White People Are Afraid of the Wrong Things

AfraidThe 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.

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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

22 thoughts on “White People Are Afraid of the Wrong Things

  1. My mom is one of those people who do the irrational beliefs thing regardless…or at least until I exploded at her one time at lunch in just the right way. Now she is much more thoughtful and actually does do some checking before her spouting off of nonsense that just is not true.

    But the problem has always been to convince people like my mom or my right wing friends that it is in their best interest to work with those they assume are getting something. Or as I put it “well if you assume they are getting something, why shouldn’t we be demanding you get it too?” It never seems to work-apparently hurting others who are just a little bit better off is what we should do not take on the powerful to ensure they stop taking everything.

    Although, I suppose it makes sense-taking on the powerful is terrifying these days. You really can have your entire life destroyed. Just recently someone here locally who miraculously had the resources to take on the Sheriff was able to get this small victory:
    http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Judge-Retaliation-claim-against-Arpaio-to-remain-6654779.php
    But his restaurant is gone, he was arrested (and had the terror that induces) and all because he exercised his constitutional rights.

    I am hoping that the dam breaks but it seems to be breaking towards shooting women for also using their constitutional rights.

      • It has gotten a little better since Hendershott was forced out.

        But knowing MC, we are going to have someone much worse soon.

    • I try to point out to people all the things that they are getting that they don’t know about because it is hidden. My favorite is the mortgage interest deduction, which is the single biggest welfare program in America. It’s usually old people who make these arguments — and they get Medicare, which they most definitely did not pay for. You have to go easy on them, but they really need to be reminded that welfare isn’t just food stamps.

      What you are talking about is something I’ve run into a lot with regard to unions. Today, a lot of working people don’t like unions because they feel union people get paid too much. It’s really hard. I argue, “The issue is not that they are getting paid too much; it is that you are getting paid too little.” It’s typical, they are playing right into the hands of the power elite. This is the way: it is really easy to get Americans to blame their problems on the wrong people.

      • That is the one thing that I never understand-if they see someone doing better than them, why not demand the same treatment? Is it because they secretly assume that they are not worthy? Screw that.

        And someone just posted an article on Salon, which you probably will have read by the time you see this comment, about how it pretty much boils down to racism. The working class whites are unable to accept they have common cause with black people.

        • Meaty article, thanks for the link.

          We pay more for health care, cable, the Internet, than citizens in any other wealthy country. About the only place we pay less in in groceries, and that’s because we subsidize the hell out of processed fat and sugar . . . leading to higher health-care costs.

          Wages are not going up. And the cost of living is. It’s ridiculously easy to channel this frustration into “Black people taking all my tax money.” That’s been crucial to the GOP platform since 1968. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

          • Because it is broken. Well not from their perspective but it is.

            It is a sea of ignorance pouring over the sides of the boat we are in and it feels like we only have thimbles to bail it out. *sigh*

        • Racism is a big part of it. But it is also just that the people in unions are “people like me.” It’s easy enough to justify the rich given that they more or less live in a different universe.

  2. Well…I guess “understandable” in the sense that “looking at these beliefs through the mindset of the believers one can see how they might seem reasonable” is the same sort of way to look at it as “looking at the lunatic’s belief that his roommate was the incarnation of Shoggoth the Great Old One one can see how the lunatic might view decapitating said roomate as a reasonable solution.” without actually seeing it as, you know, a reasonable solution.

    To understand how these people think you have to believe that they are so deluded and mislead about their own position as to be as delusional as the Shoggoth-fearing lunatic. And while that’s rather sad, it’s not “understandable” in the sense of understanding a reasoned belief…

    • The claim about it being understandable is a claim about the effectiveness of propaganda. If you deprive people of control of their lives and then tell them that it is “those people” who are responsible, it is very, very understandable that they act that way. Not everyone does, of course. There are a lot of beaten down people who see very clearly who it is that is responsible. But in order to build coalitions, we need to understand that this lashing out by the weak is understandable — because we need them.

      But I do mostly agree with your description, because it is delusion.

  3. Last night the bus was packed. Full of young black people who’d been shopping at the mall. A pair started dissing each other and, God forgive me, I assumed they were thugs about to break out guns and stuff.

    Lord, no. It was completely a put-on. They were fast friends and used vituperative language to amuse each other. By the end of the bus ride I couldn’t even focus on my book anymore, the interchange was so hilarious. One riff was pretending they didn’t know each other’s names. Then one said, in a perfect redneck drawl, “naw, you dumbfuck, my name’s Cletus,” and I totally lost it. The young black man, the picture of Scary Thug, doing a spot-on impression of racist rednecks was so brilliantly funny the entire back end of the bus was laughing. (He got the accent completely right. I’m very particular about accents. He nailed it.)

    Jesus shit, I thought I was past being this racist. I’m not. I’m still stupid and scared by images TV showed me when I was a kid. Is this ever going to end?

    • I get scared that someone is going to fight whenever loud voices break out. It is a natural reaction I would think.

      Although I only assume guns will be pulled out when it is white people. This is a very heavily armed state after all and they are the only nitwits to run around with them.

    • No. But it does seem that we get better once we embrace it. The biggest racists I know are the ones who claim they absolutely aren’t racists. But it’s hard. And it is a constant reminder that we aren’t as rational as we think we are.

      • Fuck. I so want to be done with it. Racism poisons everything, it skews every aspect of our lives. It’s so pervasive, and I want it to be gone. Guess that’s not such an easy thing to do as saying “Islam is Bad!”

        • It is far more edifying to work on improving ourselves than to self-justify. We are works of art. It’s just pathetic to spend a life coming up with even more elaborate excuses as to why we are just perfect than to engage with the process of refining ourselves. I understand your frustration, but it is a good sign. Artists who are happy with everything they do are (1) not good; and (2) never improve. This is one of the first blog posts I ever wrote: Living the Anti-Life.

          • Not to blow too much smoke up yer ass, but “we are works of art” is pretty profound. Most art vastly fails, it rarely lives up to the artist’s vision. And neither do our lives. Doesn’t mean you stop trying.

            I thought this was an incredibly powerful phrase, for what that statement by me is worth.

              • Screw that! Being a groupie is hard work for dull people. I’m far too lazy and you’re far from dull.

                That line did rock my mind a little bit. People spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on therapy to get lines like that. Different ways of phrasing all the negative stuff we see in ourselves.

            • Thank you. I think it is my own, but I may have stolen it. And I’m certain other people have thought it. It’s a form of spirituality in a godless universe.

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