If you are still with me after reading the title, I imagine that perhaps a sense of anger and indignation has begun to build within you as you anticipate being berated as a bigot or misogynist or some other negative label, but I assure you that is not the case. I only want to put all differences aside and speak to you as one human being and American to another
To be perfectly honest, I have been incredulously skeptical of what from my point of view seems to be the certain zealotry of Donald Trump’s supporters from the very beginning of his presidential campaign. But, that being said, I understood. I really do.
From conversations I have overheard and participated in, within various random spaces and forums, both public and private, I have gained the sense that for quite a while now, many of you, my white fellow Americans, have begun to feel as if your opportunities to participate in the American Dream and its concomitant promise of wealth and prosperity have lessened to the extent of seemingly practical extinction.
But I too share your concerns, along with a bevy of other race-related anxieties that most Americans refuse to even acknowledge.
Nevertheless, on the other hand, all of Trump’s major proposed means of making America great again—building a wall, deporting all undocumented immigrants, barring anyone of the Muslim faith from entering the country, policing the inner city with an iron fist—smacks of a claim of victimization. In other words, it seems he has built his platform on the notion that all the issues threatening our well-being, financial and otherwise, arise out of the presence of a nefarious foreign element in our midst that must be dealt with severely and with prejudice and expelled if we are ever to feel safe again and rise to our greatest potential.
However, I would assert that the issues people like you and me face, and the proposed solutions to those issues you continue to embrace, issue forth from the same source and are one and the same. And I have a historical parallel that will help prove this assertion.
During the later years of the 1800’s, poor black and white farmers and farm workers faced a similar plight. They were little more than de facto indentured servants to obscenely rich landowners and commodity brokers. They worked long and hard with little financial reward or gain or opportunity transcends their situation, and more often than not, found themselves living under the most wretched of conditions and inextricably locked in a cycle of abject, crushing poverty.
Furthermore, in the South, the population was socially separated practically as much by class as by race. Poor southern whites, like their black counterparts, were almost wholly shut out of the political process as well as some public spheres and institutions.
Two enlightened, intrepid groups of blacks and whites, The Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union (CFNACU) on the one hand and The National Farmers’ Alliance (NFA) on the other, sensed the affinity of the two groups and recognized that the two groups were being deliberately kept apart to their own financial detriment and to the gain of the rich landowners and commodity brokers. And soon the two groups began to work together as political allies bound one to the other by economic ties and a common destiny.
Allow me to take a moment so that I might make the necessary extrapolations and give a more in-depth explanation of the significance of this moment. For a brief moment in this nation’s history, poor blacks and poor whites recognized in one another a common circumstance and destiny and pulled together in a spirit of solidarity to improve their lot in life. And for a brief moment, the movement began to gain momentum in earnest. For a brief moment, the voiceless and the powerless set their perceived differences aside and began to gain a voice, a common voice, and with this common voice began to exert a newfound measure of power.
But then, with their backs against the wall, the rich landowners and commodity brokers pulled the leaders of the white group, the NFA, aside. They promised them that if they would just stop the foolishness and end the coalition with the black farmers through cooperating with the CFNACU, not only would they pay them a few extra cents, they promised to also—and this was the deal clincher—recognize them as white people. If I remember correctly, the exact phrase used was “the full exercise of the white man’s prerogative.”
Whiteness was used as a commodity to be traded. And the farmers were only too eager to cash in despite it being against their best interest.
So, the coalition was irretrievably broken, and things returned to normal. Hope for progress was all but lost. And most importantly, the whites returned to the cycle of perpetual, abject, crushing poverty. Their lives did not improve one iota. But at least they now got to participate in whiteness with all the prerogatives thereof, a luxury, though, ironically they still could not afford.
This seems to me to be the situation in which we currently find ourselves. Modern versions of the Southern landowners and commodity brokers, contemptuous and disdainful of all but those of their own particular and exclusive economic class, continue to divide Americans into groups and play them one against the other as they look on in gleeful merriment, while growing ever richer and even more avaricious.
And over the course of Trump’s campaign, as the most intricate details of his artifice have been gradually revealed, it has become crystal clear that Donald Trump is this particular and exclusive class’ most duplicitous and rapacious representative.
There is nothing of substance to his promise to “Make America Great Again”. He will do nothing to improve your life. He will do nothing to improve the lives of your children. He will do nothing to improve your access to the American Dream.
All he has to offer is whiteness, “the full exercise of the white man’s prerogative.” But as long as his particular and exclusive class continues to control the levers of power, you won’t be able to take that whiteness to the bank.
So, in conclusion, amidst the celebratory atmosphere of a Trump campaign rally, I discern a definite and distinct contradiction in a raucous crowd of people loudly proclaiming blandishments of ersatz pride in their collective greatness and invincibility while simultaneously pledging absolute and unconditional obeisance and fealty to the very personification of the conditions of their misfortune, who stands before them with an almost godlike presence, promising to end the pitiful circumstance of their victimization once and for all.
However, well-meaning white people with good sense, you can either be proud, or you can be pitiful, but you cannot be both.
Which shall it be?