The Washington Post reported, White Americans Long for the 1950s, When They Didn’t Face So Much Discrimination. It’s a cheeky headline, but it is absolutely accurate based upon a recent poll done by the Public Religion Research Institute. Erik Loomis has the right reaction, Oh White People. It turns out that 43% of American whites think that discrimination against them is as bad as it is against minority groups. And 53% think things have gotten worse since the 1950s.
In one way, I think this is all meaningless. In any given poll, there are always 30% of Americans who believe the most amazing things. But the poll also asked if discrimination against whites had gotten as bad as it is for minority groups. That’s a leading question. Why not just ask, “Is discrimination against whites as bad as it is against African Americans.” I’ll bet that number would fall down to the established 30% crazy figure. As for the things being worse than they were in the 1950s, well, that’s meaningless. What 1950s are we talking about? In Loomis’ article, he uses a picture of the Cleaver family from Leave It to Beaver. It started in late 1957 and ran through 1963. I understand that this is what people think “the 50s” were, but they are wrong. The 1950s was really Joseph McCarthy, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and Emmett Till.
But Loomis nails what is really going on. It’s the economic insecurity of the white middle class. You know, we talk a lot about the fact that wages have been flat for working people for the last 40 years. But you know, that isn’t that big a deal to people. I think what matters most to them is the insecurity. The big thing conservatives love to talk about is how people should be rewarded for taking risks. But American workers have the worst of both worlds: they have seen the risk of unemployment skyrocket and have been given nothing to compensate for it.
It isn’t at all surprising in this environment that the white working class would feel that it is being discriminated against. It is! Just not in the way that black and Latino and LGBT people are. There is a class war that is going on in this nation. It got really bad about 40 years ago. But we have a media infrastructure that is totally in the can for the power elite. We live in a nation where the only think that is considered real class warfare is talking about class warfare. Unions can be destroyed. Tort “reform” can take away individual rights. Bankruptcy protection can be limited for individuals even as it is expanded for corporations. And none of this is class warfare. That’s just natural or something that Jesus said in Matthew 5. But talk about income inequality and listen to the pundits scream in unison, “Class warfare!”
I was thinking today about one of the Democratic debates where Bernie Sanders said that he wasn’t talking about raising taxes back up to 91% where they were under Eisenhower. And I’m almost certain that the woman who was questioning him said, “I would hope not.” Can you imagine the firestorm of media coverage that would have erupted if the opposite had been said to a Republican. If Ted Cruz said, “I’m not talking about reducing taxes to 15%,” and a reported said, “I would hope not”?
We live in a nation controlled by the power elite. And the poor and working class feel that there is nothing they can do. So they lash out. They kid themselves into thinking that they have it as bad as blacks do. I’ve actually heard people claim that they are worse off knowing English in California than they would be if they only knew Spanish. These are irrational beliefs. But they are very, very understandable.