SOLOMON: A Big Story Goes Unreported
Despite all the news coverage of race in this country, there's very little media attention to a serious hazard that white people face. In a word: delusion.Today, three out of four Americans remain at risk -- susceptible to frequent intimations that they're superior because they're white. Sunscreen is a big seller, but there isn't a product available to protect against the implicit touting of whiteness as a virtue.Whites receive plenty of reinforcement for the conceit that the color of their skin somehow makes them smarter and better. Although messages of that sort have become more subtle in recent decades, a lot of media images and political rhetoric still encourage belief in such fantasies.If newsrooms and media suites weren't so overwhelmingly white, this situation might be more widely -- and forthrightly -- discussed in print and on the airwaves. Perhaps some pundits would voice concern about "white pathology" and wonder aloud at the extent of moral failures by Caucasians who live in the outer city.But, as things stand, we don't hear much about the social sickness involved in the endemic propensity of white commentators to confuse their monologues with real dialogue on the subject of race.Affirmative action is a flash point for the unspoken -- and often unconscious -- white delusion of superiority. We're commonly told that affirmative action is now unnecessary because a level playing field exists.Out of touch with reality, these claims ignore the fact that racial prejudice and institutional bias continue to pervade American society -- and that few blacks or Latinos can be found in the more lucrative and powerful professions. Given the lopsided statistics, the level-playing-field argument doesn't hold -- unless, of course, one actually believes that racial minorities are inherently inferior.A new twist in the debate contends that affirmative action isn't worth fighting for. Early this fall, in the liberal Mother Jones magazine, Editor in Chief Jeffrey Klein declared that "we need to admit that affirmative action has failed as a long-term political strategy" and "has eroded liberals' moral credibility as reformers."Writing an introductory essay for a collection of articles on "America's Changing Colors," Klein explained that the topic's importance caused the magazine to devote "so much of this issue to rethinking race." But the rethinking was rather limited, as were the experiences and outlooks of the rethinkers. While they appeared under the heading of "America's Changing Colors," all five of the articles were written by whites. That helps explain why, on one page after another, blacks and Latinos and Asian Americans come across as little more than political chips to be moved by white hands.In the process of urging progressive people to discard affirmative action as a loser, Mother Jones itself displayed the causes and consequences of such a mentality: An all-white editorial hierarchy decided to publish a cluster of articles exploring race in America, written only by white people. But apparently, Klein is untroubled by the magazine's position. He told me that although "as a transitional program it did a lot of good," now affirmative action "is a bad course to be going down."Klein sounded satisfied with the special issue on race. "We've gotten a mixed positive response," he said. And he added: "The issue seems to be selling extremely well." In media outlets, the results are grim when white people are presented as the arbiters of public discourse on race. Those who aren't white tend to fade into abstraction as "the other" -- talked about extensively and heard from occasionally. And so continues the dominant and ponderous white monologue on America's racial conflicts.Two years ago, Village Voice media critic James Ledbetter wrote a series called "The Unbearable Whiteness of Publishing." Its conclusions are even more relevant now: "Under the best of circumstances, the print media's domination by whites would be a stain of dishonor. In today's political climate, the persistence of whiteness leaves the press ill-equipped to raise persuasive challenges to the accelerating attack on civil rights." Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His book "Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News" (co-authored with Jeff Cohen) was recently published by Common Courage Press.