Posted by: CJ | November 6, 2011

“Them” Becomes “Us”

Bryan Caplan is a nutty, nutty economist. His perspective is usually abhorrent, loathsome, and he only seems to believe what he says in the first place because he’s a dyed in the wool contrarian. That said…one of his latest pieces sorta makes sense to me.

True story: A Jewish senior complained to me, “There are hardly any regular Caucasians left.”  I couldn’t resist pointing out that when he was a kid, Jews weren’t “regular Caucasians.”  Everyone – Jews and Gentiles alike – saw the Jews as a separate group.  Indeed, people at the time actually spoke of the “Jewish race.”

What happened?  Jews were never officially invited to become “regular Caucasians.”  Jews simply became less distinctive, and Gentiles more inclusive.  Definitions blurred.  More and more friendships and marriages crossed the boundary.  People gradually stopped thinking about the distinction between Jews and Gentiles – and ultimately forgot there was anything to think about.

The same story has happened many times before.  In the early years of the United States, many people drew a clear line between regular Englishmen and the motley crew of later immigrants.  How did the story end?  Immigration continued.  The descendants of English immigrants became a small minority.  But by the time that happened, the descendants of English immigrants had forgotten they were English.  English-Americans avoided “foreign rule” by redefinition.  You could say they were apathetic, but that’s an understatement.  English-Americans had forgotten there was anything to be apathetic about.

At the same time, I think Caplan is brushing under the rug some people have better memories than that particular Jewish gentleman. Where I’m from, the older generations still count Jews, Italians, Irish, Slovaks, etc. as white but still a little…well…different. This doesn’t cause, as far as I can tell, any sort of functional prejudice. It’s just that the vast majority of whites in my area are of Irish, Anglo, and German descent. (And the Germans became particularly Anglo-cized during WWI and WWII.)

Of course, such differences are less impressive to people my age. Particularly ones, like me, who have a lot of friends of non-Anglo-Saxon descent that we literally can’t differentiate from our Anglo-Saxon-descended friends. But I think true integration of “Them” into “Us” will take much longer to diffuse into some part of the US.

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