Affirmative action for minorities has been a deeply controversial and divisive issue over the past thirty years. But is critically important to understand how the federal government has instituted legal affirmative action for white people many times over the course of our history, and that this reality is a fundamental aspect of the Myth of Innocence.
1680: After suppressing Bacon’s Rebellion, in which whites and blacks had united to overthrow the system of indentured servitude, Virginia codified its bondage system. It replaced the terms “Christian” or “free” with “white,” gave new privileges to Caucasians, removed rights from free blacks and banned interracial marriage. Other laws contributed to what Theodore Allen calls the “absolutely unique American form of male supremacism” – the right of any Euro-American to rape any African-American without fear of reprisal. This system was copied by most of the colonies.
1790: The Naturalization Act allowed virtually any European immigrant to become a citizen, while denying the privilege to Asians. Over the next 120 years, Congress passed many other definitions of who was “us” and who wasn’t, which served as models for the almost entirely invisible white privilege that bolstered the Reagan “revolution” many decades later. By then, structures of oppression would be so effective precisely because they seemed so natural.
1865: For 175 years, “freedom” had been synonymous with “whiteness.” Emancipation of the slaves ended this understanding and contributed to a great uneasiness and identity crisis among whites. “Freedom” no longer defined whiteness. So new laws prevented most blacks from acquiring western land and kept them de facto slaves in the south. Homesteading became a privilege of whiteness. In the southwest, similar systems targeted Latinos. No wonder our picture of the hardy “pioneers” (who had the privilege of acquiring extremely cheap land in the west) is lily-white.
1892: The Supreme Court’s “Separate But Equal” ruling institutionalized segregation and poor schooling for Blacks and residential privilege for whites.
1912: Woodrow Wilson segregated federal jobs.
1930s: As the Founders had done in 1776, Franklin Roosevelt unified northern liberals and southern conservatives. But, like them, he had to maintain silence on race, fearing that the coalition would disintegrate. Southern politicians, who had defeated over 200 anti-lynching bills, supported Social Security only if it excluded agricultural laborers and domestic servants. This compromise deliberately kept most blacks outside of the welfare state. In addition, Black industrial workers discovered that Social Security itself was unfair, because it used monies they contributed to pay benefits disproportionately to affluent whites, who lived longer than most blacks.
1948: The G.I. Bill financed 90% of the 13 million houses constructed in the 1950s. However, Southern senators made sure that 98% of those homes went to whites. Of 350,000 federally subsidized homes built in Northern California between 1946 and 1960, fewer than 100 went to blacks, as did none of the 82,000 homes built in Levittown, New York. People of color remained locked in the inner cities, their dwellings and businesses often torn down to make room for the interstates that would shuttle whites to the suburbs where only they could live. This seventh degree of affirmative action for whites had long-term impact. Due to home equity inflation and resulting family inheritance, as well as the exclusion from Social Security and unequal access to capital, an average black family still has one eleventh of the wealth of a white family, even when they make the same income.