WASHINGTON — If there really were a “war on whites,” as a Republican congressman from Alabama ludicrously claims, it wouldn’t be going very well for the anti-white side.
In 2012, the last year for which comprehensive Census Bureau data are available, white households had a median income of $57,009, compared to $33,321 for black households and $39,005 for Hispanic households. The white-black income gap was almost exactly the same as in 1972; the gap between whites and Hispanics actually worsened.
According to an analysis by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, the average white family has six times as much accumulated wealth as the average black or Hispanic family. Other authoritative data shows that blacks and Hispanics are far more likely than whites to be unemployed, impoverished or incarcerated.
Yet Rep. Mo Brooks feverishly imagines that whites are somehow under attack and that the principal assailant is — why am I not surprised? — President Obama.
Asked whether Republicans were alienating Latino voters with their position on immigration, Brooks said this to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham:
“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s a part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things.”
Ingraham, who makes her living as a rhetorical flamethrower, actually told the congressman that his “phraseology might not be the best choice.” But Brooks stuck to his appalling thesis in a subsequent interview with AL.com, saying that “in effect, what the Democrats are doing with their dividing America by race is they are waging a war on whites and I find that repugnant.”
Brooks is from Alabama, where public officials used fire hoses and attack dogs against black children who were peacefully trying to integrate the whites-only lunch counters of Birmingham. Where terrorists acting in the name of white supremacy bombed a historic black church, killing four little girls. Where demonstrators marching for voting rights were savagely beaten by police and vigilantes as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Brooks is 60, which means he lived through these events. Surely he knows that it was white-imposed Jim Crow segregation — not anything black or brown people did — that divided America by race. At some level, he must realize that his overheated blather about a “war on whites” is not just ahistorical but obscene in its willful ignorance.
But maybe not. Maybe Brooks has fully bought into the paranoid myth of white victimhood that gives the opposition to Obama and his policies such an edge of nastiness and desperation.
I do not believe it can be a coincidence that this notion of whites somehow being under attack is finding new expression — not just in Brooks’ explicit words but in the euphemistic language of many others as well — at a time when the first black president lives in the White House.
The myth of victimhood is not new. Long after it was understood that slavery was morally wrong, Southern whites justified its perpetuation by citing the fear that blacks, once liberated, would surely take bloody revenge against those who had held them in bondage. Jim Crow laws and lynchings had a similar purpose. In the minds of his assassins, 14-year-old Emmett Till was tortured and killed to protect the flower of Southern womanhood.
The myth surfaces whenever Obama comments on race. When he spoke about the killing of Trayvon Martin, for example, nothing he said was inherently controversial. But the mere fact that Obama expressed sympathy for Martin was taken by some as an attack on the forces of law and order, or an apology for hip-hop “thug life” culture, or an indication that his real agenda is to ban all handguns, or something along those ridiculous lines. When Obama was running for president, I wrote that to win he would have to be perceived as “the least-aggrieved black man in America.” He has tried his best, but for some people it’s not enough.
There are other reasons why the myth of white victimhood is gaining strength — economic dislocation, rapid immigration from Latin America, changing demographics that will make this a majority-minority country before mid-century. But I can’t help feeling that Obama’s race heightens the sense of being under siege.
Congressman Brooks, you’re talking pure gibberish. But thanks for being honest.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.