Thursday, October 13, 2011

From the Boo Hoo White Privilege Files: In the Great Recession Whites are More Pessimistic About their Futures than Blacks and Latinos

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."

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.
I love White victimology; such a sad and vulnerable people Whiteness has produced.

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?


Plane Ideas said...


I live near Macomb County and more importantly this discontent and angst with white folks is not just in the Reagan Blue collar venues..

We are always at risk and in a perilous state of living many of us just don't want to acknowledge it so we get picked off by the daily insults of life..

I worry as a Black activist 24/7 that some one will visit me??.. Yes the good negroes and apologists in a twisted way may be creating some space for us by going along to get along...I am not sure really how it will work out my gut feeling is when it comes Cain will just look like the rest of us coons..

I have posted and written quite often of late about how the state and the levels of negrophobia have returned in the orbit of both public and private spaces in our country..

At this point I am going to be me and deal with it as always:-)but sleep with one eye,lol,lol

Anonymous said...

CD, can you please reveal yourself? There's so much to admire....please! I have often wondered what will happen when and if a batshit crazy republican takes office. I do not support President Obama's politics nor do I feel he represents my interest however, my gut feeling tells me his predecessor will make him into the villan the Tea Baggers/ GOP accuse him of being. I think the resent me will come if Pres Obama does not get re-elected and the "hero" pres elect blames Pres Obama as the reason why "things can't be done." Somehow I see that blame being assigned to black people in general.


chaunceydevega said...

@thrasher. Be ready. Go over to Dailykos where I posted this to see the levels of denial.

@MB. you will be so disappointed if I did that. use your imagination and build me up to greatness ;)here is a riddle, maybe we need a batshit republican to win, shock therapy so to speak?

Anonymous said...

When it will happen and to whom it will be directed,that is the question, isn't it?

As one of two black families on my block, I have to say the thought passes my mind once or twice. Yes, my neighbors wave when I am out in the garden and none of them display any flag other than American and POW. But, if I go around either corner there is a proud Gadsden waver or anti-Obama bumper stickers. These coupled with images of the tea party in full on anger, toting guns to rallies and having the pleasure of reading local news blog comments, I have considered maybe getting a gun permit.

I am not saying that I view all tea partiers as racicsts because I don't. There are some for sure but the majority of them I view as easily influenced and subceptible to being swayed by the very fear you described in your article. The easiest target at the onset, would be those "others" that live among them.

Having these thoughts makes me feel as if I am engaging in fearful thinking myself. I suppose that is why I haven't actually gone through with the permit process.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Devega,

Your "spoiled kid at the birthday party" analogy does not seem apt. If the white people that you readily lump together as an operating unit feel pessimistic about their prospects, how does it follow that the reason for their pessimism is some good that's come to minorities? It seems to me that one could logically conclude from the cited statistics that minorities have a healthier, more realistic outlook than white folks. But the assumption that a person's unease over a lost job or house is based on his or her feeling that somebody of another race might be doing better does not appear to be founded in these statistics.

Michael Henry Grant