Jim Webb and the “dark matter” of American diversity

Jim Webb has returned to his populist roots in an op-ed in The Wall Street JournalDiversity and the Myth of White Privilege. Webb is the author of Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Of Scots-Irish descent himself he is explicitly conscious of the diverse streams within Anglo-America, outlined in more scholarly works such as Albion’s Seed and The Cousins’ Wars. An underlying superstructure to the sectional conflicts which have erupted over the arc of American history, with the Civil War an exemplar, has been the divisions across the Anglo-American folkways. Most modern Americans, schooled only in the value of racial diversity, or vaguely aware of the massive wave of Southern and Eastern European immigration between ~1900 and 1924, remain totally ignorant of this ethnic “dark matter.”


Webb on the other hand is well aware of this ethno-history. His body of work suggests that he views himself as a spokesman for the marginalized Scots-Irish, who have traditionally been looked down upon by the Anglos of Greater New England, and the sophisticated cosmopolitans of the Mid-Atlantic. 19th century ethnographic descriptions of Scots-Irish settlers from the Upper South in the Midwest by Yankees plainly were informed in part by a deep prejudice against them (though to be sure the empirical reality is that the Yankees were a more advanced folk in relation to the Southern Scots-Irish in all the things that we moderns value). Webb himself is in many ways atypical of his people, ascending to the elite and having a voice which is anything but marginalized. His current marriage is to a Vietnamese American woman who was born abroad. In the above op-ed Webb is arguing against affirmative action precisely for individuals such as his youngest daughter, a child of the global elite. It redounds to his credit that he made no reference to his personal life to insulate him from the inevitable accusations of nativism and racism.

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