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


 <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


 ” </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.


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> 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> 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> <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


<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


 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


<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.