“A lot of it has to do with white privilege…it represents an extraordinary drop in white status that a black person or a Latino person is just as you are.” - Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Prof., Sociology,DukeUniv.
Guided by the universal language of the Declaration of Independence, one of the earliest official declarations by the new government of the United States was to institutionalize the sanctuary of power to the privilege of whiteness. The 1790 Naturalization Act codified membership into the United States, citizenship, as belonging only to those who were white that they may be “admitted to become a citizen.” Today a Mormon (Mitt Romney) and an Irish-Catholic (Paul Ryan) sit atop the Republican presidential ticket, an almost inconceivable expansion of the “club of whiteness”, as Tim Wise, author, Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority, calls it, judged against a history that has gone largely unnoticed
While the Romney-Ryan ticket could be considered the newest adaptation of whiteness, white privilege however is being challenged by a majority-minority in this country, where the majority of the members of society belong to a racial or ethnic minority group. As it is now, non-white newborns have already reached majority status and are projected to become the majority of age groups zero to 17 in about 15 years.
This “loss of country” or at least a white one, has created resurgence in the sentiment among some that the country must be taken back. Yet in a new America, the old language and bare intentions of white dominance are no longer acceptable to many and even less so in a public arena. Bonilla-Silva argues that a new racial language has emerged where the old order can discuss policy and politics without the stigma of being called racist, but in pursuit of the old benefits of white privilege.
Whether it be the Irish, Germans or Italians our nation has had a long relationship with shifting demographics, and in each generation, the idea of whiteness has also shifted to accommodate qualified members. Historically, whiteness has been an identity in distinction with blackness. As far back as the Bacon Rebellion in 1676, black-white coalitions based on class disputes with the landed class were a serious threat. As Tehama Lopez, Assoc. Prof., Political Science, Ohio Univ. explains, given the disparity between the poor and the rich, any semblance of collaboration among the poor that would threaten the interests of the rich had to be dismantled.
Although, the U.S. government played an unprecedented role throughout the Depression in building a middle class through FHA home loans, the GI Bill and massive government investments in education and infrastructure – these policies disproportionately benefited whites. Historically a “veil of honor” is used to characterize government handouts when they are accessed by whites. As Tim Wise observes about the Homestead Act of 1862, “240 million acres of free land given to white folks and yet we didn’t call it a handout, we didn’t call it welfare, we called it nation building.”
- How will whites adapt to their impending minority status?
- Will whites define themselves as a distinct racial bloc and work to protect their own interests, or will they increasingly form political coalitions with the new minority-majority?