White racism is no good for anyone. Minority populations know how terrible, unfair and oppressive the experience has been. Liberal whites see injustice, blaming it on the past and on others. Two prominent African American writers, Frederick Douglass and James Baldwin, have described the corrosive, blinding and soul-destroying effects of white racism on whites themselves and on society as a whole. And that is true today.
White racism is killing off white men. Some white men in American are having a hard time of it: the loss of jobs, the dislocation, the portrayal in the media. Those who work in the health fields have watched the life expectancy for white men go down in the present generation – for the first time, ever, since statistics have been kept – unlike other groups. This is partly due to poor health habits, but even more from depression, drinking, drugging and suicide. Their standard of living has declined from the previous generation, as well as their social status. Only, objectively, THEY ARE STILL BETTER OFF ON ALMOST EVERY ECONOMIC MEASURE than women, people of color, immigrants, and other minorities.
It is the expectation of many white folks in America that they deserve to do well, because this is their country and their birthright. They cite hard work, following rules, fighting the nation’s battles – which other races and genders have done as well, but not seen the same benefits. And they blame the decline on immigrants, robots, affirmative action, when to some extent it’s a social and class problem; the shrinking of the middle class, aided by the very rich who would keep all struggling groups divided. It’s just harder for some white folks, men especially, to accept being one of the struggling groups. And it’s hard to see white racism for the disease it is with white vision.
There is a telling scene in the recent TV series, “American Crime” (season 3), where a young white man in rural North Carolina, hooked on pills and out of money, makes a last desperate call to a brother who will not help. A Hispanic recruiter for a farm comes along, offering work, wages, a place to live. The young man wants to know, “Doing what?” When the recruiter answers, “Picking tomatoes,” the young man laughs at him. What? He’s not going to do that. Only he does, and it’s brutal.
It takes a whole lot of effort from a whole lot of white people to change direction. It takes giving up something of value: best homes, best schools, best jobs to make room for others. Changes in zoning, in transportation, using more taxes for collective good, rather than individual advancement. Take as an example, an exceedingly well qualified white male candidate for med school, who didn’t get all the admissions he might have a generation ago – maybe ten years ago – because of decisions to make the playing field more equal and value qualities other than “best positioned.” Rather than cry “unfair”, maybe it’s better to look at it as “making less unfair” than it’s been in the past.
I believe it’s going to come some day to reparations – making up in some form, financial and legal, for the labor, lives and land of Americans of color, which were taken by force and by legal maneuvering. In a matter of time, between DNA and family history documentation, we’re going to find out what was thought safely hidden in the past, impacting current day rights and ownership. Because it’s the American way – to use the law to make restitution.
White racists are not going to succeed in the end to get this country to go backwards. America was Not so Great Before, for many people. I continue to believe this country has the potential for greatness unlike any other place at any other time, and is moving inexorably in that direction. The question is how many more people will suffer or die along the way?