Whites and Privilege

I’m sorta kinda responding to Melissa McEwan’s response to Jim Webb’s Wall Street Journal op ed “Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege.”

Webb’s op ed, very generally, points to the issue of white poverty. Unfortunately Webb begins by framing his argument in terms of white workers losing ground because of affirmative action programs, and I disagree that’s the problem.

However, It’s way out of order, I think, to accuse Webb of merely trying to maintain white privilege. I agree with John Cole, there are whites living in places “where poverty is so deep, so ingrained, that the idea in those regions that there is some sort of ‘white privilege’ is in fact laughable. To them, the privilege of chronic unemployment, life in a tarpaper shack with no medical care, food stamps but no grocery store, and not much of a future doesn’t look like that great of a deal.”

I’d also say that while the issues of racial discrimination and entrenched poverty do overlap, a lot, they aren’t exactly the same. I agree also with John that the real issue is closer to what Shirley Sherrod was saying about class v. race.

But whatever it is, it’s a real issue, and it is not at all helpful to react to discussion of the problems of white poverty with knee-jerk declarations that “This isn’t about white people; it’s about privileged white men.”

No, it’s about white poverty, and about the cultural marginalization of rural whites. I don’t think Webb addressed the topic as well as it needed to be addressed, but I know where he’s coming from, because it’s pretty close to where I came from.

There are whites living out of most people’s sight in Appalachia, the Ozarks, and other sparsely populated areas who are hopelessly locked into poverty. Some of these areas are marginally agricultural, and sometimes there is mining — dangerous, usually non-union, but a paycheck. Where there isn’t farming or mining there are white families whose existence going back four or five generations has depended on a combination of government assistance and sporadic menial jobs, and the children don’t receive the social, cultural, educational, medical, and sometimes even the nutritional support to pull themselves out of that.

In the most isolated areas are people who are barely functional in 21st-century culture. For example, I’ve known very bright people — been related to ’em, in fact — who didn’t, and probably couldn’t, speak standard English. In most of the U.S. an adult whose articulation, syntax and verb conjugation skills signal IGNORANT HILLBILLY is seriously handicapped.

Such places tend to be off the beaten track, out of sight and out of mind. And yes, this a relatively small slice of the white population of the U.S. But it’s not that small.

White impoverished areas I know of didn’t get that way because of affirmative action programs. They were dirt poor before there was such a thing as affirmative action programs. And we really need to get over the idea that giving a hand up to minorities was somehow at the expense of whites, because an economy that makes it easier for everyone to be productive is a healthier economy for everyone. But let’s not forget that people can be left behind for reasons other than race.

46 thoughts on “Whites and Privilege

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  2. Thanks for writing this. I’ve generally been incredibly unhappy with what’s happened with the Democratic Party on issues of class and culture. The places that you refer to aren’t “out of mind” – they’re treated as jokes. When I called someone on it they made exactly the comment you refer to: they said that rural people are less than 20% of the US population (and in the meantime, how many GLBT people are there?).

    I stopped reading Cole’s blog a few years ago because of some pretty deep-seated classism (and sexism) among the commentariat over there. The Democrats used to be good to farmers, good on rural issues, and used to give a crap. There are still a few who do (I was a Hillary Clinton constituent when she was senator, and for the most part she was much loved in rural NY) but for the most part they’ve walked away (making ignorant comments about hillbillies as they do).

    I have no idea what the answer is, and I’m not sure the problem is solvable with the current set of Democrats, but posts like this are a great start, I think.

  3. Speaking of the Clintons, I believe Bill was of this very background. Maybe he can give us some guidance. Because you’re right, Democrats can be very bigoted against ‘hillbillies” and the like. Some consciousness raising is in order, i think.

  4. they’re treated as jokes. When I called someone on it they made exactly the comment you refer to: they said that rural people are less than 20% of the US population

  5. Being a son of a Father from the Ozarks, I can tell you there is massive poverty. These people have lived in their homes for generations. My father as a young boy, was moved to St Louis, Mo. He did not get higher than the 8th grade but he was a hard worker, getting hired by the City of Crestwood, first as street department, then as parks department. He retired a few years ago. I remember going with him to his family home in Conway Mo. It was a one room house, it had a kitchen and a greatroom. There were 9 kids and 2 parents. I cannot even imagine his life prior to him moving to St Louis. All I can say is, the man came from true poverty, and worked his whole life to give us a better life. I was the first member of our family to go to college. Sadly, my father has gone from middle class, to something else. I am not even sure what the name is, but even with his pension, and Social Security, they are still struggling. Until we recognize that this is a huge problem, and increase the retirement benefits for the poor and working poor, this inequity will be with us.

  6. It’s not necessarily prevalent in all rural communities, but the predominance of ignorant racism (look at some of the horrendous racism prevalent from Pennsylvania down through Kentucky, etc) in both the north and the south in predominantly rural areas does seem to make some of this a two-way street. If Democrats are mocking the poor whites of these areas, it may be in part because they simply aren’t the Democrats’ core constituency.

    People in poor rural areas tend to be Republican (social and/or fiscally conservative). I can’t figure out whether that’s due to their overly conservative agenda, racist overtures or just ignorance about how Republicans’ Randian policies are not very good for the less fortunate. Regardless, majorities of these people vote against their better interests in election after election. It might not be that wrong to blame them in part for disasters like George W Bush’s presidency.

    You’re right that it isn’t about simply “white privilege” — there’s also the forbidden topic of class warfare in this country. It is increasingly “rich versus poor”, even though far too many poor people still side with the rich, and our elected representatives in government are far too often disproportionately wealth and have little interest in fixing the inequalities doled out to the poor.

    • hackenbush — What you say is true, but it didn’t used to be that way. Go back 40, 50 years in these same places and many of the poor white parents of today’s poor whites supported the New Deal and had moderately progressive views on many issues. Read Melinda’s comment; she’s right. I have watched this change myself during my lifetime. I think it’s important to understand how this happened, and not just write off rural whites as ignorant yahoos.

      I largely agree with Thomas Frank’s analysis in What’s the Matter With Kansas, and also with most of Joe Bageant’s observations in Deer Hunting With Jesus. A combination of factors have driven these people into the tender arms of the Right, which sells them out wholesale every minute of every day.

      Many of the communities we’re talking about are a long drive from urban areas and ethnically homogenous. When I go home, it strikes me as so odd that not only is everyone in sight white, everyone in sight is the same shade of white. Many people who’ve lived there all their lives are nervous about anyone who is the least bit different, and not just racially. But yes, there is racism, and a lot of the switch happened in the 1960s, when the Democratic Party (mostly) supported desegregation. (Desegregation scared the stuffing out of folks back home, even though there weren’t any black people around to desegregate with. I graduated public high school in 1969 without ever having once sat in a classroom with anyone who wasn’t white.) The perpetual Red Scares had already installed in people a sense of being besieged and threatened by evil outside forces, and I don’t think that’s ever gone away. It’s just the identity of the evil outside force that changes from time to time.

      As Joe Bageant points out, people in these communities learn everything they know about the outside world from mass media, and the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh types can play on their paranoia like Jascha Heifetz could play the violin. They know they’re getting a raw deal from The System, but propaganda has directed their anger and fear at the wrong causes.

      As I said in the post, I think Webb is way off to blame diversity programs on what’s happened in these communities. That’s certainly not the case in the Ozarks, anyway. It’s not like there’s a substantial black population there sucking up all the jobs and government grants and leaving out whites. You can drive all day long through one community after another and not see anyone who isn’t white.

      I’m not sure exactly what’s to be done about this situation, but I’d like to see progressives acknowledge that it’s a real problem and to take it seriously, and to stop framing what are really class issues strictly in terms of race.

  7. I’ve been as guilty as anyone making jokes about ‘fly-over country’ and ‘crackers.’ And I was wrong in doing that. I’ve tried to self-correct that stereotypical behavior because it strays from what I, we, should be paying attention to.
    Mr. Shirley Sherrod said a line that the powers-that-be don’t want to be heard. She said, “It’s not about race, it’s about class.”
    They can’t afford for that message get out there and to sink in.
    I started writing about this, and got several long paragraphs into it, when I realized most of you know about this without my throwing a blizzard of words at you. I’ll try to keep it shorter.
    They know how to play the urban and rural white vs. black race card, because they’ve been using it successfully for 30 years, since you-know-who became President.
    What’s got them crazy now, in this recession/depression, is that poverty is creeping ever faster into the suburbs. This is a new player in the poverty game, and that’s changing the rules. They want Boardwalk and Park Place to stay where they are. And before, well Mediterranean Avenue was Mediterranean Avenue (aka, MLK Blvd) and no one really cared. And the rest of the properties were on loan from the two riches addresses. But now, all of the other wealthier properties are sliding down in value to the level of Mediterranean Avenue, and they don’t know how to keep the little iron from joining with the race car and realizing why the game is called “Monopoloy.”
    And so, they’ve escalated the rhetoric to make sure that no one realizes what the truth is. That Obama is black helps them, but race is an effective divider no matter who was/is President.
    They’ve staged many Race Battles, so I’m not sure that a Race War terrifies them, as long as they know they have allies in the poor whites.
    But Class War terrifies them, because if the poor of all races join together, what then can rend them asunder? If people realize it’s all of us against those in power, the rich, then there can be change. Hopefully, peaceful change. Though, that is not what history has shown us before when people in communities, even countries, realize the extent of the problem.
    Without going on and on about it, I’ll just say that Ms. Sherrod said the magic words, “It’s not about race, it’s about class.” And all the well-paid monkey’s have to fling poo, lest everyone realize we’re all trapped in the zoo. And our keepers don’t want that to happen. No, they certainly don’t want that to happen…

  8. I haven’t read Webb’s piece but if the point is to claim that whites can be disadvantaged then it’s neither right or wrong but besides the point. And there’s a larger context that is typically being ignored. Part of that is a historical context in how whiteness was constructed and what that meant. Part of that is context has to do with a body of writing, beginning with people like W.E.B. DuBois who pointed out the psychological wage that whiteness represented. Then there is the more recent work of historians like David Roediger and George Lipsitz, sociologists like Joe Feagin, and activists like Tim Wise.

    It would be sad yet typical if moment in the conversation was butchered by the infantile and thoughtless way we typically talk about race.

  9. It’ been going on through out United State’s history. Keep the lower class fighting each other (whether it’s Black v White, Jew v Christian v Catholic, Irish v Black, etc.) and the rich and powerful can keep doing whatever they want

  10. I left southern Illinois in 2006 after living there for 18 years. Look at a map and find route 13 that runs east-west between Carbondale and Harrisburg. I lived south of route 13. I might as well have been living on another planet. The natives/long time residents of that part of the state of Illinois bear no resemblance to your post and were identical to it at the same time.

    Southern Illinois. I supervised a lady of color who had attended a segregated elementary school in Harrisburg, IL in the 1950s. He older sister attended a segregated high school in the same town. Slavery existed in Saline County, Illinois prior to the Civil War.

    There are a lot of issues in your’s and Melissa’s posts.

    “White privilege” is not laughable. I don’t know how to say this but white folks, no matter how poor, no matter how much their house is falling down around them, no matter how low their station in life are still white and are therefore by their definition, superior to people of color.

    The white folks in southern Illinois are not going to leave there. They don’t care about being functional in a 21st century society.

    Of course there is white privilege. Just being white in this society gives a person at least “two” legs up in everything they attempt. Especially for those of us that were well into their careers prior to the 1964 passage of the civil rights act. We were guaranteed success just for showing up.

    Senator Webb is apparently pandering to some constituency. White privilege is alive and well in 2010.

    • “White privilege” is not laughable. I don’t know how to say this but white folks, no matter how poor, no matter how much their house is falling down around them, no matter how low their station in life are still white and are therefore by their definition, superior to people of color.

      That’s not the same thing. “White privilege” suggests that whites get privileged access to jobs and other opportunities by virtue of being white. Yes, in the U.S. as a whole you still find that, but the people we’re talking about get no privileges from the U.S. economy or society. They’re stuck at the bottom, and just because many of them cling to white supremacist ideas doesn’t change that.

  11. I remember back when JFK was elected there was the “War on Poverty”. As a boy I read articles and saw documentaries about Appalachia and the grinding poverty there. In rural New Jersey, I didn’t have to look very far to see the effects that poverty had on people’s lives. A lot of my schoolmates were the children of tenant farmers and hired hands. Many got up early to milk cows and came to school with dirty barnboots on. We had lost our farm by then, but my father was skilled and found work.

    I think the focus on race came about because race caught our national attention. There was a sympathy and scintilla of understanding that had grown out of the civil rights movement. Rural whites were largely scapegoated, when racism was just as ingrained just about everywhere. But, the disadvantages associated with race were real, and they were evident.

    Somewhere we dropped the ball. The social programs were targeted as wastes of money and the national consciousness moved on, along with the conviction that as a nation we could build a better world through government and collective action. “Government” and “collective action” are ruined words today. We are divided, with a dysfunctional political situation, so the prognosis is guarded.

    Looking at the lessons of the past, it seems that instead of attacking measures that were put in place to ameliorate the situation, other, new programs and initiatives should be implemented. We all know what a fat chance we have for that.

    I read some work by a socialogist back in the ’70’s. He was postulating that there was an American underclass that was largely invisible, that existed beyond the census and off of payrolls and creditcard records. They were off the economic map so to speak. He may have been right or wrong, but the phenomenon of their isolation rings true. There is still and element that is about race, but, it really is primarily about class.

    Ahh for the radicalism of the 1930’s.

    • I remember back when JFK was elected there was the “War on Poverty”.

      I’m pretty sure the War on Poverty was LBJ’s idea, but yeah, for a time in the 1960s poverty in Appalachia caught the nation’s attention. Then the nation forgot again. But there’s places in the Ozarks that are as bad if not worse than Appalachia, and no one’s ever paid attention to the Ozarks.

  12. Chief,
    We all kind of talked about that before. It’s the poor white’s mantra, even when the poverty is the same as a black neighbors, of, “No matter how bad off we are, Son, at least we ain’t n*****s!”
    And that’s race being used to keep people from unifying as a class. Those seeds were sowed many generations ago. Unfortunately, those are still very fertile fields, with new crops every generation.
    And those fields will not go fallow as long as you have politicians who don’t distribute or rotate the crops, and Rush, Glenn, and FOX providing the fertilizer.

  13. Both the “War on Poverty” and the “Great Society” were names LBJ used for social and economic programs he was promoting.

    I remember being called a communist by an uncle when I said that we had class divisions that were upheld and manipulated by rich people and corporations to keep all the oppressed people fighting each other so they wouldn’t join together to fight the rich. This was in the early/mid 1960s and I was 11 or 12. It came in a conversation about civil rights. (I was my family’s bleeding heart/commie/picko/socialist/liberal even back then.)

  14. Yes, you are right about the “War on Poverty”. It’s a codger thing, my brain shuffles the past like a deck of cards, especially when my childhood is involved.

    Anyway, you have some very good insights and you bring up a subject that deserves more thought. So, thanks for another thought provoking read. I really like Joe Bagaent and have to get around to “Deer Hunting With Jesus”. I believe he was on “Market Place” a couple of days ago, by the way.

  15. Hackenbush, I really don’t understand your point, unless you really are trying to remain purely political. Sure, there’s a lot of racism and bigotry out on the boonies (I’m a Jewish lesbian, grew up in small-town Virginia, lived in rural upstate NY most of my life and recently moved to rural Alaska: just ask me), but I’m unclear on how that translates into not providing assistance to people in need. Is it really because they might vote for the other guy? That strikes me as pretty messed-up.

    When I was in high school, during gym one of my white classmates leaned over and gestured towards some black kids who were dancing, and said “They can call themselves Afro-Americans but some of them are just n*rs.” Don’t be somebody who says stuff like that about other groups.

  16. What no one seems to want to point out is that the poor white areas people are referring to in these articles are poor and all white for a reason.

    The old attitude of “we’uns is po’ but we’uns is white” drives a lot of them to stay in the poverty they are in and vote “agin” whatever they think will benefit black people, even if it will also benefit them.

    I have very little sympathy for the “hillbilly” attitude that keeps them poor and ignorant when it comes with a firmly entrenched racism all it’s own.

    • What no one seems to want to point out is that the poor white areas people are referring to in these articles are poor and all white for a reason.

      Because they were born there and they were raised that way and it’s all they know. Yes, they’re poisoned by the culture that grows them, but they are also imprisoned by it.

      I have very little sympathy for the “hillbilly” attitude that keeps them poor and ignorant when it comes with a firmly entrenched racism all it’s own.

      I’m something like a 10th-generation hillbilly. My ancestors were in West Virginia and the Carolinas at the beginning of the 18th century. They moved west through Kentucky and Tennessee and arrived in the Ozarks before the Civil War. So these are my people, and even though I live in New York now I’m still an Ozark Mountain child. Yes, hillbillies can be ignorant. And so are you. Go away.

  17. From my years in mountain and piedmont NC, I’d say that the conservative, change-fearing nature of rural areas is at the heart of much of the racism that exists there, and that these areas also have relatively less contact with government and social agencies than suburban/urban areas, so there is less established expectation of positive experiences with the powers that be.

    That said, I agree that race is less an issue than class, though race is more superficially visible and undeniable, whereas class can be verbally claimed despite one’s actual ranking in sociological terms. I’ve heard so many relatively poor kids claim to be middle class that I realized early on that they needed to make that claim for their own self-concept to survive. That way, they could treat their lack of various things and opportunities as just being the norm rather than a result of their socio-economic niche.

    Race is certainly a useful angle for demagogues, who can speak of it in shallow, stereotyped ways that let listeners hear what they want without the bother of thinking. Thus, an impoverished audience with little experience or education can be manipulated and distracted into blaming its ills on an identifiable group rather than seeing behind the curtain into the plush Limbaugh-Breitbart sitting room just inside the door of the Armey mansion, across the park from RNC headquarters.

    I haven’t said anything new, but I sure needed to say it. Thanks.

  18. I think it’s more about class than race, and even perhaps more about class than income or even level of education.

    A Brit (actually terrible snobs) can identify a person’s ‘class’ by the first three words out of his mouth, and in Britain a person will die in the same class to which he was born – regardless of his wealth or level of education. (More people than not never ‘accepted’ LBJ as a legitimate president because he had “that terrible” Texas accent.)

    We Americans priding ours as being a classless society are actually avoiding the truth about ourselves. I submit that when, and if, we face the truth about ourselves we may just be able to deal with the fact that science long ago discredited the biological basis on which our notion of race lies and our racism is actually classism.

  19. A little OT, but not much. I had a (geography) professor in college who pointed out that West Viriginia has similar topography and area as Switzerland, and yet no one would ever confuse the two in terms of culture.

  20. One of the things that’s popped out at me throughout these discussions is that there are a lot of people who say that their families or whomever are from these places but very few who are themselves from these places, and I think that distorts the discussion a lot. Over at Cole’s place, after yet another round of H. Clinton-bashing someone asked why no Clinton supporters were speaking up, and someone responded that probably Clinton supporters didn’t know how to use computers. It was pretty clearly the case that the issue was that it was a hostile environment for Clinton supporters. I suspect that’s true for “progressive” blogs and a lot of rural people, and maybe some navel-gazing wouldn’t be out of place on that question. Hi, Anon!

    There’s so much that we on the left are doing wrong, from using racism as an excuse for not dealing with class issues or rural issues, to being unthinkingly and reflexively classist around food production and the new food movement, and on and on and on. We should work on that. I have thrown up my hands and walked away from a mess of blogs because of some of the ignorant thuggery around these issues and probably that was not the right thing to do.

    • One of the things that’s popped out at me throughout these discussions is that there are a lot of people who say that their families or whomever are from these places but very few who are themselves from these places, and I think that distorts the discussion a lot.

      At least I can say I really am from the Ozarks, although my family had relatively high status in the community given that most of us could speak standard English, we took baths every day, the adults mostly had all their own teeth, and there were no old car parts scattered around on our lawn. I can’t say the same for some of the neighbors, though.

      I seem to have been born liberal for some mysterious reason, although there are other liberals (along with, um, others) scattered about the family. But I have some appreciation of the inner barriers that keep the hillbillies in the hills, so to speak. I was afraid of crowds and cities for a long time, for example. However, I was exposed to culture and books and table manners more than was common in those parts, so that helped. There were a lot of people I knew growing up, kids I went to school with, who never left, and I doubt that they could leave. The social and cultural barriers are too high.

      I agree there’s a lot the Left is doing wrong on these issues. There are those among us who really can come across as elitist snots. On the other hand, the Right is good at posing as the Friend of the Downtrodden Poor White Person when they’re actually in cahoots with many of the same forces keeping poor white people downtrodden, like payday lenders.

      I’ve long thought there needed to be better progressive outreach to these areas, but it’s a hard idea to sell, and you’d need to recruit “natives” to do the outreaching.

  21. This matter is less either/or than both/and. I’m much more with you and Cole, even though Webb’s title isn’t helpful, nor is the way he frames things at times. Issues of race and gender are important, but issues of class and power are often more so (and they often overlap). Nixon’s Southern Strategy exploited racial resentments to win elections, as well as a class war. This was continued by Reagan, Bush the Younger and the GOP in general. (“Hey white middle class and poor people, it’s the cultural elite and black welfare queens oppressing you, not the wealthy white folks!”) I’ve seen people raise these issues more artfully than Webb, but he is hitting on a real issue (certainly in Virginia). It’s been mentioned already, but Joe Bageant’s excellent, sympathetic book Deer Hunting with Jesus goes into the realities of life for small town white folks, and how entrenched that Nixon/Reagan propaganda remains.

  22. I have something to say… and much of it is not going to be to the liking of some of the discussing the issues of “white privilege”.
    Several times over the years we’ve had people who live with the idea Caucasians are innately superior to all. These people live in homogeneous communities where everyone is the same shade. Funny thing is the amount of outright hate coming from these communities.
    Hatred against other races or cultures, hatred of the 21st century, and hatred against anyone that right wing pundits and religious speakers tell them to hate. In fact, there’s been an outrageous rise in hate groups, the vast majority of which are white supremacist groups. A ridiculously large majority of them come from those quaint little backwater groups of people you guys seem to love so much.
    In fact, we’ve had people from these groups actually go out and kill people, and other form groups that have planned to do harm to others.
    The state of Arizona has a law in place that allows a person to be arrested if they have brown skin, or speak with an accent. What’s more, there are Neo-Nazi militia groups going around and hunting for people of ethic backgrounds… in order to KILL THEM.
    They do things like bomb buildings, drag black men behind a truck down the street, plant to kill political figures, join, or form, white supremacist groups, or support blatantly evil political candidates who promise to throw them racist, Christian, fundamentalists, a bone of some kind.
    Just a few months ago, a white, right wing, militia groups (got to love them Palin supporters), broke into a Hispanic a family’s home and killed a father and daughter. They killed a small child by shooting her to death with automatic weapons (Gotta love those white supremacist groups… huh? ). They tried to kill the mother, but she defended herself with a handgun, and called the police. The group members then claimed that they thought the family was smuggling drugs over the Mexican border. The reason for this claim? They were Hispanic. It was the only reason they ever gave.
    These are the same people who drag black men by a rope from the back of a truck until their body parts come off. Seems just fine buy you guys.
    Next thing you’ll be supporting is their right to hang people, or burn crosses on people front yards.
    The tolerance, and support of white militia groups shows just how much of a racial double standard there isYou degenerates.
    The point is, when you have isolated groups of people, who refuse to accept reality (21st century people. Just accept it) and come from a culture where they believe they are chosen, and superior to other cultures, they tend to get violent when reality stares them right back in the face.
    Funny. I don’t really see people talking about any of the subjects I just mentioned. It’s just “Lets have sympathy for the poor, repressed, white people who are suffering because their home schooling, religious fundamentalist ways, are not meshing well with the modern world. What’s more, the avoidance of the subject by the people posting on this board is vile.
    I have to say, many of the comments I’ve read caused me to throw up in my mouth a little bit. The people who support those insane, racist, backwater, scum have to be insane. They’d have to be totally morally bankrupt to try to rationalize sympathy for such sick individuals.
    It’s time for people to grow up.
    Yes. I’m talking about you people.

    • Vince, Nobody here is excusing racism. The enemy is not people; the enemy is hate. As the Buddha said, hate is never assuaged by hate, but by not-hate. So hating people back because they hate you is a losing strategy. It might feel good, but all it does is grow more hate.

      If you are enraged because you’ve been victimized by racism, that’s understandable. But please understand that stereotyping and marginalizing an entire group of people for any reason is where all the injustice, all the racism, all the ugliness human beings perpetrate on each other begins. It’s asking a lot to be a bigger human being than people who hate you, but until you can do that you’re continuing to give them the power to jerk you around.

  23. Vince, there really are Jews like Bernie Madoff and gay men who are shallow and materialistic and sexually irresponsible and African-American gang members, so unless you’re saying that in all cases, because some members of the community are we shouldn’t care about their issues I’m unclear on why you’d use the issue of racist crimes to support your apparent argument that we shouldn’t care about rural white poverty.

    This is complicated and delicate and not much helped by rhetoric like yours, I think. There’s the broader question of willingness to let people suffer because we find their views repugnant. That’s not okay. Nobody’s saying you’ve got to like these guys (and that’s a common majoritarian argument – that equal rights or economic assistance or just acknowledging people is equivalent to wanting to drink beer with them), but that there are people in trouble and they’re being ignored.

    There’s a touchier issue here, and one that I’m a little reluctant to bring up with neanderthals in the room, but what the hell: the schools where I grew up integrated in 1968, and until then I went to segregated schools. We were Jewish and I was always brought up to be appalled by this situation and to support civil rights moments and laws more generally, and I did. But … there were people in our lives and even in our families who were just plain racist, people who were otherwise “nice” and that you cared about but who could come out with stuff you wouldn’t believe. So, I don’t know. I never thought the right answer to that situation was to just cut people off. I always preferred sticking around and getting shrieky on their asses.

    I went to graduate school in Chicago and thought that was the most functionally segregated place I’ve ever been, and that was entirely the doing of rich white property owners.

    • Bigotry dies slowly, but it does die. In the recent past we’ve seen a measurable shift in attitudes toward homosexuality, for example. Yes there is still racism, but among whites over the years I have perceived shrinking social support for racism, which makes the remaining racists feel besieged and angry.

      Yeah, I haven’t been to Chicago for many years, but my ex-husband was from the Chicago area so we used to go there a lot, and it was as bad as the deep South. Working-class whites I met were as blatantly racist as any white southern redneck I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a whole lot of white southern rednecks.

  24. Wow, ‘love the comments.
    I just got in from a week visiting an old friend in Madison Co. N.C., from what he told me it is the poorest county in N.C.
    Many folks there are being paid NOT to grow tobacco because for generations they were paid TO grow it, and the govt. can’t just dump the entitlement; especially with the economy in tatters.
    There is indeed a racist attitude up there, mostly because the mountain folks think they are defending their turf, I don’t agree with the ‘tude, but it is what it is.

  25. People have a hard time, in fact find it almost impossible, to blame themselves for whatever plight they are immediately experiencing or have experienced. At the same time, to assuage any deep-seated guilt they may harbor that their plight is their fault they find a group, a neighbor, a ‘race’, a political party, a president…to blame.

    We call it denial and it is and it has wreaked havoc in a myriad of societies throughout history. And until we recognize and accept this fact, there’s no chance in hell that we can ever get past it.

  26. @Vince :

    …Where did that come from ? No one was justifying racist behaviors or attitudes, and most certainly no one was justifying violence and murder. Further, I didn’t see anyone denying the existence of white supremacists or that they can, have, and do commit terrifying and wholly unjustified acts.

    You seem to think it’s impossible for the oppressed to oppress others. That is a broken and dangerous belief. Some rural whites are aggressively violent and an active threat to minority and other communities. Characterizing them all like this though is an exercise in racism itself, however. It is polarizing division-ism and does not help solve any problem.

    Rather, the attitude of believing that every individual is wholly responsible for their own actions — regardless of what environment they grew up in, regardless of what lies and propaganda were fed to them without the slightest contrary fact or idea day after day, regardless of what damage and oppression they have themselves suffered — that attitude propagates the very environment in which racism, classism, sexism, and all other arbitrary and meaningless divisions of people thrive. It encourages people to believe in innate differences that cannot be resolved through confrontation, discussion, and non-violent resistance. It encourages people to divide and segregate themselves between us, the “good” people, and “them”, the bad. And when all communication has broken down, the segregation has fortified itself, and the strong belief in self-superiority and the moral goodness of one’s own group and one’s culture over those “ignorant, immoral” fools becomes paramount — that is where the violence begins.

  27. White privilege is actually a red herring in the issue of poverty. The problem is, it’s been played very well. Anti-poverty programs are attacked as helping “welfare queens” so it’s okay to cut them – which also cuts aid to rural areas.

    By tying racial battles to anti-poverty battles, the entire argument gets lost, and a lot of liberal folks let themselves be driven away because of the naked racism being used. But we should care about *all* people living in poverty.

  28. LongHairedWeirdo has it right, the whole issue of “White Privilege” is a red herring.

    A lot of people seem to forget that being Caucasian automatically gives you a “leg up” on anyone of color in this country. The real issue with “White Privilege is poverty.

    Those who don’t understand my previous post really have drunk the Kool Aide of the White Power movement, even if they haven’t realized it.

    As for “Where did that come from?”. You’re kidding? Right? Do you people actually pay attention to real news sources?

    Last time I checked, the things I’ve said are true. There is a strong undercurrent of actual racism in this country, and it’s come out in the open more, and more often.

    We have right wing republicans, libertarians, and TV pundits trying to start a race war, and are drumming up a lot of the old southern boys, and the people out in the boonies in the bible belt to start up a massive amount of hate groups with the literal intents of destroying civil rights, if not outright killing people who’s skin shade are different from their own. Every time these scum are dragged out into the daylight they cry that society is being unfair to them because the rest of the country wont let them do harm to, oppress, or just plain kill others with brown skin.

    I have no sympathy for such scumbag crybabies.

    The White Privilege argument is a complete Red Herring. It’s a distraction from the real issues of poverty, education, and co-existence.

    In fact, history has shown that a GREAT way to distract people from their situation is to find an enemy that is outside of your group. That’s where racism comes in.

    I’m not saying that all Caucasians in isolated, homogeneous communities, with a limited gene pool, who don’t like to deal with the rest of society, are racists… but a great deal of them are Xenophobes. They’re afraid of what’s in the outside world.

    Guess what? People of different racial, and cultural, backgrounds are also in the outside world.

    Also, a great deal of these people are still mentally in a time when it was good to inflict harm, and to oppress people of a different skin color, or culture.

    A lot of the people here seem to have forgotten that.

    Poverty is a sad state. People being oppressed is a sad thing. But remember… if you have a group of people who refuse to get along, or even comprehend a larger society, then you’re just asking for trouble.

    Caucasians complaining about a loss of privilege?

    Tell that to all the ghosts of black men and women who have been enslaved, killed, raped, or lynched.

    Tell that to their descendants who were Killed, lynched, raped and so on.

    Tell that to the native Americans who were virtually exterminated…. we’re talking about genocide here.

    We have the state of Arizona, where a person with brown skin can get arrested for just having brown skin, or (god forbid) because they have an accent.

    Arrested. In the 21st century. Put in prison. See any laws like that in effect singling out Caucasians? Show me ONE.

    I could go on and on. So when I read some of the truly ludicrous comments about how some Caucasians feel disenfranchised… I have NO SYMPATHY. lot of the people here need to grow up.

    America is a melting pot. The crazy, anti American, isolationists need to stop spitting in it.


    • OK, Vince what do you propose to do with all those isolated white racist xenophobes? Round ’em up and shoot ’em?

      Nobody here is saying that isolated white racist xenophobes are not isolated white racist xenophobes. What we’re discussing is what to do about them. If you have any solutions other than just hating them, let us know. Otherwise, yes, we get it. You hate them. And that’s understandable, but not terribly helpful.

      Were you aware that Shirley Sherrod’s father was murdered by white racists when she was 17, and of course the murderers were never brought to justice? So if anyone had a right to hate isolated white racist xenophobes, it would be her. Yet she came to understand that today’s problem is not just white racism/black victimization. As Bob Herbert explained,

      The point that Ms. Sherrod was making as she talked in her speech about the white farmer who had come to her for help was that we are all being sold a tragic bill of goods by the powerful forces that insist on pitting blacks, whites and other ethnic groups against one another.

      Ms. Sherrod came to the realization, as she witnessed the plight of poverty-stricken white farmers in the South more than two decades ago, that the essential issue in this country “is really about those who have versus those who don’t.”

      She explained how the wealthier classes have benefited from whites and blacks constantly being at each other’s throats, and how rampant racism has insidiously kept so many struggling whites from recognizing those many things they and their families have in common with economically struggling blacks, Hispanics and so on.

      “It’s sad that we don’t have a roomful of whites and blacks here tonight,” she said, “because we have to overcome the divisions that we have.”

      As for growing up, I’d say Sherrod has grown up. But you sound pretty juvenile to me.

  29. Those who don’t understand my previous post really have drunk the Kool Aide of the White Power movement, even if they haven’t realized it.

    Hey Vince.. I didn’t understand your previous post.. at least in the respect of where’s it coming from. Although, I was able to gather from your comments that you are deficient in the art of communication. You have no idea of who your audience is or to what extent their knowledge and experience of the issue at hand is comprised, but yet you’re quick point out that those who don’t see things your way are Kool Aid drinkers or somehow dense. I’d re-guess that assumption.
    So Vince..I just thought that I’d share with you some of my insight into human nature in a neighborly way…It’s like Mom used to say, ” you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”

  30. @Vince :

    The fact that you have no sympathy for people who are suffering purely because of their race or cultural background is precisely the problem. That you admit it without any compunction or regrets is disturbing, though I suppose you may at least earn points for honesty.

    Poor rural whites cannot walk up the steps of Congress and gets bushels of free money. Nor the Federal Reserve. Nor Wall Street. They’ve been neglected, deceived, betrayed, and isolated, and by many of the very same people who neglected, deceived, betrayed, and isolated blacks, hispanics, and the native Americans.

    The fundamental issue here that you miss, and the problem you help exacerbate, is that we can’t do much of anything about poverty and injustice so long as we’re caught up fighting each other. Indeed, for the lower and middle tiers of society to be completely distracted in conflicts with each other is precisely what ruling elites desire and need. The sooner the false distinctions and false conflicts fall apart, the sooner unified and effective action begins. Forgiveness for the crimes and sins of the past is the very first step at recognizing we’re all in this together, and we rise or fall together. Shirley Sherrod understands that; it’s time the rest of us did too.

  31. Some of the comments to my post are interesting, and very telling.

    Claiming that I want to round up white, racist, xenophobes and do harm to them?

    No. If militant racists do happen to harm others, prison would be great. If a person has to do harm in self defense… well… like the woman who had to protect her life from ‘Minutemen’ who had just killed her family by shooting at them in a gun (after they had already killed her husband and 9 year old daughter), that was a necessary option. She had no other choice, or they would have murdered her.

    Maybe force them to face the world and realize that they’re not superior to others, and don’t have the right to cry when they’re acting like evil, hysterical, racist, lunatics? That would be just wonderful.

    That’s one of the reasons I’ve written the past few posts.

    It’s amazing to see some of the posts of people whining like babies because people point out that you’re doing something wrong. It’s also amazing how some people automatically try to imply that someone wants to do violence against them.

    That’s called projection folks. You’re trying to say that I want to do as you want to do. That’s not the case. It’s very telling that you think that way, and it was exactly what the way I expected you to behave.

    That’s why I called people with your mindset sick. Your behavior is insane, and it’s the classic case of a bad guy trying to play the victim role.

    You’re not fooling anyone. You need to educate yourself, and learn that some invisible sky daddy didn’t make you superior, and that you deserve special privilege, or sympathy, because you can easily get a sunburn.

    As for those complaining that I wasn’t using sweeter, kinder words, soft as fluffy clouds? Reality doesn’t work that way. You’re acting like spoiled children who aren’t getting their way.

    It should be obvious by this point that I’m not a Caucasian, however, I know many Caucasians that feel the same way I do. And like most people darker than a shade of beige, I’ve experienced racism. However, I want the same rights as anyone else, and If I used the shade of my skin to act like a xenophobic loon fearful of anyone from a different background, or race… or… god forbid… acted like some of the psychotic sickos like the ‘Minutemen’, or like so many members of the ‘Tea Party’ (You guys used to call yourselves Teabaggers… remember that… it’s on record.) or so many, many others… then I’d be no better than the angry, hateful, fearful, nuts that are scared of ‘all the brown people’, and regret the loss of white privilege.

    You don’t deserve special privilege because you’re white. Get over it. Most of the world isn’t even white. They’re brown. In fact America had brown people in it first.

    You need to wake up, and grow up. Stop all the hate and fear, and stop acting like babies because people point out that you’re acting hateful, and fearful.

    Seriously. The rise in hate groups in the country is because people like some of the posters on this board think that your behavior is normal. That it’s just fine.

    It isn’t. It never was. Seriously.

    When I think of the rise in hate crimes, and I hear groups of Caucasians complaining about how they’re fearful, sad because the country is changing, along with the shade of skin… I’d like to point out something to them:

    America is a melting pot. Also, this country had brown people in it first, but they were either chased off their land, or killed. Some were brought over as slaves. Some brown people emigrated here.

    Thanks to progress in recent decades they have the same rights you do. Live it it. Grow up.

    Some of you have drunk the Kool Aid of white power. I meant it because it’s true. It’s proven by the actions and words of many.

    You’re just mad because people notice.

    • Maybe force them to face the world and realize that they’re not superior to others, and don’t have the right to cry when they’re acting like evil, hysterical, racist, lunatics? That would be just wonderful.

      Yes, that would be wonderful. How do you propose to do that, exactly?

      See, son (I assume you are a lot younger than I am, or else have lived a sheltered life), here in what we call the “real world” there’s only so much you can do. You can’t force people to not be ignorant racists. All you can do is try to educate people who are educable and enforce the law when racists commit acts of violence or discrimination. That’s how it is. Screaming and calling people names is a waste of time and energy.

      Stop all the hate and fear, and stop acting like babies because people point out that you’re acting hateful, and fearful.

      Exactly. Stop acting hateful and fearful, and stop acting like a baby because we’re telling you that you’re hateful and fearful. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

      See, son, if your reading comprehension skills weren’t so bad you might have noticed that we aren’t making excuses for or condoning racism. You’re telling us about awful things that have been done in the name of racism, but all of us already knew about these things. I’ve known about this stuff for so long I could have recited the same litany 50 years ago, because I knew about it then. I witnessed segregation with my own eyes. I remember Emmett Till and Little Rock and Selma. Yes, it’s real awful. Nobody denies that.

      However, we’re considering what’s to be done about a particular situation. And I’m not interested in fantasy solutions, but real ones. The fact is that continuing to marginalize the poor white population likely will drive a lot of them to be more crazy and more racist than they already are. How does that help you? How does that make the world a better place?

      Further, if you tell us to “grow up” one more time, you will be banned from this site. You are the one behaving like a baby here. YOU grow up. Also, do learn to read. Thanks much.

  32. Addressing Maha.

    I’ve said much of what I wanted to say. This is the 21st Century. People need to learn to respect one another.

    The hysteria that I’ve seen in responses to my comment, was, once again, exactly what I expected. Some people can’t handle the truth. A fact that saddens me.

    America is a melting pot, but there are always going to people who are frightened of human beings who are even slightly different. That’s disappointing, and potentially dangerous
    See, most xenophobes know that they’re on the bad side, but they have to hide it. They try to paint the dreaded “others” as enemies in any way they can. Want to know the most ironic thing?

    It’s the projection. The claims that the people who are different are often doing evil that the xenophobes are in fact committing.

    What’s really scary is how easily people like that are lead by some personality who find a way to disguise their fears as something else.

    For example: A common thing among some Xenophobic group is to call others Nazis, despite the fact that Neo-Nazis, and white supremacists are actually on their side, and are part of their groups.

    There’s a great book by Bob Altemeyer called, The Authoritarians. It going much of what I’m talking about. It’s a 40 year study of Authoritarian behavior.

    One of the great points the study makes is that many of the people who have authoritarian leanings are: Xenophobic, tend to be more violent, project their desires upon others, and take less responsibility for their hostility.

    That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    Also, the rise of violent hate groups in this country seems to be lost on a lot of you. In fact, you seem to avoid even mentioning anything… ANYTHING, about the sizable point I was making a regarding that problem.

    The claims that I promote violence? Total lunacy, and a LIE. Nothing I’ve written promotes any such thing.

    Once again: Projection.

    As time goes on, the views expressed by many of this thread will seem archaic, and even frightening. At least, that’s what I hope… indeed, it’s starting to look that way.
    Think about it. There was a time when Xenophobes would be happy to just come out and state their hatred and fears of others. Burn a cross on a lawn, lead a lynch mob, put people in concentration camps, or just kill people they didn’t like. The fact that they spend so much time hiding such views and feelings says something about the shame people feel when they want to behave this way. They know it’s wrong, and not accepted by the rest of society. They know they’re the bad guys.

    It’s one of the reason why they tend to look for a person who can express their beliefs in a disguised fashion. Enter the Glenn Beck’s, the Michelle Bachmann’s, the Sarah Palin’s, and Bill O’Reilley’s, and so many others.

    Each one of those people know how to express hate, fear and Xenophobia in a disguised fashion. Oh, I’ll be the first person to admit that it’s very BADLY disguised, but it’s enough for the fearful to see that they put in the effort. The gesture is all that’s needed, it seems.

    You might think that such behavior is just fine and dandy, but the people who feel such unreasoning hate for others are the villains here. The rest of the world knows this.

    Once again, I’ll point out that these kinds of cowardly bad guys always whine whenever people see them for what they are.

    Boo – Hoo. And I say it that complete sarcasm.

    Join the rest of the world. Join the 21st century.

    It’s not as bad as you seem to think it is.

    • Some people can’t handle the truth.

      Vince — you’ve yet to say anything we didn’t already know.

      Does anyone else think Vince is actually a bot? He spews out random sentences that are sorta kinda related to the subject at hand but that are not actual responses to what people are really saying.

  33. Reading Vince’s post gives me a similar sensation — but in an intellectual sense— to feeling a sneeze coming on and not being able to sneeze. Something is supposed to happen and it’s just not. I still can’t figure out where he’s coming from..I kinda figure that as a long time reader of the Mahablog I have a fairly good sense of the nature of the commentators..and I think there’s nobody here that needs to hear his charges. Maybe if he posted his comments at a wingnut site I could see how it relates, but here it doesn’t apply.

    • Reading Vince’s post gives me a similar sensation — but in an intellectual sense— to feeling a sneeze coming on and not being able to sneeze. Something is supposed to happen and it’s just not.

      Yes, exactly. He constructs logical sentences, but the sentences don’t exactly relate to each other, nor does he ever rationally and specifically address any comment aimed at him. That’s what makes me think he’s a bot. The sentences are responding to keywords without addressing the subject.

  34. I don’t think Vince is a bot.
    I think he’s a highly evolved parrot.
    Vince want a cracker?

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