At the beginning of the 1980s, white people crawled out of the woodwork and suburbs, and back into the cities and power.
To America's minorities, the message was clear: the middle-aged, middle-class whites were back in town. "The late '60s and the '70s," proclaimed George Bush, the candidate of white bread and mayonnaise, "were an anomaly." And though distinctive, even white-haired John B. Anderson was as stiff, as unhip, as straight white as they come.
Where were the shows of yesteryear? Previous races for the White House had shown a bit of color -- Robert Kennedy's flash, Lyndon Johnson's humor, Richard Nixon's darkness. But early in 1980, a national convention of black leaders couldn't draw a single presidential hopeful.
Our nation's youth agreed no more ethnicity. Turning their backs on the black roots of rock, New Wave musicians sang about -- and positively embraced -- the frantic clumsiness of white anxiety. David Byrne, singer and songwriter for the group "Talking Heads," set forth the new attitude in his song "Life During Wartime": "This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around."
As with spring, the signs were everywhere.
In February, the Winter Olympics were white on white. And the Summer Olympics were a different matter.
In March, The New York Times ran an op-ed piece telling us to look at the bright side of the Ku Klux Klan.
In the '80s, green grass and red "Ripple" were out of style. The new drugs of choice were white wine and coke, or Perrier and ego -- the latter pair being odorless, colorless and powerful, like so many aging white men.
Overseas, Asian enemies were passe. It was no loss -- the Vietnamese had always defied our understanding. ("The Deerhunter" and "Apocalypse Now" proved it: Asians talk funny.) In the '80s, our foes became the Soviets. They were white. Except when they were "Reds."
The white people were not much grieved to find the world a far more dangerous place than they had left it 15 years before. They simply wanted it back. To be sure, it was not safe -- but once again, it was theirs.