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The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration
Carol M. Swain
New York & Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002 (reprint 2004).
£16.95, 526 pages, ISBN 0-521-54558-7.

Malie Montagutelli
Université Paris III


Carol Swain is Professor of Political Science and Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, an independent, privately supported university in Nashville, TE. She is the author of several books which all study various aspects of the African American issue. The present work is primarily intended as a wake-up call to draw attention to the danger in what Swain sees as the growing influence of the white nationalist movement in America. However, as suggested by her subtitle, she also extensively focuses on issues of integration of all minorities and especially of the African American community. A large section of the book is devoted to affirmative action policies, both past and present. The tension and potential violence she sees as representing a threat of racial conflict in America today are fueled by different factors. In order to thwart the threat this represents, the author calls for an open honest dialogue on race relations between conservative and liberal scholars and between “well-meaning persons in general.”

As an African American, Swain wrote this book “with a firsthand knowledge of what it means to be poor and disadvantaged in America.” Her life, which she briefly evokes, is an amazing success story. Growing in an abusive and impoverished farm household of twelve children with many different fathers, she dropped out of high school after completing eighth grade, but managed to enter a community college and earned five college degrees between 1978 and 2000, the last one an MSL from Yale University. She moved from an underclass to a comfortable middle-class status and a respected academic position. Thus, because of her experiences at various occupations and class levels, she feels she gained some direct insight into some of the issues discussed in the book and therefore is entitled to making certain personal comments and interjecting some personal anecdotes as her study progresses. Especially, she claims to be in a position to judge better than the average person who is in need of special help programs and what programs are more likely to work.

As a result of her personal implication in the subject she studies, this book is obviously not neutral nor does it pretend to be. If its foundation is scholarly research, Swain’s voice is heard throughout the book and the conclusions are her own, based on her observation of life. The data presented in this book come from different sources. Besides resorting to official reports, national surveys, and recent sociological research, for data and statistics, there are ten telephone interviews of white nationalists and three case studies of white college students. She even quotes a chance conversation with a cab driver!

The book is structured in four major parts. The first five chapters introduce the new white nationalists and their core beliefs. The next four chapters study affirmative action issues and policies, both past and present. Part Three focuses on young Americans and studies what it means for them to live in a racially charged environment. Part Four, the last three chapters, suggest some remedies to the unresolved public policy issues which might neutralize the efforts of racists and white nationalists.

Ever since the early 1990s, white nationalists’ ranks have been growing. Today many of the new younger white nationalists are cultured, intelligent, well educated. They have abandoned the name “white supremacists” as well as the images, the old tactics, the bizarre rituals and beliefs of the former racist right organizations like the Ku Klux Klan or the American Nazi Party. Their long-term aim remains to foster a sense of white racial pride and European-American group consciousness and to that aim the new supremacists use rational discourse, persuasion, and ideas. They promote white solidarity and white consciousness by employing the same kind of identity politics that minorities have been using successfully. But Swain sees renewed danger in the fact that they know how to exploit some tensions existing in American society today and make their theories receivable to mainstream America. These tensions come from the existence of issues and problems affecting society which politicians and the media either ignore or fail to address openly, such as changing demographics with the continued existence of liberal immigration policies and the prospect that America will in a relatively near future cease to be a white majority nation; the rising expectations of ethnic minorities; the demands for multiculturalism; the continued emphasis on racial identity politics and the fostering of an ethnic group pride on the part of nonwhite minority groups; the decline in high-paying, low-skill-requisite, industrial jobs as a result of globalization and other structural changes in the economy; the continued existence of racial preference policies in education and employment; the continued white fear of black crime; and the expanding influence and reach of the Internet with its ability to enable like-minded individuals to identify each other and to share mutual concerns and strategies for impacting the political system.

After this general presentation of the new face of white nationalism, Swain devotes what might appear as a very long section on affirmative action and race relations. This she justifies in two ways in her introductory chapter: first because she believes that within the politics of affirmative action lie the seeds of increased racial hostility, and second because the book, which was five years in the making, came out of a research project that was originally confined to the politics of affirmative action with the perspective of identifying some areas of consensus between whites and blacks. The initial project explains why, besides affirmative action, Swain covers such topics as black crime rates, racial double standards, and immigration.

In the author’s view, with time, affirmative action policies have gotten “out of hand.” They have turned into quotas and as a result are now seen negatively as reverse discrimination. While racial preferential treatment may have benefitted some, it has, along with the various expectations and demands of racial and ethnic minorities, been creating enormous resentment on the part of many whites and even on the part of some minorities as they compete against one another. She sees in this situation a mounting risk of large-scale racial conflict. Instead of race-based affirmative action programs, which, she writes, “have outlived whatever usefulness they may have had in the past,” Swain’s observations and research have proved to her that American society would be ready to accept a class-based approach.

At the end of her presentation, Swain evokes the subject of religion. As a born-again Christian, she believes the New Testament can be a moral guide on issues such as race and social tolerance. She ends her book with recommendations to improve society overall and to create greater opportunities for disadvantaged and politically powerless citizens. These cover a broad range; among them are honoring the tradition of free speech to encourage individuals from opposing sides to exchange ideas and opinions in an open manner, which means listening to white nationalists and white conservatives as much as to minority representatives; abandon racial and gender-based double standards, and if racial preferences are to be retained, then remove all immigrants from eligibility (however ending all racial preferences is much more advisable); encourage the expansion of vocational training programs and community colleges; reduce the rate of immigration and enforce more vigorously laws against hiring illegal aliens. Some recommendations are also issued to black leaders with the aim to reducing racial hatred and animosity. These include, among other things, making the reduction of the black crime rate the number one issue, ending discussions and demands for racial reparations for black slavery, celebrating the positive i.e. the progress made by African Americans in their integration into mainstream society and condemning the negative, i.e. the high illegitimacy rate, the high rate of AIDS and other diseases, and using faith as a tool to change behavior.

It is clear from this short outline that the views held by the author are highly personal and the reader expecting a detached tone and an objective approach will be disappointed. In the first place, the title of this book is somewhat misleading as it does not entirely focus on white nationalism. Rather it is a study of the situation of minorities in America, and essentially of African Americans, in today’s uncertain economic situation. The position defended by Carol Swain is that as times get more difficult, white America increasingly views official racial policies favoring African Americans and other minorities as unfairly discriminating against them. In the end, Swain’s intent is to find ways to combat persisting discrimination against racial, ethnic, and political minorities without exacerbating very real social tensions. It must be said that she shows great honesty in her dealing with both sides. She points out the fact that ordinary Americans, both white and black, share many politically incorrect views. She boldly admits the double standards that favored minorities and that they and the conventional liberal position have constantly ignored. She acknowledges the fact that white nationalists do make relevant points and address some very important questions concerning race, those questions most mainstream discourse avoids and evades. Finally, she shows simple, straightforward common sense in most of the recommendations she makes as a conclusion to her work.

In spite of some weaknesses, this book is well researched and forces the reader to view the issue of race in America from both ends of the spectrum. It may also open the door to a long awaited, much delayed debate over race relations in America.



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