• Home
  • About Us
  • Guest Posts

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

As Trump Privatizes Education, Dumping Identity Studies is the Worst Possible Advice

It feels a little silly to flog Mark Lilla's misinformed and retrograde attack on "identity liberalism" while Donald J. Trump appoints wrecking crews to one federal position after another. Jefferson Sessions will wreck Justice's civil rights division. Steve Bannon will wreck basic racial neutrality in White House strategy. Betsy DeVos will wreck public education across the country (network map courtesy of Veterans Today). Mr. Trump's one constructive campaign promise, to rebuild infrastructure, is structured as a privatization play in which investors will get equity for 18 cents on the dollar, with public subsidies supplying the rest. Mr. Trump is a master of other people's money, public as well as private, and the public is going to pay.

Colleges and universities are going to have to fight to keep disruption from meaning destruction. They will need to rebuild democratic higher ed to outflank Trumpian appeals to the working classes. Here's where we come to the problem with Prof. Lilla's piece: he is recycling the late 1980s color-blind critique of multiculturalism that kept the Clinton-era Democrats from thinking clearly about race or class, and from connecting race and class as they actually are.

First, there's the backward cultural politics of this Times-powered slam of alleged Identitude. Prof. Lilla attacks Hillary Clinton for excessive mentioning of various groups of people of color, and then traces the problem to schools.
The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.
Each part of this statement is wrong: that today's progressive students are more narcissistic than conservative students or than their parents (no evidence is offered, so I'll go with my contravening 30 years of experience); that diversity is a fixation that isolates students (it actually puts them in dialogue with others); that this causes racial narcissism (it actually challenges it); that college students and staff don't care about regular Americans (the vast majority at public colleges are regular Americans).

The real problem, revealed for the umpteenth time by this presidential campaign, is not diversity but its absence. Racial and cultural segregation cause the crises of understanding in national politics, not diversity programs designed to overcome it. Ethnic and gender studies requirements often bring the first shattering of the natural narcissism of early life in segregated America. Confirming this point, Dan Berrett offered a primer on existing college diversity practices that features the related themes of pre-college segregation, college-based "group dialogue," and the overcoming of "white fragility" to create stronger cross-racial bonds. One could also look up virtually any race-conscious student support service, like my campus's Equal Opportunity Program, to see functions like "holistic counseling" focused on developing the psychological resources essential to academic success. A New York Times regular like Mark Lilla might be familiar with "Who Gets to Graduate?" Paul Tough's superb account of a particularly successful diversity-based support program at the University of Texas at Austin that elevates completion rates among at-risk students. Such programs help students deal with frequent poverty, hunger, subtle as well as overt discrimination, and unfamiliar forms of competition. I could also go on about the cognitive literature that shows the direct connection between identity-conscious instruction and a student's intellectual development. I could do the same for the way breadth requirements in the standard college curriculum aim to instill the inclusive national identity that Prof. Lilla says he wants. Diversity programs are higher ed's attempt to take the country's socially segmented and unequally educated population and maximize the share that stays in college once it gets there. His attack on diversity programs as such is an attack on a core precondition of democratic higher ed.

Of course Prof. Lilla would be offended by any suggestion that he doesn't support democratic higher education. I'm sure he supports educational democracy as an abstract concept. But his whole piece argues against a crucial means of achieving it, which is a parity among social identities so that members of every group can participate on equal footing. We don't have anything close to parity among races or any other social group. The class problem is dramatic. Here is a chart of bachelors degree attainment by age 24 for dependent students, broken out by income quartile (courtesy of a Pell Institute report).

Attainment is heavily influenced by income. The bottom half of the US population has made next to no progress in B.A. attainment over 50 years. There's a lot to say about the roots of this bipartisan failure (see for example Stage 5 of the decline cycle in The Great Mistake, or Sara Goldrick-Rab's Paying the Price), but in the end there's no excuse for policy toleration of this class bias. The obvious takeaways are, (1) working class and ex-middle class voters are right to think that the higher ed system isn't doing much for them. And (2), the de facto exclusion of lower-income students is a much bigger problem for college's reputation than are diversity programs.

Writers like Prof. Lilla have encouraged people to think that this class problem persists because the race problem is being excessively featured. In practice, this would have to mean that low-income whites aren't going to college because the government has put students of color at the head of the line. This claim also has no basis in fact. To the contrary, as college participation has increased in recent years, most of the new white students go to selective colleges with strong graduation rates, and most of the new brown and black students go to open access colleges with weak graduation rates. This was the core finding of a Georgetown University report on racial disparity in college completion. Endowed with the explicit title, "Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege," its has a graphic that summarizes the racial pattern.

Enrollment growth among students of color has largely gone to the colleges that simply don't have the per-student resources to support high levels of completion. In short, the United States does not have a class problem because it has oversolved its race problem. It has a class problem and a race problem, and we need to be able to talk about both of them, on their own terms and in their interaction.

Okay, so Prof. Lilla's guns are pointed in the wrong direction, at race-conscious higher ed rather than at segregationist and class-biased public policy. But the ideas he recycles aren't responsible for re-segregation and inequality, are they? Yes, historically they actually are. This is where we have to return to the dawn of Clintonism in the late 1980s. Prof. Lilla has just rehashed a critique of multiculturalism that, to repeat, made New Democrats incapable of dealing with either racism or the economic inequality that non-college voters are rightly upset about.

The basic stakes were whether whites were going to demand that post-1960s ethnic groups assimilate to a common culture that whites defined, or, on the other hand, move toward a polycentric society in which fundamental values would be achieved through negotiation within shared legal ground rules. For figures like Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump, this wasn't even a legitimate question: of course the American core was European and all cultural groups would automatically conform. Civil rights movements famously dissented from this kind of white ethno-nationalism. Less famously, so did many educators who worked in racially diverse classrooms. For example, in 1974, Manuel Ramirez III and Alfredo Casañeda published Cultural Democracy, Bicognitive Development, and Education, in which they argued for pluralist overlap and communication rather than white-core assimilation. Writing in the Journal of Teacher Education three years later, Arturo Pacheco, in "Cultural Pluralism: A Philosophical Analysis," argued for a notion of cultural pluralism in which social groups remained independent and at the same time interdependent segments of society. The practical motivation was that students whose social worlds were not seen as legitimate by their school culture did not do well in school. In the anti-assimilationist pluralism that later came to be associated with multiculturalism, a group like Mexican Americans could retain cultural autonomy within a politically-unified nation-state. The benefit was that Americanness would no longer be defined as whiteness (though Toni Morrison just pointed out that it still is). The result would be a rough cultural equality that would allow people from every ethnic or racial group to live with others on equal footing.

Enter Clintonism, which came to power in the midst of a backlash against multicultural equality. It formed itself as a third way on racial and economic policy. It rested on liberal white nationalism. Democratic centrist godfather Arthur Schlesinger Jr. had written The Disuniting of America (1991) to demand minority-group assimilation to a culturally superior white European core. A modified position appeared in the work of the historian Gary Nash and of eduction scholar Diane Ravitch, among others, who rejected white cultural supremacism but demanded a strong common framework that generated assimilation lite. Writing a few years later, Avery Gordon and I called the Schlesinger position "cultural supremacism" and the Nash-Ravitch position "cultural unionism." The crucial compromise of the latter was that it offered flexible tolerance while still rejecting cultural parity or equality, and insisting instead on unity and shared foundations. The unionists trained their fire on calls for cultural autonomy (like Afrocentrism) that seemed to them to reject their kinder, gentler version of assimilation to an implicitly rather than aggressively white common culture.

Cultural unionism is more or less Prof. Lilla's position today. While opposing Trumpian assumptions that immigrants and racial groups must conform to a heartland white American culture, and while hiding the exact degree of assimilation required, he and his forebears are upset about diversity first and inequality much later, if ever. He ignores actually existing racial inequality in his piece, and also the university's role in ignoring class inequality. (Prof. Ravitch changed her position years ago).

Clintonism adopted this compromise formation, one that denied it was a white racial ideology. It entrenched the post-civil rights era, where the debate was always whether equal racial opportunity had gone too far. Bill Clinton came to power with a cultural politics that included trashing rapper Sister Soulja, executing the mentally disabled African American prisoner Ricky Ray Rector, and, once in office, dumping his nominee for head of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, Lani Guinier, when she was ludicrously labeled a "quota queen" by the Wall Street Journal, then ending welfare as we know it, dramatically increasing incarceration in all its racial disproportions, and so on. The Clintons sidelined Great Society and civil rights goals, which came back to haunt Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

Clintonian centrism was anti-egalitarian on race and culture--and also on class. Its soft assimilationism or liberal white nationalism would allow civil society to decide racial outcomes. In practice, this meant market forces would decide. Here is where we get to the link between racial and class inequality. The undermining of the civil rights agenda, the embrace of post-civil rights, took the heat off an economic egalitarian agenda. A good example is the work of the Clintonite political economist Robert Reich, who informed the world in his bestselling The Work of Nations (1991) that in the knowledge economy, blue collar workers are obsolete. Only cognitive workers have tradeable skills. Prof. Reich comes very close to saying that blue-collar workers, which he described as formerly valued for their ability to do the same thing over and over, have no meaningful skills at all. Stripped of craft dignity as well as economic value, industrial blue-collar workers were turned by Clintonism into an economic loser class that would need government attention but not make a contribution to the New Economy. Clintonism offered (reduced) unemployment benefits and job retraining. The latter helped spoil the reputation of further learning by offering neither actual work nor liberal-arts style respect for the student as thinker.

Clintonism interpreted industrial blue-collar America, a big chunk of Donald J. Trump's base, as economic deplorables. Their booby prize was the kind of dumbed-down adult education that would logically render them cynical about higher ed overall. Clintonism relegated the non-college population to second class status, elevating our technology lords and ladies into a new aristocracy of STEM degrees, a tiered system recently ratified yet again by the Democrat-in-chief, Barack Obama, when, in editing the November issue of Wired, he defined global challenges such that only advanced technologists are relevant to solving them.

In short, Clintonism yoked economic and racial disparity. Its commitment to both was structural--college over non-college workers, STEM over non-STEM, market over government, liberal white nationalism over multiculturalism. There's no surprise that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama was able to break Donald J. Trump's absurd bear hug of the non-college population: 25 years later, they have no street cred to counter Mr. Trump's very direct promises to reverse deindustrialization, not with further education, but with state power.

Clintonism long ago posed a terrible challenge to colleges and universities: will colleges create and sustain deep ties to those who were being relegated to the economic ash heap, on the basis, for starters, of the old land-grant promise to provide their communities with any knowledge they needed to advance? Unfortunately for both universities and society, the answer was no. From the vantage of red-state America, they surfed the knowledge economy wave, milked the tech billionaires for donations, built stadium skyboxes for wealthy sports fans, and told the children of the non-college deplorables that they'd better get their behinds to a university, the more selective the better--that is, the more likely not to have anyone like them or their families or their whole doomed class, the better.

From the point of view of class equity, this was an epic screw-up. Dropping the public good vision of egalitarian inclusion, they raised prices, stressed return on college investment, changed and burdened the student experience, shifted expenditures to activities with possible future profits, and let the post-industrial working class play catch up--if they could somehow turn themselves into that completely different type of person known as the knowledge worker. The irony is that universities were slammed for helping students of color instead of whites when, in terms of completion and degree quality, they weren't really doing that either. The whole policy practice has been a great mistake.

The mistake was clearly identified by race-conscious thinking decades ago, and could have been avoided. In The Ethnic Myth (1989), Stephen Steinberg wrote,
If there is an iron law of ethnicity, it is that when ethnic groups are found in a hierarchy of power, wealth, and status, then conflict is inescapable. However, where there is social, economic, and political parity among the constituent groups, ethnic conflict, when it occurs, tends to be at a low level and rarely spills over into violence. (170)
In a phrase: No Equity, No Peace. And this is the Clintonist legacy that Mark Lilla's piece suppresses and that Donald J. Trump exploits.

The public university will now be fighting hardcore opponents like it hasn't seen in years. It can only do this if it drops the endless self-questioning about whether diversity is racism and whether education disrespects white people. These debates are not only a distraction--they create weakness at a fatal time. The public university can either stand for racial and economic parity as a unified project, or it can continue its decline.


Chris Newfield said...

Cloudminder asks a good question: "But would Reich still frame himself as a Clintonite even after Bernie?" I don't think he would, but the post is about Robert Reich circa 1990 and not today, when Hillary herself was forced to run against big parts of the Clinton record. More deeply, I haven't found in his work a reckoning with the anti-blue collar bias that he helped to install as generally unanalyzed common sense in Clintonism, which has controlled the national Democratic party since the late 1980s. I haven't read Saving Capitalism, in part because I was disappointed to find Aftershock to be focused almost entirely on the Republican role in deregulation (see Part I Chapter 7). Aftershock did have good ideas for a reverse income tax, higher rates on high earners, and wage insurance for 1 year (plus a carbon tax). And it also called for free public college (this was 2010) with income-contingent repayment. It's hard not to like that. But Aftershock was a "new deal for the middle class" not the blue-collar working class, who get the same old unemployment programs and no new innovation policy that would cut them back into value creation. Prof. Reich remained a free trader as well: Part II Chapter 1 is called "The 2020 Election," in which the victory of the new Independence Party, which is both anti-immigrant and anti-offshoring of jobs, leads to a financial meltdown and global crisis, unfortunately four years before his prediction and via the victory of a Republican who will bring that party's underworld army back into power. In his 2020 scenario, Prof. Reich links working-class politics to nativist economic folly, and declines to imagine what Clintonism has not: a non-racist form of regulated trade (smart trade, fair trade, etc etc) that keeps the full spectrum of jobs required for the US workforce as it actually exists, with non-catastrophic planned transitions toward new sectors (the choice is never between disruptive destruction and stagnation). I don't want to overfocus on Prof Reich, who was one of the good guys in the Clinton admin, is admirable in many ways, and whose original sin, "The Work of Nations," also demanded a "new patriotism" that would prevent the abandonment of the majority of working people that he no doubt regretted as it was happening. But we needed to do a lot better, and today need a quantum leap in social intelligence. I'm arguing that this means making anti-racism the necessary condition of successful engagement with the real issues of the non-college U.S., since racism fueled deindustrialization and confronting it is the precondition of broad economic regeneration.

cloudminder said...

@Chris Newfield
thanks for this, just wondered since you made clear in the piece that on "(Prof. Ravitch changed her position years ago)." - and wondered if you felt similarly about Reich.

Also do you (and including Michael Meranze on this) see connections with what happened to Guinier as linked to the Nannygate stuff and Bork (in addition to Hill Thomas, more) as part of a common thread,? They were all part of loads of DC hearings piped into TV sets then and ..
Checked back to index of Unmaking but did not find them there and don't recall them mentioned directly from reading it earlier in the "culture wars" section. Some of it labeled culture war solely but really tactic, strategy, obstruction,other forces wishing to destabilize, and then legit criticism mixed with payback and it seems important to remember all that then, not just use of term "culture" to understand the divide then, right?

Chris Newfield said...

yes - I agree on all this, including on the indexing issue. I don't quite put RR in the Ravitch category because she has built the recent research around an explicit repudiation of a key axiom of the pro-charter work--that it is a politically neutral efficiency mechanism. I haven't seen anything similar in the Reich work I've read but I'd be happy to be corrected.

Michael Meranze said...


Yes that is an important point. A good deal of what sometimes gets characterized as "culture wars" (especially in the wider polity) was really about politics in the most narrow sense--the attempt to delegitimate your opponent and their institutional bases or else to settle scores. I tend to think Bork was a particular case but the others do all fit into your characterization. And I don't think we should overlook the ferocity of the Republican response to Clinton's election or the way that they continued to challenge his legitimacy (and Obama's for that matter) through both terms.

I suspect that there is a flip side as well--that some of what we might think of as political disputes within culture really are not about politics--except in the old sense of a debate over the good life. If we underestimate the politics of culture we can overestimate it as well.

Chris Newfield said...

I've just read Katherine Franke's very good piece on Lilla, "Making White Supremacy Respectable. Again," where she explains why his is a "liberalism of white supremacy." http://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/making-white-supremacy-respectable/

California Policy Issues said...

It's important not to forget that the election was close. If Trump had lost, we would be talking about Republicans spiraling into a destructive battle between the country club vs. libertarians vs. alt-right, vs... But Trump won and now it's the Democrats who risk the downward spiral. (Example: The current British Labour Party.) Actually, the Democrats are at special risk because they lost state and local offices and so the folks who used to man (literally) the smoke-filled rooms and who wanted to win are in poor shape to keep the party's eye on winning. The problem was already occurring among the Democrats, even before the election. (Since North Carolina was seen by Clinton as a potentially win, was fighting with the state's GOP over transgendered restrooms a winning strategy? Did it speak to swing voters in North Carolina?) UC gets more funding in one way or another from the federal govt. than from the state. So UC is likely to bend in the wind; if that idea does not appeal, strategies that risk losing more elections won't help. While there is no doubt that race played a role in the election outcome, so did a lot of other things. Making a fetish about one factor in a close election will not be a winning strategy, not on campus and certainly not off campus. For example, the cavalier "those-jobs-are-gone" beliefs and rhetoric about manufacturing and other non-college jobs that "informed" the Clinton campaign were half-truths. *Some* of those jobs are gone. Others could be regained by a better-run trade policy. If there is any lesson from the election, it is that it is important to make allies and avoid group-think. And, again, that lesson applies on campus as well as off. Categorizing potential allies as deplorables is not helpful. If that is someone's idea of a strategy, I'll take vanilla. -Dan Mitchell

banzhaf's Blog said...


Prof. Banzhaf: Maybe Colleges Need to Teach ‘Blue-Collar Studies’ to Educate Academics http://bit.ly/2g1ko4g

Latino Studies, Women's Studies... Blue-collar Studies?
Our Educated Class Is Blind to 60 Percent of Americans


cloudminder said...

@Michael Meranzethanks. I wondered if legal historians used the term 'culture wars' to explain those events then or now
or if legal historians use other terms so your response is helpful.
Strict construction is the go to language on one side ...
But those terms do not really make clear to avg folks where sympathies are, so when HRC said those comments in W VA on coal or the other comments there wasn't a sufficient expression, phrases or language that could cut to compassion or show a commitment to help fight for avg folks.
Honey or vinegar.

Michael Meranze said...


I think that I misunderstood your original question--I thought you were asking about whether or not the focus on the university was overstated. But, yes you are right that there are important parallels in the debates over courts and the Constitution that heated up after Bork. I don't know that legal scholars discuss them as part of the culture wars (except perhaps related to issues of policing and punishment) but clearly the notion of strict construction vs. something like a "living" or "evolving" constitution could be analysed that way. If you relate that to questions, for instance of voting rights the connection would be clear and it seems as if, for instance in terms of Dan's comment, that it was the policy of voter suppression in NC rather than the bathroom issue that most likely cost Clinton votes in NC. The whole attack on federal oversight of voting rights has been done in constitutional terms as alleged "overreach."

Douglas said...

About 30-40 years ago, interdisciplinary studies were introduced for geographic areas - thus came East Asian Studies, South Asian Studies, Russian Studies and Latin American Studies. What united these area studies was the study of a foreign language, which gave some coherence and rigor to the study of different academic disciplines focused on one particular region where that language was spoken.

From these roots came today's identity-focused "studies" programs, which are not primarily academic or focused on scholarship but instead aim at self-discovery, in-group reinforcement, and "social justice." The academy would lose little if they disappeared and the few real scholars (as opposed to activists) working in these areas were absorbed into more traditional academic departments.

Chris Newfield said...

Douglas your stereotyped generalization about ethnic studies et al simply isn't true. These are academic fields where scholarship and teaching standards are judged by exactly the same university standards that preside over all other fields. The problem to me is the freedom with which people feel entitled to make negative categorical statements about say Latino Studies that they wouldn't make about sociology, chemistry, International Relations, or economics. Tempted as I am to take nobelist Robert J. Shiller's dumb wishful thinking about Trumponomics in the New York Times and reject the entire discipline of economics as hopelessly uncritical about right-wing ideology masquerading as development, I resist such slams of other people's fields. I think you should do the same about the Studies programs. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/upshot/trump-and-great-business-ideas-for-america.html?_r=0

California Policy Issues said...

Scroll down to ***

NOV. 30, 2016, 6:00 A.M. LA Times

Bernie Sanders tells California audience that Democrats 'cannot be the party of the liberal elite'

Christine Mai-Duc

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to a sold-out crowd of 1,400 Tuesday night in Glendale, trying to help supporters grapple with the election of Donald Trump and chart a path forward.

Opening her conversation with Sanders at the Alex Theatre, comedian Sarah Silverman posed a question with a four-letter word she said has "been on everybody's mind since the election."

"What the [expletive]?" Silverman said to laughter and applause. "Is that the entire question?" Sanders responded, before warning that the Democratic Party "cannot be the party of the liberal elite."

Sanders told the audience that it would be a mistake to assume that the only reason Trump won was because his supporters are "racists, sexists and homophobes."

"What he touched on in many, many parts of this country is a pain and a level of despair that you never, ever see on television," Sanders said. "A lot of people are suffering, a lot of people are hurting and they need a party which brings them into the process."

***Sanders continued to de-emphasize identity politics, a move he's made in several media outlets in recent days, saying "it isn't enough" to support a candidate because she's a Latina or a woman. Democrats, Sanders said, need to stand against racism and discrimination, but also emphasize progressive values such as fighting Wall Street and drug companies.

He repeated his belief that the "overwhelming share" of Americans support his progressive ideals, including a desire for clean air and water, free college tuition and greater pay equality for women, all topics that drew sustained applause from the audience.

"As we try to figure out how best to deal with a President Trump, and I'm as reluctant as you to say that phrase ... please do not believe that members of Congress can do this alone. We need a mass movement of millions of people who are engaged," Sanders said.

Douglas said...

Try following @RealPeerReview for a few weeks and get back to me. That account simply publishes abstracts of peer reviewed articles by gender and critical studies scholars. It's very hard to read these and not conclude those fields are pure quackery. @Chris Newfield

Anonymous said...

(Same anon from above.) I just realized you're at UCSB, Dr. Newfield. As they are at all top UCs, whites are seriously underrepresented at your school. Let me ask, then, how you expect some whites to react when, as 35% of the student population, they are discouraged from participating in identity politics but the other 65% are encouraged to do so? (This question is especially pertinent given that only 4% of those non-white students are black and that 30+% are Asian?)

Anonymous said...

(Hmm, I'll try this one more time without the link. Sorry for the reposts.)

I agree with everything you say here in the context of white and black America. However, laying the black identity politics template onto every other ethnic group is not warranted and, in my view, does a disservice to the unique experience of African Americans, whose history in this nation goes back as far as the Daughters of the Revolution. My problem, then, is with your insistence on using "and X" after "black."

According to Pew, second- and third-generation Hispanics are assimilating to the economic mean quite nicely. I'm two generations out of Mexico on my maternal side, and I'm already well above the American median income level. (Hispanics remain behind whites in terms of wealth, but, as it did with the Italians, that will change over the coming generations.) Further, East Asians and Indians are among the wealthiest demographic groups in the country; indeed, Indians are THE wealthiest demographic group. So I don't see on what grounds you add "and X" to "black" throughout the post.

In my view, the recent coalescence of white identity politics is not a response to black identity politics, which have been a part of America's ecology of ideas for decades. It's a response to the adoption of identity politics by dozens of demographic groups, very few of whom have any legit economic reason to do so.

Nor, in most cases, do these groups have any sound cultural reason to do so. For example, it makes no sense for Asian, Indian, or even Middle Eastern Americans to complain about lack of representation in the larger culture. All these groups, unlike black Americans, have healthy national cultures of their own. Their cultural complaints are tantamount to American expats in China complaining that the Chinese don't make enough movies about white Americans.

America is no longer 90% white and 10% black, as it was for generations. It is now a truly multiracial, multiethnic empire. Insofar as identity politics are grounded in "lack of parity," as you say, then first of all, I don't see how Asians, Indians, or even Hispanics lack parity in the way that blacks do, and second of all, we need to recognize that cultivating identity politics can lead to very dangerous places, because every ethnic group can easily imagine itself "dispossessed" in some way---just as rural and working class whites demonstrated in this election.

Tessa V said...


What are your qualifications for assessing the quality of studies in any field?

Tessa V said...


Can you provide an example of what "identity politics" looks like for White students? And why do you say that white students are "seriously underrepresented" at UCSB? 36% of the population at the school, 42% of the population in the state. Latinos are 25% at the school, but 35% of the state population. It would seem that they are actually far more underrepresented at that school than white students.

Anonymous said...

@Tessa V
42% > 36%, hence underrepresented. Hispanics and blacks are more underrepresented, Asians and internationals are highly highly over-represented. For parity, UCSB would need to kick out a lot of Asians. (Of course, setting the national demography as the standard, the numbers are even more skewed against whites.)

What does identity politics look like for whites? I imagine it will run the gamut from white nationalism to rural working class politics. My point, though, wasn't to suggest, as a prescriptive matter, that whites should take up identity politics. I think identity politics can lead to really bad things in a multiethnic empire like America. As a descriptive matter, however, I find it likely that whites will indeed take up identity politics because they'll have no reason not to, as they continue to lose economic power. This is not a novel argument. Carol Swain has been making it for years, and Shadi Hamid has recently taken it up.

Tessa V said...


Anonymous --
So 42%>36% is an underrepresentation that ought to be acted on? And the way to "achieve parity" is to kick out a lot of Asians? Is there some precedent for this? Was there a time when educational institutions at city, state, or federal levels have expelled people of one racial group to achieve "parity?" of some sort? If you have any historical information about that, I would truly like to know it.

It's strange to me that you talk about "white identity politics" as if it were a fiction. When have we not had it in this country? Can you name one decade -- or even a single year -- that we have not had white identity politics in this great nation? Just this morning I was reading about the Chinese massacres, expulsions, and riots in Los Angeles, Tacoma, and British Columbia. In the 1960s we had hippies. They were pretty white, pretty political, and into their identities. I won't go on randomly recalling historical examples. There are plenty of examples from today. For example, did you know that Milo Yiannopoulos is currently touring college campuses throughout the US? As a matter of fact, he'll be at UCSB next month.

You "imagine" identity politics for white people might range anywhere between white nationalism and rural working class politics -- but both of those exist today, and have always existed here. I recently spent some time in the South and the Northeast, and I saw plenty of white identity politics in those places. I see white identity politics outside the old mining towns, and logging towns, and lots of other places where white owned corporations sucked everything they could out of the land and the white people living on the land -- and left them there, high and dry.

Are Asian American and international students at UCSB stopping those folks from having a white identity politics?

Personally, I need only drive about 35 minutes from my front door and the total population of People of Color drops to less than 15%. For the next 120 miles. I can attest to it, white identity politics is there and kicking: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

You've got your hippies and your hipsters, and your campus Republicans and your Catholics and your Swedish clubs, and lets not forget your Greeks! A whole range of affinity and identity groups. White people are not excluded from any of these. They're not even excluded from most of the PoC groups. I've never seen one, personally, and that's probably because unlike white people -- 75% of whom don't have any kind of meaningful relationship with a person of color - most PoC are actually used to having white people in the vicinity.

And what percentage of college-going PoC are even involved in a racial identity group? Do you know?

Now, I wouldn't expect rural working class politics to make a big showing at UCSB, but have you skimmed your campus organizations list? I did. They got an Irish group, Italian group, Republican group, Libertarian group, Rand Paul for President group, Young Americans for Liberty group, Young Americans for Freedom... So I don't even know why you're saying white identities aren't allowed on campus.

And if it's that the campus is only 36% white identified instead of 42%, maybe the UCSB campus republican group, the Young Americans for Liberty, and/or whoever it is bringing Milo out next month can strategize about how to get some of the "overrepresented" white students at these other schools to transfer to UC schools, spread the whiteness out a little.

Anonymous said...

Tessa - I don't understand what your point is. That whites engage in identity politics but POC don't? Or that student populations should represent demographics in society? Or not? I sense anger and sarcasm in your comments but I don't see what is the larger point you are trying to make. Please could you explain.

Anonymous said...

@Tessa V

I think we're talking at cross-purposes, primarily because I'm trying to speak descriptively and you're in full prescriptive mode.

First, let's recalibrate our definitions---identity politics is a demographically grounded response to lack of economic, political, and/or cultural parity experienced by said demographic. By that definition, BLM is identity politics but an Irish pride parade is not. Pro-immigrant La Raza rallies in LA? Identity politics. A Mexican American club on campus where Mexicans swap stories about their abuelas and eat pozole? Not identity politics. A 99% rural white Trump rally? Identity politics. A nerdy libertarian club where Randians of all races fantasize about the coming singularity? Not identity politics.

So, most of your examples aren't examples of identity politics and are beside the point.

Second, I'm not arguing about the necessity, the desirability, or the historical and present reality of white identity politics. I'm saying that, if we encourage identity politics among all ethnic groups, then whites will by necessity partake in same---which, as some of your examples demonstrate, is nothing whites haven't already done before under real or perceived threat. And it's not often pretty.

Healthy cultural pride is one thing. Encouraging the citizens (and non-citizens) of a multiethnic empire to be always on the lookout for slights against their ethnicity (microagressions!) or to make various lacks of parity a core part of their identity and politics is a recipe for serious civic discord. This tactic made sense for blacks when America consisted of nothing but whites and their former slave population. However, America is no longer a biracial country. It's a multiethnic empire, with plenty of slights to go around. (California's biggest civil rights case didn't even involve whites; it involved the ethnic cleansing of blacks from South LA neighborhoods by Mexican gangs.) And, as my earlier post argued, most of the slights, the racism, the inequalities experienced by Asians, Indians, Hispanics, etc. don't warrant identity politics in the first place, insofar as identity politics is taken from the playbook of a group enslaved for 200 years and systematically denied national participation for another 100 years.

Fernando Leanme said...

I studied engineering in the 1970's, and my youngest child already finished college (in Texas). I never heard the term "identity politics" or "identity studies" when I was in school, so I guess either we didn't get much of it in engineering, or it's a new term.

My sense is that it's probably the wrong nomenclature and you mean something like ethnic studies, or ethnography, used for specific political aims. Based on my personal experience, as well as my family's, the last thing the USA needs is to put people in ethnic boxes, simply because it's a nation of Inmigrants which do need to integrate. And I want to make this clear, being an inmigrant I realized immediately it was important to integrate, period. That means learning the language, having a good accent, studying the traditions, and learning to play basketball and baseball.

I see a tendency for the left wing to try to capture a constituency based on ethnic background ("you are black, Tex mex or whatever and you should vote X"). That of course led to Hillary's defeat.

There's a serious disconnect between the left wing elites and the people. Too much emphasis on issues nobody cares that much about (like global warming), too much emphasis on racism, and way too much communism. Global warming doesn't mean much to people trying to earn a living, racism is a fact of life, and highlighting differences just makes it worse, and communism leads to poverty, dictatorship and repression. That's what you should be teaching.

Alice Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Join the Conversation

Note: Firefox is occasionally incompatible with our comments section. We apologize for the inconvenience.