Whiny Conservatives: How Dare Rich White Guys Cry About Oppression?
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In a June 12 column titled " Miss Affirmative Action 2009," Patrick Buchanan observed, regarding Judge Sonia Sotomayor's stellar academic career, "To salve their consciences for past societal sins, the Ivy League is deep into discrimination again, this time with white males as victims rather than as beneficiaries. One prefers the old bigotry. At least it was honest ..."
Here then is a common lament among white conservative men; from listening to Buchanan and other rich, old conservative pundits, one would think that they were the most oppressed minority in America today. Often, they go so far as to imply their "suffering" is far worse than that experienced by African Americans during the darkest twilight before the successes of the civil rights movement.
In the maelstrom that has followed President Barack Obama's nomination of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the right-wing media have crafted a political narrative of white male oppression, exclusion and victimization.
Their solution? Crying about Jim Crow 2.0 -- the idea that the white man is treated unfairly -- and absurdly claiming for themselves a 21st century "civil rights movement" to "free" white men from so-called oppression. They see this as a moment when America's moral conscience should be aroused in the defense of white men as victims of racism and prejudice.
One could reasonably suggest that this agenda is laughable, clumsy and necessarily hamstrung by the hypocrisy of the agents involved.
As a matter of practical politics, the shrill labeling of Sotomayor as a "racist" and "intellectual lightweight" has threatened to further stigmatize the Republican Party as out of step with the political mainstream. Moreover, the very idea that the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Buchanan, a veritable rogue's gallery of the intolerant and bigoted, would have the moral weight or ethical authority to speak on issues of social justice (in any context) is itself absurd.
The deployment of the politics of grievance and reverse racism by the right proceeds from a well-worn script that is decades, if not centuries, old. Consequently, there exists a very real temptation to ignore the narrative of white victimhood that is generated by Jim Crow 2.0, precisely because its foundations appear to be so weak and illegitimate.
Thus, the relative silence by black public intellectuals and others on Jim Crow 2.0. Herein lays the greatest danger: This reimagining of history reveals a lack of critical language with which to discuss racism in the Age of Obama, as well as the ostensibly "post-racial" future which his election symbolizes.
Moreover, Jim Crow 2.0 is the logical result of a conservative, colorblind politics that has triumphantly succeeded in fashioning a political reality where the very discussion of race or racial inequality by progressives is itself smeared as illegitimate and racist.
With Jim Crow 2.0, the politics of race in America have witnessed a perverse inversion wherein "playing the race card" is now the exclusive province of white men -- the most economically, socially and politically privileged class in the United States.
Unpacking Jim Crow 2.0
The right's positioning of white men as victims of racism involves an appropriation of the justice claims made by the civil rights movement. In Jim Crow 2.0, oppressed white men are the newest victims of racism, discrimination and inequality. Within this fictional world, the racial order has been so upset by the election of Obama that reverse racism against white Americans (an oxymoron that itself demands engagement and rebuttal) is now the rule of the land.
The assertion that white men are oppressed is a tactically sound move that accomplishes two goals. First, it positions conservatives and the Republican Party as the true defenders of equality, justice and freedom in America. Second, it mocks the centuries-long efforts by African Americans for freedom, equality and the fruits of full citizenship.