According to the common view of how racism works in America, white people are supposed to be quietly working all across the country to keep other races out of jobs, clubs, organizations, and positions of power. In fact, the number of American organizations that are openly or even discreetly all-white is minuscule while the number of organizations from which whites are explicitly excluded is large and growing all the time. Among the many racial double standards that work to the detriment of whites, this one is so widely accepted as to be hardly noticed. Nevertheless, it demonstrates a fundamental difference between the ways in which whites and non-whites think of themselves.
Here is an example that is both typical and atypical. In 1983, black and Hispanic graduates of Baruch College in New York City asked for official approval for a racially segregated alumni association. They wanted campus office space, secretarial help, and all the other services that were being provided to the campus-wide alumni association. The president of Baruch refused, saying that such an organization would run counter to the college’s goals of racial integration.
The black and Hispanic group then filed suit, saying that Brach’s refusal was racist. In 1990, the parties finally reached an agreement. All the demands for the new association were met, and the college agreed to pay not only $15,000 in court costs but $22,000 in the other side’s legal fees. Baruch College will now have two alumni associations, one open to all students and the other open only to blacks and Hispanics. This was a typical victory of a non-white group’s demands for racial exclusivity, something that would never be granted to a white group.
The only unusual aspect of this victory is that together, Hispanics and blacks outnumber whites at Baruch. They cannot even pretend to be doughty minorities struggling against an indifferent and oppressive white majority. They are, themselves, excluding a minority, which in this case happens to be white. It was probably because of this aspect of the black/Hispanic demand that Baruch resisted it rather than give in immediately, for in virtually all walks of life, whites have accepted — even encouraged — the establishment of openly race-based groups and sub-groups.
Blacks have been at this game longer than other minorities, and have a larger number of exclusive groups than anyone else. Virtually every American university has an association of black faculty and staff. The American Anthropological Association, the American Bar Association, the Catholic Church, and even advocacy groups for the aging have well-established black subgroups. Every major Protestant denomination has a chapter of the National Committee of Black Churchmen. There is a National Association of Black Journalists and a National Conference of Black Mayors, a Council of Black Elected Democrats, a Negro Dance Ensemble and a Negro Ensemble Company. Even the American Museum Association has, within it, the Afro-American Museums Association. In nearly every good-sized police and fire department, there is a Black Officers (or Firefighters) Union, and black government workers have established Blacks in Government.
In politics, the best known black grouping is the Congressional Black Caucus. It has a two million dollar war chest, raised mainly from corporate contributions, that it plans to spend on black candidates only. State legislatures have their own black caucuses, the U.S. State Department has Concerned Black Foreign Service Officers, and the Republican Party has a National Black Republican Council. The National Coalition on Black Voter Participation is devoted exclusively to persuading black people to register and to vote.
Some middle-class blacks who have been admitted to mainly-white social clubs find that they prefer the society of other blacks. This has led to a revival of Jack and Jill clubs, from which whites are excluded. There is even a Miss Black America beauty contest in which whites may not participate, even though blacks have won the Miss America contest four times, and twice in a row in 1989 and 1990. On many college campuses there are all-black fraternities, but fraternities that may have once been all-white have long ago been forced to open their doors to all races.
Far from criticizing black groups for their racial exclusiveness, American society encourages them. It was, for example, the Ford Foundation that paid to establish the Joint Center for Political Studies. Its job is to create racially exclusive networks and caucuses of black elected officials.
Black groups like this have been so popular and so effective in advancing openly racial goals that other races have copied them. Hispanics have begun to form their own subgroups within organizations they have joined, and as Asians increase in number they are beginning to do the same. This is to say that after they have joined groups from which they may have been excluded in the past, blacks and other non-whites now set up subgroups from which they exclude whites. They maintain a separate set of racial priorities that is explicitly different from the goals of the other members of the larger organization. Any subgroup that had the word “White” in its name would, of course, be ostracized or expelled.
How does one justify this openly asymmetric racial behavior? The usual explanation is that whites do not need race-based organizations of this kind because society is set up automatically to put them into positions of privilege and power. In effect, it is said, whites are always playing the race game, and non-whites must organize along racial lines out of pure self-defense.
This argument completely misunderstands the difference between white and non-white expectations and behavior. Among the many reasons for which whites are in positions of power or prominence — better education, more experience, greater numbers, past exclusionary practices — white racial solidarity today plays practically no role. Whites are forbidden to think in terms of racial identity unless it is to think of ways to promote the interests of other races. When whites act in their own interests, they are to act strictly as individuals rather than as conscious members of a racial group who have a stake in the success of their fellow whites.
The behavior of blacks, for example, is the very opposite of this. They are encouraged to identify with their racial “brothers,” to promote “black consciousness,” and to see themselves as a group defined clearly by race. They do not concern themselves for a moment with what is fair for whites. They work openly for the advancement of people of their own race, and if advancement comes through the exclusion or dispossession of whites, so be it. Blacks, therefore, use racial solidarity as a powerful tool to win advantages for themselves while whites are to smother any sense of their own racial solidarity. Affirmative action requires that whites go even further and deliberately sacrifice their own interests to the interests of blacks and other non-whites.
To some extent black racial solidarity is inevitable. For generations blacks were discriminated against as a race, and it was natural that they seek redress as a race. However, the terms on which redress was sought foresaw the ultimate disappearance of race as a relevant category in America. This was Martin Luther King’s vision, and it was the vision that white Americans embraced. They set about dismantling their own racial identity in the expectation that everyone else would do that same, and that America would become a nation of individuals, rather than an uneasy assembly of races
But while all but a handful of whites renounced a deliberately racial consciousness, blacks continued to develop an ever more explicitly racial identity. To the extent that it gave direction to their struggle against legal segregation, disfranchisement, and all the other marks of second-class citizenship, it was inevitable. But when it became the guiding light of a movement to carve out special privileges based on race, it was a rejection of Dr. King’s color-blind program, and a violation of the tacit agreement under which whites were to abandon their own racial identity.
At the same time, since race and race consciousness had become a tool for extracting benefits from whites, they became ever more attractive, even essential to blacks. Thus, the great irony of the “civil rights” movement was that as whites dutifully tried to strip away their own consciousness as members of a racial group and tried to think of all Americans as individuals, blacks defined themselves ever more distinctly as a group, and made race consciousness a central part of their identities.
The histories of organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) reflect this irony. Initially, whites and blacks working together were supposed not only to stamp out racial prejudice but to eliminate the very relevance of race. But as soon as blacks discovered that waning white consciousness left a clear field for growing demands made in the name of black consciousness, there was all the more reason for blacks to keep race as relevant as possible. In fact, race became so relevant within these groups that the presence of whites was increasingly incongruous.
As late as 1961, CORE, for example, had a membership that was two-thirds white, and a national leadership that was almost entirely white. Only a few years later, its leaders were all black, and in 1965 it amended its constitution to limit the positions that whites could hold — a curious act for a congress of racial equality. The elimination of whites, not only from the leadership but from the rank and file of these groups, marked the change in the civil rights movement from one in which blacks and whites worked together for equality to one in which blacks worked openly for their own advantage.
These two opposite processes — waning white consciousness and growing black consciousness — explain a great deal that is otherwise incomprehensible. They explain why the death of a black at the hands of a white unleashes torrents of black indignation, whereas a white death at the hands of blacks passes in silence. They explain why any black who is criticized by whites, however justifiably, will always find a deep reservoir of support among other blacks. They explain why the trial of any prominent black, no matter how obviously guilty, becomes a pretext for denouncing the “white racist” justice system. They explain why black jurors increasingly acquit black defendants no matter what the evidence. They explain why blacks eagerly work the racial spoils system while whites remain silent when other whites are despoiled. They explain why blacks instinctively form racially-exclusive solidarity groups while whites are taught to act as individuals without racial consciousness. Hispanics, American Indians, and to a much lesser extent, Asians are cultivating racial identities as sharply etched as that of blacks.
Non-whites are often encouraged to make race the center-piece of their identities, but whites are to deny their own race as they work to benefit other races. White racial solidarity is punished as bigotry and hatred, while black or Hispanic racial solidarity is promoted as a healthy expression of pride. This is a double standard that has been hammered deep into our national consciousness, but it will not hold up much longer. White consciousness, never entirely absent, is growing in the face of aggressive minority-racial consciousness that is often openly hostile to whites.
It has begun to dawn on more and more whites that never-ending demands made in the name of black or Hispanic racialism are not what they bargained for from the civil rights movement. They are beginning to rethink their own views on race. The media are constantly warning us that although black or Hispanic consciousness are noble sentiments, white consciousness is the meanest sort of viciousness. Nevertheless, events are leading to a reemergence of white consciousness as surely as the sparks fly upward.