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How white is Matthew Yglesias?

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Yglesias notes that, for the first time in nearly a half century, an Ohio governor appointed an all-white cabinet.

It should be unnecessary to point out that, in 2011, a governor of a state with around 1.3 million African American residents who appoints a cabinet that looks like this is doing so for a specific political purpose. That purpose is (of course) to illustrate that, like Stephen Colbert, John Kasich doesn’t “see” race. Are all 20 members of his cabinet white? Black? Purple? Green? Kasich couldn’t tell you . . because all he knows is that each and every one of them is the most qualified person he could find for the job. (Indeed one suspects those who think otherwise are themselves the “real racists.”)

I’m tempted to tip my metaphorical cap to the contemporary GOP: in an increasingly non-white nation they’re finding a way to turn being the semi-official party of white America into a successful marketing strategy (the linked CNN poll found that white tea partiers outnumbered black ones by a 40-1 margin).

It’s interesting to note that, even as America has become less white, the cultural definition of whiteness has been slowly liberalized. A couple of generations ago Yglesias — a Jew of Cuban-Spanish descent — would have been considered only most imperfectly white. At that time “white” meant Protestants of northern European extraction. (As I believe Nik Cohn pointed out in Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, Italians were what the pop music industry used for “soul” before they invented black people).

Indeed, even the claim that America will be a minority white country by the middle of this century is based on the dubious premise that Hispanics/Latinos aren’t or will not be “white” by that point. In fact census data indicates that nearly two thirds of the nation’s more than fifty million Hispanics/Latinos (a category that includes Yglesias) already consider themselves “white.” Most of the rest classify themselves under the government’s new “Some Other Race” category.

Anyway, the GOP finds itself in something of a demographic bind. On the one hand, as Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland so powerfully documented, for more than 40 years now the anxiety and ressentiment of “white” people in an increasingly non-white America has been a key element in the party’s electoral success. The composition of Gov. Kasich’s cabinet can be seen as a kind of not very subtle tribute to that fact. On the other, over the next few decades a lot of people who currently aren’t very white are going to have to get a lot whiter, if a party that only white people vote for is going to keep winning national elections.

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