As the folks at Deadspin said, the last thing the world needs is another Cletus Safari. We get it. America's crappiest crapholes are full of terrible, sad, terrible, angry, terrible people who are very stupid and will reliably say very stupid things and they absolutely love Donald Trump like I love elastic waistbands. Every journalist capable of sharing some kind of useful insight in this format has already done so, and everyone doing it now is either flogging a dead horse or short on original ideas.

Of course, they said this in the context of linking to a Cletus Safari on Politico and highlighting elements of it that are enlightening.

I agree with the premise that this is a piece the world needs no more of. I've read it a sufficient number of times from different authors in different outlets in different Rust Belt shit-pits. But like Deadspin, the explicit racism aspect of this Safari piece had some real resonance for me, personally.

Gonna warn sensitive types about some language in the following paragraph. If you're white it's probably going to sound very familiar to you though.

I grew up around what in hindsight really was a staggering, pervasive amount of racism, almost all of it directed at black people. It is not much of a stretch to say that race was a lens through which the entire world was viewed. Michael Jackson wasn't Michael Jackson, he was "that n*gger music." The Cosby Show was "that n*gger show." Any negative characteristic about any human being anywhere was contextualized with "like a n*gger." The sole, almost exclusive goal in life for many of the people in my community, who ranged from lower to upper middle class, was to get as far away from "Them" as possible. The greatest shame in life was to have to live with them, or anywhere near them, or to even have to see them. You knew you had done well if you lived in a shitty house but a shitty house on a street where everyone was white.

I've shared these experiences as an adult with some other (white) people and while some are surprised, many recognize it down to the last detail. The talking points, the stereotypes, the obsessive focus (in hindsight it's REALLY weird that people who appeared to have no contact with black people whatsoever spent so much of their time thinking and talking about black people), the pseudoscience; it's a complete package and people who recognize part of it from their own experience generally recognize the whole.

Until I was about 18, I used racial slurs pretty freely. Why wouldn't I? Everyone did, constantly. People thought it was funny. People nodded in approval when they heard it. Congratulations, you're one of us.

Vignette: My friend told me she said the n-word when she was 3 and the whole family thought it was the funniest, cutest story ever, repeated at every get-together. Her dad wanted to recount it in the toast at her wedding.

Then I moved, and I grew up (a little). I'm not embarrassed to admit that weaning from this stuff is a long process. They say that for recovering addicts, every day is a struggle to stay clean. I'm 39 and 20+ years gone from that way of seeing the world and I *still* fight it. Maybe you're looking at me in horror right now because you've never had a racist thought in your life and this seems like little more than rationalizing a neanderthal mindset. Congratulations. But when you expose people to this stuff the moment they're old enough to understand language, it becomes close to hard-wired.

Another vignette: a guy I once worked with regaled us with the nursery rhyme he liked to sing his daughter at night: "N*ggers and Jews, N*ggers and Jews, we'll never lose to N*ggers and Jews." This was 2003.

The thing about being white is that other white people think nothing of saying this kind of stuff in front of you because they assume that everyone else thinks exactly the same way they do. That is one of the foundations of their worldview; all black people hate all white people, all white people hate all black people, etc. It's tribalism. White people who don't think the same way are either n*gger-loving liberal pussies, or they agree but won't say it out loud.

When I saw the following quote in the Politico story, a lot of things came rushing back to me. It was so familiar that I could list off a dozen people I've known at some point in my life who have said the same thing, almost verbatim, in other contexts:

“Everybody I talk to,” he said, “realizes it’s not Trump who’s dragging his feet. Trump’s probably the most diligent, hardest-working president we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. It’s not like he sleeps in till noon and goes golfing every weekend, like the last president did.”

I stopped him, informing him that, yes, Barack Obama liked to golf, but Trump in fact does golf a lot, too — more, in fact.

Del Signore was surprised to hear this.

“Does he?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

Unless you are immersed in the worldview of people like this guy, this might seem either unexceptional or an example that largely serves to illustrate how stupid he is. Ha ha! He doesn't know basic facts! He just repeats everything he sees on Fox News!

While that is undoubtedly true, it overlooks the larger point. To people who structure the world this way, "lazy" isn't about who spends more time sleeping and golfing. Lazy isn't even a "code word" for black. Lazy and black mean exactly the same thing. By saying "Barack Obama slept til noon and golfed a lot" and "Trump is the hardest working president ever," he is, in his own way, simply making two statements of fact. Donald Trump is white; Barack Obama is a (redacted).

"Hard working" is a synonym for white the way "corporal punishment" is a synonym for spanking. The former is merely a more socially acceptable way of saying the latter. "Lazy" and "Hard Working" are both totally independent of any characteristic about Obama and Trump other than their race. Trump is white. Therefore all positive descriptors apply to him. Obama is black. Any bad characteristic a person can have applies to him. He is irrelevant as an individual, because regardless of what he is or does he is, above all else, one of them.

I've sat through enough "hard working vs. lazy" arguments in my life to recognize what Cletus is saying here. I did not enjoy reading this piece, not because it has any inherent flaws but because it reminded me of a lot of things I don't like to remember.

If anything good comes out of the Trump Experience it will be a broader recognition that the centrist discourse fetish is a fruitless strategy. You don't "reach out" to people like this. You can't communicate with them because their mental universe is based on rules that don't apply to reality. All that is to be done is to out-vote them. They, like the places they live, are dying out. To the extent that I have any hope for the future, it is based on the idea that the politics of today are the last hurrah of people who cannot, or perhaps will not, see the world in any way other than as a simple racial dichotomy. White = good. Black = bad. All events and information are shaped around that basic worldview.

87 thoughts on “THE HEART OF THE MATTER”

  • And as long as that ingrained dualistic thought pattern pertains, boundless possibilities for exploitation exist. And, yeah, you don't just shuck it off through recognizing it.
    Hardwired? Shit yeah, round-eye. Visit Asia. Anywhere.
    Maybe there's evolution through death or attrition as Ed eludes, but man, don't see no end to the breeding. That is to say ignorance perpetuates.
    But all's not lost. Maybe intolerance, judgement and resentment will meet a critical mass of intelligence.
    Maybe stars shine in broad daylight.

  • Imagine growing up with southern late nineteen-thirties immigrants of mixed ancestry to the Oregon High Desert. The story was to get away from it, but they brought it with them.

    I confess I still use the word, though invariably directed at white motorists. Indeed, it's how I think of these white people.

    EYaw, there's no end to the breeding… color of your skin, which side of the ocean your ancestors hailed from, does nothing to put an end to the breeding. (see pp1)

  • My dad grew up in Roy Moore's hometown 50 years before Roy was raping teenagers, and used to explain how the n word was banned by his parents because the rules of middle class southernism prohibited that kind of low class openness in your racism. I used to think this was merely silly but reading that story makes me glad at least that some veneer of decorum meant that I looked at someone in total bafflement the first time they described something as "n*gger-rigged" because I was a grown adult. In retrospect class pretensions were good for something. Also my dad voted for Obama twice.

  • Yes, the old-guard racists are dying out.
    Soon, those old members of, or sympathizers with, the KKK will be DOA

    But take a look at America's white supremacists.
    Sure, one of the leaders, Bannon, is old – only a few years older than me.
    But there are newer leaders, and their followers are young.

    Fascism – organized racism/xenophobia (also misogyny, homophobia, religious intolerance, anti-elitism, anti-intellectualism, among other forms of bigotry) – is spreading throughout the world.
    Sure, some of the generational torch-carriers of Fascism – the ones who kept the torch fires burning throughout the years – are old.
    But their willing followers are young.

    I'm afraid that modern technology – the Internet, social media (or, more correctly, anti-social media) – will aid in the spread of bigotry – in all forms.
    Anonymity means you don't even need a physical disguise, or to disguise your deplorable goals.
    Word-of-mouth, meant a message could only get so far.
    Word-via-electron, means a virtually instant message, with no mileage restrictions or limits.

    We, here in America, have made some progress against bigotry since the beginning of the 20th Century.
    But the battles are nowhere close to being finished.
    The next generations of liberals/progressives will have you continue the battles against bigotry in all of itw ugly and violent forms.
    I'm afraid that they may have an even tougher time than we had.

  • "Maybe you're looking at me in horror right now because you've never had a racist thought in your life and this seems like little more than rationalizing a neanderthal mindset."

    I'm going to cut'n'paste something that I said earlier, today, over at "A Tippling Philosopher" on a thread about the Alambamahole, Ol' Roy.

    "None of us, if we look hard enough, can escape from the taint and stench of racism or xenophobia. Some of us, though, if we try hard enough can own our pasts (generational removal does NOT guarantee innocence) and embrace the thinking necessary for change.

  • WOW …thanks for this artcle!
    The light is on ..the roaches are scattering..the factual truth is being told …by white Americans!
    white supremacist ideology is the foundation, source and fuel of American racism AND finally has an opportunity be on the decline.
    One can have conversation about this ideology and actively assist in its elimination!

  • 23 years ago i was starting in my first teaching job in a small city in east texas. the white teachers thought nothing of using the n-word freely so long as there were no blacks in the room. after the second time it happened i started telling them to just stop doing that in front of me because i found that behavior incredibly offensive. i worked there for three years but the majority of the white faculty and staff did not trust me or make any effort to like me because i wouldn't participate in their casual racism.

  • “To the extent that I have any hope for the future, it is based on the idea that the politics of today are the last hurrah of people who cannot, or perhaps will not, see the world in any way other than as a simple racial dichotomy.”

    Sadly, with the way Trump is packing the courts, with the GOP stamp of approval, this mindset will persist in the courts for a long time to come. Now, I haven’t fooled myself into thinking you’re a foolish optimist, so the qualifying clause at the beginning of the quote is duly noted. While the truth may set you free, I can’t help but pine for the time when these racists were at least somewhat closeted.

  • Ungrateful Negro says:

    That part of the article resonated with me as well. As a black professional in "liberal" SF Bay Area, you'd be amazed how many educated professionals (many of them with power to affect my life and career) either think this way or have to actively fight against it. I am the hardest working employee in my office by far, I miss no time, I get great results, yet if i ever miss work for any reason, the (white) Boss remembers and grumbles and implies I am lazy. Yet other (white) employees miss 3-4x the time I do, and the WB never gives it much thought.
    It mirrors the farcical national conversation around whether white males who kill dozens are terrorists. They are inherently good/white, so there must be Some Reason Why This Happened. When it's a brown person or muslim, well, that's just the nature of Those People.
    The saddest part is that I have no idea how to get rid of this. Because a lot of these people are hard left liberals who don't consider themselves racist. Getting people to understand how their world view colors things is like getting them to see their contact lenses while they're wearing them.

  • Mind: Blown.

    To each his own context (here is the far eastern reaches of the Mediterranean there is more than one kind of n!&&@r, a complex web actually), and you definitely made me think.

    @Ungrateful: great metaphor, contact lenses. Wish there was a procedure to forcibly remove them from someone's eyes, even if only for a few seconds.

  • I was born in 1951 in a Washington, D.C. suburb, and the idea that the n-word was forbidden was ingrained in me and most of my friends since before we could remember. When I first learned four-letter words my father cautioned me against using them around my mother and told me one word I should never use. I'd never heard it before and promptly forgot it; I'm pretty sure it was "cunt", and I've never found it useful.

    I have no idea how I learned that the word was forbidden; my Swedish immigrant grandfather, with whom we were very close, used the word on occasion, and I suppose I was warned in no uncertain terms as soon as I could speak.

    So forbidden was it that when a friend and I found Niger on his wall map (and did I ever envy him for having one) we were embarrassed, and snickered. Using the word was not only prohibited but deeply wrong.

    That said, I had nearly no contacts with black people as a child. I'd see the trash collectors and wonder if the black would rub off. I didn't come into physical contact with blacks until high school in California, by which time I'd become accustomed to Latinos and Asians. My first sustained contact was with a physicist, a colleague and friend of my father. I got along with him as well.

    When living in North Oakland I was made aware that we hippies were looked down upon by our working class black neighbors. When visiting my childhood homes in Maryland, in Prince Georges County, now predominantly black, I was struck by how well kept the properties are.

  • I do hope casual racism goes the way of casual homophobia, though. When I found out my brother was gay in the early nineties, I happily accepted him, but was amazed at how much that acceptance required new and innovative putdowns of my high school cohorts. It also made me bristle when they’d use some variant of gay as a putdown.

    I grew up in Denver, and didn’t see too much blatant anti-black racism, but a hell of a lot of subtle racism. Sand-n-word for middle easterners, and porch monkeys for African Americans stick out as particularly egregious terms I heard. But the n-word was pretty taboo around my house (not so much around the schoolyard, but still pretty much on the downlow).

    I remember visiting family in small-town Ohio once when I was about 12 or 13. A cousin my age made a really off-color joke, the punchline being “because he’s a (redacted).” My brothers and I were kinda shocked, especially since that town has an African American population of maybe 1%, if that. Small town Midwest seems much more racist to me than the western cities I’ve lived in, but then the beauty of living in the city is not knowing your neighbors that intimately. I’m sure there is plenty of racism that I’m just not aware of.

    I’ve determined that when my toddler and baby reach pre-adolescence to early teenage years, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” will be required reading. It’s the least I can do to try to ensure that my upper-middle-class white boys in very white Portland, OR can grow up to become decent human beings.

  • I agreed up until the final paragraph:

    If anything good comes out of the Trump Experience it will be a broader recognition that the centrist discourse fetish is a fruitless strategy. You don't "reach out" to people like this. You can't communicate with them because their mental universe is based on rules that don't apply to reality.

    Who exactly is "them" in that last sentence? Hillary Clinton coined a name: The basket of deplorables.

    Now, I'm sure some voters are truly deplorable. Some are so absolutely, totally racist they will always, always vote for the most racist candidate on offer. For them, racism trumps all other considerations (so to speak). But I don't believe those voters are all that numerous.

    Practically all white people (yes, even nice liberal Canadians like myself) have some racist thoughts and beliefs. It's inevitable when you are brought up in a racist society. But it's not our primary way of making decisions.

    I think "somewhat racist, but also persuadable" outnumbers "racist to the exclusion of all else" by a wide margin. As evidence, I'd like to offer the fact that Obama 2012 did much better than Clinton 2016 in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Even in overwhelmingly Republican rural counties, he was losing 65-35 instead of 80-20. The change seems more likely to be down to the candidate and the message, rather than Rust Belt voters mysteriously becoming much more deplorable in the space of four years.

  • @ Talisker:

    I know LOTSA white people, LOTSA liberal white people. LOTSA those people are descended from long lines of similar people who have two blind spots–they don't see their privilege and they don't see their racism. If you try to talk to them about either of those things you're stirrin' up shit and STFU.

    Your analysis is likely not off by much. There's another problem, though. Many people who were formerly quiet about their racism are now talking to both their neighbors and their families and "Kumbyah" is not in those chats they're having.

  • I think that this article has made me do some soul searching.

    "These people" are not some uniform block of racists. A good number of them voted for Pres. Obama both times and then voted for Trump based on their hope for change. I think they'd vote for a Democrat (someone similar in message to Bernie Sanders perhaps) if they could be convinced that there could be that change they hoped for. That change takes many forms in many different places and isn't well thought out in "their" minds, perhaps, but they know something is amiss and needs to be changed.

  • @democommie: Yeah, that's true. Racists are becoming more active and emboldened. Trump is gleefully, openly racist instead of operating behind polite euphemisms as Mitt Romney did. That's a big problem.

    But the conclusion from Ed (and Hillary Clinton) of "fuck it, the deplorables might as well be zombies out of The Walking Dead, it's not worth trying to communicate with them" is (a) inaccurate, and (b) very poor electoral strategy.

    @DaveDell: Agreed. Clinton 2016 ran a dismal and uninspiring campaign. She was telling voters to eat their vegetables, in the long tradition of worthy-but-dull candidates like Kerry, Gore, Dukakis and Mondale. A candidate offering excitement and change, even hateful and stupid change, turned out to have the edge.

  • @ Talisker:

    Hillary tried working with some of those folks, IIRC, in West Virginia. They treated her very badly and I'm pretty sure that her campaign staff told her to concentrate her efforts in other, more productive venues.

    People, I think, get the idea that I'm a big fan of both Hillary and the DNC. I am not. I am also entirely unconvinced that it is possible to shift an entire political party from being what the DNC took over 30 years to become in an election cycle or two.

    I don't think the track records of those candidates who had the edge, on balance, are all that good. Apparently, U.S. voters are too shallow (on average) ti realize that glib bullshit almost guarantees idiotic governance.

  • After living in China for nearly 30 years, i experienced racism first-hand, albeit not quite the same. But long before that i was with a band that was refused service in a Tennessee convenience store, either because of our wild hair or our black roadie. Anyhow, i long ago discovered there are many lazy crackers and many hard-working "urban youth." As a result, when i first read that part, the significance flew right over my head until it was explained.

    OTOH, my dad was fairly prejudiced. He called the black neighborhood "Little Baghdad," which i always thought was hilarious.

  • Notes from my meandering experience:

    IMO the roots of racism are tribalism, and tribalism is baked into the human psyche. Tl;dr I don’t worry to much if people drop a slur now and then as long as they’re not dragging people behind pickup trucks.

    I grew up Deep South, so I can collaborate a lot of Ed’s post. It shocked me though, how racist Pennsylvania was, in these towns with 1% minority population. At one point I roomed with a black lady, some of the aforementioned Pennsylvanians like to snicker about it around the campfire as if it is an insult to my character.

    Lastly, we used to say n*****r rig, which was basically synonymous with MacGuyvering. Meant non-traditional fix, with the emphasis on making something work, against adversity. The interesting part was that it wasn’t nessesarily a negative connotation.

  • When I do something bizarre to make something work for a while longer my wife calls it McGrubering. A fine SNL reference.

    Safety: One of the grade school civics lessons I grew up with was that America as the melting pot was a repudiation of tribalism.

    It wasn't expressed in those terms, of course. Different cultural expressions were acknowledged and celebrated (especially the food) but were understood to be subsumed by the ideal of blending everything together to create one nation with liberty and justice for all.

  • It's unpleasant to think about how many people believe the world is so simple that others might be quantified by what variety of human they are. They shouldn't play with sharp objects.

  • Last night at work two guys (one Black the other White) got into a shouting match. It was over something somewhat trivial but one guy knew it would be a problem for the other guy and pushed the button. After it was over, another guy started telling me that if he were to talk to the Black guy like the Black guy had talked to the White guy "I'd be in the office in a heartbeat." I stopped him and said "Do not tell me about how persecuted you White guys are." He laughed and talked about something else. Later on, he was talking to someone else, "If I had talked to the Black guy…."

  • Nicholas Bernard says:

    "The thing about being white is that other white people think nothing of saying this kind of stuff in front of you because they assume that everyone else thinks exactly the same way they do."

    Ugh, this is the worst. When you're sitting at a bar and some guy starts chatting to you and in about five minutes starts talking about the Mexicans who stole his job or the [insert slur here] who stole his car stereo (he didn't see the theft occur, but he's 100% sure of the perpetrator's race). I just wanted a beer and now I have to explain to this asshole that not every white person is chill with his racist ass, because if I don't then it reinforces his belief that every white person thinks like he does.

  • Great piece Ed. Very well set out. Like bad jim, I was born in Bethesda in the late 40's. It was clear that we shouldn't use the N word (my mom never said worse than "darky" even when angry). It was also made clear which of the two drinking fountains we should always use. Got woke some living in SF in the 60's; still working on it.

  • I have given up on the supposed liberalism of Silicon Valley, after the 1,000th story about facial recognition technology that can't recognize POCs or hand soap dispensers that can't see dark hands.

  • If black people are so lazy and incapable of hard work, why didn't the plantation owners enslave white people? By that standard, it seems they could have gotten a lot more cotton picked that way.

  • Ed, you say you grew up steeped in this type of culture and that you slowly grew out of it. At the same time you say nothing can be done to reach these types of people. Can you elaborate on why your experience was different or can't be applied to these types of people?

  • One of the many good things about growing up as a military brat was that the military was actually pretty progressive in integrating the races. When you grow up surrounded by people of many different colors, shapes, and sizes, it's harder to dehumanize them. Likewise, sitting in a classroom of multi-cultural kids opens the mind.

  • @Nicholas—

    My favorite thing to say to people like that is, “Why do you think it’s okay to say this stuff to me?”

  • @Talisker—

    I disagree about not leaving the deplorables in the dust. Forget the “white working class”. They’re the long-lost base. The Dems can quit fucking appealing to the Independents, Centerists, Purity Angels, and other fantasy creatures while they’re at it. One of the things the people who had enough white privilege to get by and decided they couldn’t be buggered to vote bitched about was that “the Democrats don’t stand for anything but not being Republicans,” so disenfranchising themselves was the only ideologically correct thing to do. It had the appeal of indulging human laziness and apathy while making them feel justified in doing so.

    The Dems can get by without this Rill Murica “white working class” demographic that’s supposed to be the lynch-pin of winning an election. (On a side note: one of the things shitty white people are terrified of is that white people in America will no longer be ‘the majority’ (see: “white genocide”), so telling white people they’re irrelevant on the premise that they’re going extinct is a great way to freak them the fuck out.) Republicans are terrified of people voting, which is why they do everything in their power to suppress votes. (I also have a suspicion that encouraging people to make masturbatory Principled Stands by not voting or “protest voting” because Corrupt Duopoly while relying on herd immunity is social engineering.) The best way to defeat them is to go about the unsexy business of registering voters and getting people to the polls, not courting this “white working class”.

  • Interesting. I’ve noticed that (white) women on dating sites sometimes describe themselves as “hard working.” (I’m guessing white men do too; I’ve never looked into it.) That will forever more be a dog-whistle to me.

  • I grew up in the SF Bay Area with a colorful mix of friends and neighbors of varying socioeconomic backgrounds. There was an 8-year gap between my older siblings and me, and I never understood their jokes or references to Jews, Mexicans, "Orientals," or "pickaninnies." (They grew up with an incredibly racist father whom my mom divorced before my first birthday.) I learned in school what racism and prejudice and stereotypes were, and why they were harmful. I assumed that our area at least was fairly enlightened until I was in my mid-thirties and was having lunch with a black coworker. He mentioned an incident from the previous evening when a clerk at a liquor store had made racist comments to him. I was absolutely shocked. So he proceeded to lift the veil of ignorance from my eyes by telling me how often he encountered such treatment. I could not conceive that in the modern area, in a diverse community, in a supposed liberal enclave, that this kind of crap was still happening. He was such a sweet, stand-up guy, and it hurt my heart that anyone would treat him like that. So I think I learned a little about white privilege that day – not only was I not treated like that, but I was allowed to float about in my happy little bubble of assumptions, unaware of the still-very-much-happening incidents of blatant racism all around me.

  • If you asked me 20 years ago, I would have predicted that racism would be largely over in my lifetime. Now I believe that tribalism has overtaken all discourse. Everyone hates everyone else and demands special protection based on their race or gender.

    I always believed in the "content of their character" hypothesis as the cure but our rekindled obsession with privilege and doubling down on stereotypes will ensure that we remain as divided as ever.

    Of course, the group that can rally behind a cause and can produce a straw man will easily conquer the divided factions. In the end, it's going to be a small but unified group of authoritarians that will win and we'll all wonder how the fuck we ever became divided over anything as trivial as race and gender.

  • Nunya:

    While I agree that some of the discourse is becoming strange and tribalism rampant, I am not sure this is anything that new. It's just that in the past "we" ignored it because we benefited from it.

    Your argument could be construed as requiring (for example) black people to just grin and bear it when faced with the nonsense that Rattakin described in the comment right above you. It also verges on both siderism and blaming the victim.

  • Brian M,

    Just because a person is a victim doesn't make them a saint. If you look at a person and decide, based on their appearance, that you can't have an honest discussion with them, how is that not the essence of bigotry?

    That's where we are today. We have different language for different groups of people. If you're in a protected group, no one is allowed to disagree with you under pain of being ostracized or losing your livelihood. Exactly how does that move our society forward?

  • Hmmmm.

    I see your point to some extent, Nunya. (More the second paragraph)

    But at the same time, I think you exaggerate the situation a bit? What is the definition of "honest discussion"? Do you mean mansplaining/whitesplaining? If so…maybe I still disagree with you. If you mean "cannot give an honest performance appraisal because I am afraid you will claim racism" then yes, that is a problem….but I remain skeptical it is that much of a problem in most places and situations.

  • My parents were racist. But they never used the "n" word. I am not sure they even used lazy as a substitute, but they did say that when black folk move into a neighborhood, it goes down in quality, etc. However, since they moved us all to NM where there were exactly 3 black people (okay, a few more), this made zero sense to me and my siblings. So we'd grill them on exactly WHY this would be true. Of course they couldn't offer any evidence to support their claims. I do remember my mother getting angry and trying to defend her prejudice. I am SO glad they moved us to NM because it just wasn't possible to perpetuate that particular prejudice in any of us.

  • Ungrateful Negro says:


    I can't speak for Ed, but if I had to venture a guess, my guess would be education and distance. It's really hard to remain an ultra-racist if you go out into the world (beyond the nearest lily-white medium sized town) and become well read and get a good college education and/or advanced degree.
    The kind of people I write off are the people who won't/don't want to change at all. Who won't leave BFE, and who shun education. For example, there are former coal workers who are actively declining retraining programs to get a job in another field, because they only want to be coal workers. WTF do you do with people like that?

  • @Brian:

    I am reminded of Tengrain’s Rule Of PeeCee: whenever a conservative complains about something being “too PC”, what they really mean is that “civil rights got in their way”. I think this can fairly be extended to *anyone* who gripes about “political correctness run amok”.

  • @ Aurora S:

    Both of your comments. Word.

    @ Ungrateful Negro Says:

    When I saw this:

    "Can you elaborate on why your experience was different or can't be applied to these types of people?"

    My very first thought was, "Because Ed knows that for them, readin' r hard and no fun.".

    Your reply is more fleshed out but, yeah, they hate education BECAUSE it will make them question their biases and they will find it harder to excuse their blind hatred–'cuz it won't be blind, anymore.
    @ Chicagojon:

    Not "No.", but, "Oh, fucking HELL, NOOOOOOOOOOO!".

  • Great discussion. I started growing up in a small neighborhood (like 8 houses) in a CT township, all white. Never heard a racist word from parents (or any indication that they were racist) and do not recall such from our neighbors. Didn't even know there was a racist version of 'Eeny-meeny-miny-mo" until I was grown up (neighborhood version went "catch a tiger by the toe". STILL managed to pick up some bits of racist thinking which I continue to struggle against – at least I recognize it and can counter it. How does it happen? Some sort of osmosis for white folk? We did then move to Halifax, NS which has historically had a significant black population (with attendant discrimination until not long ago; Canadians are not as pure as they would like to think they are) but I still don't recall picking up on that.

  • Did you ever read 'Ann of Green Gables'? They're always going on about the lazy French. The irony is that the French are the only folks in the book who seem to ever be working rather than hanging around gossiping. (I guess there was the the school teacher as an exception.) I don't get the lazy n*r thing though. Wasn't the old rhyme, "I'd river be a n*r and work like heck, than be a southern yokel with a long red neck."? I was told that's where to characterization redneck came from.

  • Brian M,

    If an idea is sound why on earth would the race or gender of the person be an issue? Anyone who uses "whitesplaining" or "mansplaining" should be called out for being a bigot.

    Racism from white people is shitty. Racism from any other race is equally shitty.

    I'll take responsibility for my actions but I'm not going to accept a notion of original sin because someone who looked like me did something atrocious three hundred years ago or 30 years ago.

    It's time to call out identity politics as the horrible idea that it is. Absolutely no good will come from us all retreating into our own identity groups because we're afraid that we'll get something wrong when we speak to a person not from our group.

  • "I'll take responsibility for my actions but I'm not going to accept a notion of original sin because someone who looked like me did something atrocious three hundred years ago or 30 years ago. "

    Nobody (here at least) is talking about "original sin". But the heated nature of your response means you are ready to deny "privilege". Which even someone from a poor/working class background like myself acknowledges. Being white is a benefit, and denying that is a problem and shows a willful blindness.

    "It's time to call out identity politics as the horrible idea that it is."

    While I somewhat agree (I acknowledge endless arguments about privilege dissolve into silliness. But most such silly arguments occur in an academic environment and have little real effect on the real centers of power). But I would point out that complaining about "identity politics" only became a "thing" when it was OTHER people who began practicing it. Your complaint utterly ignores the very point of this posting, which is the incredible durability and insistent nature of "WHITE' identity politics.

    So…I find it ironic that you complain about identity politics only when other groups do it.

  • I might also note that the United States WAS founded on several "original sins" as a nation: native invasion and genocide, war, slavery. So…protestations of personal innocence aside, as a society we do have quite a few "sins" to atone for.

  • If I get stopped by a cop, it's going to be because I was doing something.

    "Why no officer, just how fast was I going?"

    It's not going to be because I didn't look like I belonged in the neighborhood.

    It's not going to be because the cop assumed I was a drug dealer just because I drive a nice car.

    That sir, is white privilege.

  • Brian M,

    The thing is that you think you're privileged because you think your whiteness makes you better and that you must use that privilege to help those that you think are inferior to you. I'll continue to evaluate individuals and make my assessments based on their individual merits.

    As for original sin, who do so talk to about reparations from the Vikings and the Romans. Those people invaded my native lands and enslaved my people and I demand to be compensated.

    At some point we have to forgive and move on. Every person who ever owned a slave is long dead. Civil rights are now the law of the land. Feeling guilty for something you didn't do will ensure that you avoid people who make you feel uncomfortable.

    None of that is a recipe for reconciliation or the forming of real friendships. America, for all of its faults, has managed to turn our former bitter enemies, Germany and Japan, into our biggest allies. Our short memories are sometimes our greatest asset.

  • "At some point we have to forgive and move on. Every person who ever owned a slave is long dead. Civil rights are now the law of the land. Feeling guilty for something you didn't do will ensure that you avoid people who make you feel uncomfortable."

    This is true. I think that my people (or at least the ones I'm told are the predominant contributors of my DNA) are still a wee tad pissed at the brits for taking over their country 800 years ago.

    So, it's a little silly to carry a grudge, yes. OTOH, although Civil Rights may be the "Law of the Land" it is attended with the same lack of fervor in much of the former CSA as it was in 1867–150 years ago.

    White IS privilege in the U.S. If I lived the exact same life as I do now, the same beat up

  • Sorry, I don't know whether it's the Chromebook, the page or my arthritic hands but I keep posting unfinished comments.

    To continue:

    …If I lived the exact same life, as I do now, in the same beat up house and hung out in the same bars I would be getting stopped on my way home a bit more often, denied entry a bit more often and talked about as being lazy or shiftless a bit more often.

  • Anyone who would only vote for a white male Democrat probably wouldn't vote for a Democrat at all. I could be wrong, but I'm not too wrong.

  • Ed, thanks for this. I'm about 15 yrs. older than you, grew up in the Deep South (N. FL) and live there today (TN), and am still kind of shocked by your story. I was lucky enough to go to (newly desegregated) public schools with black kids and more importantly black teachers. Not saying I haven't said and thought some dumbass things, but seeing black people in positions of authority from a young age, ones which my parents made sure I respected, helped me immeasurably.

    I dunno, it seems like the de facto resegregation of our schools and society has just made things, i.e. racism worse.

  • @ geoff:

    "the de facto resegregation of our schools and society has just made things, i.e. racism worse."

    The first clause of that sentence was unnecessary.

    I grew up in a time when non-whites, especially young afro-american males were viewed as troublemakers for not wanting to eat Mr. Chuck's scraps or his shit.

    53 years after the passage of the CRA and it seems that a lot of places haven't received the notice of its passage.

  • Whenever my father had anything to say about it, we always lived in intensely rural regions where no people of color were apparently permitted to dwell. As I didn't always reside with my parents, I had some slight experience of at least occasionally seeing people other than sallow Scotch-Irish ridge-runners. Some of my extended family had none, as I discovered once when I was volunteered to drive a cousin and her adenoidal offspring to a doctor's appointment in distant, storied Poplar Bluff. While I was driving through the outskirts of the city seeking the medical center, suddenly the kid gasped and plastered himself to the side window, crying 'Mom, what's that?' I looked in the general direction and damned if I saw anything worth notice, but my cousin knew immediately. 'That's a nigger, honey,' she said.

  • This is one of my favorite of your many good posts that I have read. I am not quite 25 years your senior and every word resonated with me. You are right, that stuff stays in your head pretty much forever.

    I grew up on a farm and went to school in a small town of about 1200. It was a farming village on a railroad founded in the late 1860s that was just beginning the process of growing into what my father called a "bedroom town" for the nearby small city (I also heard the term "exurb" at some point). It's now a full-blown suburb more than 10 times that size.

    There's another interesting aspect of that town that I've only understood in relatively recent years, after doing a lot of reading and thinking about race. Besides the original founding stock of mostly German- and English-descended farmers, there were sizable proportions of the population who were of Irish and Italian ancestry. These had mostly migrated to town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to work in the local coal mine. In the early days, there and all over the country, these groups were not considered quite "white."

    By the late 1950s, everybody pretty much got along (the town still had zero black people), but there were still subtle attitudes that people had toward those in the "other" groups. Protestant vs. Catholic was how it mostly played out in those days. Nothing really nasty. It's only much later that I realized that I was seeing the later stages of that transition from not-quite-white to white for the Irish and Italians. We were smoothing out the last rough edges.

    I haven't much at all to do with that town anymore, although I live in the central city. It has a whole 1.3 percent black population now, out of more than 10,000. I have seen stories about some of the early high school kids from a few years ago having had trouble, but I guess it is probably sort of OK now. Not great, but OK.

  • "The thing is that you think you're privileged because you think your whiteness makes you better and that you must use that privilege to help those that you think are inferior to you."

    Wow. Just wow. I don't even know how to respond to this. Talk about totally missing many points. At this point in our discussion, though, I"m not sure what benefit there is. Enjoy your life in the totally racism free, egalitarian paradise which is the United States.

    "I'll continue to evaluate individuals and make my assessments based on their individual merits."

    Wow. You win. Obviously, nobody here does this in any way. Only the color-blind Nunya, who exists in a personal bubble of "Civil Rights" freedom and colorblindness, is capable of this. Myself, I carry an Android Ap around on my cell phone with a checklist of group characteristics which I input when I meet a new person. The software then gives me a "privilege and oppression score" which I use to govern my interactions with the new acquaintance!

  • "53 years after the passage of the CRA and it seems that a lot of places haven't received the notice of its passage."

    I want, no I NEED to know where "Nunya" lives, so I can experience his privilege-free, racism-free America!

  • Evaluating certain people on "individual merit" in a society that has for centuries enslaved, eradicated and repressed them, where racism has largely determined their access to wealth and education as recently as… well… now, is a decidedly racist ploy.

    America doesn't remotely resemble a meritocracy, so appeals to "merit" are just appeals to the superiority of the group that has benefited from racist policy in the US: white people. It is also a foundational libertarian lie.

    Jim Crow laws were around until the late 60's, barring access to jobs, wealth and schools. Redlining and blockbusting was around until the late 1980's (hell, Trump refused to rent to PoCs in the 90's). Given that most wealth in the US is tied up in mortgages, denying an entire group access to that wealth (and access to better-funded schools that come with higher property values) is a pretty good way to make sure one group of people will be forever poor and disadvantaged.

    For a brief overview of how redlining, blockbusting and predatory lending in our glorious capitalist "meritocracy" destroyed pretty much every fucking black neighbourhood in America, I suggest this fun review of the death of Freddie Gray:

  • The Palace Cat says:

    @ungrateful Negro:
    The retraining programs cited in the article are software engineering and nursing. It is a reasonable bet that Captain Coal is more than 10 years out of school. It is also likely that he scraped through on a C average. Programming and nursing are HARD. An indifferent student had best not go into nursing, for the sake of all of us, and will struggle mightily in a software boot camp. People like him are clinging to coal because they do not have the skill set or desire to retrain into one of these challenging fields ( that they will likely fail in. ) Coal pays good money to people with a strong work ethic and a strong back who don’t do well in academics. This is the manufacturing conundrum with a black lung costume, and this country needs to figure out a solution soon: what do we do with the vast numbers of adults in this country who aren’t well-suited to programming?

  • Palace Cat – you're telephathic, eh? That was exactly my first thought upon reading that retraining article, living as I do in a part of the world inhabited by loggers, miners, fishermen, laborers and operating engineers.

    People who've been put down their entire scholastic years for not being smarty pantses are likely to view brain-training with skepticism. More appealing courses might be mechanics – heavy duty, ship, airplane & helicopter – trades that require study but pay off with in-demand jobs. Costs more, of course, than white-collar training? Even brick-laying would be more appealing, frankly, than anything to do with software.

  • The number of STEM positions created is far below the number of manufacturing and logistics positions being lost to automation and export. Retraining is at best a short-term and at worst a misleading solution (if you can even retrain a manual laborer into a STEM field, which takes decades). Many skilled and professional jobs are also on their way to being automated and/or exported.

    Basically, look towards something like the UBI and you know… seizing the means of production… to be able to deal with this problem.

  • You knew you had done well if you lived in a shitty house but a shitty house on a street where everyone was white.

    I had a college roommate who was raised in a tiny town in rural Ohio. The whole town looked down on residents of "Coontown", a neighborhood where black people had most recently lived in the late 19th century during railroad construction. EXACTLY ZERO lived there at the time…

  • Brian M,

    I grew up in Los Angeles in a neighborhood where white people were the minority. I attended LA County public high schools where at least 30% of my classmates were first generation immigrants from all over the world. There was, of course, racial tensions but the level of integration from kindergarten onward was definitely above average.

    I knew, from an early age, that the land I lived on was formerly Mexican (and Spanish) held territory. I grew up on Spanish street and city names. I also knew the history of the Conquistadors.

    Coming from a diverse pot like that doesn’t change the fact that people choose their friends largely on the premise that they don’t treat you like an inferior or a superior. If I’m constantly apologizing for my ancestors’ actions, you’re going to think I’m a weirdo. If you’re constantly criticizing me for being an oppressor, I’m not going to want to hang out with you.

    We can and should acknowledge past injustices and work to remove the barriers that allow people to move up in the world. Chief among these is the barrier that tells minorities and women that they are incapable of rising above their lot in life because they are oppressed. The moment you convince a person that they’re stuck, all motivation is removed.

    The obsession with race and gender based privilege certainly isn’t telling white men they can’t succeed. If anything, it’s telling them that they have absolutely no excuse but to end up on top.

    Why not begin with the premise that we are all human and all have unique capabilities. Every race has geniuses and dullards, rich and poor, good and evil. Separating ourselves into a hierarchy of the oppressed based on appearance is the surest possible way to guarantee that those currently at the bottom stay there because they will never even try to improve.

  • Nobody says they're "stuck".

    Just that it's a heck of a lot harder to score a touchdown if you have to start in your own end zone.

    You can give 'em all the pep-talks you want but that doesn't start them any further downfield.

  • Major Kong,

    I think my opinion is formed largely by just how successful a lot of my immigrant friends became later in life. It's hard to look at a kid that was born in the slums of Bangladesh or as a boat person from Viet Nam and wonder how they both became physicians despite a monumental uphill battle.

    The biggest benefit they had was a strong family that pushed them to succeed; a lot larder, I might mention, than my own family did for me.

  • The reason I am losing hope on even out-voting these assholes is that we fucking DID out-vote them, and it didn't matter. I don't see how we will ever reverse the electoral and gerrymandering based advantage the GOP has built. Shitholes with shrinking populations only work to their advantage.

    Let's say that every single Peoria, Gary, and Flint, along with the desolate countryside between them, was depopulated by 99% overnight. As long as a single fucking Trump voter was left in each county, then Trump still gets re-elected in 2020, and the GOP would proudly proclaim that this is what the Founders wanted.

  • I can't remember the time one of my white friends or relatives said about a white criminal, "He was a gentle giant." To me, a thug is a thug, regardless of race, but this doesn't seem to be true in the black community.

    Even my black sister-in-law (i introduced her to my brother) believes in the lie of "Hands up don't shoot." When was the last time you heard a Chinese American complaining about police brutality? I agree with you about tribalism, but i've never heard any Asians, Hispanics, etc. defending criminals who happen to look like them.

    Somehow, pointing out this fact has become as racist to some as "Being white is OK" or daring to mention the problem of black-on-black crime.

  • @Major Kong. From watching Cops on TV, it seems they usually catch drug dealers, regardless of race, because they're being stupid, like driving too fast, driving recklessly, driving a car with a broken tail light, etc.
    BTW, even if a cop stops you for no good reason, don't immediately adopt an attitude, and certainly don't reach for your gun when the cop says not to!

  • @ajobil

    I've never carried a gun in a civilian capacity and I don't intend to start now.

    If I'm going to the range my weapons are unloaded, in a case in the trunk with the ammunition in a separate case.

  • The Palace Cat says:

    Yup! Building trades are another compelling alternative: journeymen electricians and plumbers make excellent money, and while aspects of the work are vulnerable to automation, the jobs can’t be outsourced to Bangalore. Also the skills are portable: an electrician can work in Florida or California. With storm intensity trending upward there should be a healthy market for building tradespeople in the country.
    However, I was talking to a kid trying to get into electrician training locally, and he struggled with getting sponsorship (it’s like West Point, I guess?) and with commuting to the exurb where the training was located. This may have been a line of BS, tho.

  • "It's hard to look at a kid that was born in the slums of Bangladesh or as a boat person from Viet Nam and wonder how they both became physicians despite a monumental uphill battle.".

    They're not black.Their great-grandparents weren't at all likely to have been slaves in the U.S.

    That's for a start. There are other easons that Vietnamese and other immigrants do well; one is family connections. In the U.S. since the end of the civil war, non-whites (specifically those of african descent) have been demonized, disenfranchised and disproportionately arrested, convicted and imprisoned. That's not an opinion.

    Major Kong said something about scoring a touchdown from your own endzone. They're not even allowed INSIDE the stadium, still, in a lot of places IN THE U.S.

  • demo: That's all a myth (per nunya). It's all meritocracy all the way down.

    "i've never heard any Asians, Hispanics, etc. defending criminals who happen to look like them." -ajobil

    Did you know that an Arizona city (Lake Havasu City, I believe but am too lazy to look up (and I am white!) renamed a major street after the nuttiest member of the Bundy Ranch gang? The one who got himself shot.

    Read the nastier sides of the internet and you will find plenty of people defending Root for shooting up that black church.

    IOW…your statement is somewhat nonsense.

  • As someone who has lived on both the Northside and Southside of Chicago I gotta say that the Southside is and was incredibly more racist than the Northside.
    A lot of it is tribalism form Eastern Europeans….back in the old country if someone showed up who spoke different and looked different, there was a good chance that the would kill you. Add in the loss of property value from Red-Lining and the amount of white flight from the southside during the late sixties and 1970's is hard to imagine now.
    That said, the headquarters of the American Nazi party was somewhere around SW Highway and Western Ave for a long time and Martin Luther King was hit in the head with a brick in Marquette Park in 1966 or 1967.

    Fear and loathing, truly.

  • I'll leave my best case scenario for race and gender relations: I'm going to treat you as well as I would anyone else I meet. That's it. That's all.

    I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and hope you'll do the same to me. My thoughts are my own but my actions are the thing I can control. My actions will be to treat you as neutrally as I would anyone from my own race.

    Is there any better solution?

  • Nunya: Bully for you. On a personal level, that is all anyone can ask.

    But one should not believe that racism does not exist, that structural issues are unimportant, and that only uppity minorities engage in identity thinking. As I noted above: read Ed's essay in question. Identity thinking has already dominated American politics and society for centuries. You may find it "uncomfortable" when the non-heartlandishly-hued groups do this, but….

  • Great post Ed, and I suspect you're correct that time and attrition of the trash in which our societal racism is most deeply embedded are ultimately the only cure.

  • @Mo
    You're right. My brother drove a long distance truck hauling dangerous chemicals for a few years before he decided to study refrigeration repair for 2 hours while still driving a truck. He worked for a supermarket chain for several years before his employer sent him back to school to study fork lift repair. For some reason it seems to be in even more demand as a specialty.

    My brother was one of those who was sick of school after he graduated from HS and swore he'd never do that again. Even my sister, who barely graduated HS went back to school to learn welding and later nursing.

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