February 27, 2012
The White Working Class was Bamboozled
Originally, this was to be a commentary on the plight of the white middle class, but that demographic no longer exists in America. So, let’s talk about the swindling of the white working class.
And although it has all come to a head in the past few years, it is a story that is years in the making. If Stockholm Syndrome relates to the feeling of empathy that kidnap victims have with their captors, then certainly what we are witnessing today is a Stockholm Syndrome of those on the losing end of American capitalism.
To single out white working people is not to assume that others are immune from identifying with those who would exploit them financially - their own economic kidnappers, if you will. At the same time, it was white working folks who made a deal with the devil a long time ago. And now they’ve been sent the invoice from that Faustian bargain. Allow me to explain.
American capitalism has promoted the mythology of the “American Dream,” the notion that everyone has a chance to get rich. In pursuit of that dream, poor and working white Americans chose their enemy years ago. They made a conscious decision to side with the “1 percenters” whose feet were firmly placed on their neck, rather than with similarly situated black and brown common folk. They decided it was those of a darker hue whose progress stood in the way of their own movement up the ladder.
Generation after generation, they fought and died in wars, someone else’s beef, designed to protect the interests of the 1 percent.
They opposed social programs that had any chance of helping blacks, even if they stood to benefit from the programs themselves. And ultimately they failed to join forces with workers of color to build a strong labor movement. As a result of that fatal decision, the jobs moved offshore to where the labor costs were cheapest. Chinese slave laborers are now making our iPhones, iPads, X-Boxes and other toys, and now even Chinese workers are becoming too expensive.
The most impoverished European immigrant had neither a pot nor a window to throw it out of. But at least he or she was not black, and thus could be considered a real American. Though poor whites had far more in common with their poor black-, Latino-, Asian- and Native-American counterparts than with some Wall Street banker or fat cat industrialist, nonetheless they viewed racial minority groups and others as the enemy. That’s how scapegoats are created.
So, the blame is not placed where it should, which is the über-wealthy sucking the lifeblood out of democracy. Rather the problem is identified as affirmative action, or welfare queens, or undocumented Mexican immigrants. Solutions to the nation’s woes are offered in the form of mass incarceration and the death penalty. Tighter social controls are introduced in the form of bans on Sharia law and Latino studies, voter ID, draconian anti-immigrant legislation and prohibitions on same-sex marriage.
Culture wars are the ultimate shell game, a cheap parlor trick of smoke and mirrors to mask the wide scale corporate theft taking place. These cultural issues - which also include gun proliferation and the war against a woman’s reproductive rights, including contraception - will do nothing to improve anyone’s station in life. Yet these time-tested culture wars are fought because someone is betting that the common folk will take the bait. And usually, such is the case.
Meanwhile, the sanctimonious and self-righteous rightwing among us, a morals police and Christian Taliban of sorts, would distract us with fertilized egg personhood and mandatory sonograms for women seeking an abortion. But in the face of injustice, like the white clergy in Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, they “have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” King called the contemporary church “a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent - and often even vocal - sanction of things as they are.”
So, those who obsess over the sex lives of private citizens have said little about our national scourge of economic inequality or the suffering of the poor - you know, the stuff Jesus talked about. Preoccupied as they are with birth control bans and zygote rights, they were conspicuously silent when the living among them suffered and the innocent died. Last year, when the state of Georgia killed Troy Davis, an innocent black man, they said nothing. And they had remained silent seven years earlier, when the state of Texas wrongfully executed Cameron Todd Willingham, an innocent white man.
Yet, there is hope that for their own sake, people will not fall for the shell game forever. There is a chance that citizens are waking up, resisting the Stockholm Syndrome, and refusing to act against their economic self-interests. The spirit of the Occupy movement has liberated the public discourse, an alternative to the neo-segregationist Tea Party and its reliance on racial scapegoats.