What's At the Root of White Oppression?
Not too long ago, I wrote a column hoping to dissect and dispel the myths circulating in the media about this new trend of white male oppression. However, I’ve been thinking about the topic more lately, thanks in part to continuous news stories about this alleged pessimistic and alienated group. I felt that an amendment of sorts would be needed to fully explain the peculiar nature of this white discontentment.
First and foremost, it’s the economy. Simply put, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if it wasn’t for the stagnated economy, which has left many people, particularly white folks, wondering what happened to the American dream. Historically speaking, when times are bad, folks tend to resort to ethnocentrism as a scapegoat to explain why domestic jobs decrease while defense and foreign aid increase. This sort of cultural clinging is what gave rise to the Tea Party, which, prior to the economic collapse, had as much political appeal as the Lyndon LaRouche movement.
Recently, the Atlantic ran an article about how working class whites are the most pessimistic group in America. The aricle cites a Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project survey, which suggest that 43 percent of blue-collar whites don’t expect to be better off economically in 10 years. Furthermore, these blue-collar whites see opportunities for people like them shrinking in favor of the “others” in society—although whites without a four-year college degree still remain the largest demographic in the workforce.
Politicians and other political mongers have used this scare tactic since the 60s to exploit fear of affirmative action, welfare, illegal immigration and other irrational suspicions in order to win over rural white votes. By using these tactics, the rich and powerful—many of whom are white males—trick their poor and working-class white counterparts into believing that their interests were mutually aligned. It’s how poor whites, particularly in the antebellum South, were able to accept, if not fight for, the institution of slavery, even though slavery was the reason why they lived in destitute poverty and in some cases, were indentured themselves.
Unbeknownst to poor white folks who continue to fall hard for the rhetoric of the anonymous black and brown bogeyman, and search for answers politically by voting for folks who screw them over legislatively, the ivory tower may be laying the groundwork to usher in a new way of thinking, which will ultimately use poor white folks as a scapegoat for society’s ills.
In a recent lecture titled “The State of White America,” libertarian scholar Charles Murray, co-author of “The Bell Curve,” highlighted what he calls a series of self-destructive behaviors occurring in working-class white communities, such as high out-of-wedlock birth rates, and a decline in marriage and poor work ethics. His conclusion was simple and straightforward—that conditions in working-class white communities are the result of “a different attitude towards work, a fundamental change in the norm…” Now where have I heard this lazy, shiftless line before?
White working-class folks need to be better informed about who or what they place the blame on for their shrinking opportunities in society. Despite all the hyperbole, it ain’t the blacks, browns, or any other minorities that are keeping you down, but rather the more affluent, blue-eyed white folks at the top, who are really your oppressors.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.