Belmont Club

Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

Tim Blair notes that fellow Australian conservative pundit Andrew Bolt is being sued for questioning claims by white people who say they’re Aboriginal.  Bolt, “enumerated a list of light or white-skinned people who identified themselves as Aboriginal” suggesting they were doing nothing more than following a “‘whole new fashion in academia, the arts and professional activism'” in which it is possible to self-identify as anything their politics fancied.  Blair writes that “among those involved in the case is Mark McMillan, a white man who once won a scholarship for black women.” McMillan is shown below.

Self-identification trumps all

McMillan says he was long troubled by not looking like what he was and suffered deeply from being treated normally. McMillan’s complex persona is still in the process of development. He writes:

Over the years education has continued to unlock “me” for me. I am Mark McMillan and I am a lot more than just a white, black man. Although being Indigenous – or more importantly, a proud Wiradjuri man – is fundamental to my own sense of humanity, I am much more than that dimension. I am also a proud father to a ten year old son. I am also an ‘out and proud’ gay man (yes, my son lives with my partner and me and yes, my ex wife and I are still great friends). I am a good friend. I am a rugby player. I am an active member of my community. I am a son. I am a brother…and a brutha. I am a lawyer (but don’t tell anyone) and, I am now happy, comfortable and confident to say that I am me.

Old style racism, where one race was preferred over another has been supplanted by the enlightened system of political correctness in which one race is preferred over another.  Unfortunately this system ensures that ethnicity, far from becoming irrelevant, has become as central as ever.  Andrew Bolt’s charge that ‘white is the new black’’ is based on the suspicion that some people are gaming the system to obtain advantages offered to ‘oppressed minorities’. McMillan, for example won the 2009 Fulbright Indigenous Scholarship.

Law Professor Eugene Volokh, in an article entitled How the Asians Became White, argues that “ethnicity” has long stopped having any genetic meaning. It is now a political term.

I first noticed this effect 10 years ago, at a party where a friend of mine commented that the guests were all white. I responded by mentioning about a dozen Asians; oh, she said, that’s right, but you know what I mean. At a recent UCLA conference I attended, two speakers complained that everyone on the panel was white, without even realizing that one of the speakers was ethnically Chinese, and another was an Asian Indian with skin darker than that of many American blacks. …

“White” has stopped meaning Caucasian, imprecise as this term has always been, and has started to mean “those racial groups that have made it.” “Minority” has started to mean “those racial groups that have not yet made it.”

Which is kind of disturbing, because the entire point to combating racism was to make a person’s genetic makeup irrelevant to his worth as a person. Changing that arrangement to one in which the political standing of a person’s ethnic group affects how he is treated is not an obvious improvement.  A politically correct world in which there are Chinese and Indian “white people” and “blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Aboriginal Australian[s]” would be funny if it didn’t suggest that some kind of scam was being run in plain sight.  But then that was what Andrew Bolt suggested in the first place and look where it got him.

A sufficiently strong self-identification becomes indistinguishable at some point from cultural assimilation, once known as the Melting Pot. If a person becomes what he behaves like, then ethnicity as a concept becomes completely irrelevant. The problem with McMillan and Ward Churchill, who claimed native American ethnicity, all appearances to the contrary, is that they are somehow trying to have it both ways without being conscious of the contradiction.

If self-identification became the de facto standard for designation then it would trump any underlying genetic property. What would matter was what you thought you were. But this would be disastrous to political correctness because that would imply that you could somehow choose to stop being part of a victim group. You can leave it by an act of will. That will never do, because for the grievance to go on and on, to milked ad infinitum, it must somehow be involuntary, a congenital condition, a permanent mark, like indelible ink. Therefore ethnicity as a genetic concept lives on. In the extreme it assumes the “one drop rule”, though by that time it must surely be equivalent to self-identification. Yet that “one drop” is as important to political correctness as it was to the old time slavers, because without it, men would be free to become anything they wanted, instead of being stuck in categories.

And so the whole thing ties itself in knots. But because it is too inconvenient to untie, we stagger along in this crazy straitjacket which we call enlightenment.


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