Have White People Gone 'Insane'?

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White America, panicked by aging, surrounded by minorities, has gone nuts. That, in a nutshell, was Steven Thrasher's argument in The Village Voice last week. Here's the arresting opening:

It had been a pretty good run up to that point. The brains of white folks had been humming along cogently for near on 400 years on this continent, with little sign that any serious trouble was brewing. White people, after all, had managed to invent a spiffy new form of self-government so that all white men (and, eventually, women) could have a say in how white people were taxed and governed. White minds had also nearly universally occupied just about every branch of that government and, for more than two centuries, had kept sole possession of the leadership of its executive branch (whose parsonage, after all, is called the White House).

But when that streak was broken--and, for the first time, a non-white president accepted the oath of office--white America rapidly began to lose its grip.

Unsurprising, then, that the piece drew attention. Thrasher took several pages to lay out his evidence that white America has, in fact, gone crazy, and that it's a result of demographic changes. But not everyone is convinced.

  • The Argument  "For the first time in their lives," aruges Thrasher, "baby boomers are hard up against it economically, and white boy is becoming outnumbered and it's got his bowels chilled with fear." And "at the same time, the baby boomers are getting older. At 80 percent white, boomers have gotten pretty used to dominating nearly every field of endeavor in this country since they came of age." As a result, they've decided they will not cooperate with a black president on health care, the economy, financial regulatory reform, national security, or anything else. They have also decided that he is a Muslim. In addition, they think Muslims shouldn't be allowed to pray in an area that, aside from being in the neighborhood of Ground Zero, also houses a strip club and casino. Thrasher writes: "Race was always a tough one for white people to deal with, but now the backflips some people are doing over it requires a scorecard. ... the graying boomers will hate to pay for the education, health, and welfare of the coming browns. They'll be stingy about it," he concludes. "They'll scream about it. But they'll have no choice but to do it."
  • Calm Down  "I don't think I ever want to meet Steven Thrasher in person," comments Reason's Armin Rosen: "this dude is pissed." Rosen says he'd like to "[give] Mr. Thrasher a hug," inform him of Christine O'Donnell's poor polling in Delaware, and tell him "everything is going to be alright." But  here's the problem:
Regardless of the validity of Thrasher's conclusion--that whites have literally been driven insane by the realization that they'll soon be a minority in their "own" country--his sneering, hysterical, furious treatment of a potentially important phenomenon lumps Thrasher squarely in the category with the people he criticizes.
  • Well, Decent Point, I Suppose  "It is seriously weird," admits blogger John Cole, "as someone who was a Republican and really not paying attention to politics during the Clinton years, to watch a large portion of the country totally lose their shit."
  • Thrasher Gets the Diagnosis Wrong  Dividing the country into whites and nonwhites, responds Aaron Bady at History News Networks, misses the fact that "white people are still, by a very comfortable margin, the largest ethnic group in the country." Thus, Thrasher's "idea that 'white folks are losing their minds as they're being replaced by young brown and black kids' is stupid because they’re not. They just think they are. And they're wrong." Contends Bady: "you miss the entire point of doing dream analysis if you think it actually is reality." Furthermore, he takes issue with the Thrasher's view of history:
Thrasher suggests that "The brains of white folks had been humming along cogently for near on 400 years on this continent, with little sign that any serious trouble was brewing" but I would invite him to read up on the period between 1830-1970, with special attention paid to post-civil rights backlash, the nativist 1920’s, the 1890's of Charles Pearson-inspired "race suicide," and a tiny little episode called post-Reconstruction Jim Crow.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.