By Christopher Deis
The right-wing media have crafted an absurd -- and dangerous -- political
narrative of white male oppression, exclusion and victimization.
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
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
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.
The sum result of these maneuvers is that the "struggle" to "liberate" white
men from "reverse racism" and "oppression" is made the primary civil rights
issue of our time. To accomplish this goal, the right-wing media ape and
parrot the symbolism and language of the civil rights movement.
For example, Buchanan, in his discussions of the Frank Ricci case in
Connecticut, repeatedly references the evils of Jim Crow and the unfair
hiring practices that were used to deny black Americans equal access to jobs
and promotions. Likewise, in Buchanan's discussions of Sotomayor and her
oft-cited comment that a "wise Latina" judge could potentially make better
legal decisions than a White male judge, he suggests that her confirmation
will serve to revive the evils of "separate but equal" as embodied by the
infamous United States Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson.
The assertion that white men are an oppressed class in America is a given
and working assumption for Buchanan -- an assumption and premise that goes
largely unchallenged by the mainstream media.
Limbaugh also works diligently and steadily to advance the narrative of Jim
Crow 2.0. On an almost-daily basis he conflates political partisanship with
the systematic racism historically experienced by black Americans. For him,
Obama is a reverse racist, who like "the other minorities" has learned "how
to use anger" against white people as a weapon to advance his political
In opposition to the Democratic Party, Limbaugh refuses "to sit in the back
of the bus" like the other Republicans. Limbaugh is not "oppressed" because
he continues to resist, while the other Republicans are afraid of "fire
hoses" and "police dogs."
Limbaugh refuses to drink from the "colored" water fountain. Undeterred, he
references the political thuggery of such racial terrorists as Bull Connor
and asserts that the Democrats are "standing in the schoolhouse door." As
one of the prime architects of Jim Crow 2.0, Limbaugh depicts himself as a
freedom fighter who against all odds will push these bullies aside as he
works to advance the conservative agenda. In effect, Limbaugh reduces the
black freedom struggle to a petty politics of partisan maneuvering within a
narrative of white male grievance and victimhood.
As they work to legitimate a narrative in which white men are victims of
oppression and racism, the architects of Jim Crow 2.0 have revealed a deep
understanding of the symbolic power afforded to "heroic" figures. To that
end, the right needs its freedom riders, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther Kings
in order to communicate the righteousness of their cause.
In keeping with this strategy, Sean Hannity has rechristened the
firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who were denied promotions because of a
questionable exam as "the New Haven 20." It is a clear allusion to the
Little Rock Nine, a group of schoolchildren who in 1957, under protection of
the United States military, braved threats of violence and death in order to
integrate their local school in Little Rock, Ark.
Frank Ricci, the "leader" of the New Haven 20 has been valorized. In the
version of events offered by Hannity, Ricci, a dyslexic, studied day and
night with the assistance of tutors in order to pass the exam for promotion
only to see his hard-earned opportunity denied him by a lawsuit filed by the
city of New Haven on behalf of a group of "unqualified" African American
firefighters. For Jim Crow 2.0, Ricci is Rosa Parks, and the upcoming
Supreme Court hearing of his case will be the equivalent of Brown v. Board
Who Bears Responsibility?
The ability of the right to mine white racial resentment as the fuel for Jim
Crow 2.0 is not surprising given the long relationship between white racial
resentment and identity politics in American society. In keeping with this
precedent, the ability and willingness of the right to quite literally play
with history as it rewrites the civil rights movement, an event of radical
energy and liberal aspirations, for the purposes of racially conservative
and reactionary politics is also to be expected.
However, what is surprising is the preponderance of silence by African
American pundits, critics and public intellectuals in combating Jim Crow
2.0. While it embodies a set of political values that are seen as
increasingly marginal in American politics, the ability of Jim Crow 2.0 to
gain traction, and to persist for as long as it has, signals a divide of
experience, memory and values that may be deeper than previously imagined.
Could a failure to critically engage Jim Crow 2.0 be a result of an
inability and unwillingness on the part of Americans to think critically
about the relationship between racism, history and inequality? Likewise,
does Jim Crow 2.0 resonate with its audience because Americans (white, black
and brown alike) are afraid to ask if white privilege is in any way
unsettled or challenged by the election of Barack Obama as president of the
United States? Most importantly, how does this narrative of white male
oppression and victimhood complicate the continued struggle for full racial
equality and justice in the Age of Obama?
Ultimately, Jim Crow 2.0 will continue to have life to the degree that these
questions remain unasked and unanswered.
Christopher Deis is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political
Science at the University of Chicago. His work has appeared in the Chicago
Defender, the Washington Post's Web site the Root, Culture Kitchen and
Popmatters. He is a 2009-2010 visiting faculty member in the Department of
Political Science at DePaul University.
Reverse Racism? What an f'n joke! Do these people even remember the Civil
Rights era? Or is this just another attempt to rewrite history, as the Bush
administration is trying to do?
What a bunch of sorry a$$ losers!! We, the people, won the election on Nov.
4th. Not the whining rich white man who destroyed the financial system, made
us all work for peanuts, and are still raking in the cash while the rest of
us are just trying to survive. It must be nice to have a large public
platform to cry and a nice comfy bed to sleep in at night in their big
McMansions. Show me a discrimination case won by a person of color who has
all of those things, while blaming the ones who are "not real Americans, not
To think this moron Pat Buchannon ran for President.
Anybody have any quotes from him from when Bush nominated Miers, a woman who
had never sat behind a bench in her life, to SCOTUS? An appointment so
ridiculous it had to be removed to stop the laughter?