On March 4, CNN published a story that shocked me. The headline, both eye catching and ridiculous, read, “Are whites racially oppressed?”
As Angry Asian Man said, “NO.”
The article looks into what CNN calls “racial jujitsu,” whites adopting the language and protest tactics of an embattled minority group. They cite conservatives, like talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who calls whites the new “oppressed minority” that sits at the “back of the bus.”
What’s happening today is the loss of the white majority and its superiority. It’s true that the collective population of minorities will soon surpass the population of whites in the United States. It’s also true that Asian Americans are becoming the new majority in locales such as Daly City and El Cerrito, both in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, but this is not causing for oppression.
What I think we’re all going through right now is troubling for some people, but that doesn’t necessarily make it bad. To white people, who previously experienced “white privilege,” their loss of “rights” is not quite the same as racial oppression for ethnic minorities. It goes without saying that “white privilege” allowed preferential status to white people, even if they were a minority. The loss of privilege is not the same as the loss of a right.
To put this into perspective, consider this fictional scenario: A farmer, I’ll call him Ron, lives in a small town takes his neighbor’s farm while his neighbor is sick. When his neighbor can’t protest because he is confined to his bed, Ron grows rich. Not to say he is stealing his neighbor’s property; he pays him a very small dividend to help keep his neighbor’s family fed and clothed, but not much else. The logical resolution here is for the neighbor to sue Rob to get back his land and a fair dividend of what Rob has gained. This is how the legal system works, more or less.
What the people quoted in the CNN article argue is that, somehow, Ron should be given preferential treatment because he is losing the land he used to farm, even if he initially stole it. What “oppression” Ron feels, is more the feeling of a fall from grace, perhaps something akin to what the English felt when the colonies decided to say no more to oppression.
As America becomes more ethnically diverse, this issue becomes even more crucial. After all, if whites are no longer a racial majority, should they be disproportionately represented in our society?
So let’s get this straightened out.
Racial oppression is something that happens when someone is wronged based on his or her race. Racial oppression is not something that happens when too many minorities destabilize the demographics for an equal opportunity employer.
The incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent due to racism, wartime hysteria and a failure of political leadership is oppression. The impoverished situation of African Americans even after the abolishment of slavery is oppression. Elected officials equating Muslims as terrorists and supporting rallies where Muslim children are told to “go home” is oppression.
What’s not oppression is realizing you’re not top dog anymore. Nobody is entitled to superiority. Those claiming whites have lost their privilege are, ironically, being oppressive themselves. Their call to restore their former status in American society is a call to defend racial intolerance and to perpetuate a disparity between minorities and whites.
The best way for whites to keep themselves from being ostracized and becoming left out in defending against their perceived oppression is to join in the fight against existing disparities and seeking out diverse allies. Despite becoming increasingly complex, a diverse group of people fighting together will create better solidarity in calling out oppression when there is any.
The topic in vogue today seems to be the involvement of Japanese Americans in speaking out for Muslim and Arab Americans in the face of post-Sept. 11 racism. By strengthening relationships across racial barriers, we can better trust each other and learn about one another. This way, in times of need, we can always rely on people who have been there for justice.
Nobody said this nation was for white people. Nobody said it was for blacks, Asians or Latinos either.
So to be fair, in 40 years — when Asians are the majority in California — whites can feel as oppressed as they like when there’s a law kicking white people out of the Silicon Valley “because they aren’t good at math” or something, because that’s racist and horrible. It will then be their time to band together with other racial minorities to bring to justice a system that oppresses them. The Civil Rights Movement isn’t around to take away rights, only to restore them.
Tomo Hirai is a Nichi Bei Weekly staff member. He has written a vast amount on anime and manga. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.