After the sixth book arrived in the mail, I realized something might

be going on here. Stupid White Men; Rush Limbaugh is a Big

Fat Idiot, Does Anyone Have a Problem With That: The

Best of Politically Incorrect; Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them:

A Fair and Balanced

Look at the Right; When You Ride Alone You Ride With

Bin Laden: What the Government Should Be Telling Us

to Help Fight the

War on Terrorism;

Dude, Where’s My Country? Turn on the TV, and there’s

Jon Stewart sneering at Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond

or the bigoted Republican Party. Listen to the radio, and there’s

Al Franken talking about the racist plot to disenfranchise black voters

during the 2000 election.

Liberal pundits, while not as ubiquitous as conservative

talk radio and TV warriors, nevertheless seem to be coming out of the

woodwork these

days.





















 <p> In addition to excoriating the Christian right, the



























 gun lobby, and evil corporations in general, these























liberal pop-culture icons-in-the-making also talk about race on occasion. </p>























<p> In his corporate speeches, Al Franken likes to offer

























the following commentary on U.S. racism: “Looking at your faces























 today, I can see that this group hasn’t caved in to that whole

























affirmative action nonsense. Look around, see all the white faces and





















 laugh.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 ” </p>





















 <p> Bill Maher, who has a new HBO show “Real Time With Bill Maher” since

























the canning of his “Politically Incorrect” post-Sept. 11,

























 made this remark during a March 2004 segment: “Nothing gets white

























 people to the polls like fear. In fact, the right wing is so fired up

























 about Jews and gays and the potty mouth, they’ve almost forgotten





















 who the real enemy is





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 —brown people.”</p>





















 <p> Like the white populist movements of olden days, the



























new white populists of today claim allegiance with























people of color and supposedly represent a solidarity of common white

























 folk and communities





















of color against the establishment. </p>























<p> But the history of white populism is a story of overlapping



























 goals and class politics; however, it is equally

























a story of sustained racism, of pimping people of color in the name of

























working class power

























 and thereby erasing the privilege and power bestowed

























upon white workers because of their skin color. </p>





















<p> Historians have long cited the white populist revolt



























of the late nineteenth century that brought Southern

























white and black sharecroppers together as a powerful cross-racial movement.























 Throughout



























the South, white sharecroppers joined together to























 form the Farmers Alliance during the 1880s. Unwilling to admit blacks,

























they helped form the Black



























Farmers Alliance, which existed as an appendage with

























little power or autonomy. A number of candidates supported by the Farmers

























 Alliance found



























their way into legislatures on the backs of black























 voters, only to later support anti-black bills. </p>





















<p> The history of white populism (including the abolitionist

























 movement and the progressive movement of the 1920s)

























 is a story of claimed working class solidarity against the common enemy























 of the white elite.

























 Yet these same white populists supported legislation

























that denied a minimum wage or labor protection to agricultural and domestic























 workers (mainly





















 people of color) as part of the New Deal. </p>





















<p> Recent coalitions have found similar problems—white support for

























 the civil rights movement during Freedom Summer or the 1960s coalitions























 between the Weathermen and leftist organizations of color often replicated

























unequal power relations and sanction of white privilege. Moreover, many























 white activists from the 1960s, such as Todd Gitlin, Tom Hayden and Jane























Fonda, have gone on to illustrious careers, while people of color like





















Leonard Peltier, Fred Hampton and Tommie Smith faced less fortunate futures.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 </p>





















 <p> Whether as a “giddy multitude” (a term used to describe black























 and white indentured servants of the 1700s) rising up against landowners























exploiting indentured servants, or communities joining together against























 the outsourcing of jobs, social scientists often celebrate white populist





















 movements without a discussion of racism, privilege and goals.







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































</p>























<p> While conservatives have denigrated Moore, Franken























and others in their milieu for unfairly exploiting

























racial divisions (as part of their un-American plot to “slander” Republicans like

























 George Bush), their actual willingness to engage in a discussion of racism

























is more illusion than fact. Race and racism represent an afterthought,

























or at best, another tool for taking on “lying liars” of corporate

























 America—but not to deal with the entrenched inequities that divide





















along racial lines.







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































</p>





















 <p> <strong>Racism: A Republican, Southern, Elitist Thing</strong></p>





















<p> Whereas race in the popular imagination is often seen























 as an issue of the South and of backwards rednecks,























 the new white populists offer a slightly different

























vision of contemporary American racism. Bill























Maher, during an episode of “Politically Incorrect” aired

























 October 29, 1993, responded to the decision of the

























Library of Congress to pull <em>Birth of a Nation</em> because

























of its sympathetic portrayal of the Klu Klux Klan with

























the following jab: “The film























industry in Mississippi said it was a shame that there

























were no longer any good roles being written for Klansmen.” In <em>Stupid























White Men,</em> Moore has a chapter on “Killing Whitey” in

























which he interrogates modern manifestations of racism

























 (only against blacks) as well as the participation

























of average white citizens in systems of























 inequality. Al Franken in Lies and the Lying Liars

























refers to Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and the rest of























 the reactionary crew as







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































“Klansmen.”</p>























<p> Franken, like Moore, Maher and Stewart, displays a

























tendency to only link racism with the easy target























 of the Klan, or the likes of Bush, Limbaugh, Thurmond and Lott, as well























 as a host of corporations



























 that exploit people of color. Whether as a problem























of the South, of poor (and stupid) whites, Republican elites or rabid

























 right-wingers, the new



























white populist sees racism not as an American problem,























but an issue of the powerful Other. </p>





















<p> And that’s a major mistake— to see racism

























 not as a central element of U.S. society, but only

























 a ploy of the establishment to maintain power. What

























 they miss is colorblind racism, which promotes institutionally

























 racist results under the guise of legal equality. So

























 while Pete Wilson is condemned as a racist because

























 of his support for the “three strikes law,” similar

























 critique is never directed at Gray Davis for prison























 construction or Bill Clinton for welfare reform. </p>























 <p> New white populism finds little power in condemning

























 racism among its own cultural elite. When comedienne

























 Sarah stirred a whirlwind of controversy in 2000 by

























 saying the word “chink” in her act, Bill

























 Maher rescued her from the firestorm during an episode

























 of “Politically Incorrect”: “I’ve

























 always loved Asian Americans. I would say Sarah does,

























 too. And I think when it comes to First Amendment rights

























 and comedians and making jokes and being able to have

























 free speech, you know, I’m sorry, that’s























 going to be number 1 with me.” </p>

























<p> Beyond their tendency to locate racism elsewhere, new

























 white populists have also espoused colorblind ideologies

























 and goals and blamed people of color for racial problems.

























 Michael Moore calls upon whites to marry blacks as “a

























 way to help create a colorblind world,” and Bill

























 Maher laments how “we have all lost sight of

























 the goal of Martin Luther King.” The realities

























 of twenty-first century racism, and the importance

























 of race as a source of identity and communal formation,

























 raise issue with the possibility or desirability of

























 a colorblind society. Despite claims of both the right

























 and the left, King never called for a society where

























 color was invisible, but where color did not determine

























 political, social, cultural and economic opportunities.

























 Maher especially ignores power relations and history,

























 citing the ways in which immigrants “stay in

























 their insular communities,” while “minority

























 college students are asking to live apart in separate























 dorms.” </p>























<p> Finally, the limitation of these commentators of the “left” shows

























 itself in their tendency to talk about issues, ideologies

























 and material reality in isolated terms. Poverty is

























 poverty; racism is racism; and worse, war is war. There

























 is no recognition that the ways people of color are

























 affected by poverty and war are intertwined and, indeed,

























 distinct because of racism. References to Halliburton,

























 oil, occupation and America’s elite are ubiquitous

























 in the current debate over Iraq. However, there is

























 no discussion of white supremacy as it relates to America’s

























 war efforts in the history of Manifest Destiny, White























 Man’s Burden, or colonization. </p>

























<p> <strong>Erasing Racism in <em>Bowling for Columbine</em></strong></p>





















 <p> As Michael Moore becomes a hero with the release of <em>Fahrenheit

























 9/11,</em> his track record on race has been obscured.

























 In <em>Bowling for Columbine,</em> Moore

























 uses the school shooting as a launching pad to discuss

























 gun

























 violence in America and erases not only racism, but

























 also people of color (only four appear in the film).

























 Although the film makes passing references to the racialized

























 dimensions of American fear and the criminalization

























 of blackness (populists know little of Latinos, Asians,

























 Native Americans, or Arabs), there is no sustained

























 examination of white supremacy within the United States.

























 Racism exists within a narrow construct of politicians

























 who secure elections through fear of black criminals,

























 or gun manufacturers who reap profits from such an

























 environment. Moreover, Moore misses several opportunities

























 in the film to explore institutional racism as it relates























 to American violence. </p>





















<p> “



























When talking about violence and fear, the two of us

























 immediately think deportations, detentions, police

























 brutality, sexual assault, racial profiling, the prison

























 industrial complex,” wrote Philadelphia activists

























 Priyanka Jindal and Walidah Imanisha in an open letter

























 to Moore. “If you are talking about violence

























 in America, how can you not mention the names of Amadou

























 Diallo and Abner Louima, two black victims of police























 brutality?”</p>























<p> In their surface attempts to address issues of racism,

























 Moore and his populist kin actually do more to silence

























 than empower communities of color. None of the four

























 people of color in &lt;I&gt;Bowling for Columbine&lt;I&gt; are

























 given opportunities to speak on racism, other than

























 as “man on the street” interviews or as

























 victims. Where are the experts on the relationship

























 between gun violence and racism, on racial profiling,

























 police brutality, or prison abuses? Are Barry Glassner























 and Marilyn Manson sufficient? </p>























 <p><strong>White Privilege</strong></p>























 <p> The importance of white privilege transcends its absence

























 from post-civil rights white populism. White privilege,

























 as Peggy McIntosh notes, “is like an invisible

























 weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports,

























 codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” While

























 there is surely a failure to recognize the ways whiteness

























 embodies a wage cashed every day, whiteness explains

























 both the presence and popularity of the new white populist.

























 Moore, Franken and Maher laudably target the privilege

























 reflected by Bush’s legacy admissions at Yale

























 or job preferences for those with “white-sounding

























 names,” but they are blind to the privileges























 bestowed by their own status as white men.</p>





















<p> The willingness that corporate America shows in providing

























 airtime and publication deals (Time Warner, Random

























 House) reflects the value placed upon their analysis.

























 In spite of their propensity to engage in the “politically

























 incorrect,” each of these white populists is

























 given numerous public platforms, while paid handsomely

























 for their work. The availability of a variety of media,

























 from television and movies to radio and publishing,

























 cannot be understood outside of white privilege. Though

























 Michael Moore has many critics, none have called him

























 a terrorist for his broadsides against the U.S. government.

























 Nor does Bill Maher or Al Franken need to worry about

























 opponents accusing them of “playing the race

























 card” for supporting Kobe Bryant or affirmative























 action. </p>























<p> The absence of comparative critics of color with an

























 equally sizable platform is a testament to the power

























 of white privilege within popular culture. Embracing

























 identities as victims of corporate media censorship

























 or emphasizing their working class roots, white populists

























 fail to identify whiteness in its power and instead

























 grasp at a kinship between liberals, people of color

























 and the poor. In doing so, the white populist once

























 again eschews racism as a problem inhabited elsewhere.

























 This is no more evident than with Michael Moore, who

























 habitually references conservative opposition and his

























 working class identity, all the while ignoring his

























 own whiteness as a great advantage. Like a fish that

























 does not notice the water it’s in, Moore and























 the others swim in white privilege but cannot see it.</p>





















<p> The invisibility of white privilege goes even further

























 with the widespread inscription of white men as victims.

























 Whether through debates about affirmative action or

























 discussions of pop culture stereotypes, popular discourses

























 systematically depict white males as the victims of

























 a newly sensitive, racialized America. The new white

























 populists deploy similar frames of victimhood. Bill

























 Maher’s countless references to being fired for

























 his politics, Michael Moore’s loud denunciations

























 of censorship (most recently with his battle with Disney

























 over <em>Fahrenheit 9/11</em>) and even Howard

























 Stern’s political conversion following years

























 of FCC and governmental harassment reflect the limitations

























 of a movement that lacks the language to differentiate























 between censorship and white supremacy. </p>





















 <p> <strong>White Anti-Racist: An Oxymoron?</strong></p>























<p> As a white scholar and activist, I continually contemplate

























 my role and that of other whites in racial justice

























 struggles. I am keenly aware of the difficulties of “white

























 anti-racism.” History elucidates the often contentious

























 and contradictory contributions of whites toward freedom

























 struggles. This same history, which also includes the

























 likes of John Brown, Stanley Levinson and the Young

























 Patriot Party, equally speaks to the existence of productive

























 coalitions. Within such a context, the emergence of

























 a gang of white pop culture populists necessitates

























 a close examination of their interest, ideologies and

























 politics. Do they follow in the footsteps of Southern

























 agriculturalists, who embraced abolitionist ideas and

























 spoke about kinship in opposition to America’s

























 elite only as a means to secure political power on

























 the back of black voters? Or do they reflect a history

























 of white intellectuals who have joined people of color























 in an effort to dream America anew?</p>























<p> Do the new white populists represent a potential ally,

























 given their stance against globalization, U.S. hegemony,

























 censorship, poverty, inequality and imperialism—or

























 yet another oxymoron? Although reflecting neither extreme,

























 their limited understanding of racism, failure to critically

























 examine white privilege and ultimate refusal to explore

























 the ways in which working class whites “swim

























 in white preference” put these white populists

























 in a long tradition of “allies” that use

























 racism as a means for self- or communal-advantage rather

























 than securing justice. The question is not whether

























 or not these white populists are racists, unworthy

























 of coalitional work—it’s whether the refusal

























 to examine their own privilege, or their own replication

























 of ideologies of white supremacy, ultimately silences

























 people of color and the material issues affecting communities

























 of color, all the while claiming an interest in race.

























 Ultimately, we must ask whether a progressive mainstream

























 white voice contributes to the efforts of racial justice

























 or presents yet another illusion of white support.

























 <br>

























</p>