In guilt begins resentment by mattsteinglass
August 7, 2008, 10:23 am
Filed under: United States

Via Ezra Klein, Publius writes that the South isn’t so racist anymore, but is full of white resentment — “A lot of white people honestly think they have been significantly deprived of various things because of minorities….It’s the animosity of the aggrieved. They feel like they are the victims.” And Andrew Sullivan then replies, “This is the poisoned fruit of that poisonous, if well-intentioned, policy of affirmative action.” Ezra says this is a funny way to read the timelines: surely white resentment began in the Reconstruction era, not after affirmative action.

I’d second Ezra and take it one step beyond: white resentment of blacks probably began at the moment whites enslaved blacks, just as 19th and 20th-century German, British and Russian anti-semitism is chock full of resentment towards invented Jewish privilege, or as homophobic resentment towards gays cloaks itself in the language of opposition to “special rights”. People who have done violence to others and are called out on it scrabble for excuses to salve their consciences. They have to place themselves in the right somehow. Wifebeaters abandoned by their wives will find something to blame the wives for. White resentment of “special treatment” for blacks, the advent of the claim of “black racism”, is entirely predictable. If it weren’t affirmative action, it would be something else.


3 Comments so far
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While you are undoubtedly describing actual people and their views, it is quite a reductionist stretch to pigeonhole all classical liberal arguments against collectivist-based rights as derivative of racism, sexism, etc… I have my psycho-analyzing hammer and I smite all of your nails with my straw man arguments.

Comment by Mal Armstrong

Yeah, that’s fair enough, Mal. Actually I first looked back at Nietzsche to try and find a good passage from the “Genealogy of Morals” to illustrate the point, but soon realized it didn’t really work very well. But when I’ve personally encountered prejudice on the part of privileged or dominant groups, it’s almost always been accompanied by manufactured claims that it was they who were suffering unfairly at the hands of the other group. That goes for Israelis wrt Palestinians, Serbians wrt Kosovars, Russians wrt Caucasian/Central Asian groups, everyone wrt Jews, Han Chinese wrt Tibetans etc. etc.

Comment by mattsteinglass

Sure, I’d go further and say that group-based resentment and subsequent entitlement seeking ain’t good for anybody whether they are dominant/privileged or not. However, those who argue that affirmative action increases polarization and resentment on both sides do not fit into this category. MLK said it best about judging on the content of character. This is where you call me an idealist, and I accept the charge readily.

Comment by Mal Armstrong

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