Whites and the Next Racial Clash in America

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Vanderbilt law school professor Carol M. Swain

According to political scientist Carol M. Swain's unsettling new book, "The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration," the U.S. is on the brink of an explosion of white "tribalism" that could trigger unprecedented levels of racial antagonism and an epidemic of violence. The underlying cause: a swelling "white nationalist" movement fueled by simmering resentment of affirmative action programs like those used by the University of Michigan. "The book is a wake-up call to warn people that we're following a dangerous course by pushing identity politics and multi-culturalism," explains the Vanderbilt law school professor. "There's nothing special about the U.S. that says we couldn't have ethnic cleansing and violence here like in Bosnia or Rwanda."

It's shocking to hear   such a dire   prophesy from a scholar like Swain, who is rapidly establishing herself as  one of the leaders of a new,  increasingly vocal  neoconservative brand of black political analysis that  rejects affirmative action and reparations for slavery and holds blacks responsible for their own uplift. Until recently, most left-leaning black theorists derided her as a hopeless optimist. Her previous book, "Black Faces, Black Interests," ruffled many black politicians by dismissing their fear that a Supreme Court ruling that struck down the use of race in the creation of majority black congressional districts would be a disaster.  Instead, Swain predicted, the ruling actually would be good for  African Americans. As she foresaw, even in the Deep South  strong black candidates were capable of winning enough support from whites to prevail  in districts where black voters were outnumbered.  She  also argued that disbursing blacks into mostly-white districts could make it easier for liberal Democrats to compete with conservative Republicans by building multi-racial coalitions. Blacks  "need more representation of their liberal views of policy than they need people who look like them" in Congress, Swain contended. Anyone looking at the toothlessness of the Congressional Black Caucus in the Republican-dominated House would find it difficult to disagree.

But, as Swain says, she "turned from a Pollyanna into a Cassandra" as her research into a book criticizing racial preferences made her aware of the spread of what she calls "the new white nationalism," a form of racial extremism more dangerous than the Ku Klux Klan because of its veneer of erudition and mastery of the Internet. Groups such as former Klansman David Duke's National Organization for European American Rights and the National Association of White People eschew the discredited notion of white supremacy. Indeed, they don't claim that whites are superior to anyone else and may even be inferior to Asians.

Instead they push the notion over websites, in publications such as Jared Taylor's "American Renaissance " magazine and through on-campus recruiting drives that all racial groups have unique interests and the god-given right to fulfill their destiny. They see themselves, as Swain has written, as "defenders of the legitimate civil rights of white people against what they allege are a host of racial double standards." In short, that affirmative action has made whites the most discriminated-against group in the country and that it can only get worse as a tide of immigrants transforms the U.S. from a white nation into a rickety Third World republic. The language white nationalists use to promote their insights is stunningly familiar to anyone who has listened to black nationalists like Louis Farrakhan — but that's not surprising, since the white nationalists appropriated it. As Swain observes, "the multicultural left has provided a language that works very well for whites who want to push white-identity politics," says Swain. "They say that if it's good for blacks to celebrate their heritage, it's good for whites to celebrate theirs."

What concerns Swain the most is such groups now seem to be finding an audience among mainstream whites whose gripes about racial preferences and high crime rates among blacks have been tuned out by white liberal politicians. Though she has no proof that the membership of such groups is mushrooming, their influence is being felt widely. Indeed, some of the rhetoric used by white nationalists is indistinguishable from the verbiage used by President Bush in his assault on the "quotas" supposedly used by the University of Michigan. "If we keep going down this road, it's going to increasingly pit racial groups against each other," she warns. "Some white people, who are otherwise good people, who don't hate blacks, are going to be pushed into the arms of these extremists if we don't change course."

Swain thinks there's only one way out of this bind: recognizing that whites have "legitimate" beefs about race that should be openly debated by politicians and scholars. She also believes we should immediately do away with racial preferences in university admissions, hiring and government contracts that not only fuel white resentment but send the message to blacks that they can't meet the same standards as everyone else. Swain's detractors say such steps amount to no more than a cowardly capitulation to racism, but she won't back down because she does not believe that blacks need the crutch provided by race-conscious policies. For Swain, a deeply devout evangelical Christian, such beliefs are not academic. Now 49, she went from being a high school drop-out and single mother in rural Virginia to a Ph.d and a chair at a leading university. "Somehow, we've got to embrace an American national identity that pulls us together instead of dividing us into warring camps," says Swain, "perhaps through a renewed emphasis on the Judeo-Christian idea of a common creator and the brotherhood of man." It's an old-fashioned idea that could prevent Swain's troubling predictions from coming true.