Finally—help is on the way for America’s downtrodden white males, especially the ones who believe they’ve been shut out of all that financial aid that is apparently being ladled like gravy on non-Caucasian college kids.
“It’s about time,” intones Texas State University business student William Lake, quoting an email he says was received the other day by the Former Majority Association for Equality, the scholarship fund he helped create to address this alleged injustice. “When we decided to start this scholarship, the conversation was primarily along the lines of ‘There is something out there for almost any and every demographic, but we don’t see anything out there for this demographic.’ So we decided to go ahead and at least contribute toward a solution.”
Lake, the nonprofit’s 30-year-old finance director, explains: “Our qualifications are pretty simple. Basically, you have to be at least a 25 percent Caucasian male and have to have demonstrated a commitment to your education with at least a 3.0 grade average, demonstrate financial need, and show you’re contributing positively to your community.”
As of Monday, a few days after the Austin American Statesman published a story on the fund, it had collected only about $3,000, according to Lake—enough to grant five fortunate white males $500 each for the fall 2011 term. The goal is to grant worthy young white men $1,000 apiece for the spring 2012 term.
It seems, by most measures, a minuscule amount—maybe enough to purchase books for a semester or pay for a small percentage of Texas State’s tuition. Predictably, however, the group is attracting millions of dollars in free publicity, given that the often volatile nature of discussions about race is catnip for the media.
“The idea that they are going to be helped by $500 seems silly on its face,” Potok says. “I’m not accusing these guys of being racist. Maybe they’re merely foolish.”
Texas State communications and broadcasting major Colby Bohannan, the 28-year-old president of the Former Majority Association for Equality, spent much of Monday conducting press interviews while shuttling between appearances on CNN and Austin’s Fox affiliate. On Tuesday, he’s been booked to appear on MSNBC.
“I’m not claiming that it’s a disadvantage to be a white male; I’m just recognizing that there is a subset of white and male that cannot afford the money for school,” says Bohannan, who describes himself as a twice-deployed Iraq War veteran who was honorably discharged from the Army last year after shattering his elbow during a football game in a combat zone. “We’re trying to help those people better their own lives. We’re not making any political claims. We’re just trying to help people.”
On CNN, Bohannan insisted: “We do not promote any kind of racial bigotry or white supremacy, and we don’t take money from people who do. If you’re part of a white supremacist group… keep your money. We don’t want your money.”
Not surprisingly, such reassuring noises are getting a cold reception from some quarters in the civil-rights community.
“It looks to me like a simple provocation,” says Mark Potok, who monitors hate groups for the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center. “These people have fallen directly into the ever more popular myth of white oppression in America. The reality is that whites, to this day, have enormous privileges in landing scholarships and have real advantages in finding places at good schools.”
Potok says he isn’t impressed by the Former Majority Association for Equality’s avowed benign intentions, pointing out that professional racist David Duke, of the European-American Rights Organization, has used similar anodyne arguments while making a big show of sending money to poor whites in Appalachia. Potok also cited one of Duke’s favorite tracts, racial theorist Wilmot Robertson’s influential and wildly popular 1972 book, The Dispossessed Majority, which argued that the relative population decline of the United States’ white founding stock, compared to rise of non-Caucasians and immigrants, was allowing the nation to fall under the pernicious influence of foreign interests and Jews.
“I find it hard to believe that these people really think that white males are one oppressed minority, and the idea that they are going to be helped by $500 seems silly on its face,” Potok says. “I’m not accusing these guys of being racist. Maybe they’re merely foolish.”
William Lake responds: “Helping anyone pay for their education is not silly. I would say it’s a noble effort worth pursuing… We’re starting from the ground up, we’re not men of means with a whole lot of money laying around. If we had enough money, I’d like to set up a foundation that handed out half a million a year.”
As for the 25 percent minimum Caucasian blood requirement, Lake argues that President Obama, or someone of similar mixed-race background, would qualify, and it is in line with other ethnically oriented scholarships, such as those geared toward Native Americans.
“It seemed like a reasonable number to us,” Lake says. “We did not want to be lumped in with all the people who are actually bigots. I’m sure most of them wouldn’t be OK with 25 percent. One guy wrote that he wanted to give us money but he couldn’t because of that. I wrote back that ‘I’m sorry you feel that way, but we don’t need your donation.’”
It’s also possible, given the 15 minutes of fame they are enjoying, that Lake and Bohannan are too clever by one-quarter.
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.