White Man’s Brethren

I am white, and a man. That puts me in some storied company, and it also puts me in a category. How should I feel about my story? My company? My category?

It’s true I never owned any slaves or denied anyone a seat on a bus or at a lunch counter, but I live in a nation where much of the capital city was built by slaves, where for centuries men who look just like me bought and sold people as if they had that right. And even after that wrong was undone, Jim Crow laws and – now – quiet institutional racism (in the courts, corporate America, schools – it goes on) keep African-Americans at arms length from the breaks, resources and opportunities whites take for granted. And of course I live in a history-damaged culture that automatically assumes the best about me as it automatically assumes the worst about black and brown people.

Everywhere I go. I don’t get followed around in stores, people don’t cross the street when I’m walking towards them on the sidewalk. I haven’t been pulled over in 30 years. And even if I were to be pulled over, chances are I’d be treated with automatic respect rather than automatic suspicion.

All of which means that even if I don’t promote racism or racist hegemonic policies, I benefit from those in power who do, as do those who keep them in power with their votes. And that means staying silent about this massive inequity built into our system is a kind of silent assent. It is equivalent to the “wink” received by the late student who is the teacher’s pet, while the other late students languish in detention for the same offense.

In today’s parlance, what I am trying to achieve is known as being “woke”. Part of that is being awake to the reality that it is not laziness, or genetic differences (which don’t exist by the way) or even cultural differences that leave African-Americans and other “visible” non-whites behind the starting gate and perennially behind the curve. it is our color-coded institutions themselves, and our willful ignorance of the reality of the lives of minorities, that perpetuates this inequality, this injustice that has spanned centuries.

There are plenty of statistics on this, if you’re into that. But it should not be necessary to see the hard data to know, as an American, that our playing field is far from level. You see it play out every day, in the color of gangsters, the color of kids in detention or juvenile court, the color of kids in failing schools, versus the color of kids in private preschools, suburban Debate Team kids, Senate interns, private college alumni and beer-soaked fraternity brothers. Yet we persist in this fantasy – that “everyone” has the same chances to work hard, get ahead, be successful, what have you. We trot out anomalous examples like Colin Powell (2nd gen Jamaican American) and Barack Obama (2nd gen Kenyan American) as if these men put the lie to the millions of citizens who are struggling to stay alive and make ends meet in a society that cares little about whether they do or not.

In fact, these examples do more to prove the rarity of such achievement than how common it could be “if minorities would only take advantage of all the opportunities this country has to offer”. News flash: those opportunities are rare in the ghetto. Powell and Obama are unicorns, the million-to-one black Americans who never lived in public housing, whose family legacies in this country did not begin with being another man’s property. But they were still black. They made it big despite the mountain of obstacles that still stood in their way. So yes, these are exceptional men. And we could expand these examples to people like Clarence Thomas, Valerie Jarrett, Maxine Waters, Oprah, Beyonce, Tiger, and all the way back to ML King, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and further back to W.E.B. DuBois, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglas, not to mention the many successful black and minority athletes, entertainers. and business achievers over the centuries.

But the fact that we can name so many of these people from memory demonstrates that they are the exceptions, not the rule. And good for them, for their amazing talents show us also that there is by no means an intellectual, creative or moral “advantage” to being white (as Thomas Jefferson fervently believed). Quite the contrary: it is the narrow thinking and immorality of white America’s past-into-present that has kept their numbers so low. Witness also how many of these well-known and well-regarded black Americans are from our recent past, a time when at least the non-corporate world has opened up more and more opportunities for minorities to demonstrate their chops. It is particularly interesting to note that where black and minority Americans seem to succeed the most – in athletics, in entertainment, in the military, in medicine, in politics and the law – these are fields where your success depends the least on “who you know” and the most on “what you can do.” Yes – sisters are doing if for themselves, and brothers are willing to work it out.

Of course, we can say the same thing about women. How many female Senators were there in 1950? How may female CEOs? How many female Supreme Court justices? Was it because women back then were too “emotionally unstable” to hold such authority? Of course not, it was because the idea of mental weakness was projected onto them by men who were bent on retaining the exclusivity of their governing club. Having lived with women all their lives, having had mothers who raised them, they knew all too well of the vast capabilities of women. They simply pretended such abilities were overshadowed by an “Achilles heel” attributable to their sex. Nothing personal, ladies!

If I ever feel put-upon or unfairly judged for being white, or male, or a white male, I need to remember to suck it up and embrace the pendulum theory and the various philosophies of liberation that instruct my thinking:  if I am going to identify as a white man (as I must), I need to humbly acknowledge my cohort’s past behavior (and in too many cases, present behavior). I may not be responsible for it personally, but I am – by virtue of being born and especially by virtue of enjoying the tacit “entrée” of a white man’s world – a legacy member of the club that is responsible. Unless I vociferously  condemn the actions of men who have controlled and brutalized whole societies and half the world’s population for centuries (even when women are IN the same society), it would be reasonable to assume I tacitly condone such actions and beliefs. After all, I benefit from them.

But I condemn them now, and will always condemn them. Here is my humble manifesto: I reject the politics of hegemony, and in fact the very idea of hegemony, in what should be celebrated as a diverse, pluralistic society capable of fairness and equality, both under the law and in terms of the preparation of the next generation and legal reparations for those who’ve been oppressed and denied opportunities such as I have had for far too long. As we continue to divide along political lines, I am not on any “side,” because there should be no sides. I am on the side of justice, equality, and fairness.

Perhaps this is akin to what William Blake—a cultural rebel–was thinking when he wrote, “I must create a system, or be enslav’d by another man’s.” I am trying to live these words, to reify this vision, not just say the words to hear myself talk in lofty tones. And I’m not waiting for consensus. These words are true in and of themselves.

So if the pendulum is finally swinging, at least in the cultural imagination if not in the actual halls of power in 2018, the other way–toward condemnation of past practice and the awakening of those who suffered so long under the arbitrary caprices of various white European manipulators and oppressors—then I can draw no other conclusion but that it is a good thing. If as a result we, the reverse doppelgangers of the likes of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions and Adolf Hitler, need to stand aside and let these people breathe free and speak their minds freely regarding our past performance, that is a good thing too. (I am suddenly reminded of South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation” commission. Maybe we need one of those.) If we all celebrate equality and, on the part of the oppressor demographic, practice humility and reconciliation, then perhaps the idea of egalitarianism can eventually take hold among the populace at large and, eventually, work its way all the way up to corporate board rooms and Washington’s halls of Ivy League-branded power. We’ve done something like it before (shout out to MLK and Barack). But in 2018 we have dropped the ball.

Although there are powerful forces arrayed against those who would leave nostalgia for the old white America behind, I think the majority of society will keep pushing that pendulum to the side of equality and universal liberty for the simple reason that we in the privileged class are outnumbered—soon we white folks will be just another minority. And if nothing else will motivate us, perhaps the looming prospect of  our chickens coming home to roost will. It’s how the good stories end, after all, with the downfall of the tyrant, brought on by those under his thumb who realize they have the will – and now the numbers. As we become that minority, I hope we will not need the threat of revolution to get all the way past the notion that anyone deserves any special privileges merely by reason of the circumstances of their birth.

Advertisements

End the Charade

It’s time for journalists to stop pretending the president doesn’t know what he’s doing – that his egregious policies are somehow “blunders” or based on a faulty understanding of how the world works.

That’s a cop-out. I don’t believe that. I think the president knows exactly what he’s doing: he’s weakening this nation economically (stupid tariffs) and in the eyes of its allies (stupid NATO belligerence), and undermining the rule of law (attacks on the Justice Dept.) all while cozying up to dictators (Kim, Putin, Xi)  with whom he identifies and shares values like strength and dominance over enemies (so many enemies). The president is not “ignorant” about democratic traditions and principles (like telling the truth or not enriching oneself via federal office, for example). No, he is simply antagonistic towards them. Whether this is based on learning, persuasion or his famous “instincts” does not matter. He is the anti-American president and he’s not shy about that. His supporters rejoice when he pardons criminals like Joe Arpaio and the insurrectionist ranchers. They don’t like the government, and neither does he.

Instead of “explaining” to the president how his policies threaten the very core of this society, journalists should start asking WHY the president and his allies in Congress are taking positions and implementing policies that threaten this society. The question they must answer: Why are you hurting your own society?

  • We have a trade war with zero stated goals or expected outcomes. Why? Why have a trade war and not say what you want? Vague accusations of “unfairness” are not something the Chinese can work with, especially when the stick (tariffs) is wielded before even attempting the carrot (negotiations). For that matter, there are no established lines of communication or designated teams on either the US or Chinese  side dedicated to negotiations from here on – all we have is the war. For what reason do you start a trade war – one that is sure to damage your own economy – when you have no stated demands which, if met by China, would end the war? One answer: the president is simply doing what he can, with the tools he has, to cripple the American economy.
  • We have repeated accusations that NATO countries aren’t “paying their fair share” – likening the countries of Europe to Trump’s deadbeat apartment tenants in Queens. Over and over, the president repeats the lie that NATO countries are “delinquent” when they are no such thing. The 2% GDP defense spending goal was just that – a goal. Not a commitment, not enforceable by any means, and most certainly not an amount “owed” to the president or anyone else. The 2% goal was a shared policy goal among sovereign democracies, not a “promise” to the United States. Why do we allow the president to keep pretending he does not know this?  It’s a simple thing to learn, and for my part I don’t believe he does NOT know this. He is simply using this lie as an excuse to do the dirty work of tearing down a post-WW2 alliance that has kept Europe (and America) protected from Russian expansionist policies for decades. He is actively weakening the alliance for no reason that could possibly help America or Western societies in general. Why? And who DOES it help when NATO is weakened?
  • As for the Justice Department – is America ready to concede that our own Justice Department is a secret society of Hillary worshipers and Deep State luminaries who “really” run the department for the sole purpose of continuing Obama-era policies and de-legitimizing the icky Republican president for purely partisan reasons? After firing FBI director James Comey for the stated reason that he was “thinking about the Russia investigation” (this is obstruction of justice, for those interested), the president has proceeded on a “witch hunt” of his own, transforming an obedient, feckless Congress into his own personal Spanish Inquisition bent on prosecuting a “corrupt” Justice Department. Yes, as the Mueller investigation racks up confessions, indictments and guilty pleas from the president’s campaign staff, the Justice Department overseeing that investigation is all of a sudden a quagmire of corruption and lies requiring Congress to intervene and “fix” it. That’s right. The president and his crew, under multiple investigations which have turned up multiple instances of criminal wrongdoing threatening the very existence of this nation –they are the ones being persecuted. It is the Justice Department and the FBI that are now criminal, because of course in this scenario, where they are piling up the evidence against you – they have to be. This is what’s known in lawyer circles as “putting the police on trial.” When your client is obviously guilty, you find a way of making the police look even more guilty by virtue of the methods they used to uncover and prosecute your wrongdoing. And abuse of power, you know, is much more serious an offense than – what – having a conversation or two with some Russian friends who just want to help both nations break through this silly Crimea annexation sanctions business and start making deals? And when you have a devoted throng of willfully ignorant followers in Congress and at your endless “love me” rallies (who hate your new enemies as much as you do, they just need you to point them out), it’s even easier to make the prosecution of your illegal behavior look like a partisan smear job. But again, it is incumbent on us to ask: Why destroy the American public’s faith in its institutions devoted to the rule of law just to provide cover to a president whose campaign for office was a hotbed of criminal traitorous activity, a man who lies to the American public every single day and will continue doing so? How is that a trade-off that ‘s good for the nation? Or if it’s not good for this nation, who IS it good for?

 

Divided We Stand

I was going to link to an Omaha World-Herald article here, but now can’t find the confounded thing. It’s an article by Erin Grace, a great reporter. But she was apparently given the assignment to write about the “common ground” between conservative and progressive neighbors in the Field Club area as they prepare for their non-political July 4th parade. What she found there were a progressive gay couple who try not to talk politics with their clients, and a Republican woman who is a stay-at-home mom (and she recycles). Her husband, a more politically active Republican, wasn’t home. Also, they were interviewed separately, not together. Hm.

 

*************************************************

The article was an earnest attempt at completing the writing assignment, so why did it just make me more pessimistic about this society’s future? Maybe because the very few (3) subjects in this article really don’t represent the enormous gulf that has opened up between those of us who want a compassionate government and those who want a Trump-style regime of fear and intimidation. The two progressive men seem reasonable enough, to be sure – they are tolerant of their conservative clientele and “listen” more than talk with them. Who wouldn’t? And the “conservative” woman (who recycles?) seems normal enough – but of course her “politically active” conservative husband wasn’t available for comment. What would he have to say?

So – three Omaha neighbors, none of them straight white males, trying to put on a no-politics parade, working hard trying not to hate one another. Good stuff. But what if the journalist went beyond the niceties and started asking the progressive guys how they feel about kids in cages at the border? About the EPA being run by a flagrant criminal who hates the EPA? About Flint or Puerto Rico? Trump-Putin “summit” coming up and zero action on Russian election meddling? The millions of tax dollars being spent each month at Trump golf courses? The $82 million Jared and Ivanka made last year as “administration officials”? Continued insults to our allies and continued praise for dictators like Kim, Putin, Xi, Duterto? The economy-killing Trump trade war? Or how about the administration ignoring Pride Month, weakening LGBTQ legal protection, and trying to rid the military of trans people?

And how would the “conservative” woman defend these policies and this president? Would she defend them? We’ll never know. Perhaps it was incumbent on the World-Herald to go out and find some real Trumpers to provide the (civil?) “counterpoint” to the gay men’s politics of inclusion and tolerance (or even the Republican woman’s recycling)? I’m sure that a true Omaha Trumper (there are thousands out there) would have had a full-throated response consisting of lively arguments supporting the Trump agenda. They would also have let the reporter know exactly how they feel about liberal gay people and their wedding cakes, and I’m gonna go out on a limb here and predict that their defense of the administration and their ideas on liberals would not sound like “civility” to anyone not on board the Trump train. Go find some of those Nebraska boys in the MAGA hats “rollin’ coal” with their modified diesel trucks—the anti-environmentalists this state is famous for–sticking it to the libtards in their rice-burning Priuses. Or you could go to Lincoln and interview that Nazi student. Or if that’s too tough, just go talk to the governor and his cronies in the legislature. They’ll be happy to tell you what’s wrong with liberals and Democrats, and that they really ought to just keep quiet and leave the running of Nebraska to the GOP patriots.

The problem, I guess, is that the reporter was sent to interview “liberals” and “conservatives” about tolerance and partisanship. They left out the group actually running the country — the Trumpers.