History Shows Us What Happens When We Pander to the White Working Class (and It’s Not Good)

I wanted to share something really interesting I’ve learned from reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: there’s a distinct history of a) wealthy whites driving a wedge between poor whites and poor blacks to preserve class hierarchies that benefit those on the top and b) liberal/moderate politicians feeling pressured to pander to poor and working-class whites by giving in to right-wing racist policies that exploit their vulnerabilities and racial resentments.

As Alexander states:

“The most ardent proponents of racial hierarchy have consistently succeeded in implementing new racial caste systems by triggering a collapse of resistance across the political spectrum. This feat has been achieved largely by appealing to the racism and vulnerability of lower-class whites, a group of people who are understandably eager to ensure that they never find themselves trapped at the bottom of the American hierarchy.”

Here are some examples. Please note that everything I’m about to state in the numbered list here is paraphrased and summarized from The New Jim Crow and may include direct language that Alexander used in her book. I just want to make it very clear that I’m giving Alexander the full credit that she deserves. I also want to point out that I haven’t finished the book yet…I simply felt compelled to write this all down when it was freshest in my mind after reading these sections in the book. Following the numbered list I’ll include some additional commentary that is my own.

1. In the 1600s, white and black laborers revolted against the “planter elite,” condemning them for their oppression of the poor. In an effort to protect their status and economic position, the planters stopped relying so heavily on indentured servants and instead imported more black slaves—strategically, they had them shipped from Africa, knowing that they were less likely to be familiar with the European language and thus less likely to form alliances with poor whites. The planters then took an additional precautionary step by extending special privileges to poor whites to further drive the wedge between them and the black slaves. The status of poor whites hadn’t improved much, but—from their perspective—at least they weren’t slaves.

2. The late 1800s gave rise to the Populist Party, which sought to unite poor and working-class whites and blacks against the privileged classes conspiring to keep them in a subordinate political and economic position. It was a genuine multiracial, working-class movement against white elites. Threatened by the potential potency of this alliance, conservatives proposed segregation laws in part as a deliberate effort to encourage working-class whites to retain a sense of superiority over blacks. Ultimately, the Populist Party dissolved under this pressure and realigned with conservatives. This culminated in Jim Crow.

3. In the 1960s and 1970s, politicians (most notably, Nixon) worked to erode the belief among poor and working-class whites that the condition of the poor was the result of a faulty economic system that needed to be challenged. Instead, they deliberately pitted disadvantaged whites against disadvantaged blacks, feeding off of white resentment following recent racial reforms during the Civil Rights era.

4. In the 1990s, with the covertly racist War on Drugs in full swing thanks to Nixon and Reagan, liberal politicians felt pressure to show that they were just as tough on crime as their conservative opponents. The War on Drugs, which disproportionately targeted black men, was popular among poor and working-class whites who by that point had been convinced that black progress, civil rights enforcement and affirmative action were the root of their woes. In came Bill Clinton, who picked up right where his conservative predecessors had left off and developed policies that would result in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history.

We now look back at all of these events in history and see them for what they are. Slavery, Jim Crow Laws, and the War on Drugs are widely regarded as racist and immoral. And now here we find ourselves at another similar point in history: we have a president who has exploited racial resentment and economic distress by scapegoating minorities. And then we have the mainstream liberals with their op-eds about the forgotten white working-class folks and the importance of catering their message to them.

But history shows us that when we pander to poor and working-class whites, it only deepens racial divides and gives rise to new racial caste systems.

That said, if we look even deeper, history also shows us something else—something that I believe is key to moving forward in a truly progressive and effective manner: there’s a distinct intersection between racism and classism in America that dates back to the 1600s. They’re so intertwined that we can’t really talk about one without talking about the other. We must acknowledge the deep history of wealthy and powerful whites driving a wedge between poor and working-class whites and blacks in order to preserve wealth and power. And we must find the strength to unite against that or risk history repeating itself…again and again and again.

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They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.

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I must admit that I’ve been neglecting my blog over the past couple weeks. Like many people in America, this election—and Donald Trump’s victory—has upset me to my very core. I’ve cycled through many different emotions: shock, denial, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, outrage, disappointment and more.

Since last Tuesday, I’ve focused on self-care, along with some simple but meaningful actions. I’ve contacted local representatives, signed petitions, donated money, and engaged in difficult conversations.

I’m not sure what else there is to say right now, but I want to make the following explicitly clear:

  • To my fellow women…I stand with you.
  • To LGBTQ folks…I stand with you.
  • To people of color…I stand with you.
  • To Muslims and Jewish folks…I stand with you.
  • To immigrants…I stand with you.
  • To disabled folks…I stand with you.

To anyone else who has been impacted by the victory of a dangerous, bigoted demagogue…I stand with you, today and always. We have a hell of a fight ahead of us, and I’ll be by your side the whole way.

On Acknowledging Uncomfortable Truths

Psychology tells us that confirmation bias is real, and — not only that — but we tend to form a belief first and then seek facts to support it. This suggests that there’s a part of us that wants to maintain certain beliefs (and avoid cognitive dissonance) at all costs.

I’m not a smart enough person to explore this with the depth it deserves, but I’ve been thinking about this in regards to the issue of white privilege, police brutality and the NFL protests. All of these are extremely uncomfortable realities for many Americans to acknowledge, because they indicate that the way we’ve perceived the world (and our country, specifically) may not be accurate. These things disrupt us from our comfort zone and potentially place us in a state of cognitive dissonance.

It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that the color of our skin affords some of us certain privileges, while resulting in the systemic oppression of others. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that police officers aren’t really serving and protecting everyone equally. And it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that our country — as much as some of us may love it — still has a serious race problem.

I think when we’re confronted with something that makes us uncomfortable, it’s important to ask ourselves why.  It’s important to sit with that discomfort rather than immediately seeking a way to diminish it. We must be willing to leave our comfort zones for the betterment of humanity.

I’m with her now

I’m supporting Hillary’s campaign. I signed up for her emails. I will vote for her. I will do what I can to convince those around me to vote for her.

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I don’t hate Hillary. I like Bernie Sanders significantly more, but it didn’t work out. Bernie Sanders’ campaign is the first political campaign to which I’ve ever donated money. I donated frequently. $10 here and there because I truly felt inspired in a way that I never have before. I hope to have that again. I’m confident that Bernie’s progressive movement will continue, perhaps as a subset of the Democratic Party similar to how the Tea Party grew out of the Republican Party. I’m excited to see what’s next for the progressive movement.

In the meantime, I’m supporting Hillary. Not because she’s the lesser of two evils, although that’s a given. But because I agree with her on many of the issues and I truly believe that our country will be in a better place at the end of a Hillary presidency. I truly believe she will keep us steered in the right direction, just like Obama has. Does that mean that I agree with all of her stances or think she’ll improve on everything? No. But I also believe that perfect is the enemy of good, and I’m choosing to look at the big picture. No president – even Obama – has won me over with every single entire decision they’ve made. Hillary certainly won’t be unique in her inability to do so.

I’m more progressive than both Obama and Hillary. That’s the truth. But what I respect about the Democratic Party is that it continues to evolve. Sometimes it takes a long time – too long – for it to get there. But it does, for the most part. And I want to live in a country that keeps evolving and progressing, which is the exact opposite of what the Republican Party (Trump excluded, even) will give us.

I guess that’s just where I’m at.

Make America Safe

Donald Trump and the GOP love talking about “making America safe.” (The level of fear-mongering at the RNC this week has been insane. In Trump’s delusional universe, we are basically living in The Purge.)  But honestly, I’d like to make America safe, too. Let’s make America safe! Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • Ban semi-automatic rifles and enforce common sense gun control.
  • Allow transgender people to use whichever bathroom is consistent with their gender identity.
  • Hold police officers accountable for murdering black people.
  • Provide immigrants with a path to citizenship so that they are no longer living in the shadows and being taken advantage of.
  • Acknowledge that climate change is real (what’s up, science?) and that it is likely the single biggest threat to mankind – and do something about it!
  • Join other first world countries in adopting single-payer healthcare so that people don’t have to set up a GoFundMe account just so they won’t die.
  • Stop trying to defund Planned Parenthood.

Because, you know, “making America safe” should mean making it safe for everyone – not just Christian white men.

Disjointed literature thoughts from late last night…

This may all sound very trite and obvious, but one thing that I’ve noticed is that since I’ve dedicated myself to reading a shit ton of fiction over the past couple years, I’ve been able to better understand cultural shifts within American history.

I was thinking about this a lot when I was reading Revolutionary Road. Like I mentioned in my review, this was a time (the 1950s) when the American Dream was still very much alive. Frank and April stood out in their rejection of this ideal and their biting cynicism in the face of this collective hopefulness. In other words, being cynical (at least outwardly so) wasn’t the norm.

Fast forward to today: now, cynicism is the norm, increasingly so since the latter half of the 20th century. In fact, Frank and April don’t seem very subversive at all by today’s standards.

And then taking this all a step further…it’s no coincidence that post-modernism picked up momentum and reached its peak in the latter half of the 20th century, and has lost steam in recent decades. We simply don’t need it anymore. We’re all cynical and disillusioned enough at this point without it.

So now, I wonder, what’s the next big literary movement? Some suggested at one point that David Foster Wallace’s “new sincerity” would be it, combining many of the tenets of post-modernism with a refreshing sincerity, but I honestly can’t think of anyone who has truly followed in his footsteps. In many ways, there has been somewhat of a return to realism, but it doesn’t seem to be cycling back entirely. It makes me wonder: if literature is a reflection of our culture, then what kind of literary movement do we need right now?

Anyway. Just some thoughts that have been going through my head tonight.

Mushy: Saying Good-Bye to My Best Friend

RIPOn December 5, 2015, I said good-bye to Mushy, my best friend of 21 years. My Moosh. My girl. Mushy was born in my brother’s closet when I was 7 years old, and I am so grateful to have had her by my side for as far back as I can remember. We had a truly special bond. We belonged to each other. She was my soulmate in animal form. The love of my life as far as pets go. My companion. I’ve never in my life felt so connected to another person or animal, and I doubt I ever will. These past few years in particular with her were unforgettable. The bond we always had strengthened even more. She started communicating with me in meows, so it’s like we were talking to each other. Suddenly she became a lap cat. I will forever cherish all the affection and love we gave each other in the final years of her life. And I will miss her distinct little personality and quirky behaviors for the rest of my days. I never took her for granted while she was alive – that’s for sure. Anyone who saw us together can attest to the fact that I was constantly delighted by how wonderful she was.

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Moosh as a kitten (second from the left) in 1994.

I’ve lost a number of friends and family members over the years, but this is the first time I’ve experienced grief in its fullest form. I’ve lost someone who I saw every single entire day. Someone who was so much a part of my life that she felt like an extension of myself.

Moosh was part of my identity. When I say that, I’m referring to her specifically first and foremost. But there’s more to it than that. I need to feel needed. I need to have someone to take care of. There’s this nurturing part of my personality that I think can only be fulfilled by children or pets. It’s part of the reason why I’ve always wanted children so badly.

Essentially, taking care of Moosh gave me a sense of purpose – and now that’s missing, too. I’ve lost that in addition to losing Moosh, and it’s making the void inside me that has resulted from her loss even deeper.

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One of our very last pictures together, during he final hour of her life before a peaceful in-home euthanasia.

Loss is so multi-faceted. That’s what I’ve learned over the past few days – and it’s only just beginning.

Being a homebody and an introvert made Moosh’s presence even more invaluable to me. I could be alone, doing my thing, but I still had her, so I wasn’t really alone. So many of my favorite solitary things to do – curling up and devouring a book, binge-watching a TV show, enjoying a movie – I did them all accompanied by her. I’m realizing just how much I depended on her presence, and now I find myself struggling to do those things that I love most.

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Us in our natural habitat. Me reading on the chair with her curled up and sound asleep right next to me, us keeping each other warm. She was always with me.

And then of course there are all the firsts. First time leaving the house without saying good-bye to her. First time coming home without immediately seeking her out to say hi. First time going to sleep without her curled up next to me or between my legs. First time waking up without seeing her perfect little face. But it’s not just the firsts that are hard. It’s the seconds, the thirds, the fourths, the fifths and so on. Everything is different without her. I feel a deep void inside of me that will ache for a very, very long time. The grief comes in waves and it overwhelms me.

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Hanging out in bed together.

Today I picked up her ashes. And I’ve already put in an order for a cremation ring from CloseByMe’s Etsy shop.

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Mushy’s temporary memorial, with special thanks to my best (human) friend Emily for the flowers. Eventually I’ll make a permanent memorial accompanied by some favorite pictures.

As someone who doesn’t have any religious or spiritual beliefs, I feel very strongly about having her physically with me. It’s hard not believing in anything at a time like this. Many of the articles I read about grief or pet loss (including the Rainbow Bridge poem) don’t comfort me because I don’t believe she is in Heaven. I don’t believe she is watching down on me. I don’t believe we will be reunited someday. All I have are my memories. My photographs. My videos. Her ashes. A few locks of her beautiful vibrant fur. My acknowledgment that she will always be with me in at least some sense internally because she was (and is) such a significant part of me.

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Best friends.

Eventually I will get another cat. I need to. I’m a cat person. I’m a nurturer. First, though, I will give Moosh the grieving she deserves. This pain that I feel in her absence – as unbearable as it is – is natural and necessary. My love for her is infinite, so it only makes sense that the grief is so strong.

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Here’s Moosh as I love to remember her. This is the kind of thing she would do when she was really happy and wanted attention. She’d roll around and get in weird little positions and meow at me.

 

Synchronicity

I’ve always appreciated Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity, which suggests that there is such thing as “meaningful coincidences.” According to Jung, meaningful coincidences are events that have no causal relationship, yet appear to be meaningfully related. Essentially, he believed that it was possible for events to be connected by meaning rather than causality.

As one website further explains:

“Jung believed that many experiences perceived as coincidence were due not merely to chance, but instead potentially reflected the manifestation of coincidental events or circumstances consequent to the governing dynamic of the collective unconscious.”

Bearing this in mind, it’s not surprising to learn that Jung believed in many paranormal notions, including telepathy, telekinesis and ESP. And it’s not surprising that his theory of synchronicity has more or less been rejected as unscientific, dismissed as an example of apophenia.

Now, I’m not 100% on board with Jung’s concept of synchronicity. I don’t, for example, believe that acausal events are connected materially in any way. In other words, I believe that when we experience events and identify them as synchronistic, it’s entirely subjective. These events are not connected outside of ourselves, which is to say that they’re only connected because we decide they are internally.

And I think that’s okay. I think there’s still value in that.

As someone who doesn’t believe in a higher power or fate or reincarnation or life after death or universal meaning, and yet who still desires to live a meaningful life, I value experiences like synchronicity that compel me to pay attention and further analyze the world that I inhabit.

It’s the same reason I like knowing my MBTI type (INFJ) and my astrological sign (Leo). I’m well aware of the arguments against both, and I take them with a grain of salt; but I still find value in them because they encourage me to self-reflect in new ways. I understand the potential danger in this: There’s the chance that some people, among examining their MBTI type or astrological sign, may feel less secure in their identities or even begin to subconsciously take on certain personality traits that have been assigned to them. In my case, I believe that I’m aware enough of these dangers to avoid them.

My personal philosophy is derived most extensively from existentialist thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche. I believe that the universe is indifferent, and that it is up to each of us as individuals to seek and create meaning for ourselves while we’re here. If an experience is only meaningful if I choose to assign meaning to it, then I don’t see the harm in acknowledging moments that feel like what Jung called synchronicity. Those moments are meaningless on a material level, yes, but if they make me think and feel and analyze in ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise, then I welcome them.

On False Memories

(Preface: I’m currently reading a book called The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr and it’s blowing my mind.)

Studies have shown that many of our memories are false. Furthermore, when individuals have been told briefly about completely made-up things that have happened in their past, they have then been able to generate real-seeming memories about those events that never happened, and even embellish upon them as if they did.

For example: As part of an assignment set by Professor Elizabeth Loftus, a student told his 14-year-old brother, Chris, to describe the day that he had gone missing at the mall when he was much younger. Chris then recalled a detailed memory of the day at the mall when he wandered off to the toy store and realized he was lost, only to be rescued by an elderly, balding man wearing glasses and a flannel shirt. The thing is, the man doesn’t exist. He had never been lost at that mall. He had never been rescued. Chris essentially made up this entire memory, but had no idea he was making it up.

Multiple studies have supported this.

How fucked up is this? Think, for a minute, about what this says about witnesses to crimes, or even the act of interrogating a suspect. Or the impact that the media can have on a case. Research shows that false memories can be implanted in us without us knowing it, that the power of suggestion can cause us to recall memories that never even happened.

So. Fucked. Up.