An Old White Working Class Man Writes of White Supremacy and Other Matters

I’m a white pensioner who grew up in a town of 225 in the extremely rural Sierra Nevada Mountains. Mother: home-maker and occasional substitute teacher; Father: worked in a hard-rock gold mine in his teens and twenties; became a carpenter and stone mason. Liked to hunt and fish. These are some of my bona fides.

Before we get into white supremacy, let’s start with science-denial.

Let’s say you’re an old white working class man who likes to watch NASCAR. NASCAR depends upon sound scientific consensus about everything from fuel, the physics of racing, metal alloys, compounds to produce tires, and fire-retardant suits. No one says, “I simply don’t believe the physics.” “Why not?” “Because I don’t.” So why on Earth would you deny the scientific consensus–which is tweaked now and then: that’s what all science does? When my Dad wanted to find out if a house being framed was plumb, he dropped a plumb bob. If the result was unsatisfactory, he didn’t say, “I don’t believe the plumb bob.” If I had said that on the job, I would have been off the job.

Same goes for the science behind the human genome, which proves that we are one species, period, and that variations between my DNA and one of my brothers’ DNA might well be wider than that between my DNA and that of an African American. That anyone requires DNA proof to reject white supremacy at this stage in history is beyond me, but there it is. If your sense of yourself, perhaps your manhood, depends on white supremacy, well, that’s just sad.

The same applies to climate change induced by human activity: carbon. The consensus is as overwhelming as the one that tells us what causes a cold. Something like 20,000 scientific papers across the disciplines versus maybe 2,000. You may hate Al Gore, but he was right: Climate change is inconvenient; so is a cold, but when you get a cold, you don’t say, “I don’t have a cold.” You do something about it, even if that something is resting. It’s inconvenient for a race car driver to make adjustments going into a curve, but he or she doesn’t deny the physics. Okay?

Now about Black Lives Matter. If you feel the urge to yell “All lives matter” or “What about white lives?” you are simply being obtuse. If you have white supremacist leanings, you may think that English should be the official language of the U.S. If that’s the case, then, as a native speaker, you understand context. If a basketball player is having an especially good night, someone might say, “He’s on fire.” It’s not meant to be literal. Similarly, “Black Lives Matter” occurs in the context of American history, in which Black Lives Have Not Mattered. (Yes, I know, your immigrant grandfather may have it tough, too.)  If you need assistance with the context, then imagine the sign reads, “Black Lives Matter, Too,” okay? Not a single person in the BLM movement has asserted that Black lives matter more than white ones. So you’re just inventing a reason to keep yourself furious.

My mother used to say, “Come to the party” in response to someone’s being obtuse. My fellow old white working-class dudes who live in the 17th century on certain issues: come to the party. Allow yourself to absorb some knowledge. It’s quite liberating. It lowers the BP. And don’t respond to high BP with denial, please. Come to the consensus party. You don’t have to check your skepticism at the door; science depends on skepticism. You will have to check your blind denial at the door. It’s called getting real.

A final word on monuments. To say that removing Confederate monuments equals obliterating history is silly. Knowledge of history depends in no way on monuments. It depends on reading history based on reliable, peer-reviewed (or at least critiqued) books and articles. Documentaries based on sound principles. Archives. And so on. Okay?

COVID-19 and the Four Republican Horsemen of the Apocalypse*

Wishes for wellness for everyone out there.

*Choosing to use “The Four Horsemen of the Republican Apocalypse” is, I hope, hyperbolic, in spite of dire warnings about the effects of the pandemic and Trump’s mis- non-management of the crisis.

  1. Horseman One: Forty years, at least, of anti-government propaganda. Reagan famously characterized the sentence, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” as one everyone should dread. In light of a pandemic, his point seems grotesque, at best.   (This past summer, folks pointed out the irony of the Reagan Library’s having been saved from a wildfire by . . . the government.)  If government is so bad, why did Reagan want to preside over it? And an obvious point that nonetheless gets overlooked. The Constitution constituted/constitutes a government; that is its prime function, along with specifying rights (for some). At any rate, the anti-regulation folk (financial markets must be free to ruin the economy), Newt’s “Contract on America,” the Tea Party, “drain the swamp” (said the Creature from the Black Lagoon): all in the same insane vein, helping to cripple government’s response to the virus.
  2. Rider Two: The Republican Brain Drain. Eisenhower seems to have been a rational man who depended upon the best information he could get. Nixon, too; it’s just that sometimes he wanted to get it illegally. Now Republicans make a virtue out of ignoring the best evidence and sneering at bureaucratic folk who have expertise. They mocked Obama’s interest in ideas as “faculty lounge talk.” They routinely smear and under-fund higher education. They try to gut pubic education. They elect knuckle-draggers and a President who is probably not intellectually capable of reading a briefing, let alone wanting to do so. Result? Republican governors have routinely ignore the best advice about the virus and how to respond to it.
  3. Equestrian Three: A dedication to impracticality. People don’t need reliable, affordable healthcare because of “socialist” ideology. They need it because a) they get sick, and b) their resources are limited.  Somehow, the rest of the industrialized world, pretty much, leaped to this conclusion. Amazing. Because of the GOP, we still have around 30 million people uninsured, leaving us extra-vulnerable to the virus. Because Trump is insanely jealous of Obama, he can’t do the simplest and best thing and re-open up the Affordable Healthcare Act portal.  The GOP has also made unemployment insurance so relatively difficult to get that the economic effects of the virus will be unnecessarily worse.
  4. Horse’s Ass Four: White men know best. (Or: racializing and genderizing knowledge). Trump is the apotheosis of this ideology. White men know all about women’s health. White men don’t need to rely on science; like Trump, they can rely on their gut, which is often noticeably ample. White men don’t need the U.S. to have allies; they can hunker down with their guns, and everything will be fine. White men don’t need the government interfering in their lives (until they do, like now). White men don’t need smart, ambitious immigrants to broaden the pool of scientists, social scientists, humanists, inventors, and entrepreneurs.  White men don’t need women in government. They can get all the information they need from the dark web, Trump’s belched, belligerent briefings, and what they heard the other day from someone, can’t remember who.

Ted Cruz Encounters Data and Loses

In a debate with a retired admiral about climate change, Ted Cruz first labeled adherents to climate-change data “alarmists,” attempting to distract with the old straw-person/begging the question combo, and then cherry-picks the data. Unfortunately he was arguing with someone who knew the climate-change data and about all of the cherries, not just some. A link to a video snippet of the debate:

Cruz vs. Data

Some New Books About Racism & White Supremacy

We who are appalled and terrified by the election of Trump have our various preferences for helping to explain the catastrophe–and explaining is about all most of us believe we can do about the situation. In our more pessimistic moods, we wonder whether Mueller’s investigation or “the resistance” will have any effect, and whether the necessary effect–removal from office–will occur in time.  With the tacit approval of Congress, the U.S. has delivered the executive branch to insane, White Supremacist authoritarianism.

The locus I isolate to explain Trump’s ghastly rise is White Supremacy. I don’t prefer it to the exclusion of other explanations, but I do think that, without the continuing, intractable presence of White Supremacy in the U.S., there would be no Trump.  It is the link between the different classes and genders of white Americans who voted for Trump, it is the cornerstone of the Republicans’ base, and it is something Democrats address ineffectually, at best.  And in spite of the rationalizations about the white working class, (for example), some data suggest that racism far outweighed class and economic considerations with regard to the way the vote went.  A recent piece in the Nation referenced this data:

Nation article

As we wait to see what further hell Trump, Bolton, and the Republicans will inflict, we might try further to understand, if not disable or eradicate, White Supremacy–that homicidal, suicidal force that’s been a part of the American colonies and the United States from the get-go.  Some titles, then:

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Edo-Lodge, Bloomsbury Books. I’m a White man who teaches African American Studies, and I can relate in the sense that there seems little point in trying to educate white Americans who don’t already “get it” about White Supremacy. Too many of them root their identity in it, I often think (and this includes many academics), to make attempts at persuasion anything but a waste of time.

Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas, by Ibram X. Kendi. Nation Books.  A good companion to The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter, which with superb scholarship tells the tale of the invention of Whiteness and White Supremacy during, ironically, the Enlightenment, and of how White Supremacy has been perpetuated mercilessly.

White Rage: the Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson. Bloomsbury Books USA.  If we removed rage and a White Supremacist’s view of the world from Trump’s personality, what would remain?

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein.  Liveright.

The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, by David R. Roediger. Verso.

Good White People:The Problem With Middle-Class White Anti-Racism, by Shannon Sullivan. SUNY Press.

Government by Madness

Because the GOP is rooted in the Southern Strategy, reactionary Christianity, opposition to science (the human genome, global warming, economic data, etc.), trickle-down economics (which even The Economist, beacon of capitalism, mocks), White Supremacy (which informed the GOP reaction to a Black president and the election of Dr. Strangelove and continues to affect deeply the justice system), opposition to feminism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, opposition to learning (“Goddamn those ‘liberal professors’), and dedication to impracticality (look what they’re trying to do to healthcare systems), it must now reign through madness, so that even those who are probably rational must embrace a widespread denial of how things are and a nihilistic approach to how things probably ought to be.

Meanwhile, the Democrats orbit the insane GOP world like a timid moon, indulging in “explanation porn,” playing defense always, and forgetting to win elections while submitting colleagues to purity tests of one kind or another.

“Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

Rhetoric Takes Another Beating in the Gun-Control Debate

The murders in Newtown, CT, seem to have correlated to a shift in attitudes toward attempts to “control” guns. They also seem to have hardened views to the extent reasoning has taken a beating.

By “controlling” guns, we can limit gun-violence; that is the implicit logic of those wanting new laws and wanting old laws enforced. It’s hard to imagine enough evidence to support this implicit logic, but at the same time, most of the gun-control advocates admit that they are trying to do “something” in the wake of the murders. Try a lot of things and see what, if anything, works: that position seems reasonable, even if people don’t agree with it.

The gun-control purists seem to make the following mistakes in reasoning:

1. Any limitations on how guns are purchased, which guns are purchased, and how ammunition is purchased translates into a confiscation of all guns. Gun control = gun-ban. In reality, all the measures proposed don’t threaten the possession of hand-guns or shot-guns for self-defense or the possession of rifles and shot-guns for hunting.

2. Any support for any new laws is un-Constitutional. Even Ed Meese jumped into this mess by saying “it” (any executive order related to guns) would be un-Constitutional. He’s a fortune-teller!

3. The Constitution guarantees the right to own fire-arms. This view ignores the phrase “a well-regulated militia. It also ignores all the advances in technology regarding “arms.” Let’s start here: should adults have the right to own hand-held rocket-launchers? How about we say, “No”? Okay, then from that point, let’s walk back toward hand-guns and shotguns. Bazooka? No. Soon, of course, we’ll walk back to assault-rifles. Should we have the right to possess them? I think it’s a reasonable question to ask. Purists think it translates into banning guns altogether.

4. A proliferation of guns and of people (in public places) with guns will cut down on violence. For example, teachers should pack heat in the classroom. Regarding the specific example, I’m thinking “No” because I think of all that could go wrong. Regarding the larger remedy: It seems every bit as shaky, if not more so, than the assumption that new gun-laws will reduce gun-violence.

The only thing I know for sure about the current debate is that it won’t be a debate, per se. It will be a campaign of slogans and fallacies, rather like every other important national “debate” we now have. One effect of global warming seems to be the flooding of middle-ground.

The GOP Adjustment as Rhetorical Problem

Adapt or wither: that seems to be one major piece of advice the GOP is receiving. However, I did hear at least one “progressive” radio-host advise, “Please don’t adapt!”

Adapt to what? Allegedly, changing demographics, contrary attitudes toward some social issues, and the perception that the GOP chiefly represents “wealthy interests.”

If the problem(s) were seen in rhetorical, not strictly political terms, I might advise the following:

1. Define the “immigration problem” as “an immigration problem”–not as a problem of race and not as a threat to “culture.” If you think immigration-processes should be more orderly and consistent, then work with Democrats to make them so. Or don’t adapt and keep making the issue more about race and culture, and keep intimating that Latinos are “taking our jobs.”

2. Don’t swallow this business about “a changing America” whole. African Americans have made up 10-12 % of the population for a very long time. This isn’t a change. They vote largely Democratic because you, GOP, have basically pushed them to do so and because you have treated the first Black president like dirt. You can still play traditional rough politics and treat him with respect.

And if I were you, I’d have somebody confess that the Southern Strategy has always been about race, and I’d have the official confessor apologize.

3. When it comes to politics and governing, stop defining “gay marriage” as a religious issue. Treat it as a religious issue in your respective religions. If your church doesn’t want to host gay marriages, then it need not do so, obviously. But otherwise marriage is a civil matter, even if some couples–gay and straight–behave uncivilly after they get married. The U.S. isn’t a theocracy. I’ve met Tea Party people who agree with me on this, by the way.

4. Stop running the trickle-down con. People are catching on that’s it complete economic bullshit. More than that, there’s concrete evidence from Clinton’s 8 years that modestly raising taxes on the wealthiest helped the economy without hurting (as if!) the wealthy. Romney tried to run the Reagan con again, and enough people didn’t go for it (apparently) for you/him to win. It’s a pathos-move that’s quit working, and it never made logos-sense.

5. Look, we all know all politicians have to be data-deniers sometimes. Politicians lie. They deceive. But when it comes to data about evolution, global warming, dirty water, dirty air, and running out of fossil fuels, you all need to grow up.

6. When both you and the Democrats discuss budgetary issues and government-intrusion issues, you have to stop pretending the military is beyond enormous. It’s a data-thing. Empiricism.

7. If the question of abortion were as simple as you want to make it, a lot more people would agree with you now. If the question weren’t in large measure about women and their right to control what happens to their bodies, a lot more people would agree with you know. If you really want fewer abortions, support education and contraception. Or: don’t adapt.

Or–don’t adapt, as your progressive “friend” suggested.

How to Freak Out Politicians: Agree

Imagine, citizens, if there were a vast bi-wing and head-to-tail conspiracy among us to agree on a few things that politicians hope and pray we never agree on. To induce us to watch them, give them money, and vote for them, politicians need there to be at least the appearance of difference.

True, some politicians go out of their way(s) to convince us, that, all right, you really are different, Pal, and more is the pity: Akin in Missouri. Paul Rand Ryan. Roseanne Barr (she ran for governor).

Nonetheless, please allow me to forge on in this fantasy-of-agreement by listing some things on which we could agree if we just shifted our angles of perception slightly.

1. “Gay marriage,” so called. Let’s assume you oppose two gay persons’ being able to marry. You do so for religious reasons. Let us then assume that two gay persons get married and live in some part of your city. You will never see them, or, if you do, you won’t know they’re married. At the same time, they will have no effect on your religious beliefs, nor will the State, which may not, according to the Constitution, interfere with your place of worship. They will have no effect on your marriage, if you are married. You don’t have to approve of gay marriage, and you may oppose it in your church. You’ll never have to attend a gay marriage, nor will a married gay couple ever visit your church or come to your home. Now imagine that you regularly drive on a section of Interstate highway that is in terrible shape. Wouldn’t you rather that your representative(s) get that thing fixed than touching your “gay-marriage” nerve so they can get money out of you?

2. The deficit. I don’t know anyone in our wing-to-wing conspiracy who doesn’t want this thing fixed. The GOP will have you believe that President Obama is a profligate liberal, and the DEMS will have you believe that the GOP wants to push old women off cliffs. All of that is pure distraction. Obama is prudent to the point of being an Eisenhower Republican, and most of the GOP wants to fix the thing. What if we all agreed that we wanted some prudent cuts in federal spending, some mild increases in revenue (from the upper-brackets), and some practical, non-ideological adjustments to Social Security and Medicare? I’m talking about the kind of pragmatic approach to a budget that you and I have to practice every day in our lives. And what if we all “said” to our representatives: get it done.

3. Global warming. I suggest that if we accept scientific conclusions on other settled matters (smoking increases the likelihood of getting lung cancer), that we should accept the conclusions about global warming and humans’ contribution to it. If you can’t go so far as the latter (humans’ role it in), you can still probably agree that certain steps need to be taken. If you live in farm country, you need the government to help deal with a greater likelihood of droughts and flash-bloods. If you live in the path of hurricanes, you’re going to need more infrastructure, an efficient and effective FEMA, and so on. People are now building machines to suck the carbon out of the air. It doesn’t matter what their politics are. Also, we know we’re running of of oil, so it’s in all our interests to cultivate others sources. Again, our message should be, across the board, get it done.

Maybe you can think of additional and/or better examples of these. Meeting places. Common ground. Issues we can work out, problems we can define differently.

But mainly, just think of the extent to which the politicians would freak out, and just think how much they have it coming.

Is Republican Atavism Becoming a Liability?

Because Republicans seem almost always to know how to beat the Dems, I feel as though the safe answer to this question is “No.” After all, until the Southern Strategy stops working in presidential elections, etc., one would be rash to suggest that atavism of the racist kind were becoming a liability.

That said, please consider this quotation from Rick Santorum, from a TV interview in the past 48 hours or so:

“I think that could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved. It already happens, of course, with the camaraderie of men in combat, but I think it would be even more unique if women were in combat.”

Obviously, he’s arguing against placing women in combat-situations. Problem: In most war-related deployments, all women and men are already in potential combat-situations. One may be driving a supply-truck in a convoy and get attacked. Is there any evidence that women, because they are women, are performing poorly in the military? I haven’t seen any. In other words: moot point?

Second, such an observation belongs to a broader pattern of Santoromesque views on gender and sexuality: If a woman gets pregnant, no matter the circumstances, she must give birth–even to the extent of being forced to give birth. Two gay or lesbian adults who want to get married must be prevented from doing so . . . because . . . because . . . ? Because Rick’s a conservative Catholic, even though the Constitution isn’t. Rick, go to Mass, but when campaigning, please talk about the economy, nuclear weapons, health-care, foreign policy, global warming (yes, it’s real), clean water, the public infrastructure, and so on.

Third, something may be unique or not. There are no degrees of uniqueness. Fourth, when did “camaraderie” become a problem in the military?

Fifth, all of this seems like tired material (“moot point”). The U.S. is clearly getting more and more comfortable with “gay marriage,” and why wouldn’t it? Who in the hell cares what sexuality the married couple down the street is? They do, of course, but aside from that, why spend any time worrying about it or making “gay marriage” illegal or talking about it in a presidential race? Why not merely ask to borrow their lawn-mower? Rick’s entitled to his personal view on the matter, but that’s it.

Unencumbered once again by data, I hesitantly hereby opine that old-time GOP rhetoric like this–designed to pump up the bass on the base, I gather–seems to be getting much less effective.

But we’ll see. Never underestimate that base, and never overestimate the Dems. Santorum strikes me as dim, boring, and reactionary, in no particular order. But I’m just one data-free person, although not unique.

THE NEW JIM CROW, by Michelle Alexander

I’ve just read the best book on racism in the U.S. in decades. It is The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. Alexander is a former attorney. She has a gift for amassing crucial detail, weaving into a brisk narrative, but not cutting corners. She used to be a litigator. From her book, I’ve deduced that one of her techniques in court must have been to let the evidence speak for itself when it is overwhelming.

I hope I don’t mangle her thesis too much as I paraphrase it. It is foregrounded by a sketch of American history, which includes (of course) slavery, followed briefly by Reconstruction, followed immediately by the era of Redeemers, white folks who wanted to “redeem” society. We all know about the KKK and white terrorism and Jim Crow, as well as de facto Jim Crow in the North, which affected housing and schools, etc. Two keys to Jim Crow were disenfranchisement and using the law to retain de facto slavery. That is, on a massive scale, white folks would have Black men, especially, arrested on any pretext, sent to prison, but then “hired” out as workers, with no pay. Alexander documents this beautifully.

Fast-forward to 1980 and the Rise of Reagan. She documents how Reagan and his regime invented a war on drugs out of whole cloth. They deployed a massive PR program, even, to scare (white) people and link the “war” to Nixon’s “law and order” schtick. In the PR program, drugs were linked almost exclusively to Black people. Enforcement was federalized and militarized. Do you remember a time when most cities and towns didn’t have a SWAT team? Me, too. Now everybody has a SWAT team, and through various means such teams and other local law-enforcement are linked to the FEDs. The same thing has happened with the “war on terror,” of course. Reagan’s Feds leaned heavily on state and local officials to join “the war on drugs”–or else.

Results: About half of all Black men in the U.S. are either in prison or declared felons or both. That’s right. About half. And guess what? Black folks are no more likely to use or sell drugs than White folks. Alexander has the data. A vast percentage of the people in prison are in there for possessing drugs–and not for sale. And often just weed. Add the extreme sentencing-guidelines, including the 3-strikes law, and the picture gets worse. Alexander also demonstrates, again with data, that the U.S. imprisons more ethnic minorities than either Russia or China.

Basically, Jim Crow went underground–or hid in plain sight: at least as White folks are concerned. White folks have been conditioned to associate drug-use with Black and Brown folks, to be indifferent to Draconian drug-laws and drug-sentences, and to be indifferent to the erosion of the 4th and 8th amendments. Alexander demonstrates that illegal search and seizure is a thing of the past–especially for Black and Brown folks. Police routinely stop people and ask if they may search them. Few people have the confidence or wherewithal to say, as they should, “No.” Of course, add in the Patriot Act, and the 4th amendment is moot.

Alexander further argues that the election of Barack Obama is more of an irony than a milestone, and that Black “exceptionalism” has always been a tool of White bigotry and indifference. “See–he made something of himself, and we voted for him! How can you say racism persists?”

Of course, none of this is news to most Black folks. They live under these conditions. Of course, a majority of White folks will resist the arguments because they need the myth of a nation that has gotten better and better, that has made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a hero with his own Washington monument (in white, ironically).

Interestingly, Alexander argues that indifference, not bigotry, is the main issue. If the police harassed White folks and broke into their homes under the weakest of pretenses proportionally to the way they do with Black and Brown folks, all these issues would converge into an emergency. I’ve never been stopped for driving while White. I’ve never–never–met an adult Black man who hasn’t been stopped for driving while Black.

If you react fiercely against these arguments, that’s fine. In fact, this means there is no argument, in the sense that Alexander or I or anyone else is unlikely to change your minds. So it goes.

If you respond skeptically, all the better. That is, in fact, where Alexander began. She was skeptical of the pattern that seemed to be emerging as she studied the problem.

If you’re comfortable with the prison population jumping from 300,000 (1970) to over 2 million (today); if you’re comfortable with prisons being filled mostly with Black and Brown folk; if you’re comfortable with half of Black men being felons and thus disenfranchised, excluded from housing and employment programs, and essentially doomed; if you think the U.S. has made “a lot of progress” in race; if you think we live in a color-blind society–well, you’re among a large majority.

If you think these conditions are scandalous, alarming, and wrong, please read the book. Or if you don’t want to or can’t afford to buy the book just yet, google Michelle Alexander on Youtube, and catch a summary of her argument.

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