If there are scholarships and loan programs and government contracts set aside for blacks and Latinos, can there be similar set-asides for whites?
That’s one of the questions raised by a small organization in Texas that has decided to offer white men $500 college scholarships. “In a country that proclaims equality for all,” says the Former Majority Assn. for Equality, “we provide monetary aid to those that have found the scholarship application process difficult because they do not fit into certain categories or any ethnic group.”
Aware that a whites-only policy would inspire questions about racism, the organization insists: “We do not advocate white supremacy, nor do we enable any individual that does. We do not accept donations from organizations affiliated with any sort of white supremacy or hate group.”
We accept the organization’s assurances that it is not motivated by racism. But we still find the idea of whites-only scholarships offensive (even if they are legal), and the organization’s underlying understanding of race is even more so.
That understanding is sometimes called the “symmetrical view” of race. It holds that whites and minorities are similarly situated and that programs that exclusively benefit whites are as legitimate as those that serve minorities. Sometimes, as with the Texas scholarship, there is an additional argument that changing demographics have reduced the advantage of being white in this society.
This symmetrical view ignores history. Scholarships and other arrangements that favor racial minorities are generally an attempt to counter the effects of centuries of white privilege. And despite what some people might believe, those effects haven’t gone away. This country has done much to overcome its history of racism, but gaping disparities in education and wealth persist. Scholarships and other programs seeking to close those gaps naturally will focus on blacks and Latinos.
Many Americans cringe at the phrase “whites only,” and for good reason. Historically the exclusion of nonwhites was inextricably tied to notions of white supremacy. The time hasn’t arrived when “whites only,” or any policy predicated on it, can be regarded as just another patch in the quilt of diversity.
We don’t begrudge any young men scholarship aid from the Former Majority Assn. for Equality. But we wish the organization would offer its largesse on a nonracial basis.