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Joan Walsh's Analysis of What's the Matter with White People (REVIEW ESSAY)

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(Article changed on April 21, 2013 at 14:17)

Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) April 21, 2013: From early colonial times onward until the 1960 presidential election, American culture was dominated by WASP culture (WASP = white Anglo-Saxon Protestant). To be sure, in American culture historically, WASPs excelled in debating with one another. As a result, WASP culture was always a fractious culture.

However, in the 1960 presidential election, Senator John F. Kennedy, a Harvard-educated Irish American Catholic, narrowly defeated Vice President Richard M. Nixon, a Quaker. JFK's election was a set back for the dominance of WASP culture as the prestige culture. Of course, as everybody knows, JFK was assassinated before he had completed his first term as president. Perhaps he was assassinated because he was perceived to be a threat to the dominance of WASP culture in Washington, DC.

In any event, WASP culture was indeed truly threatened by the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Subsequently, WASP culture was further threatened by the emergence of a new wave of feminist activism in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, WASP culture was threatened by the anti-war movement against the Vietnam war.

For understandable reasons, many white Americans felt threatened by these various developments centered in the 1960s, including many white Americans who were not Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

In his book DECADE OF NIGHTMARES: THE END OF THE SIXTIES AND THE MAKING OF THE EIGHTIES (2006), Philip Jenkins perceptively details how conservative Republicans capitalized on the understandable fears of white Americans by using their anti-60s rhetoric to rally reaction to the events remembered as centered in the 1960s. Along with their anti-60s rhetoric came a nostalgia for the supposedly good old days of the 1950s -- before all the troubles of the turbulent 1960s started.

Then the dominance of WASP culture as the prestige culture suffered another set back in the 2008 presidential election when Senator Barack Obama, an African American Protestant with a Harvard Law School degree, handily defeated Senator John McCain, a Vietnam war hero.

Even though the economy was not working his favor, President Obama managed to win re-election decisively in 2012.

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In the recently published paperback edition of her 2012 electioneering book WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH WHITE PEOPLE? FINDING OUR WAY IN THE NEXT AMERICA, Joan Walsh has added a succinct postscript about the 2012 election results. She notes that "an estimated 93 million whites voted in 2012" (page 310). Of these white voters, President Obama "got a total of 65.4 million votes" or almost 40 percent of the white vote. As a result, "57 percent of his votes were white [votes]."

In a nutshell, the 2012 election comes down to 65.4 white votes for Obama and 27.6 white votes for his Republican opponent. Overall, white voters favored Obama.

Granted, Obama needed and received strong voter support among African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans to give him such a decisive victory in 2012.

Now, I want to turn to Joan Walsh's straightforward statement answering the question raised in the title of her book. In the last sentence of her postscript, she says that the white minority who did not vote for Obama in 2012 are "mourn[ing] the past" (page 311) -- the 1950s when WASP culture was the unchallenged prestige culture.

Please don't misunderstand me here. I am NOT suggesting that we do not have a prestige culture in the United States today, because we obviously do have a prestige culture in the U.S. today. But it is no longer defined by the terms represented by the WASP acronym.

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Moreover, for understandable reasons, we will probably always have a prestige culture in the U.S. In and of itself, it is not a bad thing for our country to have a prestige culture. However, having a prestige culture means that we will have gatekeepers of the prestige culture. Yes, the gatekeepers may at times be biased in favor of certain in-groups and against certain out-groups. But that's life.

But is Joan Walsh right in suggesting that white conservatives are mourning the past? (In the context, she is clearly referring to nondeath mourning, not to mourning due to the death of a significant person in one's life.)

If she is right, then we should hope that their mourning stays healthy and that they are able to work through their mourning and resolve it. However, if their mourning does not stay healthy, then they will not work through their mourning and resolve it. Instead, their unhealthy mourning will remain unresolved.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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John Bradshaw says that grief is the healing feeli... by Thomas Farrell on Sunday, Apr 21, 2013 at 2:13:49 PM