Sen. James Webb: Being a White Person Is Just Like Being a Slave

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July 27 2010 9:19 AM

Sen. James Webb: Being a White Person Is Just Like Being a Slave

Let's have a conversation about race! Sen. James Webb, Democrat of Virginia, took to the Wall Street Journal 's opinion page this past Friday, apparently because he felt left out of last week's vaudeville show of racist stupidity . James Webb has very strong feelings about affirmative action, which he believes has "damaged racial harmony" and has moved "away from remediation and toward discrimination, this time against whites."

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But James Webb knows it is hard to talk about race, and especially about the problems of white people, without upsetting folks:

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Pat Buchanan got into trouble recently by pointing out that if Elena Kagan is confirmed to the Supreme Court, there will not be a single Protestant Justice, although Protestants make up half the U.S. population and dominated the court for generations.

Well, actually, Pat Buchanan got in trouble because Pat Buchanan is a known anti-Semite , and that particular column was a particularly clumsy attempt to find a novel way of complaining that the Jews control everything. (The new code is "Ivy League pretensions to represent and rule America," which is pretty rich coming from lifetime Washington insider Pat Buchanan, Columbia Journalism School '62.)

Is Pat Buchanan even in trouble, though? New York Times Reasonable Young Conservative™ Ross Douthat also used an example of people being hostile to Buchanan to lead off his own column last week about the problems of white people. As a white person, I beg you all: Stop! It is funny in some ways to see a beet-faced Irish bigot grandstanding on behalf of the standards of the white race, but in most ways it is not. If Pat Buchanan is the most sympathetic white person you can come up with, maybe you should rethink this whole idea that we have to be more sympathetic to white people.

Or maybe just think in the first place. Jim Webb believes he wants to write about the particular plight of poor white people—because, hell, yes, it is difficult to be poor and white; just ask Shirley Sherrod !—but his op-ed piece keeps veering into Confederate apologist boilerplate (did you know most white Southerners didn't own slaves? They just fought to save slavery because they liked it in principle) and sweeping claims about the suffering of white folks:

Forty years ago, as the United States experienced the civil rights movement, the supposed monolith of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant dominance served as the whipping post for almost every debate about power and status in America. 

"Supposed" is an intriguing word to use, but it's completely overshadowed by Webb's choice of metaphor: whipping post ? Civil rights made a whipping post of white America? Why not say civil rights put shackles on white America? The civil rights movement was a pack of bloodhounds chasing white America. The civil rights movement raped white America, impregnated white America, and then tore the children away from white America and sold them into hard labor, never to be seen again.

To be fair, the way Webb wrote the sentence, technically it says that white America was the actual whipping post, not a victim of the whipping post. So white America was the thing to which black people were tied so that they could be publicly beaten.

But why dwell on history? Webb's real concern is racial policy going forward. 

A recent NORC Social Survey of white adults born after World War II showed that in the years 1980-2000, only 18.4% of white Baptists and 21.8% of Irish Protestants—the principal ethnic group that settled the South—had obtained college degrees, compared to a national average of 30.1%, a Jewish average of 73.3%, and an average among those of Chinese and Indian descent of 61.9%.

Policy makers ignored such disparities within America's white cultures when, in advancing minority diversity programs, they treated whites as a fungible monolith. Also lost on these policy makers were the differences in economic and educational attainment among nonwhite cultures. Thus nonwhite groups received special consideration in a wide variety of areas including business startups, academic admissions, job promotions and lucrative government contracts.

Again, let's go ahead and help poor white people, please. But Webb appears to be blaming affirmative action for the fact that Jews, Chinese-Americans, and Indian-Americans get college degrees at a higher rate than Southern whites. In fact, Asian-Americans, like Jews before them , have had trouble getting admitted to top colleges at the rate they would seem to deserve.

If you're really worried about bad effects of affirmative action, you might want to look into that. Unless white people are the only kind of people you care about.

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