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Jul. 23 2010 - 10:22 pm | 682 views | 2 recommendations | 3 comments

Why Breitbart will fail

WASHINGTON - JUNE 29:  "Equal Justice Und...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I’d like to elaborate on my previous post on the recent spate of wild and/or false racism charges emanating from the Breitbarts and Megyn Kellys of the world. It was glib to ignore the longstanding complaints of conservatives about reverse discrimination.

First, for the sake of argument, some perspective: the United States has a brutal historical legacy of slavery and legalized oppression of African-Americans. It has gradually been mitigated, legally, politically, and socially, a process that continues. This process is one of the things that makes America great. But the legacy hasn’t disappeared, it remains a pernicious force in American society. There is, comparatively speaking, no significant legacy or history of black-on-white discrimination. There are black people who are prejudiced against white people, of course. Statistically speaking, some of them probably work for government agencies. But that’s not evidence of systemic anti-white discrimination.

However. The great liberal project that reached a pinnacle with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960s produced a wave of changes in the way governments and private entities did business. It also produced policies (racial and ethnic quotas, busing, disparate impact laws and regulations, affirmative action) that, unlike, say, ensuring the right to vote, were debatable – and were debated, in the courts and the political arena. And all this produced massive social stresses that have shaped American politics ever since. (And that’s not even mentioning other issues, such as welfare, that were not race-based but became politically racialized.)

All of this is to say, the anger about alleged anti-white racism that we see on the right – and the reason Breitbart is able to generate the reactions he does – is not the result of paranoia or fantasy. It is an understandable product of the politics of the past 50 years.

But most of the political shocks wrought by the Great Society and liberalism in the 1970s through the 1990s have already worked their way through the system; white flight; the South going Republican, welfare reform. To put it another way: in the past, when white conservatives were outraged about race issues, it was because those issues affected millions of people directly, and resonated for tens of millions more. Busing or affirmative action, for example. Liberal sanctimony and self-righteousness only made things worse.

Today, attempts by Breitbart and Fox News to gin up similar outrage are isolated incidents painted as broad conspiracies that don’t stand up to serious examination. If the New Black Panthers are the best they’ve got, it’s a sign that as a driving force of American politics, as a “wedge issue,” anger over anti-white discrimination is a shadow (a pale one!) of what it once was. They’re shaping news cycles with this stuff, not electoral coalitions. Just as 1990s-era political correctness on the left (and that diversity workshop I attended) was weak, er, tea compared with what had come before, so are today’s racism faux-scandals.

This is not to say that as matters of law and policy, all questions of race have been settled. Far from it. But those questions are not currently driving national politics. (And the focus on culture war outrages is actually undermining the conservative policy agenda on this front.)

Because race is still an inescapable issue in American society, and the legacy of centuries of racism lingers, and the whiff of liberal sanctimony never quite disperses, this remains a raw spot on the national psyche, easily exploited by unscrupulous media hucksters. But the underlying weakness of their efforts is actually kind of encouraging.


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  1. collapse expand

    Good job! This is one of the best analyses I have read of the racial history/socio-economic issues. It’s like you packed a whole book into a few concise paragraphs.
    These media personalities who are trying to ignite a race war in the U.S. truly are sorry clowns.

  2. collapse expand

    Mr. McQuaid,

    The problem with your analysis of racism is that it is largely focused through the lens “prejudice”, i.e. what white people *think* about Black people. The key to understanding racism here in the US is that White Supremacy has thrived because white people have *economically benefited* from the oppression of Black people. Racism was a zero sum game, any economic gain by Black people must come at a loss to white people and vice versa. Now it is true that vast majority of white people only gained marginally in the economic sense from White Supremacy while a few prospered mightily, but it set the basis *politically* for white people to stand together in defense of racism. In fact the most virulent defenders of racism where those who gained the least, exactly because they desperately needed every possible bit of advantage that they could, not matter how slender. The US Constitution and the laws of every state were created to defend this relationship.

    This is why the concept of “reverse racism” is none sense, there is no systematic economic benefit that accrues to Black people at the expense of white people. Conservatives complaint of “reverse discrimination” is really nothing more than a defense of the remnants of White Supremacy. When the Tea Party folks talk about “We want our country back”, it is the country of their youth where White Supremacy was the law of the land that they want back.

  3. collapse expand

    People like Andrew Breitbart, Newt Gingrich, and Tom DeLay usually end up hoist with their own petar.

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    About Me

    I'm a journalist and author who writes about science, environment, various forms of government dysfunction, and, against my better judgment, American politics. Also: the media and the future of journalism. My work has appeared in Smithsonian magazine, Wired, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, the Guardian and the Huffington Post. In a previous life I was an investigative/explanatory reporter for The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. The edge of chaos, BTW, is that narrow zone between stasis and chaos where complexity emerges and interesting things happen.

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