"Is white the new black?"
So asks Kelefa Sanneh in the subtitle of "Beyond the Pale," his New Yorker review of several books on white America, wherein he concludes we may be witnessing "the slow birth of a people."
Sanneh is onto something. For after a year of battering as "un-American," "evil-doers" and racists, and praise from talk-show hosts and Sarah Palin as "the real Americans," Tea Party America seems to be taking on a new and separate identity.
Ethnonationalism -- the recognition of an embryonic people that they are different from their neighbors, and the concomitant drive to live apart -- is, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote 20 years ago, a more powerful force than any ideology, be it communism, fascism or democracy.
Ethnonationalism is the pre-eminent force of the age we have entered, the creator and destroyer of empires and nations. Even as Schlesinger was writing his "Disuniting of America," Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were disintegrating into 22 new nations, along the lines of ethnicity. In Dagestan, Ingushetia, Chechnya, Ossetia and Abkhazia, the process proceeds apace.
It has happened before -- and here.
In the American colonies, the evil institution of slavery, followed by a century of segregation, created out of the children of captured Africans who had little in common other than color a new people, the African-Americans, who went out and voted 24-to-one for Barack Obama.
In 1754, the 13 colonies consisted of South Carolinians, New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians and Virginians, all loyal subjects of the king.
But after the contemptuous treatment of colonial soldiers in the French and Indian War, the Stamp Act, the Townshend duties, the Boston Massacre, the Tea Party, the Quartering Act and the Quebec Act, by 1775 a new people had been born: the Americans.
In 1770, New York colonists had erected a statue of George III in Bowling Green in grateful tribute for his repeal of the Townshend taxes. In July 1776, they pulled it down and melted it for lead bullets after Washington read his soldiers the Declaration of Independence portraying George III as another Ivan the Terrible.
"There is no such thing as a Palestinian people," said Golda Meir. When she said it, she may have been right. But as generations have grown up under the occupation and two intifadas and a Gaza War, the Palestinians are a people today.
Adversity and abuse increase the awareness of separate identity and accelerate the secession of peoples from each other.