The problem with whites

When I first heard about this white guy who took pride in calling himself a “race traitor,” my instinct was to figure he was crazy, a publicity hound or some sort of shock jock.

How many white guys do you know who say stuff like, “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity?” Right. That’s what I thought. Meet Noel Ignatiev, a white Marxist who wants to abolish the white race. Yep, that’s what I said.

I suspect a major reason for all the attention aside from the fact that Ignatiev is white — he describes himself as a nonpracticing Jew who is an American — is that he is a fellow at Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute, perhaps the nation’s leading black studies department. That alone makes it highly unlikely that Ignatiev is crazy. Publicity hound? Shock jock? Listen to the man first, then judge.

“In my view this country is divided into masters and slaves,” he told me during a telephone interview. “The majority of all people in this country are slaves. Most have no say-so over their lives at all. The problem is that a lot of the slaves think they’re masters. … The poor white is the house slave of this country. Not the middle-class black. The poor white.”

Professor Ignatiev has put one hell of a lot of thought into becoming a race traitor. There’ve been charges of treason, though none so serious as to require special security measures.

“Mostly I get death threats,” he said. “‘Die, Jew commie dog, die’ is pretty much the standard. I don’t worry about the ones who send e-mail because they’re not the ones who are going to kill me,” he added with a laugh.

Given the superficiality of society, where most media-generated information is the intellectual equivalent of Gerber’s, it is little surprise that the press coverage of Ignatiev has focused on his conclusions rather than the questions that led to them. Those interested in truly understanding the school of thought to which Ignatiev belongs should check out his Web site,, or his book How the Irish Became White. Meanwhile, here’s a peek into his on-line journal:

“The white race cuts across ethnic and class lines,” says one editorial. Furthermore, it is not automatic that European ancestry makes one white “since many of those classified as ‘colored’ can trace some of their ancestry to Europe, while African, Asian, or American Indian blood flows through the veins of many considered white.” Whiteness also does not equal a bank account parked on full, since there are far more poor whites than rich ones, not to mention an increasing number of nonwhites who live in comfort.

“The white race consists of those who partake of the privileges of the white skin in this society. Its most wretched members share a status higher, in certain respects, than that of the most exalted persons excluded from it, in return for which they give their support to the system that degrades them. Race itself is a product of social discrimination; so long as the white race exists, all movements against racism are doomed to fail.”

“The key to solving the social problems of our age,” he adds, “is to abolish the white race. Until that task is accomplished, even partial reform will prove elusive, because white influence permeates every issue in U.S. society, whether domestic or foreign.”

To further clarify that point, Ignatiev told me, “I want for people defined as white to reject the advantages accorded them as white. I want to do away with all the accumulated advantages attached to whiteness — the job preferences, the better schools, all of it. I am not asking for white people to leave the suburbs and move into the inner cities. I am asking that they fight so hard against the barriers that exist [to nonwhites] that those barriers fall down.”

Ignatiev refers to himself as one of the New Abolitionists in the tradition of John Brown, the 19th century white radical who sacrificed his life to lead an uprising against slavery at Harpers Ferry.

Ignatiev thinks about the quality, not the quantity, of potential converts. “We’re aiming at winning over a small number of so-called whites that will make life so unbearable for the rest of them that it will force a change to come about,” he said. He takes pains to distinguish what he’s saying from some “Die, honky, die!” ’60s diatribe. This is not, repeat, not, a call to arms to shoot white folks on sight. Ignatiev is hardly suicidal, and the revolution that he is pushing for can never be won with guns or bombs; he is calling for a revolution of the mind.

“If whiteness didn’t have a social meaning, if the advantages weren’t there, then people wouldn’t think of themselves as white,” he said.

If you won’t accept the obvious fact that the vast majority of power in the most powerful nation on Earth is controlled by whites, there’s no way you will accept a single word of what Ignatiev has to say. So you might as well move on.

But for those willing to consider what this power structure has historically inflicted upon the less powerful (here and around the globe), then it might become clearer why Ignatiev feels his crusade is imperative.

Ignatiev asserts in his journal that most whites who benefit from white skin privilege wouldn’t mind doing the right thing if it were convenient, but it’s so very hard to voluntarily walk away from your goodies — no matter how you got them. Rather than wrestle with the guilt of how you and yours got to be on top of the pile — and whose bleached bones are buried below — it’s much easier to rewrite history and concoct fictions about why those on the bottom didn’t have the right stuff to make it to the top.

Some might argue this is merely human nature in its purest, albeit most primitive, form. Folks on top want to stay there by any means necessary. But if you’re standing on someone else’s neck, then others might argue that you’re not as tall as you think you are — and that the person upon whose neck you are standing will fight like hell to rise up. As humanity evolves it will become clear that those standing tall atop the bodies and spirits of others are just as much at risk as those upon whom they are standing.

That’s the better side of human nature, and hopefully it will prevail. Otherwise, according to Ignatiev, “Either we win or [the nonwhites are] gonna blow this country up.”

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]