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392. Corners of the mouth (VIII)

It is no coincidence that Robin DiAngelo—an academic who writes about “white fragility”—has a Latin surname, possibly Italian or Spanish. In this conceptual world, Italians and Irish people “became white” a few generations after their arrival in the US. As I learned at the university computer labs, some night in 2004 when I queued for a spare machine and read someone’s sociology essay over their shoulder, the Western educated orthodoxy is that race does not exist; it is a cultural construct—as with gender—and it can be taken apart at will.

Hence, in this view, the Irish or Italians can “become white”, since when they arrived in America they were not regarded as such; they were regarded, say by the old stock H.P. Lovecraft, as inferior—when Lovecraft was horrified at New York’s racial stew his horror was directed at the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews; contemporary New York would be a horror unimaginable, even to Lovecraft’s sumptuous imagination.

When people speak about “the whites” and “whiteness” in America they mean the Northern Europeans: the Anglos (“Americans”), the Dutch, the Germans, and the Scandinavians. In the broadest biological sense the Spanish, the Italians, and the Irish are white; but these are sub-groups. Due to quirks in pedigree, these people are warmer, more communal, and have a different work ethic to those stern creatures from the cold north. For Anglo-Saxons to have a child in the home much beyond eighteen is a shameful failure. For the Italians, it is a usual and happy thing to have a child in the home until they are forty or fifty—or to have several generations in one home. Similarly, the Sikhs who live across the road from me live in an inter-generational family compound; and their business affairs are intertwined.

If you take white supremacy apart it really means “being a Northern European”: interest in time-keeping, desire to be highly productive, bland food, and individuality are all listed as “white supremacy”—you may as well say “being Norwegian”. Although this is often conceptualised as being about the difference between, in the American context, black and white it is as much about the Southern European who is constitutionally bred to be warm, demonstrative, family-oriented, collectivist, and to have a siesta.

The Jews—another important American racial group—have a strong work ethic but are much more collectivist than the Northern Euros. In Israel, my landlord introduced me to a friend who visited; he heard my surname, assumed I was Jewish (I have a large nose, it is true), and said, “Oh, Mr. X, you’re from the Oxford Xs?” Jewish life is that intimate; a stranger in another county, almost like an aristocrat with “his people”, thought “Oh, he’s from that branch.” The downside to this coziness is that Jewish academics have been found to cite each other more than non-Jewish academics; so there is a risk that this group could constitute an ethnic mafia in various industries, sometimes to the detriment of truth.

Ironically, it is the Northern Euros—with a quasi-religious interest in “anti-racism”—who are the least ethnocentric racial group. Opposition to “white supremacy” is an ideology that takes advantage of relatively low Northern Euro ethnocentrism to serve people who are white but are not Northern European: Italians, Spaniards, Irishmen, and Jews—plus the blacks, who are also warmer. These are mostly the immigrant groups who arrived en masse in America in the late 19th century; and this is why classical liberalism is dead in America and Britain—it is a belief system for Northern Europeans with an individualist temperament. To impose it on an Italian does feel like oppression to him, it is against his blood. Lecture an Italian about how he needs to move away from mama and grind, grind, grind and he will think you are a monster or an idiot; so to acculturate these groups was to “make them white”—make them behave, roughly, like Northern Europeans; but blood will out.


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