White racism vs. White resentment

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I understand what Andrew and Publius were getting at when they argued that white racism was less common in the South than people think. This just isn't 1965. This isn't even 1985. But I have to differ with Publius on this idea that "white resentment" is somehow a different animal. And I especially have to differ with Andrew that Affirmative Action is responsible. Many of you know where I stand on Affirmative Action--I think it is, how shall we say, problematic. But that feeling does nothing to ameliorate my fundamental distaste for whites who use Affirmative Action as a proxy to "resent" blacks.

Ezra basically nails it:

The end of privilege -- though of course, white privilege didn't end, it was only somewhat reduced -- hurts. Ending slavery meant destroying a lot of privilege, and it created a war. Reconstruction disrupted a lot of privilege and it produced countless lynchings and murders. Ending segregation destroyed a hefty amount of privilege, and it spurred societal tumult and vicious violence. By contrast, affirmative action was a relatively modest policy with fairly minimal effects on privilege, and it merely resulted in a potent political issue for conservatives. But to call white resentment the "poisoned fruit" of affirmative action is extremely strange. White resentment has been around a lot longer, and stems from people's desire to protect the fruits of a gross and grave injustice.

Indeed. I'm going to take this a step further--The idea that Affirmative Action justifies white resentment may be the greatest argument made for Reparations--like ever. Let's grant that white people have the right to resent black people because of 40 years of race preferences. But black people suffered through 300 years of race preferences which included, but weren't limited to--slavery, pogroms, wanton rape, land theft, and wealth transfer. Southern whites (the very people who perpetrated much of that sad history) can have their resentment, unashamed and public--right after they give us the deed to the entire Deep South. Sounds fair to me. What's that you say? Most whites didn't own slaves? And your grandfather hated the Klan? My sentiments exactly.  Most black people don't benefit from Affirmative Action either. So what are we saying here?

Racial resentment is just racial grievance---for white people. If it's absurd to hear Civil Rights era black folks attributing the entire fate of black people to racism, than its just surreal to hear white folks chalking their problems up to Affirmative Action. One doesn't have to be pro-Affirmative Action to see the hypocrisy in those who say to blacks, heaving under a legacy of hate, "get over it" and then turn to Southern white "resenters," merely grappling with equality, and say "I understand."

UPDATE: Just to bang on this racial resentment thing a little harder, I think it's no mistake that Geraldine Ferraro basically used this same phraseology when making her case against Obama. The whole phrase strikes me as a politically correct term for bigots. Frankly, believing that Affirmative Action actively influences your economic prospects as a white person, is only slightly more logical that believing that gay marriage will somehow affect marriage overall. But I suspect that they're both proxies for folks  who have a long history of resenting blacks and gays which stretches way past the advent of Affirmative Action or gay marriage.

One can have a principled case against Affirmative Action. But to resent black people--as a group--because of Affirmative Action is, really, the essence of racial prejudice. It's a judgment passed on a whole group, based on a minority of that group. We lefties get banged over the head--rightly so--for, at times, being mealy-mouthed and soft-headed. Fair enough. All I'm asking for is some consistency.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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