Premise: White people in America are oppressed. Problem: If white folks are losing, I can't even begin to imagine who is winning.
Over the weekend CNN featured an article which examined the question of how and if white Americans are oppressed in the Age of Obama. As of today, that story has almost 8,000 comments and has been shared on Facebook by 46,000 people. Voices as varied as Tocqueville, Myrdal, Hacker, Dubois, and others have long observed that race is America's national obsession. It predated the country's founding; was a crucial problem at the heart of America's "democratic" origins as a slaveocracy; and even after the Civil Rights Movement, the slaying of de facto state sponsored racism in the form of Jim Crow, and the election of the first non-white President, the bugaboo of America's racial project remains well and alive in to the 21st century.
However, because some folks may feel a thing to be true--here being a sense that Whiteness is under siege, especially as perceived by racially resentful and some grossly entitled white Americans--does not make it so. Just as the left and progressives proceed from the big lie that is the myth of "the liberal media" when they rebut Fox News on those terms, a conversation about White oppression necessarily begins from an inversion of history. As the bastard child of opinion journalism where standards of fact and credulity have been thrown by the wayside in the interest of higher ratings, the narrative of white oppression is one where the emperor truly has no clothes. In short, the meme of an America where whites are oppressed is utter balderdash because the argument itself is based on a lazy, tired, and easily exposed fiction.
Consider the following inconvenient facts.
1. CNN's article suggests that White America has not and does not think of its interests in racial terms. Thus, the White Conservative, New Right backlash in the Age of Obama is somehow novel. It is a new phenomenon in this country's history. While an uncomfortable fact for many to acknowledge, America is a country founded as a formal white supremacist republic from the bone of its traditions down through to the sinew and muscle of its laws and creed. Moreover, the struggle for a multiracial democracy is in many ways contrary to the American political tradition.
2. White America has long cried that it is being oppressed and is under siege. First, white people were oppressed by slaves who had the unmitigated gall to want their freedom (and those horrible abolitionists and others who aided them). Then, White America was oppressed by those pesky Civil Rights types that wanted to bring down Jim Crow and shatter the tradition of States' Rights. White America had to suffer another insult and oppression when various people's movements have sought to expand the republic's exclusive democracy beyond those nominally male, straight, and middle class.
3. A violent, white ethnic backlash greeted the gains of the Civil Rights Movement when Dr. King and others turned their sights northward. By extension, the narrative of white folks as victims has long circulated in this country because it pays political dividends to those who deploy it. The psychic and material wages of whiteness are profoundly insecure in the minds of those who possess those out-sized, unfair, and unearned life chances by virtue of the chance of birth. When those undue privileges are imagined as being under threat, that realization can easily spawn Right-wing reactionary movements such as anti-government militias, the Tea Parties, the John Birch Society, Councils of Conservative Citizens, and the Ku Klux Klan.
4. Perhaps most importantly, the narrative of White oppression in the Age of Obama overlooks a basic historical trend in the United States: Whiteness keeps on winning. It is dynamic, multifaceted, adaptive, and all encompassing. In the same way that the Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Jews were assimilated into Whiteness in the 20th century, there are racial groups who are not considered White today that will be embraced with open arms by Whiteness in the America of tomorrow.
In total, the election of Barack Obama and the decade(s) long decline of American empire have brought to the forefront a reality that radical scholars and thinkers have long suspected of being true, but is now impossible to deny: the White Soul is in crisis.
Whites as a group have controlled in an anti-democratic fashion (and continue to this day) every major social, political, and economic institution in the United States. Yet, if one listens to Beck, Limbaugh, and the New Right Tea Party's "real American" brigades, one would think that white folks (who on average have at least ten times the wealth of blacks and Latinos) are being asked to sit on the back of the bus under the heavy thumb of Jane and Jim Crow. To be so withdrawn from reality, Whiteness and the White (Conservative) Soul must draw on pathological levels of narcissistic entitlement, privilege, and historical myopia that collectively merit an entry in the DSM-IV.
By metaphor, the politics of White oppression and white racial resentment are the embodiment of the spoiled brat at the birthday party. The kid has everything and does not even realize it. But, when asked to share (or if another child gets a gift or some small amount of attention) a temper tantrum inevitably ensues.
This is the new face of White supremacy in the 21st century. It does not wear a hood or formally deny one the opportunity to rent an apartment or get promoted at one's job. And as a wink to its sophistication, the new racism against whites framing works through its lie by borrowing the language, icons, and symbols of the Civil Rights, women's, and multicultural movements of the 1960s. In these language wars, aided and abetted by the Right-wing echo chamber of Fox News and the Right-wing blogosphere, liberals become fascists and racists, while Conservatives and Republicans hold the flame of anti-racism and social justice. Sadly, few if any reasonable folks raise voices of protest for fear of offending "the silent majority" and consequently suffering the slings and arrows of conservative demagogues.
Practically, the new/old racism of the New Right Tea Party GOP proceeds from an unstated assumption that to be in power is to be White. To be qualified for any job, anywhere, is the norm (thus the ugly language of "qualified" minorities, women and why the pundit classes and the White public never asks if a white man is "qualified" for his job). Glaringly, the new racism of White oppression works from a foundation that to be white is consequently to be in a natural position of authority and responsibility. And most pointedly, to be a "real" American is to be White. Thus, the Right's obsession with Barack Obama and his Kenyan father, and the belief held by a majority of Republicans that the President is not born in this country naturally follows from said toxic premise.