Diversity and White Privilege

August 6th, 2010

I had a chance to read Jim Webb’s piece in the Wall Street Journal on diversity and white privilege. He makes a careful and compelling argument that poor white people are significantly disadvantaged (on a par with black folks) and then asserts that the solution to this dilemma is to stop all government affirmative action and diversity initiatives that help people who need the help…except for helping black people. (And BTW, Senator, “the injustices endured by black Americans at the hands of their own government have no parallel in our history?!?” Have you forgotten the experience of indigenous people in this country?)

Senator Webb tries to make an important point about the plight of poor white Americans, but he and his detractors (and even many of his supporters) miss the most important point:  High quality, well designed diversity activity is an attempt to level the playing field.  This activity should be expanded to include class diversity, no matter the color of the person, NOT eliminated.  Insisting on diminishing institutional attention to diversity ignores the reality that lots of folks benefit from unearned privilege in this society—whites, men, heterosexuals, and yes, many affluent people who simply inherited the wealth generated by the work of others.  This is an affront to meritocracy, and high quality diversity programs can help to rectify this.  Senator Webb started down an important path, but got woefully lost along the way.  Only black people should be recipients of diversity programs?  Really?

My biggest impression, though, is that this was also very much a commentary on immigration and a clear message to “independent” voters that he does not support government programs and policies that favor immigrants, legal or illegal. As always, politics are evident. I took a few minutes to screen some of the reactions to the WSJ piece. People—mostly conservative respondents, it seemed—really slammed Webb for being disingenuous and pandering to moderates. Whatever his intentions, it will be interesting to see what happens to him in Virginia between now and his next election in 2012.

Leave a Reply