White Ethnics Not Just Innocent Victims in America's Culture Wars





Dr. Naison is Professor of History and African American Studies at Fordham University. He is the author of Communists in Harlem During the Great Depression, White Boy: A Memoir, co-editor of The Tenant Movement in New York City, and over 100 articles on African American politics, social movements and American culture and sports. Dr. Naison is the Principal Investigator of the Bronx African American History Project.


Anyone reading David Brooks's column on Samuel Alito's experiences at Princeton ("Losing the Aliotos" NY Times January 12 2006) would get the impression that families like Mr Alioto's were innocent victims of a liberal Kulturkampf in the late 60's which undermined values such as Hard Work, Patriotism and Respect for Authority which were articles of faith in white ethnic neighborhoods.

But what Brooks fails to acknoweldge is how much those values coexisted with a powerful undercurrent of racism in the very same neighbooods he lauds. In the late 60's and 70's, racial hostility was an omnipresent theme in every white ethnic communiity I spent time in, from Belmont and Woodlawn in the Bronx, to Bay Ridge and Canarsie in Brooklyn, to Woodhaven and Ozone Park in Queens. to Yonkers and Mount Vernon in Westchester. Some of this anger was rooted in resentments over welfare and affirmative action, and a perception that blacks were demanding special favors to support their efforts to pull themselves out of poverty. But some of it, much more than Conservatives are now willing to admit, was rooted in a raw, visceral hatred and resentment of Black people that was the currency of daily conversation in homes, bars, and places of recreation and which periodicaly burst to the surface in events like the Boston and Canarsie Busing Riots, the vandalizing of homes purchased by Black families in white neighborhoods, and the ostracism and occasionally physical expulsion of whites in these communities who dared to date or marry Blacks.

Lets not kid ourselves. In Italian neighborhoods like the one Samuel Alito lived in, or middle class Jewish neighborhoods like the one my parents lived in, fear and hatred of Blacks was a communal obsession in the late 60's and early 70's.. Racial epithets, veiled and direct, were part of the currency of daily speech (with terms like "Melanon" "Shvartze" and "Yam" often substituted for the "N" word)) and conversations about how blacks were ruining the country could be heard almost everywhere. If you think I'm exagerrating, just read Jonathan Reider's book Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against Liberalism to get some sense of the depth of the resentment and raw hatred of Blacks that a Samuel Alito would have been inevitably exposed to in the neighborhood he grew up in, and which I experienced first hand when I was kicked out of my own family for falling in love with a black woman ( something which also happened to more than few of my white students and friends in those years).

Did Alito repudiate, or even try to come to terms with, the racial hostilities that that festered in neighborhoods like his when he was a student at Princeton? While it is possible that his family did not endorse such sentiments, it was impossible to grow up in an Italian-American neighborhood in Philadelphia or New Jersey during those years without being acutely aware how many white ethnics were deeply resentful of blacks. If this was a concern of Mr Alito's when he was at Princeton, there is no evidence of it in the courses he took, the clubs he joined, or the friendships he made. Indeed, the opposite seems to be true, as his most visible organizational affiliation from those years, other than his participation in ROTC, was his membership in a group which saw the diversification of Princeton's curriculum and student body as a betrayal of the school's historic misssion..

There are many things that trouble me about Samuel Alito's record, but the thing that makes me most uneasy-as a person who comes from a similar background - is that he has never really come to terms, either in his personal life, or his judicial philosophy, with the power of racism in American life, and the way it created obstacles in the path of Blacks that differened in degree and kind from those Italian Americans or Irish Americans or Jewish Americans had to face.

If there were some signs of soul searching, some signs of struggle, some evidence that Mr Alito thought race was an issue of sufficient importance to prompt serious study and reflection, I would feel more reassured by his impending confirmation .

But given the available evidence, I fear that Mr Alito will use his power to widen America's racial divide far more than he will to heal it.



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Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Dear Mr. Naison,

Great article. Sad, true and for many regrettable.

The correct spelling for the Italian word eggplant and unfortunate/embarrassing euphemism is melanzana. The more derogatory tutsone was never a word to utter yet, a word never forgotten.

I recall in the late 60's someone very close who was never prejudiced ever, yet he casually stated/complained that the Pittsburgh Pirates were too black.

It was a great time to grow up but, troubling none the less.

Take care.


Maura Doherty - 2/1/2006

Think again. These guys with no lives (and possibly no jobs) love to surf the net to pounce on "liberal" thought. I actually am starting to feel sorry for them.


Maura Doherty - 2/1/2006

You've done that well enough on your own. Cheers :)!


henry tyrone slothrop - 1/27/2006

Come on, an appeal to "respect for Authority? When the authorities in question turned yo into a second class citizen on the basis of your skin color?

And using the Casper Milquetoast writings of David Brooks is too much.

I thought this was a place for historians.


Mark Newgent - 1/22/2006

You are distorting my point. Naison does have an affinity for communism. His book on the communist party in 1930s Harlem fawns over the CPUSA. So clearly Naison has an affinity for the CPUSA. Despite the fact that the CPUSA was a puppett to Moscow (especially Soviet intelligence agencies) and supported the Nazi-Soviet pact.

My point is an analogy between Stalin's show trials and how innocent victims were forced to confess to bogus crimes they did not commit, with Naison demanding that Alito confess to being a racist, which he clearly is not and repudiate things which he did not do.

But please keep trying to obfuscate and distort my point.


Maura Doherty - 1/21/2006

If I write a book about George Bush does that mean I have an "affinity" for dumb, right-wing Texans or just that I'm a "fellow traveller"?


mark safranski - 1/21/2006

"Did Alito repudiate, or even try to come to terms with, the racial hostilities that that festered in neighborhoods like his when he was a student at Princeton?'

Since Dr. Naison is on the academic political Left has he disavowed or come to terms with the casual anti-religious, anti-American hostilities that festered in universities when he was a student ?

Or perhaps Naison should only be held accountable for things that he himself has actually said, written or done ?

http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/


Heinrich Buchegger - 1/21/2006

Still no historical analysis or arguments here. On the contrary, the Communist Party and "fellow travellers" have a long history of racism of their own. This wouldn't explain, historically, Naison's viewpoint. Sounds like a "squishy" "overemotional" argument to me.


Charles Edward Heisler - 1/20/2006

Since Alito's stated preference is to adhere to the Constitution and that document has been amended to address and rectify all forms of racism in America, I think your fears are unfounded.
Course we could try and convince the future Justice to make some acceptable symbolic gesture to assuage the Left before he takes his seat on the Supreme Court. Maybe he could "bling" himself up a bit? Perhaps he could apologize for being a white male? I suggest verbalizing the ultimate Liberal mantra would put fears to rest--Mr. Alito, could you just say to all America--"Gee, I sure hope that Black people like me today."


Heinrich Buchegger - 1/20/2006

Sounds like a fifth grader's comeback. Apparently there are no standards or credentials required for what is supposed to be a historians' listserv. As for "squishy," English isn't my first (or second) language and I still know that it's silly and misused. Anybody have a historical argument in response to Naison's thoughtful, historical response to Brooks's bad article?


Trevor Russell Getz - 1/20/2006

Certainly we can agree that the term should be questioned by ANYONE who uses it... Brooks or his critics.


Gonzalo Rodriguez - 1/19/2006

"Take some yoga, Rodriguez, and stop being such an angry, venting male. Peace."

Thanks for the advice. Let's make a deal: I'll do this as soon as you quit being such a squishy, overemotional female. Cheers.


Mark A Newgent - 1/19/2006

Course on logic? Excuse me, but where did I write that Naison is a communist? What I actually wrote (it is right there on the screen for you to see) was that Naison has an affinity for the Communist Party. Many people had, and too many still do have an affinity for the Communist Party and are not communists,they are called fellow travllers.

I smell a failed attempt to burn a strawman!


Frederick Thomas - 1/19/2006


.. from Mr. Rodriguez, again, who skewers this fatuous leftie with all of the implications of his own words.

Please keep it up, dear communists, and keep pushing policies which institutionalize real racism, such as that of the author and such thugs as shakedown artist Jessee Jackson, not to forget George Soros.

Your open hatred and fear of European Americans increasingly marginalizes you politically, and creates contempt in the eyes of the electorate. R.I.P.


Maura Doherty - 1/19/2006

"Condescending and self-serving" ??! describes Rodriguez more than Naison, and Alito if Rodriguez is correct in saying "Maybe Alito had to get a job, and didn't have enough time for all that study and reflection." Just exactly what DOES a constitutional judge DO if not "study and reflect"? Alito has more money than I'll ever see in my lifetime; don't insult people who struggle economically by putting Alito into the category of "no time to think" gotta put food on the table. Take some yoga, Rodriguez, and stop being such an angry, venting male. Peace.


Maura Doherty - 1/19/2006

Newgent is the one who sounds angry, makes accusations, and could use a course in logic (ie. writing a book on communism means you are a commie?!).


Gonzalo Rodriguez - 1/19/2006

Mr. Keuter,

Well said. You are exactly right. Anybody who argues that they know what someone's "best interests" are better than they themselves do are just totalitarians in disguise.


Jason KEuter - 1/19/2006

Good point. What you're talking about is the notion of false consciousness, which is the first step in rationalizing totalitarianism, which is thus not a deviation from Marxism but its very fulfillment.

Now, why is that the case? If people vote against their "true interest", then they do so because they are profoundly misled. This doesn't refer to just the latest political campaign, but instead to their whole sense of self. Thus "false consciousness" argues that procedural democracy, on the face of it something that registers the will of the people, actually violates their true interest. You can see why communist regimes never had meaningful elections.

But it doesn't stop there. Ultimately, communism is supposed to become democratic. It can oonly become democratic, however, when people have the right consciousness. Thus we move towards totalitarianism, as the state (or more aptly, the slef-annointed minority running it) takes it upon themselves to destroy those people and institutions it hold responsible for creating the wrong consciousness. Thus you can suppress literature because it creates "false consciousness", which makes democracy meaningless, and , in point of fact, nothing more than some kind of sublimated express of a puppet master's will. You can take children from parents who instill bourgeois values; you move on to more and more aspects of "pre-revolutionary" culture, warring against them and all who have any hand in promoting them (teachers, musicians, artists, horiculturalists, you name it). Now the state has assumed full authority over every single thing that could shape someone's consciousness, which is everything, thus you have a TOTALITARIAN state that accomplishes nothing other than destruction. What you get in its place are paranoid hacks, looking over their shoulders. Thus, the totalitarian society loses all dynamism, creativity, and any other life-force that actually animates and enriches a society and turns to Imperial Conquest to keep itself alive...if it can be called lving in the first place. Having destroyed the forces of reaction within, it is now time to destroy them without. So the trajectory a belief in false consciousness puts its adherents on is inherently Imperialistic.

The notion of false consciousness is profoundly hostile to the individual as the primary determinant of their own identity and existence; it is a mainspring of the inherent anti-democratic character of communism, marxism and all other variants of marxism that cannot except any other electoral verdict other than the one they desire as democratically legitimate. It thus pays to be vigilant against such ideologues because history teaches that when they come to power, they simply eliminate democracy and most everything else too.

It startles me that everything I've said above is not a matter of common knowledge for any graduate of history. It is the record of totalitarianism in the 20th century; it is the culmination of the history of the French Revolution; it is a fundamental tenet of anti-democratic thought.


Tim Matthewson - 1/19/2006

Even in the face of the American desire to avoid the subject of rac, this conversation shows how race keeps popping up unavoidably, sometimes intentionally and sometimes inadvertently. I racall when Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was for years confronted with the most vile racist language from the fans in Brooklyn, from the ethnics like Alito. I would be willing to bet that Alito is a racist thru and thru and suggest that before long, we will see it come out in his written opinions.


Jason KEuter - 1/19/2006

Yes, the plea that he show some kind of contrition for imagined past sins puts the left in the tradition of the Puritans who demanded "conversion relations" or Stalin with his show trials. It's actually kind of twisted.


Richard F. Miller - 1/19/2006

Mr. Getz, I agree. It should have been problematized, because Naison's use of the term weakens his argument. The first thing I might have done was to attack Brooks for using the term. However, I suspect that Naison failed to problematize it because he didn't see it as a problem--in his "Amerika," there are just whites and blacks and that's all, folks.


Chris Osborne - 1/19/2006

I have to admit to feeling somewhat conflicted about Mr. Sappol's entry. As a New Deal/Great Society Liberal Democrat I do indeed believe that working class Whites are effectively voting against their own interests in favor of knee-jerk, emotional positions.
Yet at the same time the Left should avoid flirting with the "people are stupid" argument, as their detractors often accuse them of believing they have cornered the market on human intellect.
After the 2004 Presidential election, Ann Coulter wrote something of a thought-provoking editorial (admittedly one of the few times she does so) when she argued that ordinary people voting Republican is indeed stupid from a marxist point of view, as marxists supposedly believe that people should subordinate all of their other concerns to their fundamental position in the class structure.
Coulter countered that if voters give greater weight to so-called "values issues" than economic ones, voting Republican actually makes perfect sense and is not a sign of stupidity.
White leftist Tim Wise, another man whom I don't admire all that much, also wrote a thought-provoking piece for LiP Magazine as a takeoff on Thomas Frank's book called "What's the Matter With White Folks?" He noted, correctly, that race is the most accurate predictor of voting behavior in the United States except for party registration itself. He also stated that White Christian evangelicals voted to reelect Bush whereas Black Christian evangelicals voted for Kerry. Although I disagree with his idea of Whites having an obsessive "property investment in Whiteness," Black evangelicals may well believe that social justice issues trump the conservative "values issues" in having to choose a candidate, whereas White evangelicals believe that the values issues trump redistributive social justice issues.
So while I feel little commonality with the Republican Party, if a given voter is highly concerned about a pro-life position on abortion and euthanasia, perceives gayness as a sinful life choice, believes in gun ownership rights, and prioritizes as small a tax bite as possible then voting Republican makes perfect sense, regardless of his class position. This is not a case of the "stupid" masses being "fooled."


Trevor Russell Getz - 1/18/2006

Mr. Naison's use of 'white ethnics' is merely an engagement of the term used by Mr. Brooks in the original article on which this is a commentary. Mr. Brooks framed the debate, and Mr. Naison replied using similar terminology. Perhaps it should have been problematized, but I think this is significant.


Mark A Newgent - 1/18/2006

Given Proffesor Naison's affinity for the Communist Party, I am not suprised that he has already convicted Judge Alito as a racist. Naison, like the the Senate Judiciary Democrats, is angry because they were denied their show trial to "prove" Alito is a right wing racist.

According to Naison, Alito never showed "signs of soul searching, some signs of struggle, some evidence that Mr Alito thought race was an issue of sufficient importance to prompt serious study and reflection." In other words, Alito has not confessed to being the racist bogeyman Nasion and others on the left want to convince the public he is. Therefore, since Alito does not repudiate his conservative(racist)judicial philosophy he will "widen America's racial divide."

Witness the accusation of racism substituted for fact in reason as the chief mode of argument on the left.


Jason KEuter - 1/18/2006

Mr Lowen's attempts to suggest sometime of equivalency between white working class life or white middle class life and the pthological culture of permanent welfare demonstrates a woeful ignorance of history on his part, while Mr. Stepp's comments, admittedly part hyperbole and slightly exaggerated (understandable given that forum such as these require brevity instead of the kind of criticism proof exactitude that makes so much scholarship irrelevant) is a fair contrast. If Mr. Lowen wants to find something akin to a pathological white workingclass culture, he might better direct readers to works like "Rivethead", which give good anecdotal evidence of the degeneracy of a unionized workforce protected from the "market" by its union contracts, and utterly lazy, weakened and demoralized by a life void of meaningful challenges wrought by the uncertainties of a free and competitive society.

As for the realities of America's racial past, they don't argue for affirmative action. In fact, one of the great ironies of African-American History (as it is written, not as it actually existed) is its insistence that slaves and then freedmen and women developed a culture of their own which enabled them to survive slavery and segregation. This view de-emphasizes paternalism, which, if taken to be equally or perhaps more true (and that is a perfectly valid position) would open up questions about whether affirmative action and welfae don't, in fact paternalistic continuities. Couple this with a history that takes seriously Jeffersonian thought on the corruption wrought by dependency (as opposed to the Lowen/ Zinn school which says Jefferson owned slaves, that makes him bad and now its time to move on), and African-American History argues more against than for affirmative action.

Mr. Loewen's continuities are correct and false. I'll grant he's right about racism in the past but I won't grant that this has simply continued into the present. Mr. Loewen insists that it has. But it is almost completely inconceivable to imagine a student as smart as Malcom X being discouraged from meaningful aspirations and being casted down into the janitorial services. In other words, the racism of the past was characterized by worthy and meritorious individuals being artificially deemed unworthy because of their race; moreover, it was a legal system that relegated a class of people to unequal status.

While black people may be disproportionately represented in negative statistics about contemporary American life, the reasons are very different today than they were in the past. There are no white teachers holding black students down. There are no talented, intelligent black people being denied admission to law schools. The reality of Affirmative action is that it is a sanctimonious balm that prevents those black AMericans who cannot compete from looking at their own culture, their own leadership and their own set of antiquated ideas about how American society actually functions and continuing the revolution that the civil rights movement started and equipping themselves to take better and fuller advantage of their rights and liberties as fully equal American citizens. Affirmative action is an "escape from freedom", the title of Eric Fromm's book on Western Civilizations retreat from the unprecedented challenges of liberty and democracy. In this sense then, African-American History fits into the same trajectory as European history. Affirmative action, then, is not "progressive" but "reactionary", a fearful attempt to run from what was promised by the democratic civil rights revolution, namely a color-blind society, in which retrograde notions of race would have no meaning. This means that racial identity, and the priviliges that come with it, would cease to exist.

Loewen and other "historians" (Loewen's really a left-wing propagandist, not an historian) have trouble conceiving of the former victims of racism becoming beneficiaries of a new racist system, but, as a good left-wing revolutionary, Loewen is not accustomed to some pretty basic lessons history teaches about revolutionaries - namely that they almost invariably start out as rebels against injustice only to become perpetrators of injustice. Loewen's view is akin to the Leninist-Stalinist model, whereby history is used to perpetuate a myth of a continuing old order that must be vigilantly guarded against. In point of fact, there are no George Wallaces at school house doors, nor are there any Bull Connors nor are there any school counselors telling budding black geniuses to be janitors. Those forces, once powerful, were destroyed by the Civil Rights Revoluton. Those who proclaim that the old order continues to exist are in point of fact unjustly tarring respectful positions with the brush of retrograde reaction. To be against affirmative action is only racist to a revolutionary who wants the revolution to keep going because they are not satisfied with the destruction of the old guard - now they seek a nihilistic and pathological expansion of the old guard the embrace larger and larger segments of the society as a whole.

To be against affirmative action today is entirely consistent with the principles of the Civil Rights Revolution. Those who seek to create seemless lines of continuity between today's conservatives and all perpetrators of past racial injustice are being grossly disingenious. But, then again, such a shamelessly instrumental use of history is, tragically, nothing new. Its proponents, however, shouldn't speak of correcting historical ignorance, as their ideological web of lives renders them entirely lacking in any credibility at all regarding historical truth.


Gonzalo Rodriguez - 1/18/2006

Wait a minute -- I think I know you. Are you the guy at my campus accosting students and bellowing through a bullhorn about how Dick Cheney's accountant went to high school with a woman who once worked down the block from David Duke, and so that's proof the Bush Administration could have prevented the Sago mine disaster?

I thought I recognized you. I must say, however, that your disconnected list of Republican crimes is a bit tough to follow. When exactly did Bush go weaken the mine shaft? Was it during the wee hours, when nobody was guarding it?


Michael Sappol - 1/18/2006

If white ethnics are not just innocent victims as Mark Naison correctly argues, they still are victims. The Republican Party has been successful in appealing to the white ethnic and non-ethnic working-class, in part through coded racist appeals, in part through "hot-button" appeals to Christian identity, anti-homosexual appeals, inflammatory anti-abortion appeals, anti-immigrant appeals (this despite the fact that white working-class ethnics are only a generation or two or three off the boat). The Republican ascendancy nearly always rules for the corporate big guy against the working class. The Republicans support bankruptcy laws that favor credit card companies and make life hard for debt-ridden working people. They oppose health and safety regulations that could keep workplaces and working-class communities safe from poisoned air and water, and preventable catastrophes (see the Sago Mine Disaster, for example). They favor the big pharmaceutical and insurance companies and oppose national health insurance, which so many working people lack. They create gigantic deficits with gigantic tax cuts for the very rich, and then slash funding for student loans. And they don’t hesitate to sacrifice working-class lives in foreign adventures that benefit big campaign-contributing contractors—and Big Oil which jacks up the price of oil, gasoline and natural gas. So why do white (but not black) working-class people collude with their own oppression? Because no one in public politics makes this argument forcefully to the people who need to hear it. The Democrats do a lousy job of addressing the constituency that Republicans consistently sell out.


James W Loewen - 1/18/2006

Wm. Stepp needs to read Katznelson's WHEN AFFIRMATIVE ACTION WAS WHITE and my own SUNDOWN TOWNS to understand the white privilege that white ethnics were defending. Also he needs to read the short but seminal essay by Herbert Blumer, "Racial Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position," that led off the PACIFIC SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW's first issue decades ago. I'm serious, Mr. Stepp -- read (or skim) those three things, then come back to the discussion. The problem isn't your politics, which are intriguing, but your ignorance of America's racial past, which is not.


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 1/18/2006

Michigan has Ward Connerly's racial preferences initiative on the ballot this fall, and everyone says it will pass handily. The text says something very simple like shall the state discriminate in contracts or college admissions on the basis of race, sex, religion, etc.?

They might have asked, "or should we wait another 20 years to set aside racial preferences, as Sandra Day O'Connor thought appropriate?"

And it is fair to guess Samuel Alito will oppose racial preferences, too, because he believes in the Constitution, which has unambiguously called for a colorblind society since 1868. I have noticed more resistance to racial preferences lately (than in the 1960s and 1970s), especially among young people and especially with respect to college admissions. In my all-white town I often hear kids say they didn't make it into one of the better state universites because they were the wrong color.


Lorraine Paul - 1/18/2006

'"postal workers"... are overpaid relative to their productive'.

So are CEO's!

This is the first time I have heard ANYONE state that workers are overpaid!!!


Gonzalo Rodriguez - 1/18/2006

The author says:

"Did Alito repudiate, or even try to come to terms with, the racial hostilities that that festered in neighborhoods like his when he was a student at Princeton? While it is possible that his family did not endorse such sentiments, it was impossible to grow up in an Italian-American neighborhood in Philadelphia or New Jersey during those years without being acutely aware how many white ethnics were deeply resentful of blacks. If this was a concern of Mr Alito's when he was at Princeton, there is no evidence of it in the courses he took, the clubs he joined, or the friendships he made."

This is the very definition of guilty until proven innocent. This was pioneered by the Inquisition. When faced with the accused, the question was not "what proof is there this person is guilty?" but "what has he done to prove he ISN'T guilty."

So now Mr. Naison can cast suspicion on entire populations based on the fact that they grew up during a specific time. Does everybody who was alive before 1970 have to go through a public trial to prove they weren't infected with racism? This is guilt by association taken to its most ludicrous extreme: you are guilty because of when and where you were born. And only the supremely self-aware like Mr. Naison can possibly have rid themselves of the contagion, after years of "study and reflection."

Mr. Naison continues: "If there were some signs of soul searching, some signs of struggle, some evidence that Mr Alito thought race was an issue of sufficient importance to prompt serious study and reflection, I would feel more reassured by his impending confirmation."

Ick. How absolutely condescending and self-serving. I presume from his scholarship that Mr. Naison has indeed spent many hours studying and reflecting, like a medieval monk perpetually punishing himself for Adam's original sin, seeking to cleanse himself. That's wonderful and I fully support it. But it's just self-absorbed self-important self-righteous false piety when the monk leaves the monastery into the real world and starts judging everyone else because they themselves did not choose the cloister and a life of penance. Oh, and "study and reflection."

Maybe Alito had to get a job, and didn't have enough time for all that study and reflection.


William J. Stepp - 1/18/2006

They were grouped because of bigotry. They were also grouped long before the economic circumstances that you describe. So much for your notion of cause and effect.

In introducting libertarian class (caste) analysis here, I certainly didn't deny the existence of racism and bigotry. But cause and effect in this case goes deeper then black vs. white; it also includes the political means vs. the economic means, which is at the heart of libertarian analysis.

Do you really mean to suggest that an Italian who worked for the post office would have been considered a overpaid in his community? Were the Irish who worked for the police seen as parasites?

Post Office workers are certainly overpaid relative to their productivity; roughly 80% of the Post Office's costs are labor vs. about one-third at FedEx, UPS, and DHL, which are far more productive.
Whether they would have been considered overpaid by their neighbors is no more relevant to whether they were overpaid than what their neighbors might have thought about the validity of Keynesian economics.
As for Irish-American policemen, I suppose their libertarian neighbors might have considered them a nuisance.

Even if it were logical to group them (and Italians, and Poles, etc.), and even if a greater proportion were on welfare or worked for the government than did other ethnics, that does not mean that they were as a group net tax consumers. You make a leap there.

Reread what I wrote.
I didn't say that as a group blacks were net tax consumers, instead pointing out that a higher proportion of them were.

In this context your Wal-Mart comment is silly. Whether or not big boxes should be encouraged or discouraged depends upon a lot of economic and moral value concerns that stretch from the working conditions in an unfree China to the market place of New York.

The Wal-Mart comment is quite relevant, given the hyperventilating on the left its alleged transgressions, such as having the effrontery to want to compete in New York, have caused. It's instructive to compare the policies of the New York City Council, a couple of whose members welcomed the mass murderer of blacks and political thug Robert Mugabe to City Hall a few years ago, with the pro-free market ideas of Samuel Alito. In voting to disallow Wal-Mart to compete, the Council acted like a monopoly protection racket, defending the turf of firms which would rather use the State to keep its prices higher than they would be if Wal-Mart could compete. This can only hurt the economic prospects of blacks and other people.
So who's on the side of blacks in this case--the Council, or Judge Alito?








Oscar Chamberlain - 1/18/2006

"A significantly greater proportion of the new black residents either worked for the government or were on welfare. That means they were net tax consumers."

A few thoughts.

1. "They" Why group them? They were grouped because of bigotry. They were also grouped long before the economic circumstances that you describe. So much for your notion of cause and effect.

2. Do you really mean to suggest that an Italian who worked for the post office would have been considered a overpaid in his community? Were the Irish who worked for the police seen as parasites?

3. Even if it were logical to group them (and Italians, and Poles, etc.), and even if a greater proportion were on welfare or worked for the government than did other ethnics, that does not mean that they were as a group net tax consumers. You make a leap there.

4. In this context your Wal-Mart comment is silly. Whether or not big boxes should be encouraged or discouraged depends upon a lot of economic and moral value concerns that stretch from the working conditions in an unfree China to the market place of New York.


Richard F. Miller - 1/18/2006

Unfortunately for Naison's thesis, he isn't the only one still alive from the 1960s and 70s. What he neglects to mention is the catastrophic racial violence that swept American cities beginning (at least in the '60s) with the L.A. Watts' riots of 1965. Can he have forgotten the phrase, "long hot summer," often used by Civil Rights leaders to warn of pending racial violence? Has he forgotten the media prominence accorded marginal figures such as H. Rapp Brown ("Burn, baby, burn") or Malcom X ("White Devils") before he was re-written; or Huey Newton ( "Sometimes if you want to get rid of the gun, you have to pick the gun up.") of Black Panther fame?

I'm certain this author does remember these characters (among many others), and the quotes, and the times. It's curious how the same white, middle class Northern constituency, which had been so central in supporting Congressional action to right centuries' old wrongs during the Civil Rights era of mid '60s, were sudddenly transformed into Nixonian "Silent Majority" racists--all in the space of about five years.

The truth is that this article is no more a "history" than are press releases from Harry Reid's Washington office. Pre-existing racism among whites was certainly stoked during the 1960s and 70s. But the story is far more complicated than Dr. Naison lets on, and as a professional, he owes his readers at least some nuance, even within the constraints of an Op Ed.

What is particularly shoddy is Naison's use of the term "White Ethnics." He lumps together groups that couldn't be more socially, economically, ethnically and religiously diverse. He assumes that because Jews, Italians, Irish and many others had perjoratively descriptive terms for blacks that that somehow joins them together in group-think. Naison may need to brush up on his language skills, because virtually every one of the groups he mentions--and quite a few that he doesn't (including blacks) happen to have similiarly perjorative words for each other! Indeed, the very concept of "White Ethnics" is something of a discredited term, since it describes much less than it omits. Naison's categories reflect something closer to New Left "Amerika" fantasies than they do to a very difficult but important period in American history.

In casting his vote with the presumptive action of Senate Judicary Committee's Democrats, Naison's screed falls far short of something genuinely thoughtful. Too bad.


William J. Stepp - 1/18/2006

There was a powerful undercurrent of racism in Belmont, Bay Ridge, Canarsie and other blue collar communities that were undergoing shifts in racial composition from the 1960s. Italians and Jewish enclaves gradually were replaced by Asian and African Americans, as well as new foreign immigrants. Many of the Italians and Jews moved to the Rockaways (Italians), Long Island (Jews), and other places.
A significantly greater proportion of the new black residents either worked for the government or were on welfare. That means they were net tax consumers. Many more of the other ethnic and religious (Jews are not an ethnicity) groups they displaced were net taxpayers. They worked in the private sector, and their taxes paid for the lousy, public secor union infested, monopoly-ridden public "services" that New York City is famous for.
In short, the racial divide was also a caste divide between private sector producer-hosts and public sector parasites. Unfortunately, this caste divide deepened the undercurrent of racism that existed.
Some socioligists, like Nicholas Lemann, think that blacks could join the middle class by working for the Post Office at an overpaid job.
There might be some truth to this, but it's mostly a myth.

As for Samuel Alito, there's no evidence that he has a racist bone in his body, even if he did grow up in a white suburban neighborhood under prosperous circumstances.

I am curious what Judge Alito might do to widen the racial divide in America?
One possible test comes to mind.
If Wal-Mart ever musters the guts to challenge the New York City Council's recent public sector union-fueled vote not to allow it to open a store in Queens, and the case gets to the Supreme Court, he would have an opportunity to deal the racial divide a small defeat by voting to overturn the Council's high-handed act of statism and protectionism.
Wal-Mart would offer better prices for poor and middle class blacks (and other ethnic groups) in Queens and surrounding areas. By offering more employment opportunities in the private sector, it would offer blacks another option out of the public sector and into the market.

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