“For Whites Sensing Decline, Donald Trump Unleashes Words of Resistance” blare a recent New York Times headline. ”In countless collisions of color and creed, Donald Trumps’s name evokes an easily understood message of racial hostility. Defying modern conventions of political civility and language, Mr. Trump has breached the boundaries that have long constrained Americans’ public discussion of race,” writes reporter Nicholas Confessore, and he goes on to provide “insight” into the psyche of people he refuses to call what they are—racists and white supremacists. Instead he gives “credence” to their bigotry, rather than providing statistics that disprove their paranoia and self-serving self-pity. While Confessore does point out that Trump has done as little as possible to distance himself from white supremacists, the fact that his “mainstream” supporters are not offended to be put in the same basket as neo-Nazis tells much how the country has “evolved” in the age of Obama.
We still live in a country where people are defined and categorized by their race (and sometimes gender) whether, positively and negatively, and for the most part this has less to do with “merit” than a person’s physical characteristics—the most important of course being light skinned. I’ve mentioned once or twice an incident that occurred while I was attending a Confederate university back in the 1980s that illustrates this point; during a classroom discussion that had nothing to do with racial attitudes, a very pallid, very blonde female blurted out to the bemusement of the class that “I am not a racist, but I will never marry a black man.” She reasserted that she was not a “racist.” The odd thing was not that other white people in the classroom disagreed with her, but it was something that need not be said out loud; it was commonly “understood.” But this person strangely felt self-conscious about her racial attitudes; what would have interested me is if she had actually “explained” her statement.
White Americans in general are, we are told, afraid of losing “control” of the country. When “mainstream” racist political commentator Pat Buchanan blurted out on a discussion panel years ago that “Hispanics are out to destroy this country,” he was expressing his visceral distaste for people who were the stereotypical “little brown ones,” to use the term George Bush Sr. used, although in his case not with hate. He would probably use different terms, but that only exposes his ignorance of the “group” as a whole. Buchanan and his ilk also think that Hispanics will change the “culture” of the country. To what, one may ask; ever watch Spanish-language television?—“culturally” and visually it is almost identical to what you see on “American” television. And to what purpose? They talk about “assimilation” or lack thereof, but that is just more hypocrisy; I much prefer the old chestnuts from the past, whether books, films, television or music which most people today have no appreciation of. Yet I recall another incident from school, when a fellow student overheard the music I listening to and sneered “That’s not your music,” as if he and anyone he knew “made” it.
Again, it has more to do with appearance than it has to do with any other variable; otherwise they would be “tolerated.” I see this every day at the outdoor clothing and equipment retailer REI’s “headquarters” in Kent; pompous, overpaid asses sitting in front of terminals (the very definition of “superfluous”), who probably never worked an honest day’s labor in their life. But that is the “privilege” of the “entitled.” A recent weekend they sponsored a bike-a-thon, and the place looked like a Republican “convention.” And on college campuses, white students have relished the opportunity to expose their arrogant conceit by demeaning “inferior” black and Hispanic students—the hypocrisy of which is that these same students claim that under-represented minorities make no effort to seek and education, yet they deny the right to those who have the audacity to try.
Trump, however, doesn’t play so much to the privileged white “entitled” so much as to those whites who feel that minorities have received “preferential treatment” and that is blame for their perception that they have been “left behind.” The NYT story suggests that by sensing “decline,” this allegedly means that there is some “credence” to the claim. I once encountered an older white male who for some reason had this need to tell me that “You think you are ‘entitled.’” This charge angered me, not just because it was untrue both in theory and in fact, but this was coming from the kind of person who believed they are the “entitled” ones throughout history. I told this man that he was the one who thinks he’s “entitled,” and he did a double-take; I suspect he was less surprised at what I said as by the unexpected lack of “accent” to me English.
Are white losing “control”? Not hardly. Let’s look at the facts:
“Poor Whites” existed in the South when slavery existed, and continued to exist when Jim Crow laws limited opportunities for free blacks. White laborers living on poverty wages have always existed with no “competition” from black (or Hispanic) labor for higher wage employment. Today, both black and Hispanic unemployment far outstrips that of whites, and white median income is much higher than either. Thus there is no correlation between white lack of “opportunity” and minority “entitlement” or “privilege”—both notions are a shibboleth maintained by far-right politicians to rouse angst among their base.
This country is not “controlled” by minorities and white liberals, but by Corporate America; just ask Hillary Clinton, who was paid $21 million in speaking fees from said same. What she promised them has yet to be revealed. Politicians are controlled by the corporations who control their pocketbooks. The only thing that politicians can “control” is the social agenda, of which taxation is part and parcel of. Right-wing politicians manipulate people’s hate, but will those people’s lives really “change” because of it? No, because Corporate America sets the agenda; Republicans are against “regulation,” but that only means allowing businesses to do as they please—like expanding the wage gap and polluting the air, soil and water. Has anyone really noticed anything “different” about the way they live during the eight years that Obama has president—or for that matter, the previous eight years under Bush? The only thing that has “changed” was level of racial anxiety among many whites. And I suspect that many whites will be surprised to learn that most blacks and Hispanics don’t believe that their lives have “improved” in the past eight years merely because a black man was president.
There are other things white racists who believe they are “losing” the country should consider. Take for instance higher education. A handful of black and Hispanic students are not their “problem”; the problem is that they have tried to set a “merit” standard so high in an attempt to deny under-represented minorities the right to a college education, yet in the process have made it also more difficult for themselves by having to compete with Asian students who are much better at rote memory—thus on standardized tests—than they are. Asian students generally have a far higher presence in relation to their percent of the population on college campuses (what they actually do with a college education is another matter). This puts whites in the predicament that they can only attack the handful of black and Hispanic students, since if they express their angst against the real “threat,” they will be accused of “racism” for demanding special dispensation against their own “rules.”
This also goes true for higher-wage tech jobs. White American racists fear that this country will change from an “Anglo” culture to a “Mexican” culture, which shows the ignorance of racists concerning both. The reality is that White America doesn’t “fear” Hispanics taking the “best” jobs; they just fear that their hate, prejudice and discrimination will have consequences in the future, and they want to postpone that possibility as long as possible (thus the current frenzy of curtailing legal as well as illegal immigration). The truth is that White America is losing the “best” jobs because so-called “STEM” fields are increasingly being filled by the foreign-born, mainly from Asia and India. Part of this is because STEM fields are avoided by the increasing majority of students who are female, and because tech companies find foreign-born tech workers more “desirable” because they are more “available,” and they work for less.
Who is responsible for this? Blacks, Hispanics and “liberals”? No, it is White America. White America which first decided that its own Constitution did not apply to anyone who wasn’t the same complexion as the “founding fathers,” and afterward only as they saw fit with or without civil rights legislation. It is White America which decides who is “privileged” and “entitled”—mainly themselves. Occasionally they pass out crumbs, which Trump supporters (who used to be the “Tea Party”—and before that your usual nativists and xenophobes) now want to dispose of completely.
But those whites who believe that have been “left behind” have only themselves to blame; they made the “rules”—more likely both, and now they have to live with them, or stand accused of being either hypocrites or racists. If those “working class whites” who are the most ardent supporters of Trump (Hillary Clinton called them “hardworking Americans, white people”—to be understood as racist code against Obama in 2008) feel “in decline” despite feeling “superior” to non-whites, they have accept the fact that they are just plain, ordinary people who just didn’t “have it.” The most likely candidates for their perceived situation are lack of motivation, undervalue of education, or just plain laziness, engaging in self-pity and racism isn’t going to change their lives. Trump rhetoric isn’t going to “fix” their “problem,” either; he is playing them for fools, and has from the start.