Tag: white working class

Are You Being Nice Enough to Racists?

So mere days away from Armageddon — I mean, Trump’s inauguration, excuse me — we’re all wondering how Democrats are going to rebound in 2020.

Will they seek to rebrand themselves with the white working class by appealing to its concerns? Or will they double down on their base, and nominate a truly progressive candidate?

Ha, we’re just kidding.

We all know Democrats will run like hell from the “liberal” label. They will strain to convince Pennsylvania factory workers and Wisconsin farmers that the Democratic Party has learned its lesson and is abandoning “identity politics.” And then Democrats will ask white rural voters to grab a beer with them and talk about the Packers before heading out to the deer stand.

There are, of course, numerous issues with this approach. Let’s skip the obvious one for now, which is that Democrats will once again take the Latino vote for granted while dismissing progressives as silly elitists.

 

Instead, let’s analyze a very real problem, which is that many people who voted for Trump weren’t just being loyal Republicans, or looking to drain the swamp, or getting bamboozled by a con man.

No, many of them are damn racists who knew exactly what they were voting for. In fact, the link between racism and Trump mania is disturbingly clear.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it’s morally ok to court such voters. So how does one persuade them to abandon the Republican Party and its blatant xenophobia? How can we convince a person feeling white resentment or white anxiety (or whatever term euphemizes prejudice) that his attitude is not cool?

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Is America Worth Fighting For?

Over the last month, the most popular activities for liberals have included the following:

  • Writing impassioned (and futile) emails to Electoral College voters
  • Muttering insults about the white working class
  • Staring off into space in abject horror and dread

You know what is no longer popular? That would be researching a move to Canada.

Yes, when push came to shove — and then kept on pushing right off a Trumpian cliff — most progressives dropped the fiction that they were packing up for Toronto or Costa Rica or Switzerland or some other place where unstable, genital-grabbing billionaires aren’t heads of state.

Instead, we progressives started talking about how we weren’t going anywhere, and how we had to keep fighting, and stand up for our principles, and never give up, and on and on until the Rocky theme was pretty much blaring over our heads as we spoke.

But I have a nagging question.

Is any of this battling for the heart and soul of America worth the cost?

Now regardless of your political affiliation, you most likely find that question insulting.

After all, conservatives view it as treasonous to even question if America is worth fighting for. And liberals view it as gutless to just acquire and let the right-wingers reshape the country.

But look past the knee-jerking, and you run into some disturbing facts about just how much Americans are awash in contradictions and issues about their country. For starters, both liberals and conservatives constantly bemoan our nation’s status.

Barely half of U.S. adults say they are “extremely proud” to be Americans, which is a new low in Gallup’s polling. Most Americans say the country is on the wrong track. And a large segment of our fellow citizens assume “that life will get worse for them over the next generation” (interestingly, a full two-thirds of Trump supporters believe this).

And if we’re not getting all depressed about America’s decline, we’re busy hating on our fellow U.S. residents. Polls find that “majorities in both political parties view their rivals not only unfavorably, but very unfavorably.” And almost 80% (a record high in Gallup polling) believe Americans are fundamentally “divided on the most important values.”

So if our relationship with America were a marriage, you would have to wonder if it’s time to call the divorce lawyers.

Now, I know it is un-American to just cut and run… well, except for all those times when we have done exactly that. So that’s not much of argument.

I will just point out that — with the exception of Native Americans — none of us would even be here if our ancestors hadn’t ditched their homelands. My maternal family thought El Salvador sucked, so they came here. My paternal family got sick of Ireland and Italy, so they got on a boat for a better life.

And your ancestors did the exact same thing. We come from a long line of people who actively avoided standing up and fighting for their homelands. They all said, “See ya, I got a better deal waiting for me in America,” and today we applaud their courage and fortitude.

So why is it so horrific or treacherous to follow their example, and leave for a better life?

Indeed, if you are a progressive like me, you no doubt are aware that the Scandinavian countries align more with our principles. And they are kicking America’s ass in just about every category, by the way. Why wouldn’t you be happier there? If we’re truly being honest, as progressives, there are lots of countries where we would fit in better and possibly even have a better life.

“Ha,” I can hear conservatives out there saying. “I knew you liberals didn’t love America enough to fight for her.”

Well, I must point out that when Obama won re-election, plenty of you conservatives were mouthing off about leaving the country and/or seceding from the United States. So I would rein in that smugness.

The truth is that whether you lean left or right, you have most likely thought, at some point, that the nation was going to hell. And at those times, it crossed your mind to just get out while the getting was good.

For liberals, such a time is now. In essence, do we have some kind of moral obligation to spend our lives vainly trying to convince our fellow citizens how absurdly idiotic they’re being? Maybe we should take the hint and say, “If that’s the way you want it, the place is all yours.” Maybe it’s smarter to just go live someplace where we will be less stressed.

And then we realize… plenty of people are not in a position to leave. They are tied here, by economics or familial commitments or some other anchor that makes talk of starting over in another country as probable as Trump grabbing a beer with Noam Chomsky.

For those people who do not have the luxury of packing up and flying to France, we would basically be saying, “Hope you’re not Latino, or Muslim, or gay, or anything else other than a rich, straight, white guy. Because you are on your own.”

And at those times, it seems like sticking around and fighting may be the only real option we have.

But if things get much worse… well, I hear Barcelona is nice.


Don’t Say a Word

Americans have received more than a fair amount of post-mortem analysis and 20/20 hindsight into how the country got stuck with that malignant clown for president. Despite this, it remains astonishing to note how the media tries to avoid stating the obvious.

For example, CNN recently unveiled its 24 theories why Trump won. Here are a full two dozen rationales — some astute, some questionable — in which the word “bigotry” does not appear.

Yes, a couple of CNN’s theories allude to it in euphemistic terms (e.g., “white male resentment”). But the nearest any of its reasons comes to acknowledging real prejudice among Trump supporters is to discount the very idea. In fact, theory #22 clearly states, “Not because of racism.”

By the way, the words “misogyny” and “sexism” do not appear on CNN’s list at all. So apparently, “Trump that bitch” was just a catchy slogan.

In any case, here we have a major news outlet listing dozens of reasons why Trump emerged victorious, and heaven forbid they acknowledge the well-documented fact that a significant number of Trump supporters are white supremacists. Or perhaps I just imagined that whole thing about the KKK throwing a victory parade.

klannn

Now, racism certainly wasn’t the only reason for Trump’s ascendency, and it probably wasn’t even the main reason. But to imply that it was no reason at all, and to sidestep this most unpleasant of factors, is disingenuous at best and cowardly at worst.

Another CNN piece states “this election was for the forgotten among the American people…. When Donald Trump came on the scene, for the first time, they had a voice.

Yes, thank god someone is finally speaking up for white men!

However, it is not just CNN that is embracing this soothing narrative that bigotry is miniscule among Trump supporters.

For example, a professor at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin — Madison, recently published a book based on her months of talking to rural voters of that swing state. In a Washington Post interview about Trump’s popularity in the heartland, the professor acknowledged that many of her interview subjects expressed bigoted sentiments, but she quickly dismissed this by stating, “it’s not just resentment toward people of color. It’s resentment toward elites, city people.”

Ah, I see. So to the professor, whenever a Midwestern farmer snapped that blacks are lazy criminals, it was justifiable irritation with all those fancy urban types.

Good thing it wasn’t racism.

By the way, I am from Wisconsin and have spent more time in small towns and on dairy farms than the vast majority of “coastal elites.” The people there are overwhelmingly polite and hardworking. But yes, I’ve been slurred a few times. And I assure you that it wasn’t because I was too cosmopolitan.

Again, all this dancing around and justifying and flat-out ignoring is jarring to both our knowledge of the world and our sense of decency.

For some delusional reason, we remain deathly afraid of calling out racism in a large swath of people, as if doing so might acknowledge that bigotry still lingers in our “post-racial” society. And we can’t have that.

Or maybe we just can’t offend white people.

After all, as some writers have noted, “to call out voters for falling for damagingly racist and sexist messages is viewed [as] dangerously snobby by the media, as though working-class people are precious toddlers who must be humored and can’t possibly be held responsible for any flawed thinking.” We should also be aware that “only the white working classes are accorded this handwringing and insistent media empathy.”

It’s all about white fragility, which often mixes with a toxic helping of male insecurity. When that happens, we get the idea that “if white men are not living the American Dream the system must be broken. For everyone else, failure is a sign of individual failure, cultural failure, and communal shortcomings, but if white men ain’t winning, the game is rigged.”

So we remain highly sensitive about making any accusations of prejudice. And we embrace the lie that blatant xenophobia had little to do with Trump winning — anything but that.

By the way, hate crimes against ethnic minorities surged after the election. But I’m sure it was just a coincidence.

To summarize my point on this topic, please allow me to share an email I received the morning after the election. It was from a Trump supporter, identified only as Nmslr1. He had read my articles and was rather displeased with my conclusions.

I have edited his email for length because, quite frankly, it went on and on. But I have not corrected any of the grammatical errors (yes, I’m aware of the irony that this person has a horrific grasp of English).

In any case, here is my fan mail from Nmslr1:

Well, it seems White People have seen and heard about all they are gonna take from the ingrates called hispanics.

Did you really think we were just going to turn the other cheek while you all pilfer our resources and hard work? Did you?

Well you all are going to get whats coming, thats for sure.

The joy! The absolute joy to think we banded together and finally said “enough”. The only solution left is to round them up and send them back where the hell they came from.

Oh, and don’t forget little ole abuela, poor thing.

Now its our turn to gloat.

Get this straight: your raping, thieving shit cultures will respect our culture when you’re on the next bus to the living hell holes you all created and where you all ran from.

Oh, are you an anchor baby? Just to make clear when that insane and abused statute is voided out there will be an amendment to make it retroactive.

Gone. Gone. All gone.


Sympathy, Part Two

Picking up where I left off, in last week’s post I asked the following: Why should we feel sorry for the white working class?

Yes, that’s harsh, but we’re talking about a demographic that prides itself on straight talk and not being politically correct and so on and so on.

Of course, claims about being non-PC usually mean, “We like to talk shit about minorities, who better not say a damn thing back, and watch your mouth when you’re addressing white Christian America.”

In any case, the WWC, by almost any measure, is not doing particularly well.

sisyphus-image-01c

 

However, to be brutally honest about it, these people are white — still the majority in this country — and as such they enjoy the benefits of white privilege. They have more economic clout, more societal influence, and more cultural power (obvious in that we are constantly talking about how they feel and think and live).

At the very least, one cannot argue with the inherent contradiction that their anti-immigrant stance has created. Namely, the white working class prides itself on its deep roots in American society. They have been here for generations, with great-great-grandparents who came from the good countries (i.e., Europe). The WWC is not fresh off the boat.

OK, but here’s my question to them: With such an overpowering head start, why are you struggling so much? You’ve had generations to build up wealth and establish your families. Why are you still slaving away in coal mines? Isn’t that what your ancestors in Great Britain were trying to escape?

Taking this point further, how can a group of swarthy outsiders who don’t even speak English — and are supposedly lazy and stupid — be so thoroughly kicking your ass? What are you doing wrong?

“But they’re stealing our jobs!” the white working class screams.

First, this is not true, as many studies have shown. Second, even if it were true, perhaps the WWC should be annoyed at the corporations that are kicking them to the curb in favor of immigrants (and yes, voting Republican will surely show corporate America a thing or two). And third, if you’ll permit me to use a conservative talking point, that’s just an excuse.

You see, whenever someone tries to explain the cycle of poverty that engulfs many African American or Latino communities, a huge right-wing chorus rises up to dismiss the hard data and sociological theories and economic realities that show why poor communities stay impoverished.

Instead, we hear that all those blacks and Hispanics just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop whining.

I never — and I mean, never — hear this argument applied to the poor regions of Appalachia. Not once have I heard a politician tell laid-off blue-collar workers in white towns that they need to take responsibility for their decisions and stop blaming others.

Actually, I’ve heard the opposite, which is that the WWC should blame immigrants and nobody else.

In addition to this illogical, hypocritical, misplaced blame, there is often a powerful sense of entitlement — supposedly anathema to conservatives — that pervades the white working class. For example, there are members of the WWC who are “sick of hearing in job interviews” that certain positions require Spanish.

Now, as I’ve written before, learning Spanish is not some magical skill beyond the reach of mere mortals. My own fluency is marginal at best, but I can tell you it’s not difficult to learn the basics and, with some effort, become proficient.

But hostility toward a bilingual world is a chief way in which the WWC tries to flex its entitlement. After all, if a job calls for being an expert in Microsoft Word, or knowing how to fix a carburetor, or identifying the cortex after opening up the skull, or knowing whether to snip the blue wire or the red wire, we don’t stomp our feet and say, “But I speak English, and that should be good enough!”

No, we accept that those are the requirements for the position, and the skill sets of the past may no longer apply.

America, as we all know, is evolving rapidly. And the stubborn refusal to acknowledge this — the overt battling to prevent this evolution — is one reason the WWC is in such a messed-up situation.

So again I ask, why are we bending over backward to spare the feelings of poor white people?

Well, an immediate answer is this: Because we should. They are human beings and deserve the support of their nation and their countrymen.

And despite my harsh words in some of this article, I do feel sorry for the white working class (I’m just a bleeding heart that way).

They have indeed been screwed over by politicians, corporations, and a rigged societal structure. And I don’t believe it’s as easy as pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. All that is true.

I’m just asking why our cultural sympathies are so easily tapped into when it comes to the WWC. Why do we feel for a white person mired in the economic misery of dying small town, but we mock blacks and Latinos who struggle in inner cities?

More important, what can we do to lift people of all backgrounds out of poverty, without making them go all Hunger Games on each other?

Well, I know that telling the WWC that they are right to feel rage at immigrants, and are correct to get pissed at a changing world, are not productive ideas.

So now that we’ve embraced the exact wrong thing to do, can we somehow adjust and do things the right way — for all our sakes?


Sympathy, Part One

One of the most riveting stories I’ve read this year is the Washington Post article about Melanie Austin. She’s the Trump supporter who has, shall we say, some rather colorful views of the world.

OK, the woman is fucking nuts.

Austin believes that President Obama is a Muslim who is secretly gay, and “that Michelle Obama could be a man, and that the Obama children were possibly kidnapped from a family now searching for them.” Also, Austin thinks that Hillary Clinton is a founder of Isis, and “U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered in a White House plot involving a prostitute and a pillow.”

By the way, Austin is on anti-anxiety medication and was once “involuntarily hospitalized for several weeks” because of a psychotic breakdown.

Now, there are legitimate questions over whether the Washington Post story is morally repugnant. After all, one could argue that the reporter took advantage of a mentally ill person who had no idea how she would be portrayed.

And there is also the valid point that the article paints all Trump supporters as deranged and pathetic, and therefore constitutes a form of libelous yellow journalism.

Those are intriguing arguments, but what I find more interesting is the default mechanism for how Austin and other members of the white working class (WWC) are presented in the media.

She is, for the most part, portrayed as a victim. Even liberals have rushed to push aside her reprehensible, bigoted, and insane statements, in favor of asking, “What did Melanie Austin do to warrant this type of treatment by a national newspaper?” After all, she is a “woman who has suffered so much in her life.”

This is part of larger trend. As a member of the white working class, Austin has the cultural advantage of instilling sympathy for her plight. Other poor people — such as African Americans and Latinos — are more likely to provoke contempt, or even outright hostility and blame for somehow causing the degradation of the WWC and, by extension, America itself.

We see this in the descriptions of the white working class, a subset of Americans that have struggled for generations.

gd45

Most media accounts are careful to avoid stating that poor white people have failed to keep up with a changing world. Rather, these individuals have cruelly been left behind (note the passive voice).

They are not angry and rage-filled. Rather, they are shell-shocked and forced to endure “the collapse of a whole way of life.”

They are not embracing Trump for his xenophobic bile. Rather, they just feel “isolated and disillusioned,” and have made an honest mistake in following him.

The point is clear. The WWC may be supporting the vilest presidential candidate in U.S. history, and they often spew horrific statements and even engage in overt violence. But deep down, they are salt-of-the-earth types who just got a bad deal. Have a little compassion for them.

Why is this? Well, for starters, members of the mainstream media can simply relate better to white people — even poor ones far removed from their elite journalistic circles. In fact, some journalists come from such a background, while reporters who hail from, say, Compton or East LA are fairly rare.

But it’s also because our default setting for empathy and compassion still centers on white people. They remain our cultural mainstays, and the central figures in our stories and the stand-ins for our national moods. To date, the white experience has been synonymous with the American experience.

However, we are living in a new era, and as such, a natural question arises when we think about the WWC who are supporting Trump.

And that question is an offensive one, but here it is: Why should we feel sorry for them?

I will address that question in my next post.


Old at Heart

Like many Gen Xers, I’m pretty tired of hearing how great the Baby Boomers were. Yes, they had amazing music, and that whole civil rights crusade is tough to top.

But as they age, Baby Boomers have made it clear that their bell-bottomed, peace-and-love, tune-in-turn-on idealism was a convenience of their youth, or it was the result of a loud minority that never reflected how most of them really felt.

I say this because recent surveys have shown a generation gap (really a chasm) between older and younger Americans on just about every social issue.

Perhaps this isn’t a big surprise, as people tend to get more conservative as they get older. But even with that caveat, some of the attitudes that Baby Boomers (especially white seniors) hold are alarming to Gen X and Millennials.

For example, more than half of white seniors “view the rise of newcomers from other countries as a threat to traditional American values and customs.” Let’s just say that most young people (many of whom have immigrant parents) don’t see things the same way.

And as anyone who has seen footage of a Trump rally can tell you, “much of the older white population — especially less-educated white males whose anger is being courted — appears threatened by the nation’s demographic change.”

 

Indeed, 60 percent of the white working class believe “that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”

In addition to being whiny, narrow-minded, and xenophobic, this attitude is — how should I put this? — fucking suicidal.

You see, the “demographic reality is that America’s youth — and more specifically its racial minority youth — is its future.” That’s because Millennials are the most ethnically diverse generation in American history, and their future kids will be even more mixed. So there’s no going back to a 1950s mythological USA where everybody was white and things were gosh darn swell.

 

1950s

It also means that “because of the growth of Hispanics, Asians, blacks and other races, the United States will be able to replenish its younger population.”

Going forward, this implies that “America will not suffer a European-style demographic crisis as Baby Boomers retire. Young Latinos are stepping into the workplace and paying the taxes that will keep the nation’s fiscal house in order.”

Keep in mind that when it comes to Hispanics, we “are much younger than Americans as a whole, and young Latinos in America are better educated and earn more than ever.”

The bottom line is that “to ignore or wish away the nation’s youth-driven minority growth is short-sighted as a national economic development plan.”

Very soon, old Baby Boomers are going to be dependent on young Latinos to fund Social Security. But try explaining this fact, and you’re likely to be drowned out by a sixty-something cranking up Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock.

Yeah, I guess those were the good old days.

 


Like a Burst Piñata

Say you open a small business. You run it for a few years, do pretty well, and always pay your debts (especially the rent) on time.

Then you arrive at work one morning to find a bulldozer parked in the pile of rubble that used to be your store.

pinata wreckage

You might get the impression that something was slightly amiss.

Well, recently, a piñata store in Austin was demolished, without the storeowners’ knowledge and with their possessions still inside. The storeowners, who are Latino, say that the greedy landlords bulldozed the store because they could get more money from the tech companies that are moving into the area.

The storeowners had a lease through 2017 and had just paid the rent for the upcoming month. When confronted about their reckless destruction of the store, one of the landlords (yes, a rich white guy) used the term “roaches” to describe the storeowners. Remember that the storeowners are Hispanic. Clearly, the term “roaches” was not an accident.

The incident shows how Latino neighborhoods are literally and figuratively being displaced for upscale residents. There have been numerous flare-ups in Austin over gentrification, with many Latino leaders claiming that rich newcomers are driving out long-time residents. And there have been similar disputes in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, often in Hispanic neighborhoods that are changing rapidly.

And here’s where it gets conspiratorial.

A recent study implied that Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be gentrified than African American neighborhoods.

Harvard researchers analyzed patterns across Chicago and found that gentrifying neighborhoods tended to be predominantly Latino or white working class, with fewer African Americans.

The study implied that Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be gentrified in the traditional sense (i.e., young white newcomers moving into the area). And they are also more likely to receive the theoretical benefits of gentrification (e.g., urban renewal and municipal investment). No word, however, on what happens to Hispanic residents when the bulldozers get revved up.

Keep in mind that the same study also implied that there is a tipping point, where the percentage of African Americans in a neighborhood either makes gentrification likely or unlikely.

Basically, too many black people keep the white people away.

Why are Latino neighborhoods more attractive to white gentrifiers? Well, there is no hard data on that, and it’s unlikely that a future study will include the question, “Why are you ok moving in next to brown people, but not black people?” Although the answers would be illuminating, to say the least.

The researchers said that in addition to their statistical proof, there is anecdotal evidence that Latino neighborhoods are viewed as more desirable to gentrifiers than African American areas.

For example, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn — often pointed to as the prime example of gentrification — previously had a large Latino population. That’s not the case anymore, as the cliché of the young hipster inevitably features a white guy (usually with some bizarre nineteenth-century facial hair, but that’s another story).

In response to this dark side of gentrification, some Latino community leaders in Los Angeles launched the “gente-fication” movement (“gente” is Spanish for “people,” but you already knew that).

The idea is that upscale Latinos will stay — or in some cases, move into — Latino neighborhoods and revitalize the area themselves rather than rely on newcomers. The trend has slowly caught on in other cities, such as New York, Houston and Phoenix.

Although results are difficult to quantify, the LA neighborhood of Boyle Heights may be in the midst of a Latino renaissance, due in part to the gente-fication movement. And community activists are attempting to duplicate the neighborhood’s success in other Los Angeles areas.

But the movement has drawn fire for what some claim is an exclusionary, or even racist attitude. After all, if you’re saying that you want a specific racial or ethnic group to move in — whether it’s white, black, Latino, or other — things quickly get uncomfortable.

Where all this will lead is a mystery. Perhaps gentrification will wipe us all out. Or maybe we’ll achieve some kind of balance where newcomers enrich neighborhoods while long-time residents maintain the area’s culture.

In any case, hopefully no more piñata stores will get bulldozed.


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