As 2014 draws to a close, it would appear that America’s albatross is alive and well and determined to reestablish itself. Where has it been? Undercover? On the downlow? America has experienced decades of “political correctness.” We’ve attempted to redress long-standing wrongs by simply not referencing them. “Let’s just do the best we can to make things better, okay?” To play the “race card” became the height of ill-manners. Of course, that card is simply an acknowledgement that America still has a long way to go. The ugly claws of a legacy of slavery are sunk deep in every American’s psyche.
Witness 2008, when a majority of voters selected Barack Obama to be the President of the United States. I was so excited that after 8 years of buffoonery and criminals, we would have an intelligent, moderate president. But, to the abrasive minority that rejected this president, it signaled their release from political correctness. Suppressed grievances over gains achieved, especially by Blacks and Latinos, that they did not believe were deserved reemerged and signaled a time to reject civility and make sure that the “other” understood their place. The “other” being not only people of color, but also all women and all homosexuals and all religions not Christian or not Christian enough. And so it began.
It is interesting that there was also a reactionary wave of behaviors that are best described as “circling the wagons” among the power brokers at every level of society. Slowly, and in some instances suddenly, the workplace became “them and us.” People who had seemed on a “management” track were now “out of that loop.” Just do as you are assigned. No noise. No ideas or suggestions. The water cooler gossip stopped. It reminded me of back in the day, when I would enter into a group of Irish-, Italian-, Polish-Americans and suddenly everyone became “White.” Then, when I would point that out, people would laugh and recognize it and we would move on to whatever distraction we found to laugh over. In today’s American culture, to point out such a change is met by blank stares and stopped conversation; people wander off.
Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in 2010. The President was reelected in 2012 to the bewilderment of his opponents, but then the Republicans gained control of Congress in the 2014 midterm elections. This history in and of itself illustrates the American dilemma. “White” Democrats had straddled the fence between supporting their party’s president and kowtowing to those who see him as some kind of harbinger of an impending “Black” takeover. The paranoia is worthy of serious study! An interesting aside is that in the 2014 elections, where Democratic candidates reached out to the President, they won and where they didn’t, they lost.
Of course, all of this is the intended distraction from how the plutocrats are undermining American democracy. They have many strategies. I think it clever that think tanks were developed to focus specifically on local elections and state legislatures before the electorate woke to the fact that the national elections were not the only important game in town.
So, that’s my “Other,” those who would deny the constitutionally granted right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the vast majority of Americans who aren’t multi-millionaires. My battle cry is “Regulation, Regulation, Regulation!”
The foregoing has been by way of full disclosure on my context for what comes next.
In the late 1980s, I was involved with a number of programs presented by the National Council of Christians and Jews. At a community workshop in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., participants were asked to consider “white privilege.” I rejected this approach. For me, to spend any time contemplating how “White” people receive preferential treatment was time that I felt better spent contemplating the systemic structures that allow the mistreatment of people of color, all women, all homosexuals, all non-Christians or not-Christian-enoughs.
Fast forward. Now in 2014, there is a wide cultural embrace of the concept of “white privilege.” I have read wonderful heartfelt essays written to describe how it is an advantage to be White in America and how that shouldn’t be. However, there is never a plan forward. I can’t imagine what someone is supposed to do with this information, personally. Should there be a rejection of the fruits of the fact of privilege; should they quit their jobs if they got jobs denied to equally-qualified or better-qualified workers or should they demand a moratorium on their community services paid for by the neglect of other taxpaying communities until all communities are served? Seems rather ridiculous, doesn't it?
In the 1960’s when so many white kids, beneficiaries of a period when American “white privilege” though unnamed blossomed full-bloom, rejected injustice and stood to fight against it, reality was a harsh lesson. People get older, and for most voluntarily doing without becomes a real bummer. People face situations where the power structure will kill you, literally, and suddenly being a stock broker doesn’t seem so bad after all. These are life-and-death considerations and capitalism makes them even harder to consider.
So. What does a close examination of “white privilege” accomplish? If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would suggest that it reminds the majority of white America just how good they have it. It is a twilight whisper that they not rock the boat. A reminder not to look back, cause “they” may be catching up on you. But, I’m not one of those. I think it’s because it’s easier to have that discussion than to demand that public systems be regulated and held accountable. Making a true demand is hard work. We don’t even want to bother voting once every two years!
(The 2014 elections witnessed the lowest voter turnout in recorded history resulting in the election of some of the most unqualified public officials one could imagine. I’m still in a state of apoplexy over that one!)
I would like to suggest some topics more worthy of public discussion and action:
- A reexamination of mandatory minimum sentencing.
- A reexamination of the rights of released felons, given the debacle of the War on Drugs.
- A public forum on the purpose of public education in America.
- A reexamination of systems for the welfare of dependent children.
- A change in policy to make federal agency budgets and disbursements intelligible.
- A reexamination of policies and laws pertaining to immigrants.
- A demand for a fair system of taxation.
- A demand for transparency in the awarding of government contracts and their pay scales.
- A public forum on housing.
- A public forum on why governmental reports need to be thousands of pages long, which is really a public forum on politics and government.
- A public forum on how to eliminate institutionalized racism.
In terms of institutionalized racism, America might best be served by a close examination of how race is an artificial construct designed to separate and control. There is no reason why government agencies need to know race. I would think, if anything, the first and possibly only identifier should be citizenship.
Another legacy of the 1960’s is that the power of education was made undeniably clear. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say that that is why so many young, educated leaders of the black community have been assassinated or incarcerated for life; why suddenly in the wake of integration, there was this huge “achievement gap,” which led to programs that demoralized students and weakened educational programs; why charter school corporations have been allowed to poach the education budget, enriching only testing developers and rarely students. But, again, I’m not one of those. I think that education remains the most powerful tool of a democracy. As it has been weakened by a misunderstanding of that very fact, and a tremendous lack of vision, America has lost the creative energy of more young people than I can rationally contemplate. America has lost much of its ability to inspire — getting rich is a byproduct not the main event.
So, enough with “white privilege.”
Happy New Year, Everyone! Hopefully 2015 will find me ranting away and acting whenever I can. See you at a public forum or two … or more!