Sidebar

The Threat of White Nativism?

In the 1993 film Falling Down, Michael Douglas plays a white former defense company employee reacting to the humiliations that he sees imposed on him by a multicultural society. "From the get-go," wrote David Gates in Newsweek, "the film pits Douglas — the picture of obsolescent rectitude with his white shirt, tie, specs, and astronaut ...

In the 1993 film Falling Down, Michael Douglas plays a white former defense company employee reacting to the humiliations that he sees imposed on him by a multicultural society. "From the get-go," wrote David Gates in Newsweek, "the film pits Douglas — the picture of obsolescent rectitude with his white shirt, tie, specs, and astronaut haircut — against a rainbow coalition of Angelenos. It’s a cartoon vision of the beleaguered white male in multicultural America."

A plausible reaction to the demographic changes underway in the United States could be the rise of an anti-Hispanic, anti-black, and anti-immigrant movement composed largely of white, working- and middle-class males, protesting their job losses to immigrants and foreign countries, the perversion of their culture, and the displacement of their language. Such a movement can be labeled "white nativism."

"Cultured, intelligent, and often possessing impressive degrees from some of America’s premier colleges and universities, this new breed of white racial advocate is a far cry from the populist politicians and hooded Klansmen of the Old South," writes Carol Swain in her 2002 book, The New White Nationalism in America. These new white nationalists do not advocate white racial supremacy but believe in racial self-preservation and affirm that culture is a product of race. They contend that the shifting U.S. demographics foretell the replacement of white culture by black or brown cultures that are intellectually and morally inferior.

Changes in the U.S. racial balance underlie these concerns. Non-Hispanic whites dropped from 75.6 percent of the population in 1990 to 69.1 percent in 2000. In California — as in Hawaii, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia — non-Hispanic whites are now a minority. Demographers predict that, by 2040, non-Hispanic whites could be a minority of all Americans. Moreover, for several decades, interest groups and government elites have promoted racial preferences and affirmative action, which favor blacks and nonwhite immigrants. Meanwhile, pro-globalization policies have shifted jobs outside the United States, aggravated income inequality, and promoted declining real wages for working-class Americans.

Actual and perceived losses in power and status by any social, ethnic, racial, or economic group almost always produce efforts to reverse those losses. In 1961, the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was 43 percent Serb and 26 percent Muslim. In 1991, it was 31 percent Serb and 44 percent Muslim. The Serbs reacted with ethnic cleansing. In 1990, the population of California was 57 percent non-Hispanic white and 26 percent Hispanic. By 2040, it is predicted to be 31 percent non-Hispanic white and 48 percent Hispanic.

The chance that California whites will react like Bosnian Serbs is about zero. The chance that they will not react at all is also about zero. Indeed, they already have reacted by approving initiatives against benefits for illegal immigrants, affirmative action, and bilingual education, as well as by the movement of whites out of the state. As more Hispanics become citizens and politically active, white groups are likely to look for other ways of protecting themselves.

Industrialization in the late 19th century produced losses for U.S. farmers and led to agrarian protest groups, including the Populist movement, the Grange, the Nonpartisan League, and the American Farm Bureau Federation. Today, white nativists could well ask: If blacks and Hispanics organize and lobby for special privileges, why not whites? If the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of La Raza are legitimate organizations, why not a national organization promoting white interests?

White nationalism is "the next logical stage for identity politics in America," argues Swain, making the United States "increasingly at risk of large-scale racial conflict unprecedented in our nation’s history." The most powerful stimulus to such white nativism will be the cultural and linguistic threats whites see from the expanding power of Hispanics in U.S. society.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola