Hanging On to The Delusion
By Jorge D. H. Prósperi, 2019
To analyze the toxic brew of racism is worthy of constant study and research. Also worthy is to develop programs and strategies to help raise the consciousness of white people that can lead to the examination of the genesis of attitudes, opinions, beliefs and dispositions regarding difference and otherness.
But why single out white people? The Kerner Commission 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, 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 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.
This fact does not deny nor does it imply that America and Americans are not worthy of praise for its founding credentials of democracy, justice, equity and freedom. Proof is the fact that America is a beacon for immigrants that sacrifice to become citizens. It 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.
Unfortunately, as great as America is, it continues to be a “work in progress” with racism as one of the works 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.
As the American population became more diverse, whites began to notice a shift, not only in numbers, 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 on so called ‘small-big businesses’ that were 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. How ironically convoluted! The marketers, lobbyist, political strategists discovered that racism could be manipulated into votes.
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. Some parents became uncomfortable at Homecomings and Proms having their sons and daughters ask or be asked by a student of color. What was next?!
Graduations dramatically changed. White parents and students were now likely to hear the valedictorian speech by Josefina (1st generation Latina) accepted to Stanford. The National Science Fair Award go to Nguyen (first generation Vietnamese) accepted to Duke. The Math award to Nikita (first generation from India subcontinent) accepted to MIT. Tatiana’s Art Portfolio won several Gold Key awards (1st generation Russian). Seven out of the 10 Merit Scholars were non-White or bi-racial. And last but not least, Abeba (1st generation Ethiopian) accepted to the Air Force Academy (her choice out 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 seeing athletes of color breaking records, getting huge endorsements, enjoying the American dream. Not even the quarterback position was sacred. Furthermore, scholarships were being earned by a host of students whose parents did not speak English but whose children were accepted to four year colleges. More toxicity was added to the racism brew – resentment – bitterness and misplaced rage.
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. But a segment of American citizens (now said to be approximately 38% were predisposed to feel and believe that, “The reason my life is bad and dysfunctional is not because of bad choices I made or because I can’t get a job but because of the immigrants and how the government 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 to send them back where they came from!“
This simplistic thinking is based on the loss that many Americans felt – the loss of the 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. Racists were told that the American Dream had been stolen and that once in power, they would and could get it back for 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.