Two years before the height of the financial crisis, Friedman worried aloud about how earnings had failed to keep pace with inflation in recent years. "If we continue along our current trajectory," he said, "many of the pathologies that we have seen in the past, in periods of economic stagnation"--for instance, rising anger directed at immigrants and minorities--"will once again emerge."I love White victimology; such a sad and vulnerable people Whiteness has produced.
In Detroit, Dave Miller and his friends wrap their anger in a code word: "subsidation." It's a 50-cent synonym that rests on the tongues of Macomb County's white working class like sour milk. They don't use the "N" word. For a five-figure salary and overtime, Dave protects lives and property in a black neighborhood, but he will talk your ear off about "welfare cheats" and the essential unfairness of affirmative action. "It's a generational apathy," he says, "and they keep getting more and more [apathetic] because they don't have to work."
Dave and his family know whom to blame for their economic plight. They blame white neighbors who borrowed to buy big houses they couldn't afford and then walked away when the payments grew too expensive. They blame a government "welfare state" that punishes workers like Dave and rewards minorities.
Black Americans are a people born of the absurd: tens of millions of folks taken from a continent, imprisoned in floating hellish dungeons, brought to a "new world," killed and murdered by the millions (again), exploited as slave labor in the world's "greatest democracy," who then create a new culture of their own while simultaneously gifting white America with our voice, insight, heart, intelligence, creativity, blood, martial spirit, and wisdom, and then struggling to enhance and improve the country's democracy while forcing the Constitution to live up to its fullest ideals for the benefit of all peoples. Talk about exhausting work.
As the Atlantic Monthly's essay, "Why Whites are More Pessimistic About their Future than Minorities" highlights, it is no surprise that black folks are a hopeful people. We have a blues sensibility--one that is tempered with a coal-forged cynicism, that possesses a good deal of hopeful dreaming, and which features no so small amount of enduring hardheadedness and common sense.
But in a moment of declining fortunes, anxieties, and worries that is the Great Recession, one that is impacting people of color disproportionately, white folks have found a reason to be especially pessimistic.
This mix of White pessimism, White angst, and White victimology is one of the great breaches and divides in experience across the colorline, one that certainly cannot be empathized with, and that doubly deserves no sympathy.
Channeling Paul Mooney for a second, I am white folks' best friend because I tell them the truth. Like most people of color, I am also a student of Whiteness. I know and understand things about Whiteness that those who are bathed in it, who clutch it with red knuckled fervor like heirloom family estate pearls during a midnight hold up, and that desperately police and protect it as property, do not. I am not particularly unique in this regard. The Other, the brother-sister outsider, he who is the little man behind the stove, knows these things out of necessity and survival.
Yet, at times I still remain puzzled by the wizable ways of Whiteness and White folks: how can a group of people who are the protected class in this country be so afraid and fearful? White people control every major social, political, economic, academic, scientific, financial, and cultural industry in this country, and have for centuries, so why the insecurity?
I have playfully alluded to this phenomenon as the spoiled kid at the birthday party syndrome. He or she has every toy imaginable but throws a tantrum the minute some other child gets a gift or just a whee bit of attention:
Working-class whites, in other words, are already more prosperous and secure than working-class minorities, but they're less optimistic because they don't believe they're climbing anymore--they're simply trying to hold on to what they've got. Whites today seem to think that the middle-class security their parents and grandparents achieved may be crumbling beneath them. Minorities seem ready to accept the idea that their ascent, while steeper at the moment, will nevertheless deliver them to the middle class someday.Whiteness has worth and value. White Americans have at least 2.00 dollars in wealth for every 10 cents that blacks and Latinos possess. The GI Bill, and racist practices in hiring and bank lending which rewarded white Americans, and punished people of color, created the white middle class and suburbia. In all, historically, and at every turn, America has been a White Republic that has rewarded the collective mediocrity of white people. That is a bitter pill for some to swallow. It is also the truth:
Dave. Who is white, and who thought, finally, he'd made it. Who broke his back for a dream--a pension, a getaway cottage, security--that seems to be wavering in the Lake Erie haze.
He grew up in Detroit, where the upward mobility of the American middle class could be seen every Friday afternoon. Factory workers, driving cars they'd built, crowded I-75, heading north to their cottages.
That was the deal that Dave Miller signed up for when he dropped out of Wayne State University and followed his dad into the firefighting ranks. The deal was supposed to include decent wages, health insurance, tuition, retirement, mortgages, and maybe, with overtime pay, a boat and a house on the lake--a physical reminder that hard work still pays like it always did.Blacks folks have had to always be better to get half as far; our excellence has been earned. Sadly, many do not survive the gauntlet. Perhaps, white pessimism is caused by the fact that white folks have farther to fall. Thus, there is great insecurity (for some, perhaps there is a realization that Whiteness and White privilege are an emperor and empress without any clothes; what are frauds perpetrated on the white masses).
Moreover, perhaps this insecurity is further fueled by living in a moment when a black man is President of the United States. If the white racial resentment and bigotry of the Tea Party GOP is any indicator at all, this symbolic change is unsettling to many, and for a significant few, unconscionable and unimaginable.
However, and here is the paradox, black and brown folks may have a shorter distance to fall than white folks in the time of the Great Recession, but the consequences for us are much greater when we take the tumble, as we have much more to lose, and fewer resources to cushion us when we hit the ground.
My ultimate worry is that as Whiteness sees its gains and property under threat, and the white working class realizes the economy is a zero sum game, how long will it take for resentment and disappointment to turn to anger and violence...and towards whom will it be directed?