- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

In her new book, "The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration," Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain "infuriates her critics," says the Chronicle of Higher Education, by arguing "that society should combat white nationalists in part by acknowledging the legitimacy of some of their grievances" specifically by abolishing affirmative action and reducing immigration.
Born in 1954 in Bedford County, Va., Ms. Swain was one of 12 children. She dropped out of school in eighth grade and married at 16. She later earned her GED and received a Ph.D from the University of North Carolina in 1989. She became a professor at Princeton University in 1990 and gained tenure in 1994. In 2000, she joined the faculty of Vanderbilt Law School.
The following are excerpts of a telephone interview with Ms. Swain:
Question: How is the new white nationalism different from older white-supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan?
Answer:
They're much more polished and sophisticated in their approach. They're individuals who are well-educated and have studied the mistakes of David Duke and some of the more strident racialists or racists of past. They understand that most people would be repulsed by overt racist attacks on minority groups, or by violence. And so what the new white nationalist groups have done is adopt the language of multiculturalism and civil rights. And they're using this to reach out to ordinary white Americans who would be repulsed by the cruder, old-style racism of the Aryan Nation or the KKK.
Q: In your book, you suggest affirmative action promotes racial tensions that are exploited by the white nationalist movement. Are white perceptions of unfairness accurate? Or does it even matter?
A:
There are grievances among white people about racial preferences that many white nationalists exploit. One reason white nationalism thrives is that there are many issues that mainstream politicians ignore or that they fail to address with any degree of openness and candor.
Affirmative action is a policy than angers so many white Americans. It was never fully accepted by the American people, and for that reason, it becomes a useful issue for white nationalists seeking to polarize the races.
You have a lot of different conditions coming together: whites decreasing as a percentage of the population, and at the same time you have increasing numbers of minorities who are eligible for preferences, and then you have the effects of globalization and declines in high-paying, low-skill jobs. And so it's not just affirmative action. These conditions create a devil's brew.
The white nationalists use the language of civil rights, [which] condemns discrimination against individuals on the basis of their race, national origin, gender. What the white nationalists say is that discrimination is wrong, it's unfair, it's unconstitutional, and most Americans agree. But they follow that up by saying that white people are discriminated against, that in fact they are the most discriminated-against group in America.
Q: You are also critical of multiculturalism, and you've called white nationalism "the monster that identity politics created." What do you mean by that?

A:
Multiculturalism provided white nationalists with the language to justify a parallel form of identity politics for white Americans. If all people have the right to protect their distinct cultural, political and genetic identity then, the white nationalists say, white people have the same rights. They use the language that minorities have developed and apply it to white people, and it works just as well.
I think multiculturalism itself has gone too far. It takes us too far from the American ideal of having one national identity. And it encourages all groups to think in terms of distinct group interests that compete with the interests of all other Americans.
Q: You say that our current high levels of immigration are a contributing factor in the rise of white nationalism. Could you explain that?
A:
It's a very different nation today than it was 30 years ago. You have large numbers of people coming into the country that are displacing people who have low skills and low education.
I believe people are being confronted with a lower standard of living, and that's affecting just about all Americans. New immigrants to this country are able to compete for many affirmative action benefits. And, because of this, I think it works to the disadvantage of all Americans who were born in this country, especially those at the economic margins.
What I would like to see happen is to see the government look at our policies and to revamp policies like affirmative action and immigration to take into consideration the demographic changes that have occurred over the last 30 years or so.
Q: In 1993, your book "Black Faces, Black Interests" predicted pretty accurately that the push to create majority-black districts would hurt the Democratic Party. You received a lot of harsh criticism at the time.

A:
Yes I did. I was called a traitor and an enemy of African-Americans.
I have been vindicated all around on that issue of black representation. And the ideas that generated so much controversy 10 years ago, those ideas are pretty much accepted by the civil rights leadership today.
Q: A former Princeton colleague has said you are "incapable of political correctness." Do you think political correctness hinders society's ability to confront white nationalism?

A:
Absolutely, I believe that to be true. I find that many people privately tell me that they agree with my assessment, but they are reluctant to admit it publicly because of the cost that they may incur.
I think there is a stranglehold in the academy that causes people to be afraid to speak freely. White people are afraid someone will call them a racist for speaking freely, and I think for many minority scholars, they fear the ostracism of the group.
I believe that as more and more people speak out, it might embolden others to speak their minds as well.
Q: You had a very unusual route to an academic career. Do you think that has given you a different perspective than most of your colleagues?
A:
I'm sure that it has. In a lot of ways, I have less to risk than people who come the more traditional route.
I see this book being very much a wake-up call for America. I think that, unless we change course in how we deal with and talk about race in America, then we are headed for unprecedented levels of racial conflict and turmoil.
I think one of the strengths we have as Americans has come from our Judeo-Christian heritage that causes most people to believe in a common Creator and a brotherhood of man. This is a strength, and I believe that to the extent that we push God more and more out the public arena, that we do this at our own peril.


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