Sarah Smarsh recently wrote an article for The Guardian entitled “Dangerous Idiots: How Liberal Media Elite Failed Working Class Americans.” My first reaction was the article was pointless, then I moved to finding it annoying, then infuriating.
I have lived among the whites. I have observed their ways. I have felt the consequences of their shortcomings and have marginally enjoyed their successes. And I am one of the whites.
Reading the article brought to mind an incident happening a time ago but has forever informed me as to the nature of the whites.
I was working third trick in a plant in flyover country. I was a QC man. That is quality control. It sounds like it might be something, but it wasn’t. It was hourly. It required a high school diploma and passing a test.
The day I went in for the job, the personnel guy (no “human resources” in those days) couldn’t find a copy of the test, so my recent high school diploma got me the job working 11pm to 7am. As to the man part of being a QC man, I had not yet turned 18, a minimum requirement for the job, but the personnel guy either didn’t notice or care.
The guys who did the actual production of the plant were said to “work on the floor.” Even though I physically was on the floor, I was not a floor guy. QC men had different lunch and break times and separate supervisors. Actually, there was only one QC supervisor for the plant, so I rarely, as in never, really saw him. The biggest difference was the level of drudgery. The floor guys stood at one machine repeating the same task over and over again. I moved from machine to machine repeating the same task over and over again. That made a huge difference in physical and spiritual comfort.
As the shifts changed one morning, the early shift and the late shift were all wound up and headed in a grumble to the lunch room. For a reason I couldn’t immediately determine, some one told me to head that way. Unusual, but I was interested.
One older worker (meaning over 30) took center stage. He had status because of age and the fact that older workers—and, there weren’t that many of them because manufacturing workforces were fairly young back in the day—seemed to pay attention to the happenings of the plant. I, and most younger workers, would sleep walk through our shifts so we could be awake for our lives. For older workers, the plant was life. Plus, older workers talked really loudly. The rest of us mumbled. So, it made sense that an older worker was the center of this…whatever it was. It looked liked kids in summer camp, huddled around as an older counselor telling a ghost story.
“You know we’re getting a new foreman,” the ghost story began. The same point was repeated several times to make sure everyone knew the topic. Then voice rising, we were told this new foreman was going to be “southern gentleman.” The was repeated several times for effect. Many of us were still sleep walking and need not know anything about “southern gentlemen.”
So then came the punch line delivered with venom and spit, “that’s right a BIG BLACK N_ _ _ _ _ .”
The assembled floor guys broke into a very pronounced grumble. Then our story teller, town crier, and want to be leader of this rolling grumble turned towards me. I wasn’t saying anything or even grumbling. With disgust, he said, “you’d probably like having a n_ _ _ _ _ here! You probably wanted this to happen.” And so on and so on for what seemed a really long time.
In the course of stating what I wanted or approved of or somehow caused this to happen, he also mentioned the federal government and corporate headquarters in New Jersey. I did figure out why I was asked to come. I was just different enough that I could be ascribed with questionable or even ill intent.
I, so it was said, “didn’t mind working under a n_ _ _ _ _,” therefore I somehow was responsible for their upcoming humiliation.
The plant story ends with the arrival of a Black foreman who was short, fair skinned and wore a short sleeve white dress shirt with a clip-on tie.
He was not the monster of the ghost story.
There was not overt public action (though I don’t know what may have happened privately) and everyone worked reasonably well together. Everyone was decent enough on a personal basis. But there was a coldness.
It was not just a coldness of indifference—that’s what I got. It was a coldness of hostility. It wasn’t personal, but everyone knew what it meant. The foreman soon quit. So did I.
I’ll never forget that incident. It taught me about “the whites.” I haven’t forgotten.
The whites haven’t changed, and here’s why:
First, this is the most pronounced culture trait of “the whites.” They always have to blame someone else.
Every thing that happens is due to some evil and foreign force. I want to qualify that: everything bad or that is perceived as bad is someone else’s fault. Everything good is the result of their whiteness. The whites are the least introspective people on earth.
Second, race matters to “the whites.” It establishes their place in the world and connects them on equal terms to their social and economic betters. “Hey, we’re all white, right?” Look, I am not a n_ _ _ _ _!” And the whites are not going to give that up.
It is not personal. It is not individual. It’s collective.
Third, it ain’t economics. The plant was running three shifts, seven days a week. We were rolling in overtime pay. Workers were buying new cars and houses. There was not one Black worker in the plant, and they wanted to keep it that way.
To “the whites,” money could not compensate for the loss of status of having to “work under a n_ _ _ _ _ boss.”
Fourth, white denialism. White denialism perpetuates racism. The whites—liberals, conservatives, and progressives—all are vested in racism denial.
Racists get to be comfortable because they keep getting told it’s not racism—it’s overreaching government, it’s capitalism, it’s globalism, blah, blah, blah… At the time of the plant story, some aspiring lefties told me that it was good that workers where angry at corporate headquarters because they were learning that they could not trust the boss to protect their interests. Their interests?
Their interest in not having any Blacks in the plant.
In an equally idiotic statement, Smarsh cites data that shows a portion of Clinton supporters favor a Muslim ban. What does that mean? Are they supporting Clinton because they are so stupid that they think she supports a Muslim ban?
No. They got over whatever bigotry they felt, and are now willing to vote for a progressive agenda.
Confronting racism, confronting the political rhetoric of racism delegitimizes it. Will there still be racism among “the whites”? Yes. But they can get over in—in voting, in public policy.
The Nixon-Reagan race strategy has comforted and cuddled racism for almost fifty years. We are at a turning point.
We can break the back of racial politics if the we quit denying it, if we quit saying it’s economics.
The idiocy of white denialism is killing us.