Stop Asking Me to Empathize With the White Working Class
The only people who were surprised by white people voting for white supremacy is other white people. Muslims, black folks and other people of color have been petrified of this outcome for a long time now, because we know how white power will do anything to preserve itself. We have seen it, worked beside it, watched it on the news, lived next door to it, witnessed it call itself our friend and then question our experiences with racism when we recount them.
For 18 months we have watched this demagogue with nary a workable policy to his name wage one of the most violent campaigns against us in our lifetimes, and seen his star rise because of it. Some of us were shocked Tuesday night, but we weren’t surprised. It takes a whole lot of privilege to be delusional enough to believe that America would not throw itself into the task of preserving its most valued institution.
Trump stoked racial hatred, but he didn’t invent it, so stop acting like he did because it makes you feel good. The irony of this whole thing is that Trump knew better than a lot of “good” white folks—even recognized as well as folks of color did—how much white power and supremacy means to white people. From day one, he bet that it would be enough to get him elected. He ran a brilliant campaign, in a country where a brilliant campaign can almost solely consist of telling white people they might not be on top forever. He called it. Credit where it’s due.
The only surprise to come out of this election is how many, and how quickly, white people want us to empathize with the people who voted against our humanity, our right to exist in this place. Even before the election, the Washington Post actually had the audacity to berate us for not crying for the white working class. In the days since Trump won, the number of articles urging everybody to be cool to Trump’s America, to understand what they are facing, to hear their grievances, has added insult to injury. Bernie Sanders issued a statement saying Trump “tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.” I read it at least three times and couldn’t find the words “white supremacy” anywhere in it.
Please miss me with all this nonsense. I’m not even going to get into how this is based on an easily refutable economic lie, especially since others have already spent precious time they’ll never get back breaking this down. But even if it was true—and I am well aware of what’s plaguing the white working class, from substance abuse to suicide to a loss of manufacturing jobs—I refuse to take part in the endless privileging of white pain above all others. (Martin Gilens, who has studied this stuff going way back, notes that when the media face of poverty is white, this country suddenly gets a lot more compassionate.) Latinos and African Americans remain worse off than the white working class—which is still the “largest demographic bloc in the workforce”—by pretty much every measurable outcome, from home ownership to life expectancy. Where are these appeals for us when we protest or riot against the systemic inequality we live with? Where are all the calls to recognize and understand our anger?
For hundreds of years, white people have controlled everything in this country: the executive office, Congress, the Supreme Court, the criminal justice system, Wall Street, the lending institutions, the history textbook industry, the false narrative that America cares about liberty and justice for all. But I need to understand white feelings of marginalization because a black man was in the White House for eight years? Because political correctness—a general plea for white people not to be as awful as they have been in the past— asked that white people put more effort into being decent than they felt up to? Because white folks didn’t like that feeling when politicians aren’t singularly focused on the hard times and struggles of their communities? Audre Lorde said (I wonder if that woman ever got sick of being right), “oppressors always expect the oppressed to extend to them the understanding so lacking in themselves.” For a people who have shamed black folks for supposedly always wanting a hand out, for being a problem of the entitlement state, I have never seen people who so firmly believe they are owed something.
Let me pass along some advice black folks have been given for a long time: stop being so angry and seeing yourself as a victim, and try pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. That’s really all I have for you right now, this re-gifting of wisdom.
Here is why I’m too busy to put real concern and energy into this: The Ku Klux Klan is holding a get-together in North Carolina in December to high-five each other for getting their boy into office. White nationalists are feeling inspired to do their part, by seeking elected office or finding employment within the Trump administration. The highest seats of power for the next four years are expected to be held by a man who thinks Black Lives Matter and ISIS will join forces and another man who big-ups stop-and-frisk and name-drops 9/11. On the day after Donald Trump’s victory, white people celebrated by terrorizing black and other people of color, Muslims, queer and trans folks. For black and brown people, it is dangerous to be here right now. Many of us are legit and justifiably terrified. White people’s made-up oppression and counterfeit victimhood will have to wait. Forever.
Here’s another reason I’m not interested: This whole idea that I have to understand the people America seems to believe are its “real” citizens is less and less relevant. Yes, they won an election. This country is getting browner and gayer by the day, and for all they are fighting to get back to the 1950s, lazing in toxic nostalgia isn’t going to change that. The demographics of this country are not on their side. They might want to try understanding the future—in which they are outnumbered and outvoted—because it comes for us all.
If you’re white, stop asking me to feel for these people. If you’re a white woman, I’m going to need a little more accountability for what happened Tuesday, because 53 percent of you voted for white supremacy over gender equality, which is deep. (To paraphrase Samantha Bee, if Muslims and black folks have to take responsibility for every member of our communities, so do you.) More than anything, liberal white people, you need to spend some quality time doing work in your own community, talking to your people, because they are destroying this country and our lives. Start with conversations during holiday meals if you like; I defer to you on how to get the ball rolling. But definitely don’t tell us to roll up our sleeves and get back into action, as so many of you in my Facebook feed have chirpily suggested. Channel all that bright-eyed and bushy tailed energy and enthusiasm into talking with your peeps, ASAP.
If you’re a person of color, reach out to people you love. Stay as safe as you can. Report any harassment or violence you see or experience.
And most of all, take care of each other.