ONTD Political

Tim Wise, still staying on point

2:18 am - 07/06/2010
Of Collateral Damage and Roosting Chickens: Reflections on Racism, the Economy and the High Cost of White Ambivalence

By Tim Wise
July 2, 2010

The message began ominously enough, with words no one really likes to hear directed their way.

"With all due respect," it read.


As a writer I am painfully aware of the imprecision of language. Meaning is not always perfectly--and often not at all--communicated by the words we choose to represent our thoughts. But if there's one thing I've learned in the course of 42 years it is this: whenever someone addresses you by saying, "with all due respect," you can rest assured they think you are due very little of it. And furthermore, in what follows they intend to deliver to you exactly that amount of this precious commodity to which they believe you are entitled.

"I have been out of work for 26 weeks," the e-mail, signed simply "Jeremy" continued. "A little more than six months. Six months without a job. Six months having to live on unemployment insurance or the kindness of family, friends and even strangers. Six months, during which time I've had to pawn damned near everything of value in the house, donate blood, and raid my kids' college savings accounts just to keep the lights on and food in the fridge. Six months of having my self-image battered, interview after interview, being told that I'm overqualified for almost every job I apply for. All because I have a college degree. I did everything right. I played by the rules, and yet, this is where I've ended up."

By this point I was starting to wonder if his missive had been misdirected. Perhaps he had intended it for one of the Senators who had just voted not to extend those unemployment benefits on which he'd been relying. Perhaps he thought I was Sharron Angle, the Tea Party Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Nevada who says that people like Jeremy are basically lazy and don't want to work because life on the dole is so luxurious. Or perhaps he thought I was Rand Paul, the Tea Party favorite in Kentucky, who insists that if people like Jeremy would just lower their sights a bit and be willing to work for less than their previous salaries, they'd be on their feet in no time.

But seeing as how I've always been nothing but critical of such right-wing absurdities as these, why was I the focus of Jeremy's ire? Why was I the one being challenged, and "with all due respect" at that? Intrigued, I read on, and that's when things became clear.

"Then today," Jeremy continued, "while researching job opportunities on the web (on a computer at the library, since I long ago had to sell my own) an acquaintance sent an e-mail to my (thankfully free) yahoo account, where you were talking about racism and how hard black people have it in this country. I don't doubt that, actually. But I'm white, and I fail to see how that's helping me right now. In fact, if I were black I might actually have been hired by now thanks to affirmative action. But I guess none of this matters, right? All I can say is, it would sure be nice if people like you would be as concerned about the plight of all people, regardless of race, as you are about just one group."

As adversarial e-mails go, I have to admit, this one wasn't all that bad. Considering the situation in which Jeremy finds himself, his comments seemed, at least to my mind, relatively mild. God knows I've received harsher criticism from people with far less valid reasons to be angry, whether at me, or the world for that matter. So what bothered me about the message wasn't Jeremy's tone. And it wasn't even the mischaracterization of my own supposedly limited sympathies. As tiresome as it can be to have someone misconstrue your views, and assume that because you write and speak mostly about racism, you must be unconcerned about the larger class system, it wasn't this counterfactual charge that most concerned me.

I wasn't even that upset by having to read yet another ill-informed broadside against affirmative action, from a white guy who feels that his situation is worse than it would have been had he only had the good fortune of being born with brown skin. Yes, that kind of thing is maddening, seeing as how a) if Jeremy were black a lot about his life would have been different, long before he lost his job, and according to the data, in pretty much every respect he would likely have been worse off, and b) college educated black men are nearly twice as likely as white men like Jeremy to be out of work--hardly evidence of their being "snapped up." But his ignorance on this score is so common, so pedestrian that it's hardly worth getting worked up about at this point. Besides, his lack of apparent hard-core racial animus suggested that his anti-affirmative action comments weren't really all that deeply felt.

Mostly what Jeremy seemed to be saying was that he wished for his struggles to be recognized and honored in a society where they so often aren't. He especially wanted someone like myself, who claims to care about those facing obstacles outside of their control (like racism) to care equally about the obstacles in his way--a perfectly reasonable request. And he seemed to be asking, at least implicitly, a question that I've heard asked a lot lately, which one often hears in times of crisis: "How am I supposed to get all worked up over other people's problems (like racism), when I've got my own hardships right now?" Not a selfish question, but one born of real and understandable frustration.

But as reasonable as the question may be, it was this aspect of Jeremy's message that bothered me most. After all, to ask it presupposes that Jeremy, like many others, fails to see the irony of the current economic and social predicament facing white men like himself: namely, that it is precisely the existence of racism, racial bias, and white racial ambivalence towards people of color and their plight, which has contributed to the current malady those white men find themselves confronting. Put simply, were it not for the very system of inequity and privilege that has normally worked pretty well for guys like Jeremy--but which now seems to them to have fallen flat--he and millions more might not be suffering as much as they are. There are at least three broad reasons this is true. Let us examine them one at a time.

Of Coal Mines, Canaries, and the Inattentive

Most have probably heard of the way that canaries were once used by miners to check coal shafts for methane gas and carbon monoxide. These potentially deadly emissions being more immediately toxic to birds than people, the miners knew that if they released canaries in the mine and the canaries died, they too would be in danger before long. Over the years, the metaphor of the "miner's canary" has been deployed by scholars who focus on the issue of race, such as Lani Gunier and Gerald Torres, whose 2002 book by that title explored the way that racial inequity has long served as a bellwether for coming social problems that would affect far more than just people of color.

Much as Guinier and Torres noted then, I would point out now, that in the midst of the faltering national economy we should understand how our inattention over the years to the warning signs of coming crisis explain much about how and why things got to be this bad. And those warning signs were ignored in large measure because they seemed not to impact white Americans, especially middle class and above whites. Because the pain was localized in low income and people of color communities, folks like Jeremy could choose to ignore it, not necessarily because they were insensitive or uncaring, let alone racist in the overt sense; but rather, because the immediate consequences weren't evident to them, and so paying little attention was easy to do.

For instance, consider the current housing meltdown. Although the crisis is now being felt nationwide, in communities that are urban, suburban and rural, and by people across the color spectrum, things weren't always that way. Nearly fifteen years ago, Michael Hudson detailed in his groundbreaking book, Merchants of Misery, the way that poor folks--disproportionately of color--were being gouged by high interest lenders on the secondary mortgage market, thanks to discriminatory lending practices. Likewise, community-based groups in places like North Carolina were taking on predatory lenders in the late 90s and early 2000s, like Citi, which was caught charging black families hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional mortgage payments over the life of their loans, by steering them into loan instruments that were more costly than necessary, even when those families could have qualified for lower interest rates.

Yet consistently, when activists would raise these issues, decry the racial and class unfairness inherent to these practices and call for regulations, most of the media, the public and lawmakers routinely ignored them.
No national politicians campaigned on platforms to crack down on such policies, to strengthen fair lending laws, or to reign in the interest that lenders could charge. The market, they would insist, was sufficient to regulate these matters.

Of course, once it became apparent that lenders were not going to be heavily scrutinized or regulated when it came to these activities, high-cost mortgage instruments became even more prevalent, and began to spread, from the communities of color and poor communities where they had begun, to solidly middle class and largely white spaces too. Independent mortgage brokers, which are not regulated the way banks are, began to offer loans to consumers based on little if any paperwork to demonstrate the payments could be made. These lenders had little incentive to control such activity, since they were going to sell the loans in bundles to wealthy investors anyway. By the time families were in default and being foreclosed on, the brokers would have made their money and moved on. As a result of the spread of high-cost mortgages, folks in solid middle class counties like Suffolk and Nassau, on Long Island, are now facing higher foreclosure rates than residents in Brooklyn or Queens.

So in a very real sense, white ambivalence to the suffering of black and brown folks opened the floodgates to even more risky economic activity, and this time, in far whiter communities as well. Had racial inequity and injustice been seen as a problem early on, perhaps the market for such predatory loans would have been shut down or at least heavily regulated, thereby staving off crisis. Clearly, the millions of white folks who got roped into these instruments by lenders promising that everything would be alright are suffering today, precisely because the pain was not taken seriously when it belonged to someone else.

When "Those People" Become You: The Cost of Racialized Social Policy

Additionally, there is now a significant body of research suggesting that the reason the United States has such a paltry social safety net--from a weak system of unemployment insurance, to limited cash-based support, to paltry food subsidies and limited public health care initiatives--is precisely because of the perception on the part of large numbers of whites that black folks will abuse such programs if they are too generous. In other words, white racial resentment at folks of color (perceived as the ones taking advantage of any form of assistance for the needy) leads to less support for strong safety net programs. Yet, when the economy craters and millions of whites find themselves struggling to survive, they too end up without the programs needed to support their families.

For instance, according to research by Martin Gilens, in his classic book Why Americans Hate Welfare, it was only after media imagery of the poor switched from mostly white to mostly black and brown (beginning in the early 1970s) that public anger about social spending began to explode. Prior to that time, most people understood the importance of safety nets, and had been highly supportive of assistance to the poor, from the period of the Great Depression well into the 1960s. But once the public came to view aid recipients as people of color, that support waned.

Likewise, Jill Quadagno points out in The Color of Welfare, that the nation's most promising anti-poverty initiatives and programs have been routinely undermined by racism aimed at those perceived to be the disproportionate beneficiaries.
Indeed, racist opposition to the empowerment of blacks was among the principal reasons that President Nixon's proposal for a guaranteed minimum national income was rejected. Kenneth Neubeck and Noel Cazenave demonstrate similar scholarship in their book Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card Against America's Poor. Neubeck and Cazenave document the way that politicians have used racial resentment and racism to limit public assistance of all kinds, and have been more focused on using welfare policy to control black and brown labor mobility and even reproduction, than to provide real opportunity and support. Again, the irony should be clear: because of the racialization of social policy, whites who are struggling, like Jeremy, will now have less of a safety net to catch them.

In fact, a comprehensive comparison of various social programs in the U.S. and Europe found that racial hostility to people of color better explains opposition to high levels of social spending here than any other economic or political variable. To the extent the public--especially the white public--perceives blacks as lazy and too dependent on public assistance, they come to oppose additional spending on programs of social uplift. Then, when they find themselves in need of the same assistance it isn't there for them. Jeremy is hurting, at least in part, because lawmakers have been insufficiently committed to addressing poverty and economic hardship. And this flagging commitment has been caused by the way in which the poor and struggling have been racialized, and the way this racialization has led to a collapse of empathy among large segments of the American public.

The Last to Know are the First to Blow: When Your Narrative Lets You Down

But there is one more thing, and it is perhaps bigger than the other two combined, in explaining why the Jeremys of the nation are experiencing such trauma right now. And by trauma, I am speaking of the psychological blow of the great recession, rather than merely its financial impact. After all, unemployment and economic insecurity is far more than a matter of material well-being. As Jeremy noted in his e-mail, he was experiencing repeated blows to his self-image due to his inability to land a job. Especially, as he noted because he has a college degree and "did everything right" and "played by the rules."

That Jeremy feels a special kind of injury based on his having worked hard, played by the rules, and yet still finding himself in the position he's in is worth exploring at length. This part of his story is especially telling, for it portends a sense on Jeremy's part that he deserved better than this and should have been able to expect better. People like him are not supposed to be out of work and struggling. Perhaps others are--those who haven't his work ethic, for instance--but not people like himself.

What's interesting about this narrative of expectation and entitlement is how contingent it is on Jeremy's race, whether or not he realizes it. Fact is, people of color--no matter how hard they've worked, and no matter their level of education--have never been able to take for granted that their merit and initiative would pay off. They have never had the luxury of buying into the narrative of meritocracy the way white folks (especially men) have, because they have seen family members, friends and others in their communities work hard every day and get nowhere fast. In this sense, the white mythology of America, which people of color have had no choice but to question and realize as only a partial truth on a good day, is one that has set up Jeremy and others like him. By convincing white men that all they had to do was work hard, that mythology--and the privilege that white men have had of being able to buy into it, and the privilege of having it work most of the time--has let them down, doubly hard. It's one thing to suffer. But to suffer when you were told by the culture that suffering was not, by and large, the lot of people like you, is to experience a psychic blow that is magnified ten-fold.

When one's illusions are shattered, it is never a pretty thing. To come to realize that everything you assumed about your society was a lie is nothing if not discomfiting. That people of color almost always saw things for what they were points out another irony of the current moment: namely, that the folks being hit hardest by the downturn (who are indeed still people of color) are perhaps the most prepared to deal with it, cope, and survive. While those who had been able to count on the system working for them--and who were usually correct in this presumption--may be the ones least prepared to do so.

It brings to mind the Great Depression, during which it was never the poor or folks of color who went to the tops of buildings and threw themselves off, unable to face the prospects of financial ruin. Rather, it was the white and wealthy who saw a bump in suicide rates at that time, so unprepared were they to deal with setback. Or if not this, perhaps the way that adult children of parents who decide to divorce after 40 years of marriage so often take the news harder than even the pre-teen whose parents do the same. The pre-teen had nowhere near enough time to construct a mythologized image of his or her parents, or their love for one another. But when one has been able to grow up assuming the sanguinity of the home in which you were raised, only to learn that perhaps things were not as they seemed, it can be as if the whole world is collapsing.

This, it seems, is where much of white America finds itself right now: unmoored, untethered, adrift on a sea of shattered illusions. Interestingly, had the society been less committed to the myth than to creating a reality of equity and opportunity for all, perhaps what Jeremy and millions of others are experiencing right now would never have come to pass. Had the culture not set white men up to expect the world, precisely because they were deemed superior to everyone else, the mental anguish and esteem-battering currently underway could have been prevented. Perhaps if we had been serious about making the deed match the word, and had we encouraged the kind of solidarity needed to make a society livable for all, things would have been different.

One thing is certain: If we do not quickly relinquish the remaining grip exercised by the national mythology it will continue to batter us, to insult Jeremy and others like him, to mock their hard work and their suffering, and to reinforce the self-loathing that has been its primary product for generations. Only real solidarity can save us now.

As James Baldwin noted in Nobody Knows My Name:

"...it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free--he has set himself free--for higher dreams, for greater privileges."

--

I think this shattering of illusions is a big part of why the teabagging movement is so big--they want to go back to a time when if they played by "the rules," everything worked out for them. Seeing a Black guy in office is the ultimate sign things are Not Like They Used To Be and that things Aren't Working Right For Us But Are For Them (...Even Though They Don't Deserve It and We're Playing By the Rules), and they're protesting their world getting upended in every single way. They want to go back to when things worked for them, and all the changes happening is downright terrifying because it means things won't work out for them they way they've been conditioned the think things will. So they're wildly scapegoating pretty much everything that's a visible sign of the changing times.
parhelion_spark 5th-Jul-2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, I know so, so many people who need to read this. They totally won't (or will steadfastly refuse to get it once it grows uncomfortable) but I'm linking the shit out of this anyway.

Re: OP comment
My thoughts exactly. Well.
Not exactly. Mine were far less organized, but the spirit's the same.
lickety_split 5th-Jul-2010 05:47 pm (UTC)
In fact, if I were black I might actually have been hired by now thanks to affirmative action.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA x 10000000000000000000000
caitliiin 5th-Jul-2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
lol people always tell me I'm going to have such an ~easy~ time finding a job after graduating because I'm a female engineering major. I'm like, you seriously don't understand what affirmative action does. ugh.
hotcoffeems 5th-Jul-2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
I like this. I like this so much I have shared it. There is so much truth in its truthiness. History shows that when people find themselves in economically-straitened circumstances, they often buy the "Oh, no, look over there!" claims of those in power that the people to blame for their circumstances are those *below* them, not those above them. You'd think by now people would start to recognize the fallacy.
jiaren_shadow 5th-Jul-2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
We humans are notoriously bad at things like logic.
hotcoffeems 5th-Jul-2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
Aren't we, though...
thelilyqueen 5th-Jul-2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
Agreed... I've had some thoughts along the lines of this article, but I don't think I could have pulled everything together and written it half as well as the author did.

It's always challenging to write when the people who most need to hear the message are the least likely to want to listen.
jiaren_shadow 5th-Jul-2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
I have a feeling that race relations are just going to get worse and worse because of this.

This article is awesome, btw.
coiledsoul 5th-Jul-2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
out-fucking-standing. Tim Wise is wise.
svtstarlight 5th-Jul-2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
What's interesting about this narrative of expectation and entitlement is how contingent it is on Jeremy's race, whether or not he realizes it. Fact is, people of color--no matter how hard they've worked, and no matter their level of education--have never been able to take for granted that their merit and initiative would pay off. They have never had the luxury of buying into the narrative of meritocracy the way white folks (especially men) have, because they have seen family members, friends and others in their communities work hard every day and get nowhere fast.

This. (and not just in the US, but everywhere...)

Shame I can't share this with my dad...he and I have a sort of thing going on where he has decided girls/women should have no opinion other than what he thinks they should have and (this is one of the many reasons) I'm never in his good books; I question, I THINK FOR MYSELF (kthx), and I don't accept as a given what ANYONE says (for the most part) without at least thinking and searching out for myself what I feel is right/true about a situation. (and then realise what's true for me might not be true for someone else...) I'm not perfect, I know this, but I am trying to understand my own limitations and work on them.

He always has to play 'devil's advocate' with things I don't feel he really understands and this is one of the issues we've butted heads on. (He's white, white-collar working life tho he's semi-retired now and I'm part First Nations via Mum but identify as white since that's how I was raised...complicated but...there ya go) To him everything seems to be based on the evils of affirmative action and not just on race but on gender/sexual orientation too. *sighs* Sometimes I wish he switched with me for a day and then he'd see just what I've had to deal with. Then maybe he'd just stfu and go away.

/rant

(eeps, edited for typo)



Edited at 2010-07-05 06:08 pm (UTC)
a_hollow_year 5th-Jul-2010 06:23 pm (UTC)
Gonna print this out and staple it to my forehead.
rex_dart 5th-Jul-2010 07:30 pm (UTC)
I love this, and you are awesome for posting it. I was gritting my teeth in frustration reading that letter, but he turned it into such a wonderful article. Amazing.

The point about how many white people buy into the meritocracy myth I liked especially, because I hear from a lot of people how they know people who work in poor school districts with lower class kids who are unruly, don't want to work, etc. I always point out that amongst other things, these are often kids who may not see the point in trying hard in school when they see little hope of doing well in school taking them anywhere in life. It frustrates me to no end that it's almost impossible to get it through the skull of a well-off white person that telling a child who sees their parents go out and work their fingers to the bone every day to get nothing that if they just ace all their tests, they can get a scholarship and be ~*set for life*~ doesn't work because why would they believe you?

I'm white and my family does okay these days, but I'm twenty-three years old and in doing well in college and still cannot ever picture living a comfortable life, not worrying about how to pay all the bills, whether or not I'll lose my insurance. I know that it's possible for me because I'm not that badly off comparatively, because I'm capable, and because I do have some privilege, especially white privilege. But I still don't truly believe I will ever not struggle because I grew up watching my parents work as hard as or harder than anyone I knew only to end up with less than any of my friends' parents. It fucked me up so bad my therapists always ask what the fuck my psychological issues with money are all about; I tell myself if I keep working I'll be okay and don't believe it, and I can't imagine having to tell myself that if my family were really poor instead of just precariously balanced all the time, and if I had racial discrimination piled on top of the class shit.

tl;dr, expecting that you'll get what you work for is such a fucking luxury, and it drives me mad sometimes.
thelilyqueen 5th-Jul-2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
I think the thing that makes it all the more frustrating to me is that it *shouldn't* be a luxury.

If you have the will and drive and talent and so on to be a doctor, you should be able to become one without added struggles due to what your parents make, your ethnic/racial background, etc. If you're a lazy, dishonest waste of space maybe you should have trouble getting work, at least until you shape up, even though your family's wealthy and your dad could give you a cushy job in his company.

How that's ever to be accomplished, I don't know. Certainly I don't think any society yet has managed it. But we could do a lot better than we are.
rex_dart 5th-Jul-2010 07:56 pm (UTC)
Definitely agree, but the implications of that idea are things that most people would never stand for - it would take a lot of artificial intervention to put everyone on equal footing and would involve stripping a lot of people of their privileges.

Whether it could be done ethically, I really can't say.
thelilyqueen 5th-Jul-2010 08:17 pm (UTC)
Yep, which is why I said I'm not sure it's even possible.

As far as the ethics... I see the argument there, but our current system is equally artificial intervention when you think about it. One of my cousins has pretty severe dyslexia, and because his family is wealthy he was put in a private school with a great program and had tutors. He's done very well, and I don't begrudge him that. But, his parents definitely intervened on his behalf in a way most other families could not, and they were able to by good luck.
rex_dart 5th-Jul-2010 08:18 pm (UTC)
I agree. It's a difficult question because I don't think anyone's ever gotten it quite right. The one thing I do know is that we can do much, much better than this.
cecilia_weasley 5th-Jul-2010 10:42 pm (UTC)
I agree with your comment. And believe me I have seen not only incredibly lazy and unethical people hold on to really great jobs, but also great people be out of jobs for a long period of time. I have had to work with really lazy, unethical people who will do anything to try and get one over on me for a few dollars and then brag about it to their friends...

Meanwhile I have no idea about my own future because I have not been able to find a job for many months, and I'm not even sure if I should continue to stay in school and accumulate debt.

These unethical, unscrupulous people btw were 90% white people who were born in Canada, who were also women over the age of 35 and in possession of french manicures. I stay away from these kinds of people now, at all costs. (I'm white too btw)
karrixftw 6th-Jul-2010 03:04 am (UTC)
I agree with this so much. I'm a sophomore in high school, and when I got my report card this semester and saw two B+'s and 2 A-'s and a 3.85 cumulative gpa, I freaked out, because my whole life I've known that with limited resources as far as income goes, I'd never be able to go to college without a scholarship, and I told myself I had to get all A's and a 4.0 to get one.

Nobody in my family went to college, and I saw my mother struggle working so hard at so many jobs after my dad died and still not be able to get by, and the government say, "Sorry, we can't do anything" at the same time, and when my sister finally went to college, I saw her drop out after the first year because it cost too much.

For some kids, seeing that makes them think that they shouldn't even try because they think no matter how hard they try, they won't get anywhere, which is reasonable considering what they've been exposed to, and for some kids like me, I'll push myself so hard to be perfect, and that's just as damaging psychologically.

I don't know if my point came clear from my ramblings, but I totally agree with you, and the entire situation makes me so mad because no matter what people say, the cycle of poverty, lack of higher education, lack of opportunity and motivation still continues to this day and will unless we step in and give people equal access to education (especially higher education).
lovebats 5th-Jul-2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
::bookmarking for my mother to read later...::
almightyspaz 5th-Jul-2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
Great article.

And as for Jeremy, I hate to tell him, but the unemployment rate for black people is higher than white people right now.
evilgmbethy 5th-Jul-2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
Tim Wise is a rock star.

and this:
how hard black people have it in this country. I don't doubt that, actually. But I'm white, and I fail to see how that's helping me right now

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand for what possible reason should that be helping you right now? I fail to see any logic in this sentence. why should black people having it hard help this dude find a job?
homasse 6th-Jul-2010 01:52 am (UTC)
I'm pretty sure it's a dig at the very idea of White Privilege--"I'm White, but it's not helping me, because I'm still struggling! Where's my 'privilege'?!"

Same old same old.
everythingonit 5th-Jul-2010 10:19 pm (UTC)
This was good.

There are days when I still foolishly believe if I just work hard I'll get something... even though time and time again it's proven false.

It's really hard to let that shit go. I believe it because my old man did it. He worked hard, eventually go thimself a big ass house, a nice ass car, financially secure, why shouldn't I beleive it just because I am black.

I would feel sorry for this Jeremy guy, but he's being an ass about things.
homasse 6th-Jul-2010 04:00 am (UTC)
My mom raised me and my big brother by herself after dad left, and she worked her ass off, with no college degree (because she dropped out to get married), until she had her own real estate agency and rental properties, and I know full well that the only reason I am at my current, middle-class life is because she worked her ass off to keep us at middle class (her parents were farmers; my dad hit middle class because his parents had owned a general store in that farming area, so they had the money to send him to school--but both sets of grandparents were landowners, which alone set them up better than a lot of people), and I had all the privileges that go with a middle-class life, including being able to go to a top-notch private school (yay, grants and loans). If we had not been middle class, I would not be where I am with the opportunities I have and have had.

Hard work does count for a lot, but it's only if you're not starting completely from zero (mom got her real estate license while she was still married, so she wasn't at zero, and we had a house of our own because of Dad)--and so many people don't seem to get how much your circumstances impact your chances--most of the time, hard work isn't enough, and we as a country have been sold a bill of goods by buying into the fact that, just because a minority of people manage to make it by dint of hard work, that we actually live in a meritocracy and that's all you need.
cecilia_weasley 5th-Jul-2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
Even if you're white it's hard to believe in meritocracy. I just want to have connections, tbh.

This article is good in pointing out a few things, but I do feel bad for Jeremy too, but all the minorities being hounded right now? Scary shit. I'm very frightened there will be race riots.
aviv_b 5th-Jul-2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
This sums up exactly what the teabaggers are all about. Made up of mostly white middle to upper middle class men who have 'played by the rules.' Went to college, worked hard and now find themselves unemployed, unemployable and unappreciated. So they blame groups less powerful than themselves - women, minorities, etc.

The saddest part - they should be blaming OTHER WHITE MEN - who almost exclusively head up large corporations that first sent blue collar jobs overseas, and now are outsourcing white collar jobs. These OTHER WHITE MEN take home increasingly disproportionate paychecks compared to the rest of us. Including the aggrieved white man who wrote this letter.

But the average white male does not seem to understand this at all. And they don't understand that women, minorities, the disabled, the rest of us have known that life is unfair for a long, long, time. Come on teabaggers, join us at the back of the bus and fight against this concentration of wealth or power.

Get on the clue train, stop listening to Rush Limbaugh (a HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY) privileged white male who doesn't care if you have to live in a garbage dump to survive, and Glen Beck and all the others who profit from your willful ignorance, open your eyes and see that your best chance for survival is by fighting against other white men, not the rest of us.

Otherwise, enjoy your crumbs, and the illusion that the heads of corporate American give a good g-d damn about you. The don't.





Edited at 2010-07-05 11:50 pm (UTC)
darksumomo 6th-Jul-2010 12:02 am (UTC)
Time to reprint my favorite graphics about the dynamic you describe.

First, the scapegoating inherent in The Producerist Narrative. Note at all the groups who get blamed. Look familiar?

Populism05

And now the complete Producerist Narrative.

Populism08

An updated version shows the Tea Party as one of the groups inside the circle.
homasse 6th-Jul-2010 01:51 am (UTC)
The thing is, they're never going to attack the other White men causing this because they aspire to be those men. They're not going to attack the ones they secretly want to be like (or those more powerful than them), but they are going to turn around and attack those whom are weaker and 'different' (and are thus an easier, more "acceptable" target, because they, of course, do not secret aspire to be or for their children to be one of those 'Others').

It's easier to blame the loss of security on the crumbs others get by feeling like you're entitled to every scrap of everything because you "worked hard" and "played by the rules" (but they're lazy and undeserving, because if they worked hard and played by the rules, they wouldn't need "handouts") instead of seeing how the system is actually broken and is a lie; that merit alone is not enough. It's easier to blame visible Others than it is to upend the worldview you, your parents, your grandparents, have always held.
aviv_b 6th-Jul-2010 02:59 am (UTC)
Sad isn't it. Self-deception is so comforting.
homasse 6th-Jul-2010 03:50 am (UTC)
And it's easier to attack people weaker than you than it is to attack people stronger.
darksumomo 6th-Jul-2010 12:08 am (UTC)
This essay is also posted on Daily Kos, where it is currently among the recommended diaries. Any ontd_p types who are also Kossacks should go over to the Big Orange and recommend the diary.
haruhiko 6th-Jul-2010 07:07 am (UTC)
Haha, I would never go to Daily Kos after what Markos Moulitsas said about Kucinich. That place is a party echo chamber of the worst kind and one of the many "liberal" forums where progressive thought goes to die.
homasse 6th-Jul-2010 08:05 am (UTC)
What'd he say about Kucinich?
haruhiko 6th-Jul-2010 08:11 am (UTC)
Among other things, he called him "a little prick" on DKos and went on MSNBC or one of the other cable shows and said that Kucinich would be a despicable person if he voted against the healthcare bill and that he should be primaried.
homasse 6th-Jul-2010 08:43 am (UTC)
How charming.
tresa_cho 6th-Jul-2010 02:31 am (UTC)
Loved every word. Very clear and concise. Linked the shit out of it.
noir_aya 6th-Jul-2010 05:23 am (UTC)
Tim Wise is fucking brilliant.

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haruhiko 6th-Jul-2010 07:12 am (UTC)
Great article, thank you for posting. To me the point that stands out the most is that the systematic imbalance that has created major inequalities in the lives of people of color is the same systematic problem that these white whiners are now feeling the pinch of. Standing up to racist institutions isn't just the right thing to do if you are white, it is also a matter of self-preservation, because guess what, once the people of color are all exploited you guys are next. Reminds me of the quote:

"They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up."
beuk 7th-Jul-2010 02:56 am (UTC)
Thanks for linking to this in that more recent post. I would have missed it otherwise.
tiddlywinks103 7th-Jul-2010 04:39 am (UTC)
I second this.
crossfire 9th-Jul-2010 11:08 pm (UTC)
+1. This made my day.
angry_chick 7th-Jul-2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
This article is fucking awesome.

Seriously, I don't understand why so many white people think that they are the MAGIC EXCEPTION in this economy. If it's hard for you, you're just assed out. It's even hard for PoC.
sobota 7th-Jul-2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
it's even HARDER for PoC where it's hard for whites, it's just that whites are finally getting the side that PoC have always had.
angry_chick 7th-Jul-2010 08:48 pm (UTC)
Shit, I meant to edit that.

But yeah, this shit is stuff that we're used to. This is nothing new. It's suddenly a big ass deal for white people because they're used to having their privilege work out for them.
sobota 7th-Jul-2010 08:32 pm (UTC)
Fact is, people of color--no matter how hard they've worked, and no matter their level of education--have never been able to take for granted that their merit and initiative would pay off.

yes. yes. yes. yes.
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