What’s up with white people?!
By Chris Horton
Seeing the all-white, mostly 25-55 year old crowd lined up a few weeks ago at the DCU center to see presidential candidate Donald Trump was like being in a time-warp. I grew up “white,” in a very white part of what was the most segregated city in the world, Chicago. South Chicago was so white that I didn’t really know I was white until we moved to a mixed neighborhood when I was 9, yet I absorbed the lessons.
(How that came to be is another story! Suffice it to say that Chicago’s “Restrictive Covenants” designating where “Negros” were not allowed to live were only struck down by the Supreme Court in 1948; the Chicago Realtor’s Board didn’t even try to hide their profit-maximizing motive for enforcing segregation; and the Police Department enforced it – all of which was invisible to me.)
Not that where I grew up was anyplace fancy. We lived a few blocks from US Steel where many of my friends’ dads worked. It was a tough, dirty, noisy town, a union town, but safe because most of the mothers were at home and watching out for all of us. It looked a lot like Green Island but flatter. A few brown-skinned folk came into our neighborhood by day to work, but they’d all be gone by dark. The darkest-skinned girl in my school, a Sicilian beauty named Yvonne, was my third-grade crush. (Decades later I heard a story of how no one had dared tell her Dad he couldn’t live there!)
There were no black or brown “good guys” on TV or in the movies except for Uncle Remus and Tonto. Virtually all our sports heroes were white, in virtually every sport.
(When Roy Williams came over to the White Sox from the Negro League – about which I knew nothing – and we were watching from the bleachers, one of my friends said “he plays all right for a N****!” I amazed myself by threatening if he ever used that word again I’d punch him in the nose. He must have believed I meant it because he never did again – around me anyway. But I’ve always wondered where that came from – I barely knew what the word meant.)
Our textbooks had George Washington Carver, Booker T Washington and some grateful slaves receiving the gift of freedom from Abe Lincoln. Junior Scholastic magazine told stories about poor starving Africans and good English settlers slaughtered in their beds by Mau Maus. Anything that mattered in the world had been done by “whites.”
So I didn’t think of myself as white, I was just an American like everyone else I knew. We were Irish, Jewish, Italian, Polish, English, but we were all American.
And Americans were White. Palefaces, as Tonto called us in the movies. We were the Good Guys in the white hats, who always won in the end because we were righteous – and better at fighting and killing. I used to thank God I was an American.
I loved the kids I grew up with, still do. We loved America, marbles, cars and baseball and hated Hitler, Nazis, facists and the Japs whose planes came screaming out of the sky to strafe us as we fought back with machine guns from the sand pits in the vacant lots and practiced dying in hails of bullets.
Our country has gone through a lot of changes since then. We’ve all gone through a lot of changes. Slowly, painfully, starting with sports, we’ve learned that all the stories about what Black people can’t do are lies. Interracial couples, unthinkable where I grew up, are common now and we even have a Black President. Yet here in the DCU Center were what could have been the children and grandchildren of my friends, cheering for Donald Trump, baying for blood and chanting USA! USA!
So what’s up with white folk? Or more specifically, what’s up with these white folk, mostly non-college white folk in their peak earning years?
Well, it turns out they’re getting hit pretty hard by this economic depression we’re in, and taking it pretty hard, as reflected in the Feb. 3 daily headlines: “For middle-aged white Americans, death rate is on the rise! Epidemic of suicide, afflictions from substance abuse taking a toll.”
Not that everyone else isn’t hurting – on average, given the same education level, white folk still have more income, more family wealth and are more likely to be employed, but the difference is narrowing rapidly. We’re getting a big dose of what everyone else has been experiencing since forever in this rigged economy, and they (we) don’t like it.
Only about 69% of white folk age 20 and over are employed now according to the BLS, down from 75% in 2000, but compared to only 61% of black folk now. But for middle-aged native-born non-Latino non-college white men, moreso than any other group, there has been no recovery since the bottom of the recession!
The percent working has barely started to recover. Jobs have become nastier and more insecure, and we’re putting up with abuse and cuts we would have quit over 15 years ago. The foreclosure crisis hit Black, Latino and immigrant homeowners early and hard; now it is hitting everyone. Health care costs have been savaging us all, but because white workers are more likely to have had good health coverage, we’re more likely to have lost it. And white workers are more likely to have lost our pension – because we’re more likely to have had one!
For some white workers, the most painful thing is being driven down to the level of everyone else, losing the sense of being special. But pretty much all of us are outraged because this isn’t how America was “supposed to be”!
In reality, white working-folk face the same crisis, the same challenges as everyone else. Politically, we’ve reached a point where “more of the same” is not an option for us, and we face a fateful choice:
– follow Trump and the illusion we can reclaim our special place in the universe by putting everyone else down,
– or join with the rest of America – and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – in building a great movement to confront the billionaire class and reclaim our democracy for everyone!
Actually, if you leave out the immigrant-bashing, Mexican-bashing, Moslem bashing and China-bashing, the bragging, threatening and borderline lynch-mob talk – which is asking a lot – what’s left still makes a certain kind of emotional sense. One Trump-supporter put his reasons like this:
– Trump can’t be bought;
– The system has failed and we need to do something different;
– Trump says what he really thinks;
These are all things that can be said far better for Bernie!
Yes, Trump’s so rich that he can’t be bought for a few thousand dollars, but his life has been about hustling for wealth and power for himself. Can we expect that to stop suddenly when we elect him? Will he suddenly be doing this for us?
Yes, the system has failed, because the top-level politicians mostly are taking the billionaires’ dollars and dancing to their tune. Trump brags that he’s the one that used to buy them. Is that less corrupt, or more?
Yes, Trump says what he thinks at the moment, but is it the same as last week? This week it’s Moslems. Last week it was Mexicans. Who knows what next week will bring?
None of these arguments will shake a Trump-supporter loose if their real reason is about “being white”, and the pain of losing the special place we once had just by being American in a world where (to us) that meant being white. Trump is leading us down the road to Hell, to a state where we’re too busy fighting with each other to fight back against the “billionaire class” – his class. If you doubt this could happen, if you want to know what that might look like, take a look at Iraq, Syria or Libya!
Hopefully, enough of us still know better and we’ll snap out of it before Election Day!