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White Nationalists Complicate Politics in America

A black academic argues that ending affirmative action will cut the floor out from under white nationalists.

If there's one thing that rings true while reading Carol M. Swain's The New White Nationalism in America, it's that racial politics in America has gotten a lot more complicated lately. Civil rights advocates have been put on the defensive by a new breed of right-wing extremists who are adept at disguising old hatreds with deceptive rhetoric.

Swain, an African-American professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, is concerned about the growing threat posed by the white nationalist movement, a beast with a formidable wingspan that encompasses an assortment of neo-Nazis, Skinheads, paleoconservative pundits, Klansmen, tenured academics, Christian fundamentalists and atheists, with a few "white separatist" Jews thrown in for good measure.

While some white nationalists still spout master race slogans and parade around in uniforms, such obvious displays of bigotry are eschewed by the more sophisticated zealots who realize that it's not always best to advertise their allegiance to the creed.

Within these circles, crude racialist formulations are often downplayed in favor of a less abrasive discourse, one that emphasizes "heritage" and "cultural differences" rather than genetics or skin color.

The smooth-talking white nationalists who camouflage their prejudice are the most dangerous of all, according to Swain, for the kindler, gentler form of hatred they espouse is far more palatable, and therefore more pernicious, than the discredited white supremacist ideologies of old.

These well-mannered malcontents (Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance, is a prime example) have tailored their message to appeal to middle-class whites who can readily identify extremism when garbed in Nazi or Klan regalia, but not when it hides behind the softer, more euphemistic vocabulary used by right-wing politicians to attack welfare, affirmative action, immigration, and other racially charged issues.

"A majority of white Americans already share some of the ideas of white nationalist leaders and scholars," says Swain, who warns that the soil in which these groups develop remains very fertile.

But Swain's study gets bogged down when she analyzes several factors that are fueling the growth of the white nationalist movement, including job losses associated with globalization, the alleged (but unproven) recruiting potential of the Internet, non-white immigration, and racial preferences in employment and college admissions.

The book digresses into a lengthy discussion of affirmative action, which Swain opposes because it supposedly undermines self-confidence and initiative among its intended beneficiaries. (She recommends that racial preferences be scrapped and replaced by class-based, color-blind programs to assist those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.)

Although she acknowledges that ethnic minorities continue to face discrimination in American society and that affirmative action does little actual harm to white males, Swain views widespread resentment against racial preferences as an easy mark for white nationalists to exploit as they seek to build bridges to mainstream conservatives.

Liberal immigration policies and bilingual education also contribute to a worsening racial climate, according to Swain, and this plays into the hands of white nationalists. Her argument falters, however, as she makes sweeping, unsupported assertions ("environmentalists are ... generally opposed to increased immigration") and relies on tainted sources.

Virginia Abernethy, for instance, is cited favorably as a "political scientist and population researcher" without any mention of her position with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a racist hate group that recently referred to blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity" on its Web site.

White nationalists are apoplectic about shifting population demographics that point toward the prospect of white Americans losing their majority status in 50 years or so. Decrying affirmative action as a form of reverse discrimination, they are driven by fears that the United States is fast becoming a nation beholden to non-whites. Noting that other ethnic groups in America organize along racial lines to press for their interests, white nationalists maintain it's imperative that "Euro-Americans" do the same.

"The new white nationalists are skillfully using the rhetoric of civil rights, national self-determination, and ethnic identity politics as they make their case among the many aggrieved whites in America for a white, European-centered nation," explains Swain.

Her point is well taken, but Swain mixes up cause and effect when she characterizes white nationalism as the baby that multiculturalism has birthed. There's no escaping the fact that minorities in the United States have embraced various forms of identity politics (some unhealthy, others not) in response to centuries of white domination.

While commenting on the pitfalls of identity politics, Swain does not consider the extent to which white nationalism and multiculturalism are both inadvertently fostered by the homogenizing juggernaut of globalization, which, though economically driven, has profound social and cultural implications.

Whether our skin shade is black, white, red, yellow or brown, we mainly watch the same shows, listen to the same popular music, follow the same sports teams, see the same movies, and so on. To a large degree, racial and ethnic differences have been bleached by mass-mediated monoculture. The rise of identity politics is in part a visceral reaction to this bleaching process.

A recurring theme in Swain's book is the alleged "stranglehold that political correctness and racial taboos exert upon open discussion of controversial racial topics in America."

As a result, she warns, white nationalists are the only ones speaking directly to the anxieties of white America. The oppressive reign of has resulted in "unacceptable racial double standards" that muzzle white people, according to Swain, while African Americans are allowed "to verbally assault and slander whites with racial epithets and false charges without suffering any serious loss of respect or any financial or social damage in the public arena."

But Swain surely overstates her case. As far as racial double standards go, her book does not mention the March decision by Republican Congressional leaders to kill a strongly worded resolution that would have censured the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), which had cozy ties to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and other right-wing politicians, for its brazen racism; yet Congress quickly and unanimously condemned the despicable, anti-Semitic remarks of Black Muslim demagogue Khalid Muhammad just a few months earlier.

Needless to say, Sen. Lott did not suffer "any serious loss of respect or any financial or social damage in the public arena" when news media reported his relationship to the CCC.

Swain emphatically agrees with conservative author Dinesh D'Souza's contention that "even if racism were to disappear overnight, the worst problems facing black America would persist."

But it would make more sense to argue that if affirmative action and non-white immigration were eliminated, American society as a whole would still be plagued by the same serious ills that it now confronts.

Swain suggests that restricting immigration and ending racial preferences will undermine the white nationalist movement by depriving it of key issues. But a similar strategy has failed to thwart the momentum of far-right populist parties in several Western European countries, where mainstream politicians have implemented policies favored by white nationalists.

There's little reason to believe that appeasing white nationalists in the United States would improve race relations. They would feel the same way about blacks and other minorities, including Carol Swain, even if affirmative action didn't exist.