About Me

Find out more about me here.

31 August 2010

Race, Yes--But Not Only Race

Here is what Christopher Hitchens over at Slate on Monday about Glenn Beck and the Tea Party party:
One crucial element of the American subconscious is about to become salient and explicit and highly volatile. It is the realization that white America is within thinkable distance of a moment when it will no longer be the majority....In a rather curious and confused way, some white people are starting almost to think like a minority, even like a persecuted one....It's not unfair to say that such grievances are purely and simply imaginary, which in turn leads one to ask what the real ones can be. The clue, surely, is furnished by the remainder of the speeches, which deny racial feeling so monotonously and vehemently as to draw attention.
I think that Hitchens has it wrong. It's dismissive and reductionistic to write that this whole thing is about imaginary racist fears. I'm not saying that race isn't a part of this. It most certainly is, but the relationship is spurious. It's only about race inasmuch as race is a part of status. In other words, white Americans are (correctly) sensing that their long-privileged location at the top of the social totem pole is in danger. Unlike racial politics, or even necessarily class, status is by definition hierarchical, that is, it stratifies. It's zero-sum; equality is not an option. If we think more broadly about Tea Party sentiment in terms of changing status, the seeming-irrationality of the race-related fears disappears. The problem is not a bunch of racist idiots but instead a structural issue of status.

I see a clear parallel between the feelings of persecution among middle class whites whose status is threatened (or at least is no longer untouchable) and the embattled subcultural identity of Evangelicals in the U.S. (see Smith's American Evangelicalism), and I suspect that this explains the free flow of both ideas and people between these groups. More on this later.

No comments:

Post a Comment