By Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith,
So, white people are angry.
The Great Recession hit many white people right in the gut. All of a sudden, their whiteness didn’t help them; the economic downturn had no more mercy on them than it did on poor black and brown people.
White supremacy failed them. It has never helped the masses of white people, but as long as there was a middle class, there was the illusion of life being better for whites than blacks. No matter what, white people could say, “at least I’m not black,” a pronouncement they uttered when they escaped arrest for things they knew black people had not only been arrested but thrown into prison for. As long as there was a middle class, they were safe; they could take care of their families and do some of the things they wanted as they reached for the ever-elusive American Dream. They didn’t have to worry about the fact that many black people, as qualified as were they, were passed over for jobs and could not take care of their families. They didn’t have to worry about not even getting a chance to get in the door of equal employment opportunity. They had “theirs,” largely because they were white. They didn’t have to care about what was going on with black and brown people, and they certainly did not have to tap into the anger and despair that black and brown people have felt and dealt with for generations.
But then came that Great Recession. The Empire – comprised primarily of very wealthy, white men, worked to do all it could to increase its wealth for the lowest price possible. Manufacturing jobs began to be outsourced, and people who had worked for years in well-paying factory jobs found themselves out of luck and out of work.
And nobody cared.
The Republicans and the Democrats had them snookered, believing that it was Entitlements and welfare and all those things which drained the economy were responsible for their pain. Members of the Empire Elite had them believing in the superiority of their whiteness. If blacks were in jail, they needed to be; after all, the War on Drugs had proven that black people were just, well, bad …and deserved all they got. White people didn’t have to deal with the despair that comes with poverty, or with the dehumanization men feel – no matter their color – when they cannot provide for their families. They didn’t have to worry about the effects of mass incarceration, which destroyed individuals, families and communities and made it virtually impossible for newly released convicts to find work once they were free.
Nope. They didn’t have to worry. They had “theirs,” and if black, brown and poor people didn’t’ have theirs, well, it was their fault. This was America. Everybody was free. Everybody had the same opportunities.
But that Great Recession came and knocked all the glass fairy tales to the ground, shattering hope, shattering dreams, shattering the well-being of a community which had been as abused and used by white supremacy as had black people. White supremacy is not the champion of all white people; white supremacy is class-based, where wealthy white people take care of other wealthy white people. These wealthy white people didn’t think about the masses of ordinary white people who would be devastated by their economic policies and practices. The masses of what the media calls “uneducated white people,” blue-collar white folks with no college to their credit were not important to the Empire Elite. White folks lost their jobs, and with that, they lost a sense of themselves, their worth, their identity and their claim to supremacy. White supremacy was supposed to guarantee some things for them. It didn’t and it hadn’t. They felt betrayed by the Republicans, who talked about big government and the waste of tax dollars by the poor.
Now, they were in the ranks of the poor, too.
It is hardly surprising, even if it is disturbing, that there is dismay about the rising rate of opiate addiction in the white community. Drugs is what many people turn to when they are poor and have no prospect of getting a decent job. So many white people are now feeling the sting of second-class citizenship, and they cannot cope. Hopelessness leads to despair and despair leads to all sorts of other things, including drug use and death.
Enter Donald Trump. One of the wealthiest men in the world hears these disaffected white people who feel ignored and marginalized It is a human need to be heard and affirmed; it is why many people, white, black, Hispanic- join gangs. Trump comes on board and is manipulating the emotions of these angry white people …and it is just that – a cruel manipulation of their emotions and of their situations, much of which Trump helped create. He has these people believing that he will lift them out of the economic doldrums. He will “make America great again,” meaning he will give them the artificial representations of their white superiority.
They believe him because they must; otherwise, the despair will consume them.
It is hard to live a life of “quiet desperation,” as Henry David Thoreau said most of us live. It is even harder when you thought you were above feeling that kind of desperation because of your race. Trump is presenting himself as the Great White Hope, but in the end, he cannot change the tide of what has happened. The world is compilcit in this economic quagmire which has decimated the lives of so many people — including white Americans who thought it would never happen to them. Trump is, in fact, saying what they are saying in their living rooms and bars; he is saying he will fix everything.
He forgets that he is only a white man with money. He is not God.
It would be good if this spate of time where the anger of white people is being lifted up could serve as the bridge for new communication and understanding between the races. But it won’t – because those who could begin the dialogues will not do that. They are holding onto the Myth of White Superiority.
And so the anger of white people will grow…and they will increasingly feel what black people have felt and lived with …for decades.