White people are not gods, they bleed

I’ve kept my mouth shut on this issue for a while, but it keeps popping up on my Twitter timeline.

The comment above was directed at a piece in The Washington Post, White, and in the minority: She speaks English. Her co-workers don’t. Inside a rural chicken plant, whites struggle to fit in. You can imagine the typical reaction to this sort of story. Journalistic organizations don’t arbitrarily select a particular topic. A story about non-college educated whites being demographically and socially marginalized is appealing for various reasons that have nothing to do with how representative the story is. The cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer would say that this is a story that we’d be interested in because it’s a “minimally counter-intuitive” concept: the dominant demographic experiencing what it’s like to be a minority. It’s interesting…but it’s not far-fetched.

I grew up in the 1980s in an area where the majority population was white, and the non-whites were black. I know what it’s like to be a minority. To be complimented on my English every week by strangers, and asked what “Indian tribe” I belonged to if I told people my family was from India (they wouldn’t know where Bangladesh was). In my adolescence, I lived in areas which were even whiter. Over 95% white. When many non-whites in the United States have to read about white people expressing worry and consternation because they’re not the majority and in a position of demographic dominance as if we are supposed to have sympathy, people with my experiences can get frustrated because being a minority is constitutive to many of our lives. Welcome to our world!

The problem is that we really shouldn’t reduce everything to a simple racial equation. Our color is not our world. Or at least that’s my opinion. If you are a frog-nazi, your mileage may vary.

I don’t know Rani Molla’s class background, and I won’t presuppose, but she managed to get degrees from Oberlin and Columbia. She’s now a data journalist for Recode, but she’s done work at Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. If she came from a position of less privilege, she’s been a sterling meritocrat, getting degrees from elite institutions, and transitioning to a career as a journalist in New York City.

The fact is that the piece above makes clear that the people profiled did not have “every advantage.” Yes, they are white. But in the economy of 2018 in the United States, and the developed world in general, they did not have every advantage. Though the story highlights their alienation from the Spanish-speaking majority at their plant, their class interests were interchangeable with the immigrant demographic majority.

In contrast, even South Asians who grow up poor in the United States, usually have an ancestral class background which is somewhat elite. While black Americans and South Asians may share common physical features as dark-skinned people of color, most black Americans descend from slaves, while most South Asian Americans are more likely to either be the scions of a genuinely elite family or a prosperous lineage from a rural backwater. If you buy Greg Clark’s argument in The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility, then you know that he makes the case that social status is highly heritable when you look across many generations, as opposed to focusing on single generation correlations.

To me, when I read a piece from a young Indian American about how impacted she was by racism growing up in the United States because she was different, and then I see the byline “Iyer” (substitute Mukherjee or some other surname that’s appropriate if you want), my eyes narrow. I don’t deny that South Asians experience and experienced racism. I have myself, especially in the 1980s and to a lesser extent the 1990s. And I’m not talking microaggressions, but racial slurs, intimations of racially motivated violence, and in some cases violence. In those specific instances and moments, my identity was flattened, and I was racially defined. The world became black and white.

But eventually, color returns, and that more complex palette is actually the vast majority of my life. There were literally two South Asian families (as opposed to international students, or an adoptee here and there) in the whole county where I grew up as an adolescent. So yes, I was part of a very distinct minority. But my father also had a doctorate in a physical science. I was known to be a highly sociable person, albeit on the nerdy side. I knew I would go to college. Almost everyone in my extended family went to college, even though many of them lived in a country where very few people went to college. I came from a family background where certain things were taken for granted, and tacit. Those things happen to put me in a good position for the 21st-century economy. Coincidentally, or not, I know that my family had skills which put them in a good position in the 20th-century economy, and also the 19th-century economy (though high rates of reproduction and partible inheritance results in the diminishment of land wealth very rapidly). Frankly, we’ve been on top for a long time it seems.

There were other kids I grew up with and knew casually. They were all white because almost everyone else was white. They came from families where the father had been a logger, or worked on a ranch, but eventually that work disappeared. They in their own turn assumed they’d find some job in the valley, perhaps go work at a plant in Pendleton or John Day. Even twenty years ago we knew that something was going sideways. The logging jobs were disappearing. But there were families who had lived in the area for generations, and these were kids who didn’t want to move away. These were kids who were never academically oriented. But they were family oriented.

To be honest I felt sorry for them. I never thought they had “every advantage.” Yes, no one ever yelled racial slurs at them. But they didn’t come from stable homes, and they didn’t seem to have a stable future. These were kids who were lost in a world that was passing them by. If the aristocracy of white skin arose with Andrew Jackson’s America, by the 1990s that dream was fading rapidly.

Poor people. The less intelligent. The less educated. If you dismiss them because of who they are, and you are a highly educated part of the chattering class, you are doing something that is very contemptible in my eyes. This is true even if the people are white, and you are not white.

In the early 20th century the ideas of Madison Grant were in the air. To Grant, only the white race, and to some extent Nordics, mattered. They were the creative genius, the spark, that was responsible for all of civilization. The creators and maintainers.

Those ideas declined in the 1930s. But their overall structure has reemerged in the past few decades among some progressives influenced by critical race theory. Just like Grant, these moderns believe that race is overwhelmingly important. In fact, that it is determinative in a deep way. Just as Grant did. Obviously, the ethical framing differs, but in some of the descriptive superstructure, there are strong resemblances. White people are as gods, who through the very act of operating upon the world create it as it is.

Just as I am an atheist when it comes to the supernatural god, I am an infidel in relation to this new social-political cult. Here I am thinking of a friend who is conventionally progressive and white, who wishes to order and foster a world where everyone has the same privileges that he did. As a point of fact though I have mentored him and provided some important professional connections and experiences. His own background is not deprived, but neither is it particularly privileged. I simply think he is wrong when he collapses the distance between himself and the captains of American industry because he has access to the same elixir of privilege by dint of his race. The gods exist on their mountains of capital. And most of those gods are white. But very few whites are gods.

We need to move beyond these reductive frameworks, at last in the higher realms of American public discourse. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in this stale philosophy.

Working-class white Americans may not be saints. But that is because they are mortals, and in fact on the way to be truly a marginalized folk, along with the world’s working-class, of all colors. When I read and see non-white professionals being contemptuous of the white working-class, I don’t see anti-white racism newly learned. I see classism anciently cultivated, but donning new garb.

Note: As a non-white person I have experienced racism. Because of my social and political views, I don’t think this is debilitating. But, for guilty progressives, I have been giving my Paypal link to donate money as reparations for white sins. So far no one has donated money even though I have a substantial Twitter following. From this, I conclude that anti-racism is highly performative, not substantive. Racial self-flagellator in the streets, but wearing creepy white sheets even under the sheets!

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59 thoughts on “White people are not gods, they bleed

  1. “Short summary: Canadians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Cubans assimilate at high rates; Mexicans, Salvadorans, Indians, and Chinese assimilate at lower rates. And this has persisted for some time, except with Cubans whose assimilation index has fallen dramatically in the recent years.”

    Do you mean assimilation or socio-economic measures of performance? I don’t trust the former measure because of the corruption of social sciences with post modernists. I do trust measures of socio-economic performance.

    My this measure Indians and Chinese perform fabulously in the US. Mexicans from conservative Mexican states also perform well in the US.

    Socio-economically Latino Americans are converging to non Latino Caucasion levels. There is no reason to think convergence will not happen–unless Latino Americans get drawn into the negative culture of the American underclass (the way many less educated males in the caucasion and black American underclass are). Is this your fear about hispanic Americans? So far thank God this hasn’t happened. But the caucasion intelligentia which tries to colonize the mind with inferiority complex, a lack of self confidence and a promotion of negative culture is very powerful and not to be under estimated.

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  2. iffen, I am deeply concerned about the denigration and contempt of poor less educated caucasion males by upper middle class highly educated cognitive and socio-economic elites. This is the stuff that leads to revolutions. What if anything can be done about it?

    I for one strongly condemn disrespect of people who don’t go to college by college graduates. It is rapidly getting worse. This is one of the world’s biggest problems today.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    ohwilleke
    “African-American culture in the United States both devotes considerable energy to self-reform and it not insular from the rest of our culture, despite considerable outside barriers to either. Your typical middle aged African-American parent is livid when their children’s generation gets involved in gangs that harm the community”
    Agreed. African American elders are at war with the caucasion intelligentia and post modernists for trying to hurt African American culture.

    ” your typical middle aged Appalachian or white Southern parents are, if anything, urging their children to be worse than they are inclined to be. Black preachers, are far less likely to be preaching hate from the pulpit and far more likely to be preaching constructive community self-help and reform. Adherents of Southern and Appalachian are going out of their way to deny reality, rather than to enhance the nation’s knowledge with information about their own truths.”
    Is this a spoof? We must live in different universes. Have not seen this.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    “Most of what I call “liberal racism” seems to be based on the assumption that whites are so superior that no disadvantage is an excuse for lack of success. Those who fail to meet the standards of the “master race” are derided as “white trash.” The term “white trash” implies that it is normal for non-whites to be “trash” but an exceptional disgrace for whites to fall into that category. Complementing this belief in whites as “gods” is the assumption that all in the “non-white” category are oppressed and require special help no matter how many advantages they enjoy. It’s no wonder so many “liberal racists” of whatever background are hostile to any mixed-race identities. One has to be totally guilty or totally innocent – all god or all mortal. Anything else destroys their worldview.”

    AD Powell, very interesting. Do you think post modernists really believe that caucasions are superior to non caucasions? Hadn’t occurred to me before that anybody could be stupid enough to believe that.

    I thought the post modernists believed:
    –people are not sovereign (or divine in eastern thought)
    –people are not potentially wise
    –people are not potentially powerful

    The rest flows from this.

    I am glad that caucasion poor people are being held to a high standard and encouraged to achieve their full potential. But we also need to do more to help them (as in darkies and woman and college educated caucasion males).

    I have never heard to mixed race part before. Need to think about it. Wow. Do you really think it is true.

    I thought what angers post modernists is when poor darkies and poor woman become fabulously successful because it demonstrates the post modernist big lie:
    –people are not sovereign (or divine in eastern thought)
    –people are not potentially wise
    –people are not potentially powerful

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    What an amazing comment thread. Too much great stuff to respond to.

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  3. my previous experiences with the Manhattan Institute have found it to be not a very credible source.

    Instead we should just trust your hunches and assertions about the similarity between Mexican and Korean immigrants, right?

    Here are the actual studies:
    https://www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/cr_53.pdf (2008)
    https://www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/cr_59.pdf (2009)
    https://www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/cr_76.pdf (2013)

    You can certainly argue about the methodologies employed (specifically the proxies used to represent the three dimensions of assimilation, namely, economic, cultural, and civic). But to dismiss the reports with a wave of the hand, on top of the sophistry employed earlier, betrays either stupidity or, worse, intellectual dishonesty.

    I might add that the generational malaise of Mexican immigrants is well-documented elsewhere. See: Telles and Ortiz, “Generations of Exclusion”: https://www.russellsage.org/publications/generations-exclusion-1
    In many domains, however, the Mexican American story doesn’t fit with traditional models of assimilation. The majority of fourth generation Mexican Americans continue to live in Hispanic neighborhoods, marry other Hispanics, and think of themselves as Mexican. And while Mexican Americans make financial strides from the first to the second generation, economic progress halts at the second generation, and poverty rates remain high for later generations. Similarly, educational attainment peaks among second generation children of immigrants, but declines for the third and fourth generations.
    This is most certainly not the story of Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants of the yester years, nor is it that of South Asian and East Asian immigrants today.

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  4. @anan

    iffen, I am deeply concerned about the denigration and contempt of poor less educated caucasion males by upper middle class highly educated cognitive and socio-economic elites. This is the stuff that leads to revolutions.

    From the inside looking out, owilleke’s tirade actually appears mild compared to some admonishments and condemnations coming from parents, friends and community concerning certain behaviors.

    There will be no revolution. Cognitive stratification insures that there will be no organic initiative coming from the underclass. If they had the ability to defend themselves within the current socio-economic environment, they wouldn’t be in the underclass. In times past we might look to individuals with a profound sense of communitas to provide leadership, but we live in a paradise for the highly capable, and those willing to sacrifice seem to be in short supply. Many people do have a community spirit, but almost all of them seem to direct their energy into making a gargantuan government into the sole community institution having power or resources.

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  5. Thank you for taking a look – it seems to happen whenever there are multiple links in a comment.

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