A remarkable interview appeared yesterday on a daily news show. A White Southern male holding a Confederate flag was defending his great-grandfather’s participation on the Confederate side in the Civil War to a Black man, a descendant of slaves, who was also there protesting Confederate monuments. The White man claimed that his grandfather “fought to save his farm,” a farm which he worked himself because, “Do you know what it cost to buy a slave?” One cannot make this up. I’m sure that Black man really felt for the unfortunate farmer who couldn’t afford to purchase his own Black great-grandfather because slaves were too expensive! Poor thing.
More to the point, the feeling that others were trying to take something away from White folks, and believe me, Union soldiers weren’t fighting to steal poor farms, has persisted among White people in this country ever since the Civil War. Yes, the Union did want to end the horror of slavery, and if you think of human beings as expensive property things can get dicey, but most Confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves. They proved remarkably eager, however, to defend their “right to own slaves” in case one day they could afford to. It echoes the debate going on right now about the “death tax.” Most Americans will never make enough money to be affected by this, but perhaps, they think, when they hit it big, win the lottery, the hopeful cab driver and bartender will want to pass their millions unimpeded to their kids. Dream on, folks. The money that the 1% isn’t paying in Capital Gains Taxes may in fact be keeping your own kids from access to decent health care.
White people in Southern states fought Civil Rights tooth and nail, claiming that it would “take away their rights” by having integrated schools, restaurants, and public parks. Did it actually take away their access to these things, displace them in any way by sharing them with all Americans? Not a bit, but that feeling of possible loss, the certainty that there isn’t enough to go around, that others want to take something from them, has been the driving force among White voters to this day.
Male voters and politicians have done everything to keep women from working for equal pay, having access to high-paying jobs, birth control, voting, getting higher education, and yet men still have, even after women have scaled the ramparts, access to all these things. Yes, women are doing better in school and universities than their male counterparts these days, primarily because they work harder and don’t party as much. Simple correlation, actually, but campus and military rape and sexual harassment of women is at an all-time high in these institutions because men feel threatened. Women and minorities aren’t plotting to to take men’s jobs, although the torchlight parades across the country by chanting right-wing males would have you believe otherwise. The rest of America simply wants equal access to jobs for which they are qualified, and are busily creating new jobs and their own companies all the time. Isn’t this better for everyone? Well, not if you feel that your are entitled to the entire pie, not just your share.
Dreamers who have been to college and public universities since the passage of DACA haven’t statistically been the kids falling out of dorm windows in alcohol-related incidents. Neither have they been the binge-drinking, drug-taking party kids involved in fraternity and sorority stunts. No, they have been the success stories, the ones who have worked hard, gotten good grades, graduated, joined the military in officer training programs, gone on to hold responsible jobs, and made our country proud. White people, however, have been worried about the acceptance rates for their own offspring, the entitled kids who barely got C’s in high school and who have never held a job a day in their lives, getting into college if they have to compete with serious students who are undocumented. Perhaps they would benefit from taking college seriously, not just assume they will get to party at expensive institutions of learning on their parents’ dime. Just a thought.
This sense of imminent loss seems to be driving the 32% of voters who still support Trump and his party of White Privilege. Their denial of systemic racism, the inability to take seriously the protests of athletes who are horrified by the huge numbers of deaths of unarmed Black people at the hands of law enforcement, trying to turn “taking a knee” into disrespect for a flag and an anthem, is the last gasp of those who fear that the rise of any minority will push White people from their positions of unearned power. They kid themselves about their own superiority and the inferiority of others. Strangely, most of these people have limited educations, are often unemployed, uninsured, and live in dire circumstances. They cannot bear to see others working their way to better lives when their own options feel so limited. It is the old definition of “Schadenfreude”: It is not enough to succeed, but that others should fail. Ignorance and envy allowed Nazism to rise in Europe. We see the same fertile ground of unjustified entitlement being sowed with hatred and fear once again. We must not allow it.