In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, some of my conservative friends have posted stories about white people being attacked by black folks. They are almost always accompanied by the question of why these stories aren’t getting the amount of media attention that Trayvon Martin’s did. I find myself wondering if many of my progressive friends have (or had) the same reaction I did when I first started seeing these posts crop up: Oh, great. More racist crap. I’m sure there is a racist element at work here, but there’s more to it than that.
Working class white people are pissed because they feel like no one’s listening to them. I’m not sure where it might have begun, but it’s at least as old as the end of the Civil War, when the poor farmers of the South were left to deal with the devastation of their lands on their own. Meanwhile those they formerly knew as slaves received assistance from their former owners. It didn’t matter that these people who’d been held in bondage were starting from less than scratch, that they needed every bit of help they got and more. All those redneck farmers knew was that people who, just a few years ago, were somewhere below them were seeming to be elevated above them while they were left hanging. In their eyes, it hasn’t gotten better over the years. Too many working class folks fall between the cracks when it comes to getting help from the government, not quite earning enough to get by, but earning too much to qualify any assistance. The frustration grows and often manifests as racism. And, sometimes, that racism results in violence. Why is that? Maybe it’s Original sin.
I know it’s probably weird hearing me talk about original sin, considering my rejection of much orthodox thought, but I’m coming around on this one. Understand that when I say “original sin”, I’m talking about a fairly stripped down version that’s devoid of snakes, fruit and the culpability of women. I’m talking about one where God created things a certain way and somewhere along the line, we screwed it up. The original sin I’m talking about causes people to feel superior to others for reasons they have little or nothing to do with themselves, be it the color of their skin or the circumstances of their birth. It causes people to look for scapegoats to explain the sorry mess their own lives have become, to lash out in anger and fear rather than confront whatever demons are causing that anger and fear. And, it causes people to manipulate others in order to protect their wealth and power.
I said before that working class white people are pissed because they feel no one is listening to them, but that’s not exactly true. The apparatus of the far right, the Tea Party, Fox News and talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity hear them. And, as they have for years, they’re using them for their own purposes. It’s about time we progressives took the blinders off and got the wax out of our ears and started hearing these folks, too. Then, maybe we can offer a viable alternative to what they’re getting now.