Ahistorical Generational Narcissism is as American as White Privilege
As with other forms of dementia, the signs weren't obvious at first. After the 2008 election, when former House majority leader Tom DeLay suggested that instead of a formal inauguration, Barack Obama should"have a nice little chicken dinner, and we'll save the $125 million," black folks didn't miss the implication. References to chicken, particularly of the fried variety, have long served as a kind of code when white folks referred to black people and their gustatory preferences—and weren't many of us already accustomed to older white politicians making such gaffes? But who among us sensed that it was a harbinger that an entire nation was plunging into madness?…Today, Newsweek has found, nearly a quarter of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim, with barely 42 percent of the nation accepting his claim that he's a Christian. CNN finds that a quarter of Americans also believe that Obama was"probably or definitely" born in another country. Harris found in an online poll that 14 percent of Americans believe in their hearts that President Barack Obama is the antichrist, with nearly a quarter of Republicans saying so.
Most of the article is variations on the same story: white people behaving badly towards non-whites, for reasons that are sufficiently irrational and unbalanced to make spontaneous insanity seem, as the author puts it, the simplest answer. Actually, Steven Thrasher has two explanations: the election of a black president simultaneous with a huge demographic shift in which white people are becoming a minority.
The problem is this: as always in these kinds of “the end of whiteness” stories, blending all non-whites into a single category makes the rising tide of color seem like something other than what it is, specifically, by overlooking that white people are still, by a very comfortable margin, the largest ethnic group in the country. For what little it’s worth, the 2008 census has “Non-Hispanic Whites” accounting for 68% of the population, while the next largest group “Hispanics (of any race)” was 15%. “Non-Hispanic Blacks” were 12%, while Asian-Americans were 5%. Census figures are what they are, of course, but they do make what should be a simple point: the idea that “white folks are losing their minds as they're being replaced by young brown and black kids” is stupid because they’re not. They just think they are. And they’re wrong.
Of course, I’d love it if the US actually was an immigrant nation. But think of it this way: when a crazy person tells you he’s decided to shoot the president because the president is a space alien, do you then cluck your tongue and say “Insanity is really sad. Though it’s not surprising that a space alien in the white house would have driven him crazy”? (That’s actually an apposite analogy, come to think of it). But no. You don’t. You point out that (a) The president is not an alien, and (b) You take away the gun, because dude is psycho. Never mistake the delusions of a delusional person as the cause of the delusion; a dream reflects a version of reality, but you miss the entire point of doing dream analysis if you think it actually is reality. They make the same mistake here.
We did this song and dance when Obama was first elected and I blogged about it here and here, of course (I tried to figure out why it was that what I was writing sounded so familiar to me, and I only just now remembered). The only thing new here is a distinction which Thrasher coins between “Browns” and “Grays,” clearly an update inspired by the tea party:
“…who but the hordes of young browns will be around to work when the grays retire? To pay taxes? To fund their Medicare and Social Security? And how will they earn enough money to finance boomers in their retirement if they're not well educated and healthy?…it goes beyond Obama, and the current economy, and is really about the inevitable demographic future of America, those coming browns and the grays. They will—one way or another—have to learn to get along. It is true, as Brownstein says, that the graying boomers will hate to pay for the education, health, and welfare of the coming browns. They'll be stingy about it. They'll scream about it. But they'll have no choice but to do it”
Get it? The greys have dementia! Rhetorically satisfying, I suppose, but sort of pathetic in an every-generation-thinks-it-invented-sex kind of way. Thrasher suggests that “The brains of white folks had been humming along cogently for near on 400 years on this continent, with little sign that any serious trouble was brewing” but I would invite him to read up on the period between 1830-1970, with special attention paid to post-civil rights backlash, the nativist 1920’s, the 1890’s of Charles Pearson-inspired “race suicide,” and a tiny little episode called post-Reconstruction Jim Crow. And as always when it comes to white America, Teddy Roosevelt already did it better.
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