30 October 2014

The illusion of ‘whiteness’

One of the biggest scams ever pulled on us so-called ‘white’ people – the one which has destroyed the great basis of our wealth and communal health in exchange for what has largely consisted of the illusion of power, the one which angry ‘white’ people should be really, really angry about – was rich landowners telling them that they were white. The white race is, in actuality, a nakedly artificial political description, and the sorts of conservatives who say that white people should be proud of their achievements are in actuality anything but conservative. What they are conserving is an imaginary norm rather than a real community of people and lifeways. They are perpetuating a scam, among the several aims of which is to dissolve the sense of communal belonging which ties the vestiges of Old World immigrant traditions to modern life.

In 1600, there was no such thing as the ‘white race’. One of the reasons why I am adamant that racism is a historically-circumscribed and explicitly-modern phenomenon is precisely because people had no grounds to think in ‘racial’ terms prior to their invention. Discrimination in one form or another may have always been a problem, but it is not only lazy but downright wrong to say that racism has been. I say this because the historical proof is in the texts themselves. The ‘white race’ was essentially legislated into existence by the Virginia colonial government in 1691. And it was legislated into existence as an act of class warfare not only against blacks but also against white people whose families had been brought over as uncompensated labourers – in other words, slaves – from Ireland and Scotland. Specifically, it was done to prevent poor Gaelic whites from commiserating with enslaved Africans, and to prevent the solidarity and collaboration of uncompensated labour across ‘racial’ lines.

People from Ireland and Scotland in the early colonial period were generally of two kinds. Some were political prisoners and debt slaves who were sold into forced servitude in the New World as a free and mobile labour class. Others were political and religious dissenters, often with Jacobite sympathies. However, political refugees and servants under indenture did not provide a broad enough labour pool for the needs of conquering a new continent – a gap which the Atlantic slave trade rushed in to fill.

Black slavery and ‘white’ Gaelic indenture were aimed toward the same end, but broadening the pool of rootless free mobile labour brought with it its own problems, the first of which was numerical strength. Early on in the history of the Middle Passage it was far from unheard-of for black and white slaves to raise joint insurrections. The solution to this problem devised by the Virginia colonial legislature, brilliant in its diabolical subtlety and simplicity, was to sow distrust between them by granting special privileges to the Gaelic slaves and denying them to the black slaves… on the basis of skin colour. The Marxist analysis is largely correct on the merits, that the ‘white race’ was a political wedge driven straight down the middle of the nascent working class, one that could disguise itself in a ‘natural’ camouflage.

‘Whiteness’ as a standard of informal and legal access to the mainstream American body politic demonstrably varied from generation to generation – and it could be granted or rescinded depending on the political climate. At the beginning of the century, immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe – classified ‘racially’ as Slavs and Iberians – were denied access to the American mainstream on the basis that they had ‘poorer physical and mental equipment’ and ‘radically different ideals and standards of living as compared with the Celtic and Teutonic races’. (I’ll be honest, it blew my mind that my Bohemian immigrant grandmother’s family would not have been considered ‘white’.) However, even the Teutonic ‘race’ was not exempt from exclusion – over the course of the twentieth century Americans of German descent were denied access to the American mainstream on the basis of political fear.

Thus far went the traditional leftist critique of race. But a potentially rich traditionalist-conservative critique of race lurks on the other side of the equation. Whereas old-guard leftists have been concerned with the economic inequalities associated with unequal access to the American mainstream, traditionalists are and should be concerned with the character of that mainstream. After all, one side effect of the political invention of race was that it served as an unspoken and infinitely flexible solvent of traditional communities as they immigrated in waves over to the United States. Even though Slavs and Iberians were denied access to the American mainstream on account of their foreignness and especially their Catholicism and Orthodoxy, assimilation to the bland liberal Anglo-Saxon Protestant norm was always an option. Heads could be kept down. Noses could be kept to the grindstone. Names could be changed. Languages could be forgotten. Religious practices could be kept under the table or outright abandoned.

Certain elements of the liberal project still seek to extend the cultural normativity of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism across the entirety of modern American society – as such, they are still having difficulties getting minorities, especially traditionally-conservative black, Irish and Eastern European working-class enclaves on-board with their project. But traditionalist conservatives themselves have no such weakness, since they tend to value the cultural uniqueness and close ties of each of the ethnic enclaves, whether they are rural Appalachian Scots-Irish, Midland Eastern European, northeastern Italian or even (especially in the case of some traditionalist Catholics) southwestern Latino.

The weakness of the traditionalist conservative position is that too many of them misdiagnose ‘whiteness’.

The ‘white’ identity is not under threat. Indeed, under the influence of modern mainstream liberalism, the ‘white’ identity has expanded to include a number of those previously considered racial minorities. The ‘white’ identity, being an identity with no reality outside of power politics, is infinitely flexible. Rather, because of this, the ‘white’ identity is a threat, precisely to the cultural uniqueness, religious values and informal communal ties of each ethnic enclave. ‘Whiteness’ is and always has been a political invitation into the American mainstream, deracinated, globalised and undifferentiated. And it has always been an invitation extended in bad faith.

Take for example the model minority du jour, the Asian-American minority. They are being used (most recently by one Mr. William James O’Reilly, Jr.) as a mascot to deny the very idea of ‘white privilege’ – because they work hard and play by the rules of American mainstream society, so the argument goes, they are rewarded with success. The failures of blacks and Hispanics to attain the same successes are, so the corollary goes, totally due to their own lack of initiative and shortcomings as measured by the standards of laisser-faire capitalism. Wait, what was the phrase again? Oh yes, ‘poorer physical and mental equipment’ and ‘radically different ideals and standards of living as compared with the Celtic and Teutonic races’. Asian-American ‘success’, which as Ms. Haruka Sakaguchi explains is to a significant degree the result of selective immigration policies, is being used to shield the wealthy from a systematic critique.

We’ve sacrificed our names, our cultural practices, and even our religious convictions in this attempt to ‘act white’ – and when we finally get there we’re no better off than when we started. Except our one-percenter overlords give us more opportunities to kick the black guy. Maybe it’s my ‘poorer mental equipment’, but to this stupid lazy bohunk it looks a lot like we slightly-more-ethnic newfangled whiteys have been getting played this whole time. We’ve sold off our birthrights, and not even for a mess of pottage. We didn’t even get the pottage! Instead we got to think of ourselves as ‘white’, as equal in an illusory way to the Teutonic Protestant norm – the norm of capitalist ‘success’. And we are now seeing the results of Asian-Americans having made the same Faustian bargain.

This should upset traditionalist conservatives as much as it upsets leftists, even if it is for different reasons. The last remnants of the organic communities of the Old World, and the transcendent values they brought with them, got sacrificed by their children for the sake of conforming to an imposed, nakedly-political community.