Monday, March 14, 2016

Oh So Privileged Whites

Surely, it was purely inadvertent and probably would disappoint Slate's Jamelle Bouie to hear that his effort to explain the Trump phenomenon lays bare the misleading and offensive nature of one of the left's favorite bromides, "white privilege."  Bouie lays considerable blame for the popularity of the Manhattan demagogue on Barack Obama as a "political symbol" because

In a nation shaped and defined by a rigid racial hierarchy, his election was very much a radical event, in which a man from one of the nation’s lowest castes ascended to the summit of its political landscape. And he did so with heavy support from minorities: Asian Americans and Latinos were an important part of Obama’s coalition, and black Americans turned out at their highest numbers ever in 2008....

For progressives, this presaged a "durable majority" forged by a population growing more diverse, better-educated, and more cosmopolitan. Unfortunately

For millions of white Americans who weren’t attuned to growing diversity and cosmopolitanism, however, Obama was a shock, a figure who appeared out of nowhere to dominate the country’s political life. And with talk of an “emerging Democratic majority,” he presaged a time when their votes—which had elected George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan—would no longer matter. More than simply “change,” Obama’s election felt like an inversion. When coupled with the broad decline in incomes and living standards caused by the Great Recession, it seemed to signal the end of a hierarchy that had always placed white Americans at the top, delivering status even when it couldn’t give material benefits.

After a couple of centuries in which blacks were oppressed, the era of the first black President, Bouie recognizes, has coincided with a constant stream of reports of a growing minority component and status. Consequently, he notes, "millions of whites were hyperaware of and newly anxious about their racial status."   Bouie quotes Brown University political scientist Michael Tesler, who in 2013 wrote “The election of the country’s first black president had the ironic upshot of opening the door for old-fashioned racism to influence partisan preferences after it was long thought to be a spent force in American politics,” Tesler rmarked that there are whites who have “concerns about the leadership of a president from a racial group whom they consider to be intellectually and socially inferior.”

Yet, such emphasis on racism not only overstates the extent of racism in Trump's support but also the nature  of the racial effect.  Consider that Bouie, recognizing "Trump's appeal to working-class whites," writes

The collapse of the industrial economy in the wake of the Great Recession caused real devastation. The middle class has been losing ground for a long time, and there are few jobs for people without college degrees—or at least, few jobs that hold a path to mobility. Even in places where new factories have cropped up, unions are sparse and wages are low, following a race-to-the-bottom among the towns and cities that vie for the remaining manufacturing jobs. When economic desperation meets hopelessness—as we saw in the 1980s, when an earlier wave of deindustrialization ravaged the inner cities—the results are tragic.

That usually is acknowledged, even by political and media elites who have supported who have supported policies with those unsurprising effects. However, Bouie adds

The effects of these trends were highlighted in a widely analyzed study released last fall that showed rising mortality rates among middle- and working-class white Americans, the group that makes up Trump’s main body of support. Princeton University professor Anne Case and co-author Angus Deaton found that white working-class Americans are increasingly dying from suicide, alcohol abuse, and drugs. “In 1999,” writes Case for Quartz, “people in this group died from accidental drug and alcohol poisonings at four times the rate of Americans with a bachelor’s degree or more. By 2013, they were dying at seven times the rate of their better-educated peers. In 2013, they also committed suicide at more than twice the rate of people with more education, and died from alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis at five times the rate of those with a college degree.”

These spikes in mortality are so large that, for whites aged 45 to 54, they’ve lowered overall life expectancy. Young whites, meanwhile, face rising rates of addiction and acorresponding increase in mortality.

Not only have there been a loss of good jobs, alcoholism, and growing morbidity but they and those "Republicans with modest middle-class incomes," generally better-off than the typical Trump enthusiast

.... have seen their friends and family fall into dependency, whether to drugs or alcohol or welfare. They are both sympathetic to this plight—which is why Trump’s call for more help for veterans and seniors resonates with them—but also frustrated and angry. The country, and its leaders, made a promise: If you worked hard, you would get ahead. But that didn’t happen. Instead, for millions of Americans, it was the reverse: They worked hard and fell behind. They’re afraid, for themselves and for their children.

"If you work hard and play by the rules," President Clinton promised them, "you'll be rewarded with a good life for yourself and a better chance for your children."  For all the trade, technology, and training- in some cases because of them- things have not worked out as expected. Then theywatched  read last autumn of minister and theologian Jim Wallis writing a book entitled "America's Original Sin:  Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America." It's likely those indviduals partial to Donald Trump didn't believe this "new America" included them in anything but a subordinate role.

About the same time, we watched the news as

More than 60 student activists at Wright State University marched through campus and squeezed into administrative offices demanding that President David Hopkins meet with them to discuss rights for African American students.

The protesters said they gathered to support their peers at the University of Missouri and to raise awareness for “institutionalized racism” at Wright State.

For nearly three hours the students marched from building to building on campus to decry “white privilege” and the “culture of mistreatment” toward black students.

Many of Trump's supporters didn't go to college because they couldn't afford to do so.  The same may be true of their sons and daughters, or they may have fallen victim to alcohol or other drug use, a pregnancy which might have interrupted education, or one of another problems presumably not encountered by those young people able to attend college and protest "white privilege."

About the same time, Trump followeres could have picked up a book, written by minister and theologian Jim Wallace, entitled "America's Original Sin:  Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America." It's likely most Trump boosters didn't, or wouldn't, believe this "new America" included them in anything but a subordinate role.

Earlier in the year, a black Missouri state senator issued a few tweets against "white privilege" and added  (emphasis hers)  "LET ME BE CLEAR When you exercise your #WhitePrivilege, don't think I'm not going to remember. I will use it for the future. Uncomfortable?"

This was to be heard not only as accusatory, but threatening.

Variations on the same theme have only become more common. Below, two young Washington Post reporters can be viewed assuming they know more about being white than Trump supporters (and the rest of us whites) ever would claim to know about being black.  White privilege is "about advantages conferred,not earned, solely based upon the fact that you're part of the majority group in America," says one.  Few people can as easily and naively postulate sentiments which most followers of Donald Trump recognize as "politically correct."

We then wonder "how come these Trumpians are harboring so much hostility?" Now, that's a mystery.

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