

I dunno. The same people who worry about southern white Members of Congress representing 100% white voting constituencies weeping quietly in their offices at the grave injustice of having their racial good faith questioned are often capable of viewing fortune 500 CEOs as cowering, helpless victims of all-powerful, vicious Bureaucrats and Regulators; of treating smug wealthy conservative evangelical Christians as Martyrs to Their Faith; and of regarding the vast political power of Big Poor as a threat to the mild-mannered lobbyists representing such small and civic-minded interests as tobacco and banks.

Taranto is warning that “aggrieved” white folks are justifiably on the very brink of just coming right out and reclaiming their right to race-consciousness. When that happens, presumably, black and brown folks and “liberals” will be to blame. I’m a bit older than Jeff Duncan, but this sort of logic sure sounds a lot like what I heard as a southern white child during the civil rights era: white bigotry was bad, of course, but it would never have exploded into violence if it weren’t for those pestiferous civil rights protestors and “outside agitators.” Anti-anti-racism has as long and nearly as discredited a pedigree as racism itself.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.