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Chapter Eighteen: Coming out of the Racial Wilderness

 

Not long ago, David Letterman interviewed NBC news anchor, Tom Brokaw, on the Late Night Show. Brokaw told of his experiences as a white boy growing up in South Dakota. By coincidence, he had graduated from high school in 1958 and from college in 1962. I also graduated from high school in that year and would have graduated from college in 1962 had I not dropped out for two years. So my ears perked up to hear what my contemporary had to say. Brokaw described the period of his youth as “idyllic” for a white male such as himself. He had made a few mistakes as a young man, but the community took him under its wing and gave him a second chance. Having dropped out of college, a professor agreed to take him back after he got the wildness out of his system. Brokaw acknowledged that for women and minorities, of course, this period might not have been so supportive.

I related to this because, like Brokaw, I came from a personally nurturing environment. This earlier part of my life is compartmentalized from what my life has become since I moved to Minnesota. It’s almost a past-life experience. I came from a life of privilege in Detroit and at Yale, where great things were expected of me, and, by my own choice, moved to a place where I was a stranger. A few kindly souls are to be found here, of course, but, by and large, it is a place of interpersonal coldness, political correctness, and submerged rage. We call this “Minnesota nice”.

While I was holding up my sign near the State Fairgrounds that called for “full citizenship, dignity, and equality for white males”, a woman who was passing by remarked disapprovingly: “White males are doing OK.” I would agree with that assessment. It would be ludicrous to portray white males as a victimized class in the conventional sense. White males do hold most of the top economic and political positions in our society. Was I advocating a reverse quota system to try to make the concentration of them even greater? I am not quite that much an ideological fool. It was difficult to get across the point of my campaign in a few simple words.

White males do, I believe, suffer from a certain social and cultural disadvantage. There is a stigma attached to them as a group. There is an undercurrent of resentment and hate. These hostile currents in our culture do not affect the powerful white males as much as persons in subservient, marginal positions. This leads to another point: The hate and suppression directed against white males could not be effectively expressed unless condoned, and perhaps even promoted, by those few white males at the top. The anti-white male attitude in our society becomes, in a sense, an expression of self-hatred. In my campaign for U.S. Senate, I argued that it was also something more.

My perception of this situation starts with the observation that every corporate or bureaucratic environment where I have ever worked was dominated by white males. Invariably, the top managers of those institutions were staunch supporters of affirmative action. Were the white-male leaders taking that position out of heightened social concern? Were they socially conscious saints “bending over backwards” to be fair? I don’t think so. Many of these people struck me as self-seekers. Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton, who embraced the cause of compensatory “racial justice” the most, were not the most savory individuals to become President of the United States. The assumption is that white-male leaders feel a sense of solidarity with other white males and that other white males are, therefore, openly or secretly favored. Have you heard of self-hatred? Have you heard of treachery? These words describe the situation better than simple assumptions of group solidarity. No, I take little personal comfort in the fact that the society’s power elite is demographically like me.

I tried to relate this theme to the economic issues that were also the focus of my campaign, especially the need for shorter work hours. During the last forty years, when the values of the Civil Rights movement have been in the ascendancy, the situation of the average American worker has worsened. Real wages have been stagnant, average working hours have risen, and health and pension benefits are being eroded. The income gap between the richest and poorest segments of our society has widened. Private-sector unions are in decline. Money controls the political process even more than before.

Politics could bring a solution to those problems - if people were able to unite behind a particular program of reform. But the fact is that people can’t unite. We are so divided as a people that we just let the incompetent, corrupt leadership slide along without a serious challenge. I think that the existing leadership benefits from that situation. They want to keep people divided by policies that tell white people that the reason they were not promoted is because some less worthy black person was slated to fill that spot. Let black and white people, men and women, fight each other over their shrinking piece of the pie while the leaders’ share grows larger.

Corporate America would have us believe that leftist political and social pressures are forcing them to accept gender and racial preferences, but, the fact is, they want to keep it that way. Even when President Bush provided political cover to oppose affirmative action in the lawsuit against the University of Michigan’s admission policies, a group of Fortune 500 corporations including 3M, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, Pfizer, Microsoft, and General Motors filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of continued racial preferences in higher education. It’s interesting that, in addition to such words as “pipe bombs”, “job offer”, or “resume”, many company-owned computers are programmed to trigger an alarm when an employee types in “David Duke”.

During my campaign for U.S. Senate, I deliberately expressed my opinions about white-male dignity in front of black audiences. I did this, for instance, at a meeting of Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee on Wednesday, August 14, 2002. Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein and two African American men, Shane Price and Gary Cunningham, were the featured speakers, talking about the African American Men’s project. I also made a point of raising this issue and displaying my sign at a debate at Augsburg College sponsored by the Twin Cities black journalists and two other groups among the Senate candidates.

I found a surprisingly mild reaction to my message from African Americans. Newscaster Angela Davis, moderator of the debate, smiled when she first saw the sign and politely asked my name. Shane Price gave me a hug after the Property Rights meeting. Duane Reed, an African American man running for the state legislature, told me that he could understand what I was doing. It may be that this was the African American version of “Minnesota nice” or these people were doing their Christian duty of “loving their enemies” and “turning the other cheek”. But I don’t think so. Maybe, as African Americans, they were free of pressures to conform to political correctness. They might have appreciated my candor. I prefer to regard it as a new, more mature model of race relations where people can say what they think and, despite their differences, deal with each other in an environment of mutual respect.

In my everyday life, I am continually dealing with many kinds of people, including African Americans. My apartment building on Glenwood Avenue has always had a predominantly African American base of tenants. We are not engaging in an avant-garde social experiment; we have a business relationship and personal relationships arising from that. We do not think of ourselves as being people of different races, not openly at least, but of individuals who are doing something together. After Linda, African Americans are no longer a novelty to me. I am not curious about what black people do or how they think.

My Chinese wife was puzzled when she heard about my campaign plank defending the “dignity of white males”. After hearing of my political plans, another Chinese woman who had been involved in politics told my wife, in Chinese, that I was an odd ball and a horrible racist. My wife figured out her own response. She would sometimes say, if we disagreed about something, “But, of course, you are right; you are a white male”. Then a little smirk would appear on her face. Once, during a conversation whose content I have forgotten, she called me “a white male with a red face.”

In my opinion, people of all kinds can work out their differences without help from the experts. It is not necessary for elite commentators to be guiding us along in a certain direction. I’m tired of these virtuous virgins of race relations telling me what I ought to be doing or thinking about race. I live in the city, in one of its most racially diverse neighborhoods; many of them live in communities to which white people have escaped. They work in corporate environments not overcrowded by racial minorities. The same goes for the churches which play on white suburban guilt to extract donations. I’m sure that, because I make a living from renting apartment units to low- or middle-income blacks, I must be a predatory businessman in their eyes.

In my own neighborhood, which has had a relatively high crime rate, I see the politics of putting a white face on black crime. I see civic-minded homeowners, black and white, uniting to condemn me, the white landlord, for being too lenient with his black tenants who may or may not be committing crimes. I must be ruthless in rooting out the criminal element, even at the risk of violating people’s rights. Then the police and community groups can take the credit for “cleaning up the neighborhood”. Of course, no one else wants to assume the legal risk. All these nice Minnesota people, with their enlightened views on racial and gender relations, focus their righteous judgment on me and my kind.

My theory is that it is mostly white people who enforce the values of political correctness. Many blacks recognize that years of supposedly favorable treatment haven’t done that much for their community. Fifty years ago, there were thriving communities of black business and professional people, even if they were segregated from their white counterparts. Today too many African Americans have become clients of social-service agencies providing high-paying jobs for educated whites. These are the people mainly who defend the legacy of black disadvantage: the whites whose jobs depend on it. There are also, of course, the black “community representatives” who are plugged into the liberal political machine and receive government or foundation money for “advancing” race relations.

As for the journalists, educators, and others who cherish the Civil Rights movement, I think this reflects a generational experience. These people feel good about themselves for having done so much for black people back in the ‘60s. Such values are the cultural glue that binds people together in today’s news rooms. As China’s political elite holds power through the ideological heritage of Marxism, so those educated persons who occupy privileged positions in management and the professions in America exhibit certain values on gender and race as a badge of their legitimacy. Such persons are easily irked by someone like me.

Forty years ago, white America bought into the idea that racial prejudice directed against black people was wrong. They could hardly have imagined that “doing the right thing” then would result in a more virulent form of prejudice and discrimination directed against themselves now. If prejudice against blacks was wrong, so is prejudice directed against whites. The idea of a legally “protected class” is incompatible with the concept of “equal justice under the law”. Such double standards cannot withstand a legal challenge unless the judges are totally dishonest. If that is so, then U.S. society is rotten at its core. No one can trust our leaders to acknowledge even simple truths, so intensely partisan are they. Hate which masquerades as love, “tolerance” being implacably intolerant of intolerance, and all the other Orwellian formulations of the dominant politics are a political luxury which we can no longer afford. Someone has to stand up and do the “Emperor’s New Clothes” routine. That is why I carried my obnoxious sign in the campaign.

You can call me a race hater or a woman hater or both. I will speak my mind. Unlike some other people whose job depends on exhibiting the right opinions, I can’t be fired from my job of being a landlord (though the neighborhood group has tried). I realize it’s hard to sympathize with a big, rich country like ours and the easy life it affords certain people. We like to think of ourselves as underdogs. But let’s be honest: This “identity politics” that we have today is not a legitimate politics. It does not depend on processing honest differences of opinion but on exploiting differences in the way people were born. It is an underhanded, rancorous, dirty kind of politics, bringing in old ancestral grudges. Go back into your hate-filled hell holes, you who are promoting this politics. Once a small measure of truth seeps back into political discussions, you will cease to intimidate. Previously unspeakable subjects will be discussed. However, we need to establish some ground rules.

First, let me say that selfishness and hate are fundamental ethical problems. They are problems, however, to be addressed within one’s own heart, not in someone else’s heart. Government is not the proper instrument for eliminating hate because government deals in coercion. No worldly power can force a hating heart to change. Individuals must want to do that themselves. If anything, religion would be the proper instrument to bring about a change in personal values. Religions teach people to control their selfishness. Racism is selfishness defined in terms of racial groups. Selfishness is, however, a normal human condition. All people are selfish to some degree. Just because someone exhibits group selfishness does not mean that he wants to lynch someone or man the gas chambers at a concentration camp. There is no need to stigmatize one’s political opponents to that extent.

Second, it is not proper to hate or despise someone because of the way he was born. The person had no control over that situation. Identity politics throws up a smokescreen: We think we are dealing with a group of people when all that is happening is that we are dealing with their often self-appointed representatives. “Jews” as a group do not do or say anything. Representatives of the Jewish community say things. But who are those representatives? For the most part, individual Jews are born into that religious community, as blacks, whites and others are born into their respective racial communities. They do not join it as one would join a conventional organization. While the Jewish representatives may reflect the views of many Jews, they do not represent all Jews. Some Jews may simply want to be left alone. They may not want to have to carry the baggage of their religious heritage.

It is always legitimate to respond to a public statement which a group spokesman makes. It is proper to criticize statements which one sincerely believes are wrong. It is not, however, proper to hold individuals belonging to those groups personally responsible for the words or deeds of their “spokesmen” unless those individuals authorize such persons to represent them.

The fight for white-male dignity is not, as I see it, a fight to advance group interests as the NAACP or a similar group would do. It is not a vehicle to express group selfishness along the lines of a labor union. Rather, it is a struggle against selfishness. The goal is to overcome political demonization. Demonization of the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, communists, Jews, WASPs, fundamentalist Christians, atheists, or “perverts” is relegating one’s political opponent to a subhuman status. Doing that sometimes makes small people feel good about themselves, but let’s try to be bigger than that.

My dream is to be on reasonably friendly terms with everyone from the extreme left to the extreme right. Personally, it is to be able to purge hate from my own heart. One can take stands against that with which one disagrees without hating anyone. Gandhi once said that, if you point your finger at someone else in anger and reproach, you unwittingly point three fingers back at yourself.

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