Critical White Studies Part V ~ White Loss
To analyze the toxic brew of racism is worthy of constant study, research and discourse. Why? Because racism is anti Democracy.
Likewise, a forthright reason is to raise the conscious awareness of white people that can lead to the examination of the genesis of inclinations, attitudes and beliefs of superiority and supremacy due to difference and otherness.
Unfortunately, history substantiates that for some American citizens, Divisionism, Exclusivity, Inequality, opportunities for only some and Authorianism has been and continues to be the vision for America. It is an absolute ideology built on the past by delusions of social-cultural grandeur.
Fortunately, the majority of Americans, living in the 21st Century, believe in the reality of Diversity, Inclusivity, Equity, opportunities of worth for all, built on the core principles of an ever expanding Democracy.
Democracy is a magnanimous and just ideology looking toward the future and worthy of constant discourse, regardless of having at times to lean into discomfort, in order to arrive at consensus, agreement and compromise. The major ethos and essence of a Democracy is to enhance the quality of life for all, rather than limit and/or oppress.
So why single out white people? The Kerner Commission predicted and concluded in 1968 that,”Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white-separate and unequal.” The report was a strong indictment of white America: “What white Americans have never fully understood, but what the Negro can never forget – is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” The report also aimed some of its sharpest criticism at the media. “The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective.”
Throughout American history, racism has been present – be it overt, covert, aversive, systemic and institutional. The Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal called racism, “an American Dilemma.” A dilemma fueled by complex issues such as racism’s historical legacy, socioeconomic forces, political pandering, and its psychological pathology. Rare is it to find a citizen in America that is not aware of “the dilemma” and is not somehow impacted by it. It is most difficult and painful to believe and say, that racism is part of us, who we are as a people. But the past can teach and forewarn, but it does not have to be repeated.
America continues to be a beacon for past and present immigrants that sacrifice to become citizens. America is a country of generosity, compassion and abundance. With the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Bill of Rights in place, America has unlimited potential to enhance the quality of life of every citizen and become a stellar society. But that hope and potential rests on our shoulders.
Since its inception, America continues to be a “work in progress” with racism as one of the flaws needing fixing. Racism is built on the illusion and delusion of superiority over others. The pursuit of superiority is necessary in order to sustain its power and control based on the belief that everything that is good and right in America became a reality through the diligent work ethic, imagination and creativity of whites.
History debunks such an absolute belief given the fact that Diversity was always present in America. That it was made silent and invisible is another matter. History is there as well, to provide the reasons why. The choice to not empower diverse constituencies and affinity groups was a choice America made. It was not happenstance.
As the American population became more diverse, whites began to notice a shift, not only demographically, but in the lack of homage and attention that was not being paid to them as it once was. Whiteness was losing stock value. White America was being asked to play by the rules of the founding principles. Meritocracy was being tested against white institutional incest. Social justice and equity were fought for in courts.
At the same time, traditional white jobs became extinct as plants closed – moved to Mexico and China. Regulations came down with ‘small-big businesses’ polluting and contaminating the environment. Coal, oil, tobacco, banks and gun manufacturers became the good guys fighting against “big brother the government” that had sold out the little guy. The marketers, lobbyist, political strategists and charlatans discovered that racism and divisionism could be manipulated into votes. Such charlatans did not have to provide policies or legislation, but just blame.
Schools became desegregated and suddenly white high school seniors were in competition against immigrant students. White students had to tolerate bilingual students seemingly receiving more attention with special ESL programs. Some parents became uncomfortable at Homecomings and Proms having their sons and daughters ask or be asked by a student of color.
America was increasingly experiencing living with bi-racial and bi-lingual neighbors and co-workers. Otherness and differences had not been part of the curriculum during those 12 years of formal education. No readiness had been provided to generations of students regarding Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity.
Graduations and commencements dramatically changed. White parents and students were now likely to hear the valedictorian speech by Josefina (1st generation Latina) accepted to Stanford on a four year scholarship. The National Science Fair Award won by Nguyen (first generation Vietnamese) accepted to Duke on a four year scholarship. The Math award to Nikita (first generation from India subcontinent) accepted to MIT on a full ride. Tatiana’s Art Portfolio won several Gold Key awards (1st generation Russian).
The majority of Merit Scholars, Advanced Placement recipients and International Baccalaureate Diplomas being earned by non-White, bi-racial, bi-cultural and bi-lingual students. And last but not least, Abeba (1st generation Ethiopian) was accepted to the Air Force Academy (her choice out of all of the Academies). Athletic awards were dominated by athletes of color with vertical jumps, speed and coordination to be envied. All of the sports, even golf and tennis were being dominated by athletes of color breaking records, getting huge endorsements, and enjoying the American dream. Not even the quarterback position was sacred.
Scholarships were being earned by a host of students whose parents did not speak English, but whose children were accepted to four year colleges. Some white parents applauded and congratulated. But for some, more toxicity was added to the racist brew of resentment, bitterness and “displacement rage.”
To add to the “rage”, corporations, businesses and schools were in agreement that students needed to have 21st Century Skills emphasizing critical thinking, research skills, problem solving, social/civic responsibility, able to work within a diverse global community, communication skills, collaboration, information literacy, technology skills and digital literacy. Democracy was ready to embrace such skills – an autocracy was not.
Fortunately, the majority of white Americans were not swayed by contrived divisionism and racism, nor did they lose the dignity and integrity of their citizenship. They applauded the achievements of their children and the children of others. They believed and expected that their respect for inclusivity and equity to be reciprocal. They taught their children to be the same.
But a segment of American citizens (now said to be declining but still approximately 28% – 32% were predisposed to feel and believe that,
“The reason my life is bad and dysfunctional is not because of bad choices I made or my family background but because of the immigrants and the government that is catering and sustaining them with handouts – food stamps that I am paying for with my taxes.
It’s their fault! I want my country back and send them back where they came from!“
This unlettered simplistic thinking is based on the loss that many Americans feel – the loss of the ‘superiority and capital of Whiteness.’ Unscrupulous politicians jumped on the hate wagon. America had entered the 21st century and left many of its citizens behind and clueless regarding the reasons for the shifts.
Racists promoted the delusion that the American Dream had been stolen and that once in power, they would and could get it back from them, regardless of the brown, black and yellow people who would suffer. They would have a White Champion leading the charge of the White Brigade.
The term “White Loss” is explained by Michelle Fine, Lois Weis, Judi Addelston, and Julia Marusza in chapter 13 of Beyond Black and White authored by Maxine Seller and Lois Weis – 1997.
“The 1980s and 1990s have been decades in which white males have, indeed, lost a good bit of their privilege. Those most squeezed have been white working class males, with the progress of Title IX, Affirmative Action, the shrinking of unionized and public sector jobs, the vibrant (if sometimes muzzled) energy of feminism, civil rights, and unstoppable “coming out” of gay/lesbian rights. In our interviews with poor and working-class males in Jersey City, Buffalo and Charleston, South Carolina, we hear a mantra of losses that they narrate, angrily, bitterly, with pointed fingers. From days gone by, they have lost wives whom they thought would stay home and cater to them, good jobs in the public sector and those protected by labor unions. Their schools and communities have been “invaded” by people of color. Their monopoly on power and privilege has been pierced. They are not happy. Their stories of loss are voiced in a discourse of property rights. While it is the case that they have been economically dethroned, re-gendered, and re-raced in the past two decades, they feel only mugged. Not by the global treachery of late capitalism, the flight of manufacturing jobs from the United States, or the erosion of strong labor unions, all of which are the real cause of their present circumstances. Instead, they feel erased by white women, men of color, gays, and lesbians. Unable/unwilling to critique boldly and broadly, these men, for the most part, release noble loyalty to their American dreams.”
As Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum explains, “Fast forward some 20 years later to louder and angrier cries of “We want our country back!” The bitterness and anger demonstrated in the rise of White Nationalists and hate groups. Add to the generational years of change in respect to the Iraq War with white veterans questioning reasons why they came back to an unappreciative country, Wall Street debacle resulting in the loss of homes/jobs, the push for immigration reform, rights earned by the LGBT Community, and the election (twice) of an African American President. The changes for many whites have become a cultural and social tsunami and state of desperation from what is perceived as losses. The underlying loss that is not mentioned is the very capital connected to the construct of White privilege.“
I posit that many who want their country back really want the power of their Whiteness back – its privileged passport, its exclusivity card, its inherited superiority card, its White Power card, its get-out-of jail card, its go to the head of the class and line card, its delusional right of passage to the American Dream – now turned a nightmare – constructed and lived on a daily basis by its own self- oppression.
But I return to highlight, with emphasis, that 68% – 72% of lettered America holds on to the fundamental principles and norms of decency, civility, inclusivity and equity . . . without fear. This is what is at stake with every voting cycle. The American Dream does not have to remain a dream, but can become a reality for all American children in the 21st century.
Critical White Studies I: White Privilege
Critical White Studies II: White Knapsack
Critical White Studies III: White Capital
Critical White Studies IV: Aversive Racism by the Well Intentioned
Critical White Studies V: White Loss