Racism is an insidious and voracious monster that devours its wielders and victims alike and white privilege is racism’s gatekeeper. I’m always surprised when I have to, yet again, explain white privilege to some white person but some people can’t truly understand something until they experience it for themselves.
For decades the White Working Class (WWC) fancied itself to look like sitcoms of the 1950s, such as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver; they believed that success was a simple formula:
Hard work = Success
So they toiled. Longing for the American Dream kept them on the hamster wheel, forever chasing a goal line that was ever moving. When success was reached by a few it stood as proof that the program worked and that all they had to do was keep plugging away. When results didn’t manifest for so very many they started to look for reasons why and this is where racism enters the picture.
Success in America has always been and remains a different, more complicated formula:
Who you are + Who you know x Opportunity = Success
The key factor is Opportunity and that is what White Privilege affords so many: a better opportunity. It really is that simple, but WWC Americans clung to the ideology that all it took was hard work to get success and that anyone who didn’t succeed was personally at fault — until they didn’t succeed.
The denial of racism was a key factor in allowing WWC to slowly sink into the desperate situation that they find themselves in because they had to live and breathe a cognitive dissonance every day when confronted with the victims of racism. After defending a position that the stagnation of the African American community was because of an unwillingness to work hard, they couldn’t admit that they were failing to thrive. To admit failure would mean that they were admitting they too weren’t working hard enough.
When Black America spoke of poverty, crime due to that poverty, drugs, a depressed economy, and that the system was rigged, the response was to figure out how this was the fault of the community that was suffering — until that community was their community.
Politicians used this cognitive dissonance to placate the WWC. Politicians told them that they most certainly were made of all the good things that America stood for and obviously they were working hard, but they couldn’t make any headway because the people in the ghetto were siphoning off the profits of White America to offset their laziness, that could be the only explanation.This led to a voracious anger that spilled out well beyond the African American community, everything and everyone were to blame; lack of Christianity, immigrants, and Feminism were also at fault. It drove WWC into a frenzy of self-righteous indignation. How dare these “unamerican” interlopers deny them their due?
Meanwhile, the 1% continued to prosper, flaunting their success as proof positive the system worked. But the last straw was a Black President, it was inconceivable that a Black Man could have made it that far when deserving, hard-working white people were suffering; obviously, he must have cheated. And our country finally saw its racial animus spill out into the streets. No longer whispered in hushed conversations away from “mixed company.” No longer the need for the white hood. White Working Class America demanded its due in the form of Donald J. Trump. He was the pressure valve that allowed these people to feel the sweet release of having their fears verified by the Poster Man-Child of what success was supposed to look like. He told them what they wanted to hear, not that they had been duped, but that their suffering was the fault of a long list of marginalized people.
But Trump was as much a wake-up call as he was a racist siren’s song. Many White Americans were shaken from their cognitive dissonance as they watched co-workers, neighbors, and family spew the vileness that they had spent decades denying even existed. No longer able to deny racism, some clamored to separate themselves from the pack; yes, THOSE people were racist, “but not all white people” were and certainly not them, they have always believed in equality. But what they couldn’t produce are the receipts for the fight against racism because they had allowed so much to slide — all in an effort to foster a pride in an America that never existed outside of TV Land.
The newly ‘woke’ struggle to identify the racism within themselves. They boil over with anger if you suggest any of their actions or statements are racist. They will couch their embarrassment in indignation and self-righteous affront. These are the very actions that allowed the WWC to fall victim to the same problems plaguing communities of color.
Had there been a true fight against racism in all its forms, more would have been more done about poverty. Drugs would have been seen as a mental health issue long before it infiltrated white suburbia. As a collective, we would have demanded more from our government in general but instead, the WWC painted itself into a corner of denial and finger pointing that gave no time to address the real issues and now, as literal sinkholes swallow up suburbia, there is a call for People of Color to stop being so angry and join hands and help them build back what they have lost while still avoiding dealing with the needs of the communities that have shouldered the burden of a greedy and ineffectual governing body for centuries.
Whiteness is one helluva drug, a drug that will destroy anybody or anything in its path to ensure its survival — so long as you have enough money.