PRRAC Poverty & Race Research Action Council
Home About PRRAC Current Projects Publications Newsletters Resources Contact Us Support PRRAC Join Our Email List

"Wake Up, Jared Taylor! America is a Democracy Now!,"

by Howard Winant March/April 1999 issue of Poverty & Race

Jared Taylor obligingly lists his “bigoted views” for our benefit in his Feb. 6 letter, “Preserving the Ways of My Ancestors.”

First, he informs us that “race is a significant biological characteristic of our species.” But “race” is not a biological matter. It’s a social concept, a way of classifying human beings into groups based on appearance or phenotype. Sure, people look different, but particular characteristics selected to do this classifying are arbitrary. Skin color counts, but height, say, doesn’t. We could have a short people race (remember that Randy Newman song?), but we don’t. Why not? Because historically, Europeans conquered the Americas and enslaved Africans. They needed ways of telling who was who, and so seized on certain physical characteristics to set up the necessary inequalities. At one time poor immigrant groups like Irish and Jews were also considered to be “races.”

A second type of bigotry is ethnocentrism. “It is natural and moral for people to prefer the society and way of life of people like themselves,” Taylor claims. The idea here is that what is different is threatening; conversely, what is the same is reassuring and safe. Besides making exaggerated assumptions about human nature, how could people learn anything, meet strangers, maintain the variety necessary for healthy reproduction, or organize a democratic political life (just to pick a few counter-examples) if it were “natural,” much less “moral,” always to stick to themselves?

Bigotry number three is projection: by defining your adversary as the bad guy, you can make yourself look good. “Many blacks make race the centerpiece of their identities, as do many Hispanics.... It is only whites who are forbidden to have an explicitly racial identity.” But if Taylor had stayed awake in his history class he’d have learned more about the centuries in which preservation of white identity was the top priority in America. There were anti-miscegenation laws, for example. The “one-drop of blood” rule evolved to classify anyone with even a little “black blood” as all-the-way black. Scholars and politicians beat the drums against “primitive blacks” and the “yellow peril.” Serious thought was devoted (in the racist eugenics movement) to the problem of how the supposedly “more advanced” whites could “outbreed” the inferior “lesser races.” This tendency isn’t dead yet; look at the hogwash of The Bell Curve. So whites are as committed as anyone else to highlighting, preserving, and protecting their sacred racial identity. This is all the more true when you want to stay at the top of the heap.

Taylor’s fourth and final bigotry is normalization: the idea that the way you do things, the way your group operates, is normal and regular. It is only those who are different from you, those “others,” who are strange. “Why should whites hand over the country to people unlike themselves?” Taylor asks. Funny, I thought we whites had given up the idea that America was a “white man’s country” a while back. It is ironic, not to say pitiful and profoundly wrong, that Taylor and his friends in the Council of Conservative Citizens still think the country belongs to them, to whites, and that it could thus be “handed over” to others, to “people unlike themselves.”

Wake up, Jared. After you pinch yourself a few times, go ahead and pinch Trent Lott, Bob Barr and your other CCC friends too. This is the end of the 20th, not the18th century. Slavery is over. America is a democracy now. White, black, brown, yellow and red can share the country peaceably. But to accomplish this we must overcome the remaining residue of white supremacy, the whiff of bigotry evident in your article, the legacy left you, no doubt, by some of your white ancestors.

Howard Winant is Professor of Sociology at Temple University and author of The World Is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy Since World War II (Basic Books). hwinant@nimbus.temple.edu
 

Notes:

“Preserving the Ways of My Ancestors” was the title of an 800-word letter to the editor from Jared Taylor, board member of the Council of Conservative Citizens – the organization built by supporters of the segregationist White Citizens Councils, the John Birch Society and Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign, and recently brought into notoriety via Sen. Trent Lott’s and Rep. Bob Barr’s relations with the group — which the Washington Post ran on Feb. 6, 1999. Taylor’s screed put forward the superficially reasonable argument that while Blacks and Hispanics do not have to apologize for forming caucuses, celebrating openly racial holidays, taking pride in their race, preferring the culture and company of other Blacks and Hispanics, “it is only whites who are forbidden to have an explicitly racial identity, and when they express loyalties non-whites take for granted, they are accused of ‘bigotry’.” Taylor’s words and claims had a familiar ring, echoing a passage from John Barry’s superb recent book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. Describing a speech by Ku Klux Klan organizer Colonel Joseph Camp at a Klan rally in Greenville, Barry writes: “[Camp] pumped his arms, pounded fist against lectern, strode the length of the platform and back, preaching pride: Pride in America! Pride in Mississippi! Pride in the white race! Then he began to preach hate.... Jews were organized! Catholics were organized! Niggers were organized! The only people in America who weren’t organized were the Anglo-Saxons!”

We asked sociologist Howard Winant of Temple Univ. to provide a response to Taylor’s claims (send us a SASE if you want a copy of Taylor’s letter), since such superficially reasonable arguments seem to be appearing regularly and attracting support. The Post did not see fit to print it. Clip it and keep it handy for the next time you come across this kind of reasoning.


[1852]

 
Join Our Email List
Search for:             
Join Our Email List