“…the most violent ethnic group in America.”

Science fiction stories generally have a short shelf life, especially if they’re set in the near future. Reality has a way of going in a different direction than predicted. But Bruce Sterling’s Distraction, published in 1998 and set in 2044, holds up well.

Distraction is set in a future United States in even greater disarray than at present. Government doesn’t function, the dollar has crashed, there are 16 political parties, the off-the-books economy is bigger than the legal economy and “Wyoming is on fire.”

The main plot is the struggle of a political operative named Oscar Valparaiso to keep a vital federal research laboratory from being taken over by a demagogic governor of Louisiana, who wants to make his half-underwater state a haven for rogue biotechnology.

The part that sticks in my mind is a subplot, involving Oscar’s championing of a despised ethnic minority called the Anglos, the politically-incorrect name for white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.  I am reminded of it when I hear white, self-identified liberal friends holding forth on the hopeless (as they see it) dysfunction of poor black families.

Oscar gets flack from his peers for hiring a roughneck Anglo as his chief of security.  As one of them says:

“It’s not that I have anything against Anglos!  I mean, sure, there are good, decent, law-abiding Anglo people. But — you know — look at the statistics! Anglos have white-collar crime rates right off the scale.  And talk about violent — man, white people are the most violent ethnic group in America.  All these cross burnings and militia bombings and gun-nut guys … the poor bastards can’t get a grip.”

Oscar considered this. It always offended him to hear his fellow Americans discussing the vagaries of “white people.” There was simply no such thing as “white people.”  The stereotype was an artificial construct, like the ridiculous term “Hispanic.”

Oscar’s peers are alienated by the bodyguard’s personal habits, such as smearing his body with Sunblock and his food with mayonnaise.  He shrugs this off.  “It’s an Anglo thing, man,” he says.

At another point in the novel, Oscar takes a date to a nightclub with an Anglo band.

Buzzy’s was a music spot of some pretension, it was open late and the tourist crowd was good. The band was playing classical string quartets. Typical Anglo ethnic music. It was amazing how many Anglos had gone into the booming classical music scene. Anglos seemed to have a talent for rigid, linear music that less troubled ethnic groups couldn’t match.


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