John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Persons Of Color Coalition

Posted on May 17, 2012
When the Irish first emigrated from Ireland to America, they were likened to baboons and other nefarious creatures by nativists from the No-nothing party.


Signs on storefronts were fairly common in the Northeast:  “No Irish Need Apply.”


After the Irish, came large waves of Italians at the tail end of the 19th Century.  Ghettoes with the moniker Little Italy sprung up  in most major cities, as America struggled to assimilate the hundreds of thousands of poorly-educated migrants, many of whom spoke little English.  They were segregated and struggled to find jobs.


When Greeks immigrated to America in the early 20th century, they faced intense discrimination.  In some areas, Greek stores were burned out and in the South, Greeks were relegated to non-white status.


Discrimination against the Jews was even worse.  Anti-semitism was common and in some cases, was government policy.


In all cases, these various group assimilated into America’s complex tapestry.  They are now officially classified as “white” by the census.


I was thinking about assimilation and separatism in the context of the news stories that white people now make up only half of the babies in this country.

My question is:  When do white Hispanics become just plain vanilla white, like the Irish, the Italians, the Greeks and the Jews?


And I guess the answer is:  It depends.


It depends on how the government chooses to classify them, if the government chooses to continue to incentivize racial separatism, and of course, what Hispanics themselves decide what they want.


The Irish, Italians, Greeks and Jews had a greater incentive to assimilate and lose their racial distinctiveness because that was their avenue to greater prosperity.  There wasn’t special set-asides for the Irish to get a job (unless of course, you were a cop or a fireman).  There wasn’t official policies to help Italians or Jews get into elite schools.  There wasn’t affirmative action back in the early 1900’s.


And of course, there are those policies today.   We see with the Senate campaign in Massachusetts that such incentives come with political risk.  Elizabeth Warren, the liberal candidate, allegedly made  use of affirmative action set-asides when she claimed on several forms that she was part Native American, a designation that gave her key advantages in getting hired.


Incentives for racial separation have a profound impact in who gets into college, who gets a job, who gets hired.  In the old days, you tried to blend in.  These days, you try to trumpet your minority status.  Being a minority can be good for your career.


A whole movement has sprung up to fight for those incentives.  It is called the called the Person of Color movement.  According to Wikipedia,  “Person of color (plural: people of color; persons of color) is a term used, primarily only in the United States, to describe all people who are not white. The term is meant to be inclusive among non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism. People of color was introduced as a preferable replacement to both non-white and minority, which are also inclusive, because it frames the subject positively; non-white defines people in terms of what they are not (white), and minority frequently carries a subordinate connotation. Style guides for writing from American Heritage,] the Stanford Graduate School of Business Mount Holyoke College, recommend the term over these alternatives. It may also be used with other collective categories of people such as students of color, men of color and women of color.’"


By banding together, persons of color can be a majority in the country, and they can dictate the terms of the debate.  They can pass more affirmative action laws, they can dictate specific percentages for each college class, they can show the once-majority who is really the problem.


The problem with this construct, of course, is the inherent contradictions within the person of color coalition.  Asian-Americans are the fastest growing classification, but they face different challenges than African-Americans.  Indeed, many Asian Americans are over-represented in many university systems, because they do so well on standardized tests.  Affirmative action policies in college admission actually hurt Asian-American students because if there is a quota system for each ethnic group, well, then some Asians are going to have to go somewhere else.


Hispanics make up another contradiction.  First, not all Hispanics are alike.  Mexicans and Cubans think differently, for example.  And there is a great difference in ethnic perceptions.  Mexicans who have been here for generations think much differently than newly arrived Salvadorans.


Politically speaking, one party has a vested interest in keeping racial separation incentives in place and another party has vested interest in tearing them down.


For Democrats, who fancy themselves as the “persons of color” party, racial and class resentment is a key feature of their political philosophy.  They must continually play up racial animosities to feed the political base.  They see more government subsidies, more government incentive programs and more government power as the only solution to what ails modern society.  They see racial set-asides as a tool to keep minorities voting for them, and they see racial set-asides as the only solution to advancing in society.


Republicans see racial set-asides as an affront to the idea of a color-blind society and they see government not as a solver of problems, but creator of more problems.  But Republicans have a huge blind spot when it comes to minorities.  All too often, they see minority groups as a challenge to their own power.


If Republicans are to remain significant political force in this country, they have to do two things in conjunction.  First, they have to tear down the racial-separatism government incentive state.  Second, they have to come up with a real alternative in the private sector that brings wealth and prosperity to all parts of our society.


Only by coming up with strategies to make all ethnic groups prosperous can the Republicans combat the racial separatist coalition.  Only by denouncing in the most vehement terms racism and race baiting, can the Republicans hope to make a dent in the person of color coalition.  Only by expanding the middle class can the Republicans hope to expand their own political fortunes.