How White Ideals Color U.S. Race Relations

Author Joan Walsh on her book and the notion that minorities get handouts while whites work hard.

Posted: 09/24/2012 01:28 PM EDT

(The Root) -- In her new book,What's the Matter With White People?: Why We Long For a Golden Age That Never Was, Joan Walsh, editor-at-large for Salon.com and an MSNBC political analyst, tells the story of the white working class in 20th- and 21st-century America. Using her personal journey growing up in a blue-collar, Irish Catholic family, Walsh offers a window into the hopes, fears, racial anxieties and political leanings of a group who have become in some ways all but invisible in a post-All in the Family era.

Walsh also uses the election of the nation's first African-American president -- and subsequent backlash from the far-right -- as an opportunity to explore racial politics, given that mainstream American identity is largely defined vis-a-vis whiteness. As the browning of America continues, the Republican Party's platform is increasingly invested in using race to divide and conquer. Walsh explores the dog-whistle politics -- particularly around the issue of welfare -- that have been central to America's political discourse since the implementation of Nixon's Southern strategy (pdf) and the rise of the Reagan-Democrats: namely, disgruntled white working-class voters who are socially conservative and have been encouraged, often unknowingly, to resent the black, the brown and the poor.

Her book examines the fallacy that minorities have benefited from affirmative action at the expense of whites and explains why many poor and middle-class white Americans vote Republican, even against their own economic interests. By taking a historic overview, she charts the path of European immigrants and their descendants who, for generations, have enjoyed the benefits of the Great Society social welfare programs. They have also benefited from the post-war G.I. Bill, expansion of public universities, mortgage-lending guarantees and strong union jobs that offered middle-class incomes for many white Americans.
 Walshchallenges the idea that the white middle class achieved its moorings through hard work without federal assistance.

She claims some whites believe in a "golden age that never was" and that the idyllic Norman Rockwell-esque picket fence is something they earned, without help, and that they reject the idea they received something that African Americans and Latinos didn't get.


Read the full story at theroot.com.

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(Photos from left: Wiley Publications, Facebook)

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