Last week, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley declared her candidacy for the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Ho-hum: Haley is a long shot behind frontrunners Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, with most polls estimating her support in the low single digits. The reaction to her candidacy on the right was tepid, save for some carping from MAGA types about her “neocon” tendencies.
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The left, meanwhile, greeted Haley’s announcement with its typical sangfroid. I’m joking: Within hours of the announcement, MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan was lecturing Haley, the daughter of Punjabi Sikh immigrants, for “abandoning” her race by checking “white” on an old voter registration card (which you can read about here), while one of his guests, Wajahat Ali, denounced Haley as an “Alpha Karen” who “uses her brown skin to launder white supremacist talking points.”
Come again? “White supremacy” is a strong contender for the dumbest concept of our age, though the competition is stiff. In the not-too-distant past, it referred to something real: a set of social relations in which non-whites were excluded from full membership in the political community, as in apartheid South Africa or the pre-Civil Rights-era South. Over the past decade, however, it has become little more than a term of abuse meaning “Republican.” The logic, such as it is, goes something like this: most American whites vote Republican, and the modern GOP supports policies (tough policing, immigration restriction, laissez-faire economics) that allegedly have a “disparate impact” on minorities and thereby contribute to “structural racism.” Most offensively, Republicans are patriotic and feel positively about America’s historical culture, which was shaped largely by people of European ancestry. Therefore, any form of conservatism in the United States, for the left, is “white supremacist,” since it looks back to a time when the country was run by white men who treated minorities brutally.
The problem with this formulation, in which all Republicans incarnate the worst devils of the American past, is that a not-insignificant number of minorities actually like the Republicans and vote for them. Democrats dominate among black voters, but the GOP regularly picks up about one-third of the Asian and Hispanic votes, and sometimes more. There is also the historical fact that up until the 1970s, Democrats were the party of the segregated South while Republicans tended to favor civil rights legislation, as they had since the party was led by Abraham Lincoln.
These apparent contradictions can be explained away by academic concepts that license identifying tens of millions of people, minorities included, as racists for not voting Democratic. There are concepts like “multiracial whiteness,” which is the idea that non-whites who vote for the GOP or otherwise reject the progressive narrative of American history are somehow “participating in whiteness” or acting as useful idiots to uphold “white supremacy.”
In his monologue, Hasan hammered Haley for waffling on removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse before taking it down the wake of the 2015 Charleston shooting, and for choosing to emphasize the positive aspects of growing up in Bamberg, SC in the 1970s rather than the minor slights she was subjected to as the lone South Asian. In Hasan’s view, Haley had sinned by being too respectful of a local “white” political symbol and not being vindictive enough towards her red-state white neighbors—choices that could only be evidence of naked political opportunism or a shameful lack of racial self-awareness.
It is tempting to dismiss the concept of “multiracial whiteness” as a self-evident absurdity, redolent of the old accusation of “false consciousness” hurled at members of the working class who failed to recognize the truth of the immortal science of Marxism-Leninism. But as is often the case, the radicals have latched onto a grain of truth and then distorted it beyond recognition.
That truth is this: American political history and culture are, in the very expansive sense of the word favored by the left, indeed “white”; more specifically, they are British Protestant. Americans speak English, not Spanish or Swahili. Our legal and constitutional system is a blend of English common law and Enlightenment political theory. The features of our culture that foreigners regard as remarkable—our individualism, our moralism, our suspicion of government and authority, our love of guns, our blind faith in Providence (whether framed as “History” or the free market)—all trace back in some way to the people who founded the country. Things have changed a lot since then, but that’s our basic cultural hardware, the water we swim in regardless of where our parents or grandparents happen to be from.
Saying that our culture has roots in a particular place does not mean that it belongs only to one group or is closed off to people of different backgrounds. There’s an old joke from the mid-20th century that in America, you had Protestant Protestants, Protestant Catholics, and Protestant Jews — the joke being that all those late 19th- and early 20th-century immigrants, whatever their culture of origin, were transformed by contact with the Protestant majority culture. Of course, they also transformed it in turn — cultural transmission is never a one-way street. But as shows like The Sopranos and White Lotus like to joke, the grandchildren of those 20th-century Sicilian immigrants have a lot more in common with their fellow Americans than they do with their relatives in the old country.
Today, you might similarly say that America proudly boasts a population of white whites, white blacks, white Hispanics, and white Asians. Especially in the culture-making class that people like Haley, Hasan, and Ali belong to, everybody has assimilated to a version of “white” culture. For Hasan, Ali, and those like them, it’s the culture of white urban liberals, whose identity rests in part on viewing their red-state countrymen as proto-fascist Neanderthals. For Haley, it’s a more conservative white culture that’s patriotic and despises the libs for being America-hating whiners and sissies. All are participating in “multiracial whiteness”; what’s absurd is the implication that Hasan running cover for the Democrats on MSNBC is somehow more “authentically” South Asian than Haley running for office as a Republican.
Of course, you might also say that if everybody in America is a multiracial white, or multiracial white supremacist, then the term is pretty much meaningless. In that, you’d be correct. On the other hand, hurling meaningless invective at your political opponents is a time-hallowed national sport, so there is no reason that Hasan and Ali can’t play.
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