Categories
Economic Justice

On the White Working Class

| James Bernard |

I think that there is a profound lack of compassion for poor and working class white people in this country.  I believe that there is white privilege and that the original sin of this country was slavery, something that is baked into our collective DNA.  I believe that the key to personal salvation is to admit and address our sins.  I think the idea might apply here.  Refusal to deal with our original sin is why I see why Black people have an adverse reaction to the very sight of white skin.  (If you accuse me of being disingenuous for avoiding the first person plural here, I would have no defense.)

I don’t get why the white elite, liberal or conservative, would have such a lack of compassion in the aggregate.  That’s kind of unforgivable because race does not separate the elite from those in need who are poor, struggling, and white.

However, as I joke with my friend Patricia, a former Bleecker Street singer who has fallen on hard times due to physical disability and near-homelessness, her white skin didn’t really deliver for her.  I don’t believe it has delivered for 95% of white people in this country.  But still, as a whole I believe that white people who do not have their fair share of this country’s bounty are sold a bill of goods that their whiteness is valuable, and they cling to it because they have little else but a soothing vague sense of superiority.  

And I get why.

When you live under a form of capitalist culture — capitalism is not bad in theory, but the practice here has not given us the results the vast majority of us should experience — that tells you that there is something wrong with you, a major failing, if you can’t afford luxury — much less keep a job or feed your family — it is a moral failing on your part, anything that makes you feel good about what you inherently are is going to be very attractive, even if it is, in my view, flawed, to say the least.

Most people, rich, poor, Black, white, brown, yellow, male, female, are human.  I guess that’s a circular statement.  What comes from being human is a tendency not to understand why we do things and a lack of desire to figure it out.  So I personally forgive.  

In the extreme, however, the need for this feeling produces the Proud Boys.  I would hope that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies will see groups like the Proud Boys as the kind of threat that the Black Panthers and the like were not really threats (the Black Panthers did not carry loaded weapons and if they had, they didn’t use them to kill, injure or menace anyone).  Personally, I believe that white supremacist groups are a threat to our country, they are treasonous, and they should be dealt with as such.  

Unlike many on my side of the table, I do not believe the Electoral College is automatically evil.  If we went to a straight popular vote system and Democrats could win every election on the coasts and major urban areas, they would not be forced to campaign in every state or think about the country as a whole, even if only for expediency.  That would not be good for the country.  However, I feel strongly that the Senate is unfair and undemocratic in nature, but the Senate is not the point of my little exercise here.  Maybe the Electoral College could use some reform.  I haven’t thought that through, and the Electoral College is not the point of this little exercise.

Both parties need to get serious about jobs for working class people, especially in the middle of the country.  We should have opportunities for people to earn a living that will provide enough for working class families to thrive, not just survive.  I believe that the Republican Establishment is fine with people hoarding wealth.  I think that the Democratic Establishment is too.  Both parties focus on job growth in the aggregate, rather than quality of jobs and where the jobs are being created.

I have a serious rock and roll fantasy and often imagine myself on stage when I listen to music.  I have a serious large scale social change fantasy.  In it, I spend a lot of time traveling to places decimated by trade policies, diminished unions, and just plain neglect from the powers that be. In it, I am able to explain to people that there is a plan for job growth and simply not job growth in the aggregate.  I want to be able to look individual heads of families in the eye and tell them, in effect, “I understand that your livelihood is being taken away from you due to larger forces that you cannot control.  It is not your fault.  But here is another job in a more needed industry.  If you will lose your job on Friday, here is where you will go on Monday for a job that will fill you with joy for what you are able to do for your families and for which you will be trained.  You will not miss a paycheck.”

When I allow myself my little fantasies of being onstage playing loud and offensive music that makes ears bleed, I am not the perfect performer.  However, I believe that this message is a perfect message among many perfect messages that can be conceived, codified, and made real.  Of course, the execution is the key issue, but I think we need to be on the same page first about concrete goals.