The Audacious Epigone noted in passing, halfway down the linked post, that he is detecting an increase in a sense of racial identity among white people of his generation. I had not quite thought of it that way, but immediately thought he is correct in this. I think I am detecting the same thing. I consider this a bad thing, even dire, for America. I suspect he automatic assumption is that such consciousness of race is primarily, or even necessarily, anti-black or anti-Hispanic. I don’t think that is much true, and says more about the assumers than the assumees. Still, it's all a bad thing.
I am already well ahead of myself. Let me trace the history from my earliest training. I was taught that we are all Americans, with equal rights, and all in this together. Some people didn’t want black people to have the same rights, but they were wrong. This was known to be more common in the South, but present everywhere. There had recently (this was the 50's and 60's) been some legitimate argument whether people from one part of the country should make people from another part of the country be fair whether they liked it or not, and some dispute about speed. Yet because bad people had hid behind some plausible arguments, the decent people had pretty much abandoned them. The goal was that black people should be mainstream Americans, because they weren’t really any different. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, etc. Decent people who were also alert made a special effort not to be accidentally unkind to black people, who had been kicked enough. Sometimes they fell over themselves being kind. This was regarded as clumsy and gauche, but essentially well-meant.
Somewhere in the 70’s, the idea came around that this wasn’t the right solution. Because those decent white people were unconsciously assuming everyone was like them, that was prejudice too. It was a package with assuming maleness to “mankind,” or Christianity to “religion,” or other ways of leaving some people out of the picture, even without intending to.
It is hard to recreate what I thought then, or how things changed, but I’ll have a go at it. I thought that dividing up Americans was a step backward, but I saw the point. It was true that my picture of Americans was something of a portrait of my own circle, not really including the others, and I can see why it felt insulting to not be included. They were, after all, just as validly American as I was. Plus, I figured, I’m from New Hampshire, what do I know? People who deal with this as part of their daily lives must just know better than I what the best way forward is.
Let me interject here the important point that the foregoing is clearly ridiculous and impossible. There never were any decent white people who thought this way, they were all unconsciously racist and they should have no voice now. (See how jarring that sentiment is when it is in the context of a real person, rather than a set of people to be lumped for purpose of political gain? )
I’ve read for years about people who note that other American groups have identities in order to increase political power, white people should do the same. I’ve always thought that was fringey and ridiculous, and wondered if the sentiment were not more anti-black than pro-white. I don’t know much about such folks, they just turn up once in awhile, so I can’t say I know what they are thinking. However, I do think that’s an enormous step backward for America. But looking at it, I don’t know how any other result could be expected when dividing up Americans became the ideal. Not that everyone would mentally divide themselves out, but that some would. Isn’t that a rather natural result of being told that your reasons are not your real reasons, and the tone of glee that the former mainstreamers are no longer numerically ahead, as if that in itself were some advance? I don’t think it has any effect on whether people are for or against other races or groups. Those who were, remain so, those who weren’t, remain that. But I think something subtler does occur. White people decide that they aren’t the ones misunderstanding others. They look around and think “No, I understand them fine. It’s they who don’t understand me, always accusing.”
I don’t attribute this to Obama or his blackness, BTW. I now think this is a trend that has been building for decades, recently efflourescing. Maybe it’s a little faster because of the accident of the particular players, but I they didn’t start the fire.
I am ahead of myself again, or at least, verging into other territory. Let me get back on track about racial consciousness. Ideas we acquire are not necessarily inexorable, just because we can trace their roots far back. I have a racial sidebar that remained a mere curiosity for twenty years or so, only emerging as the red state-blue state divide arose and became especially vitriolic starting in 2004.
I am an evangelical, but I have always considered myself to be an unusual specimen. Not rare, because I have been able to find other evangelicals at least somewhat like me, but not comfortable in the music, books, and tapes of popular evangelical culture. Still, I have some identification with the group, and so always perked up my ears around surveys and statistics about evangelical beliefs and behaviors. Sometime in the 80’s, there was this article about young evangelicals, going out of its way to point out what hypocrites they were, because their illegitimacy rate was just as high as mainstream denominations and nonreligious. So hahaha. But about a week before, I had read a separate article in a nonreligious but political magazine, complaining that sociological studies did not break out religious groups by race, because those called “evangelical” or “fundamentalist” tended to be either all black or all white, and very different socially and politically.
So I wondered if the illegitimacy study had been broken out by race. I was ashamed of myself for even wondering, and never mentioned it anywhere. Polite people didn’t mention such things. It might indeed prove that it was a more typically black illegitimacy rate in those churches, but they were our Christian brothers and sisters, and we weren’t going to kick them when they were down. We stand together. It was not until some years later, I think during the Clinton election that someone suddenly did break those numbers out by race, and they were appalling. I remember thinking “Well, no one on the left is going to want that to get out. That’s the last we’ll hear about that.” But it kept coming, and the implication was clear: those white yahoos from Mississippi and South Carolina are just self-righteous hypocrites. Look at all this state-by-state pathology.
God forgive me, I believed that too. I knew at some level that this wasn’t quite right, and sometimes remembered it, but it occupied a separate part of my mind. New Hampshire has the highest SAT’s in the nation, or 2nd-lowest dropout rate, yeah, eat our dust, Arkansas! (Polite people can have ugly prejudices against some groups after all, eh?) You can see the real numbers on white IQ’s bystate over at The Audacious Epigone, BTW. The stereotype generally holds, but much more weakly than advertised. The entire range is 98-103. Not very big.
As I was leaving liberalism, I still held – in some ways still hold – that prejudice. Even knowing that the numbers for whites in different states were not all that different, I still pinned the more dramatic numbers on my picture of their typical citizen. But in the last few years, the opposite has become automatic: Red States are net receivers of government aid compared to Blue States, we are told with a sneer. I now ask “Does that include military installations? Veterans’ benefits? Is that broken out by number of illegal immigrants? Is that broken out by race?” And so on. Obesity. Diabetes. Educational attainment. Special Ed. Disability claims. Crime rates. Illegitimacy. Divorce rates. I suspect that when liberal white people from Vermont try to make political hay out of such things, the recipients often knew “Oh, so now you’re making it racial (or NAM in general). You don’t know that, but that’s what you just did. If I point that out, I’ll be the bad guy, but you just reminded me once again.” The difference is that the nonliberal white people in Vermont have started noticing it too, because such a big deal is being made of the pathology of being the wrong sort of white person.
We have long all politely not mentioned that “the problem of our cities” has a strong racial and ethnic piece. It’s just not nice, and there doesn’t seem to be any point. But now that’s moving up to the state level, in a bitterly divided country, and whiteness is being specifically described as a problem. I don’t like being described as a problem when I haven’t done anything wrong. The irony is, those people who for reasons of fashion devote much energy and vitriol into demonstrating that they are not the bad sort of white person, by identifying out, are actually intensifying the phenomenon.