Joy-Ann Reid

Joy-Ann Reid
Pembroke Pines, Florida, USA
December 08
Journalist and talk radio personality in South Florida. Also blogging daily at


JUNE 7, 2009 6:50PM

Open Dialogue on Race, Part VII: Discrimination Envy?

Rate: 17 Flag
Ground rules for participating comments in the open dialogue on race:

White men on the right are feeling marginalized in the "Age of Obama". Conservatives, calling Sonia Sotomayor a "racist", with over-the-top relish, is completely contrived, tapping into the rage and resentment for political gain. Do you agree?

I thought I'd heard it all when Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union over slavery, demanded that Judge Sonia Sotomayor... an Hispanic woman ... apologize, presumably to all white men for saying, as we've now heard umpteen times on cable news (and never in context,) that she would "hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would make a better decision than a white man who hadn't lived that experience."

Never mind the context, Graham was offended "as a white guy," and he was just one part of the feeding frenzy on the right which followed the unveiling of that statement. It was almost as fascinating as listening to conservatives try to explain that, really really, the underwhelming Clarence Thomas wasn't nominated to the Supreme Court pretty much just because he's black and conservative. Sotomayor has been called everything from an "affirmative action baby" (never mind her honors graduation from Princeton and seat at the head of the Yale Law Review) and most pointedly, a "racist!..." including by Newt "Tweets" Gingrich (who soon took it back...) and right wing radio jock Rush Limbaugh, whose racial bona fides include once telling a black caller to "take that bone out of [her] nose" and call him back. The Sotomayor Derangement Syndrome sprang in part from her daring to join organiations while in college that celebrated her Puerto Rican heritage, and for associating herself with the National Council of La Raza, which the arguably insane Congressman Tom Tancredo (who once called Miami a "third world country" because there are too many Latinos down rehe for his taste,) likened to the Ku Klux Clan. Well beam me up, Scotty.

The charges of reverse racism were made with such zeal and relish --  you almost begin to wonder whether the loud mouths were blowing the dog whistle or hearing it; somehow following what they knew to be an underlying and very real anxiety, even a kind of "discrimination envy" -- among white men of a certain age; plus a frustration  about being the only group that doesn't get to cry "ism" when their feelings are hurt. 

Indeed, for white men in America, it's been one hell of a half century. From desegregation to affirmative action to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of '64 and '65, the last 50 or so years have been a period of steady deterioration for the image of white man as America's boss and father figure. In America's collective theater of the mind, white men have traversed from Neil Armstrong and JFK to Al Bundy, Dick Nixon and Jimmy Carter. J.R. Ewing, Don Johnson and Ronald Reagan reinvigorated the brand for a while, but it didn't last.

On television in the 1970s, the fed up white guy was represented by Archie Bunker, who felt free to rail against blacks, foreigners, assertive women and all the rest of what was wrong with the Brave New multicultural world, but only inside his house. The Reagan era brought us a reinvented Archie named Rush Limbaugh -- far less lovable, louder and more blandly vicious than the Norman Lear character (and three times less capable of keeping a wife,) but still venting a real frustration at what seemed to be a world filled with teachers who want his kids to learn Spanish, Mexicans who are taking all the jobs (and not learning English), and Hollywierdos who fill his TV with blacks, browns and "queers", and who keep telling him, in ways large and small, that people like him -- meat and potatoes, Christian white men like the kind who "built this country" and who like their big cars, their cigarettes and their women in skirts -- aren't cool anymore. By the time Archie took its last Klieg lights in the late 70s, Title IX and affirmative action (whose dirty little secret is that it benefits white women more than any other group) had ripped June Cleaver from the kitchen and created a new generation of board room hustle-women who don't want to get married or have kids until they turned 40, or ever, and who don't like to be called "gal."

The 80s and 90s brought hip-hop, where a white guy pretty much has to muse about killing his mama to be taken seriously, and which stole a generation of young white college guys from good old rock and roll. Baseball was taken by the Latinos, basketball and football by the "brothas," hell even golf eventually fell to Tiger Woods (though he's not actually black according to him, he's "Coblanasian," which is black for "please don't call me black.") And there were the Cosbys, who forever replaced the Cleavers as the prototypical American TV family. (To add insult to injury, the show that for a long time was the lead in to Cosby was "Family Ties," in which the lone conservative white male character, Alex P. Keaton, was often the butt of the plot's jokes.)

In 2008, the real live Cosby family showed up. In a matter of months, as Barack Obama began to be taken seriously by the press, by voters, and by the Clintons, the cool white dude playing the sax and wearing shades on the "Arsenio Hall Show" was shoved aside by the even cooler Black/mixed dude with better shades, who was aiming to become the REAL "first black president." You could almost hear Bill Clinton's head exploding every day of the campaign. Clinton went from the guy who lamented the way politicians campaign among "all these insecure white folk" by scaring the hell out of them, to the guy trying desperately to scare the hell out of them on behalf of his wife's campaign.

It's cold comfort, it seems, that white men still controll 85 percent of the nation's board rooms, hold 84 percent of the highest corporate titles (CEO, COO and the like,) and that "just 6 percent of corporate America's top money earners are women," and "only 3 percent of board members are women of color." There is exactly one black female CEO of a major corporation in the U.S. (her name is Ursula Burns, and she now runs Xerox.)

Blacks and Hispanics may dominate on the diamond, court and field, but white men still control 95% of professional NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball franchises.

In Hollywood, Will Smith may have replaced Tom Cruise as the modern era's top earner and box office king, and Shonda Rimes ("Grey's Anatomy" creator") and Oprah may be at the top of the money market, but the majority of films featuring black actors are rehashes of "Boys in the Hood" or slapstick comedies, as Spike Lee has wryly pointed out. On television, the buffoonery is even worse, with not a "Cosby Show" in sight. (If you don't believe me, try being a black Hollywood actress for a day who isn't Halle Berry ...) And across the entertainment spectrum, don't let Diddy and Jay Z fool you, the vast majority of entertainment industry executives are NOT African-American (and neither are the vast majority of its stars.)

In fact, if you look at any statistic, from poverty, to unemployment to high school graduation rates, and on and on, and you'll find that in reality, black and brown people haven't even come close to catching, let alone eclipsing, white men.

So why all the gnashing of teeth It's called politics. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democrat to win a majority of the popular vote (53%) since Jimmy Carter. And while he didn't win a majority of the white vote, he won enough of it (43%) to carry him to victory, because he swept every other demographic group, particularly minorities and young people. There was a particularly fixation with white voters and their relationship to Obama during the campaign, and for good reason. Prior to last year, the notion of a black U.S. president -- particularly one named Barack Hussein Obama -- seemed almost absurd, mainly because it was assumed that white people would never vote for such a person (remember how wrong people like Pat Buchanan and Chris Matthews were about white voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio?) But the 2008 election proved a point that Buchanan, Gingrich and other seasoned politicos, and even the portly Mr. Limbaugh understand. Namely, the country's population, and voters, are shifting steadily brownward.  

Thus the panic that Limbaugh, Buchanan, Gingrich, Bill O'Reilly and others are exhibiting, about "racism," about Sotomayor, the Ricci case (and "Lou Dobbs"  nightly jeremiads about illegal immigration,) is not the panic of people who really believe that minorities are outshining white men economically or even socially. It's the panic of men who hear the drumbeat of the next national election, one that will be held after all the damage that's been done to the GOP, by the GOP with Hispanic voters (and long since with blacks.) Meanwhile, the percentage of white voters in the 2008 voting population shrank precipitously:

"The overall message is total ballots cast by white Americans was down, while African Americans and Latinos cast way more ballots than they did in 2004," said Jody Herman, a researcher with Project Vote. "And young voters, age 18-29, cast over 1.8 million more ballots than in 2005, which is a 9 percent increase. That increase was greater than any other age group."

... In contrast, 2.88 million more African Americans, 1.52 million more Latinos, 67,000 more Asian Americans and 1.32 million members of other minorities, voted this fall compared to four years ago. That is 1.18 million fewer white voters and 6.96 million more minority voters.

Moreover, precisely which white voters stayed home was telling:
"I think absolutely white Republicans did not show up," he said. "They were turned off, disillusioned. They did not turn out. Democratic voters did come out. They couldn't wait to vote."
When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, his voters were 98 percent white. Had he received the same turnout of whites, blacks and Hispanics as we saw in 2008, he would have lost the election. Which brings us back to Lindsey Graham, Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, Gingrich and others, (plus this guy) plus the right's favorite drum major: Fox News. Their two-week orgy of Sotomayor condemnation seems tailor made to target the white guys out there who really do feel like so many Frank Riccis -- victimized by "Jim Crow liberalism," having studying harder and overcoming more obstacles than the pampered Princetonians and birth certificate hiding Harvard grads living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, with their exotic childhoods and degreed pomposity, and yet, being denied opportunities at work, at colleges, in sports, and hell, in life ... wait for it ... because they're white. To those Archie Bunkers out there, who found their voices (and their pitchforks) at Sarah Palin rallies and who don't realize G. Gordon Liddy is an actual criminal (or that Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck are not actually delivering the "news,") and who wouldn't care anyway, because these people are speaking up for them, the leaders of the right -- such as they are -- are offering to lead a new civil rights movement, which shall consist mainly of voting Republican..

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Experience feeds wisdom, or so I like to think. Too bad we can't have more than a few experiences of how it feels to be raised or to live this way or that way.
This is so well researched and so vehemently crafted that I feel it would almost lessen it if I were to add anything. Extremely well done.

I guess I will add this:

I just finished showing the movie "American History X" to my at-risk students in a larger unit about hate in America. There is a scene of the movie at a dinner table, where the father is venting to his son against affirmative action. "Two guys, who scored lower on the test, just got the job because they're black. Now does that seem right? Is that the American dream?" I stopped the film to discuss his argument. I had to remind the kids that the American dream was a myth for anyone who wasn't a white male. That for hundreds of years less qualified people got jobs because of their race.

The fact that affirmative action, over the last 40 years or so, is believed by whites to have balanced things out is a joke.

Think about this, too: Why was Barack Obama the only candidate to have his patriotism questioned? Why has Sotomayor been accused of not knowing what "America" is about?

Thanks again for this strong post.
As Noah said, this is a remarkable post, well researched, well written and well argued. I have to ask, upon reading this if such racist rabble rousing is actually a feint to draw attention and public debate away from the fact that, as you point out, power and wealth continue to be concentrated in the hands of a handful of people who are overwhelmingly white and primarily male. Rated and reddited.
As we thougtht it would be, this is a brilliant addition to the "Open Dialogue On Race".

I believe that it was the late george Carlin who coined the term "privelege trifecta" ie; white, heterosexual, male...
The very idea of Democracy in America has been Affirmative Action for white males....loss of their status as the center of the American social, political, and economic construct or paradigm, even when only symbolically, is an absolutely frightening prospect........and as you have so aptly pointed out there are no "isms" to which they can retreat or from which they can draw strength in and for their conservative arguments....

Somewhere in the unwritten or subconscious definitions and descriptions (non-verbal signals, symbols, and codes) of 'conservative' and 'conservatism', as historically understood, is the notion that whites should always be 'first' among races globally and nationally when competing for resources, wealth or power.........

Than you, Joy, for this provocative and well crafted post.
Well thought out and researched, Joy. Kudos.
Excellent post, well-researched, well-written. Also, great comments, everyone. I'm so glad you have continued to follow our Open Dialogue on Race.

Noahvose's anecdote about his class is intriguing, and Shivaun's point has a lot of resonance -- that it is a distraction from real issues.

I wonder what is really meant by "reverse racism." Does anybody have any hypotheses about that?
I honestly have felt that most Politicians are true sociopaths. I honestly KNOW that all white male politicians are.
That's all I have to say. It should speak volumes.
Well done.
It was a good post.
No one likes to lose power, and you are correct that white males, especially of the WASP variety, feel like they own the country in certain ways, which forgets the fact that blacks and hispanics and Asians did lots of heavy lifting in that process, so to speak. Here I mean especiallty agricultural clearing in the South, and rails in the West, and in general more of the "unpleasant" jobs of any civilization, in the case of blacks, for subsistence, barely, "wages" of poor food, clothing and shelter, with hideous "bosses" slash slave drivers. Although it is worth remembering that being an industrial worker in the North was not a bowl of cherries either, and done by "white ethnics" in a general sense.
Having said that, I think the "browns" so to speak, should think very carefully about how not to trigger a backlash, which was the truly scary part, because of the potential reality of such an event, of the movie American History X.
All you had to do is experience the Whites and Asian versus blacks and Hispanics breakdown of social order in the last riots in California to see that under the surface, the United States still comes to a racial/ethnic boil pretty quickly, also as in Crash, like most places with multiple contending ethnic groups.
What the country cannot have do is come apart along longstanding ethnic fault lines.
What would be fair to say about Sotomayor I think is this.
If a white male said the same thing, substituting the appropriate race and gender terms, you would clearly be pilloried; that is a fact.
I would not pillory Sotomayor, because of the history and current power distribution of which you speak, but that is something to stay away from it seems to me as we go into the future, because although Barrack won 43 per cent of the white vote and won, if the country had severely polarized along racial lines, he would have lost, which defeats the whole point of the move towards a racially equal society.
It also means that the loudmouths of the Right need to chill out about this too, like you said, and that this is in fact clearly pandering to deep fears of loss of power that is dangerous.
The political classes should not play with ethnic fire, because if truly violent ethnic conflict can happen other places, especially in economic hard times, it can happen here. rated for the discussion and adressing the fear factor that people don't want to talk about too much.
I've learned everything I need to know about being discriminated against being a gay Jew whose wife was Mexican. Or she still is Mexican if we still have those tags in whatever happens in life after death.

Excellent post. Well research. I have been simply exhausted by all of it lately.
well 'researched.' sorry.
I believe affirmative action is a genuine source of conflict now and into the future. Let's face it, a lot of affirmative action is more about political patronage than righting the wrongs. I think it is a grave mistake for the left to be reflexively apologizing for affirmative action wherever it occurs. It is also a grave mistake to exxagerate the demise of the white male voter.
You did so much excellent research and incredible writing that there really isn't a lot I could possibly hope to add. I made a point in an earlier post that one group gaining rights does not mean another group loses rights - unless someone thinks he has the "right" to discriminate and have others compete for the same jobs and education. I detest when someone who is the gold standard of human rights complains about reverse isms. I don't want the same rights as a homosexual or black ----- because I want them to have the same rights as me. There are rights I take for granted every single day which I know someone of another color could not take for granted. That any person could assume Sonia Sotomayor is a racist speaks volumes of how little they know about race relations. 43 of 44 presidents and 8 out of 9 justices does not make white a discriminated against minority.

Thank you for posting this. Rated.
“You could almost hear Bill Clinton's head exploding every day of the campaign. Clinton went from the guy who lamented the way politicians campaign among "all these insecure white folk" by scaring the hell out of them, to the guy trying desperately to scare the hell out of them on behalf of his wife's campaign.”

I laughed reading this part… my husband and I were focused on his responses throughout the campaign as well wondering if he’d feel jilted upon losing his “first black president” status to the real deal.

I absolutely loved this incredibly written post that flowed easily, with solid punches, without any visible holes in the logic. I would just like to add “red” people to your list of “black and brown people haven't even come close to catching, let alone eclipsing, white men.”

I loved this –thanks.
A great essay - well-researched, well-argued, well-written. I tend to agree with Neilpaul - the Repubicans have risen(descended to) the current level of hysteria because they have nothing left to lose, and keeping their masses in a foment is necessary until they discover or create a break for themselves. I think it's fascinating, personally, that it may well be a woman (Palin) who they elect to lead them back to the white man's promised land. Must be hard for them to decide who to trust they can manipulate more - Palin, the white woman? Jindahl, the brown foreign man? Even their cynicism is hypocritical.
Joy-Ann, this was so great. I didn't know about Ursula Burns -- God bless her -- but I will use those stats on CEOs etc. next time I'm debating DOP (dear old Pat). The tenor of the debate has changed, and even though through most of my career I've preached that we have to pay attention to class -- and we do, damnit! -- there is an organized reaction from the UPPER CLASS of white men that has nothing to do with genuine fear of being unemployed or dispossessed or poor, it's fear of losing their absolute control.

I'm very concerned right now.

Having praised this to high heavens, I will sound one note of criticism: I don't think Bill Clinton deserves what you said about him. I think the acrimony of last year was very painful, and I do think he felt like, hell, I've spent my political life working for racial justice, and the first time I break with a lot of my black friends and supporters, to support my wife, I'm a racist? I felt the same way. There was ugliness on both sides. I don't want to refight that, was very painful.
Fantastically informative post, and a great hypothesis Joy. I agree completely with your analysis. In Part VIII on my blog later today, I'm going to tackle the psychology of racial scapegoating and hate groups. Stay tuned!

Open Dialogue on Race Part VIII: Hate Crimes and Racial Scapegoats

Hypothesis: Society creates scapegoats as the personification of its hatred, fears and frustrations. In doing so, society projects its frustrations onto others, rather than lashing out at the actual source of its problems. Therefore, sacrificing the scapegoat serves to preserve the status quo, but does not solve society's problems.
Thanks for all the great comments! I wish I could respond to them all, but then I'd lose all my clients, and as Michael Steele would say, "baby, we're in a recession!" I'll respond to the last three:

To NeilPaul/Sandra: "the Repubicans have risen(descended to) the current level of hysteria because they have nothing left to lose, and keeping their masses in a foment is necessary until they discover or create a break for themselves. " -- I totally agree, and it's sad (and frightening) to see how irresponsible people can be when they're desperate ...

To Joan - Thanks so much for the comment. I'm honored to hear from you, and I definitely understand where you're coming from on Bill Clinton. Within the Black community there was so much anger at the former president, I think it's hard to entirely let it go. I was personally very disappointed in him, having been a die-hard "Clinton Democrat" who had vowed since 2004 to do anything I could to help get Hillary elected president if she ran, before I decided to support Obama in the summer of 2007. And then SC happened ... which I agree, we on our side should not re-fight. However, I acknowledge that I analyzed him from my point of view, not from an entirely objective one. That said, keep fighting DOP, bless his heart, and great job with O'Reilly. HIS head definitely exploded! :)

David - Definitely looking forward to your post. It's timely and much needed!

Have a great day, all!
This was more in relation to Joan Walsh's comment than Joy-Ann's great post, but what did Bill Clinton ever do for racial justice? From his criticism of a black female rapper and Jesse Jackson to establish that he was a "different kind of Democrat," to "ending welfare as we know it," abandoning Lani Guinier, promoting NAFTA, and backing down on something as small as midnight basketball, Bill Clinton did very little for racial justice while he was president and much less for African-Americans than he did for other constituencies (like telecom companies, the financial industry, etc.). The only thing I can remember is Clinton preserving some vestiges of affirmative action. I guess I'm open to other interpretations, but I always thought that African-Americans showed enormous generosity in supporting Clinton so strongly during impeachment. I don't think I would have been so generous if I had been in their shoes.