Commentary: White man's burden

The Miami HeraldMarch 15, 2011 

PITTS LEONARD 1

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.

CHUCK KENNEDY — KRT

There is a scholarship for students who wear outfits made of duct tape to their proms.

David Letterman offers a scholarship for kids with average grades. There are scholarships for students who vote Democrat — or Republican — scholarships for students who have cancer, diabetes, sickle cell, autism or Tourette’s, students named Zolp, students who are blind, deaf, vegan, Arizonan, left handed, low income, African-, Hispanic-, Native-, Asian- or woman-American.

So it’s hard to get worked up over a new scholarship for students who are white men.

It is offered by the Texas-based Former Majority Association for Equality, which would want you to know that it is not motivated by racism. Indeed, its mission statement reads in part: “We do not advocate white supremacy, nor do we enable any individual that does. We do not accept donations from organizations affiliated with any sort of white supremacy or hate group. We have no hidden agenda to promote racial bigotry or segregation.”

I take them at their word and wish them Godspeed. But though I have no axe to grind against them, the FMAE’s modest ($500 each for five needy students) scholarship does serve as a fascinating sign of our times.

Leaving aside those motivated by whimsy (a duct tape prom dress?), one of the reasons scholarships exist is to help those who, by dint of faith, gender, ethnicity or race, find themselves overmatched when competing against the mainstream. Mainstream being defined as white and male.

The FMAE scholarship suggests the mainstream itself is beginning to feel a little overmatched.

Indeed, one need not travel far these days to encounter signs of acute anxiety emanating from the nation’s white majority, a visceral sense of dislocation and lost privilege.

You see it in the hysterical (in both senses of the word) reaction to the election of the first black president. You see it in the spike in the number of hate groups. You see it in the screeching that passes for debate on illegal immigration and in the clangor that seems to confront any Muslim who seeks to build a mosque anywhere. You see it in the apocalyptic rantings of Glenn Beck and in the peevish mutterings of Rush Limbaugh.

You see it also in a 2010 survey by the Washington, D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute, which found that 44 percent of us believe bigotry against whites is a significant problem. Among tea party followers, the number rises to 61 percent.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think white kids were being funneled into the criminal justice system in obscenely disproportionate numbers (as black ones are) or that the unemployment rate among white workers stood at 15.3 percent (as it does nationally among blacks). But if the perceptions of four in 10 Americans and six in 10 tea partiers suggest estrangement from objective reality, they also suggest a certain ability to read the writing on the demographic wall.

The Census Bureau says that within 40 years, there will no longer be such a thing as a racial majority. All of us will be minorities.

While such fundamental change will challenge every American, it seems to have already panicked some of those Americans for whom being a minority will be a new experience. Sympathy is in order. It cannot be easy to go from being lead actor to a member of the ensemble — from Gladys Knight to a Pip, as it were.

Thus we find ourselves in this odd new paradigm. Those who have felt marginalized by the color of their skin, the name of their God, the double-x of their chromosomes, find themselves joined in their choirs of the put upon by newcomers who feel marginalized by the loss of their primacy.

Nobody knows the trouble they’ve seen. And, Lord have mercy, we’re all victims now.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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