By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, July 14, 2010; B01
White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa.
-- Racial definition from the U.S. Census Bureau
With all the talk lately about "white vote," I thought it would be helpful to know what a white person is. As the census definition makes clear, who knows? It's a biological fiction, a figment of the pigment beneath which all human beings are the same.
And yet, with midterm elections just a few months away, the so-called white vote looms large, an angry and vindictive political force. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday showed that President Obama's approval ratings have reached "a new low among whites, at 40 percent, with his positive marks dipping under 50 percent for the first time among white college-educated women."
Does race have anything to do with it? You betcha.
"What explains the white surge to the GOP?" commentator Patrick Buchanan asks in a recent issue of the American Conservative magazine. Among the answers, he says, is "a growing perception that Obama is biased." Or, as Glenn Beck said last year on his Fox TV show: Obama has a "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."
To hear whites tell it, what really bothers them is a growing federal government that they fear will intervene in their lives -- unless there's an oil spill along the Gulf Coast, of course, in which case their complaint is too little intervention. Budget deficits are a worry, too, unless it's George Bush running up the red ink.
But, as Buchanan and Beck have noted, there is no escaping the role of race in the animosity toward Obama.
Whites, for instance, are overwhelmingly in favor of Arizona's immigration law, according to most polls. And virtually none of the surveys has shown any concern for the rights of nonwhite Hispanics who would be subject to racial profiling and illegal search and seizures. These are the same people who like to wave copies of the U.S. Constitution and claim Obama is curtailing their freedoms.
"The differences between whites and nonwhites on [the Arizona immigration law] are very stark," Matthew Kerbel, a political scientist at Villanova University, told the Christian Science Monitor. "The numbers seem to reflect that among white American voters, there is something that needs to be done about illegal immigration and that the Arizona law addresses that. But among blacks and Hispanics, the law is viewed as a strong form of racial profiling, and so there is strong sentiment against it."
Amazing, really, how people from German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Welsh, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian and Russian backgrounds can land on American shores and coalesce around a racial category concocted solely to exploit others.
Enter the pitiful "tea party" movement -- made up largely of well-educated and well-heeled whites. How desperately they cling to privileges that accrue from their skin color, going so far as to proclaim themselves victims of reverse discrimination.
According to a New York Times/CBS poll in April, tea party supporters are having a conniption fit because Obama is supposedly helping the poor people rather than the middle class or the rich.
"The overwhelming majority of supporters say Mr. Obama does not share the values most Americans live by and that he does not understand the problems of people like themselves," the Times report on the poll said. "More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites."
Tell that to black people who live in places such as Southeast Washington, where the unemployment rate exceeds 30 percent.
As for those who would claim that blacks relish their racial designation as much as whites do theirs, just remember that if white people didn't insist on being white, there would be no such thing as race.
Eventually, though, demographic changes will render such designations all but meaningless. Despite resistance from those who have a death grip on white privilege, we are becoming a nation of people having origins not in geography but in humanity. Some day soon, let's hope, each of us will be a minority of one, and when we go to the polls we'll vote as Americans.