Sunday, April 24, 2016

Poor White Power

My mom came down the hall as I was coming out of my room. "Prince is dead," she told me. And I was standing there just gaping and trying to compute the meaning of the statement when Diane turned and said, "Gee! You all lost Michael Jackson and now you lost Prince. Must be some bad drugs going around."

You all. Meaning, black people.

Nevermind that Prince didn't do drugs.At first I had to parse the statements out to know how to feel. Do I get pissed for her slight of Prince or for the ignorance or for the flat out bigotry? For a minute or so I debated getting angry but decided against it. Diane is just racist. Everybody knows Diane is racist. Diane knows she's racist. It's nothing to get upset about anymore. She's just a damn racist. I have to see her everyday and I always speak, I'm always polite. She is what she is. I even forgive what she said to my mom the first day we were here because honestly life is short, but it's still a curious disease that she has, and I watch her trying to understand what life is like for her. How can you walk around so ignorant and be a happy person?

 Then again she's here in a homeless shelter with me and not many of us have anything to be happy about so maybe she isn't.

We were sitting outside beneath the smoking shanty talking and Diane began to relate a story about a friend in trouble. "Well they can mess with her if they want but I'll be at the door with the Klan if it don't stop."

They. Black people. The Klan.

And she was so matter of fact about it that there wasn't much to say so we just left the smoking shanty. There wasn't much else to do about it.

Thinking of Diane always puts me in a bad mood though, and watching Donald Trump clown around for the presidency always puts me in mind of Diane. The two are interchangeable in my thoughts forever now. I hate to say it but the entire Trump circus has me side-eyeing all the white people I meet. Because besides Ben Carson (who has been expelled from blackness, in case you didn't know) ain't nobody but white people voting for his crazy ass. How could white folks let him run around embarrassing the shit out of them? But that's just the thing, everybody ain't embarrassed. In fact some white folks are flat out elated.

 But you have to wonder how it was even possible for Donald Trump to come this far if race weren't still so incendiary even in the so called post-racial era. And being poor and white has everything to do with his success. Nevermind that Donald Trump doesn't care about poor people whatever their color, he's able to tap into a rage and ugliness that translates into votes because he is "telling it like it is". And don't doubt that he isn't because he does indeed. He taps into not just fear and prejudice but arrogance. That old time supremacy that built the Black Codes and Jim Crow, that told poor whites that they would maybe always be poor but they would always be better than a nigger. Years may pass, presidents come and go but whiteness will always be defined by the power to rise above niggers. It's what white power is all about.

What intrigues me about Diane and people like her is that they overlook the the fact that poverty is blind. I've been rich in my life, very rich in fact, but this is my first time ever being poor and I had no true concept beyond the academic how poverty as a system locks people out of the rest of the known world. Watch television commercials; the pretty sleek car commercials always fuck me up. How the hell can I ever get a car if I can't even show enough collateral or credit score to get a car loan? How can I buy the newest drug put out by the pharmaceutical industry without insurance? How can you participate in a capitalist country without capital?

You can't. You don't. You sit in your personal shantytown and remain disconnected from the rest of society. And that disconnection is so total and overwhelming that you'll never know how the other half lives because the two halves simply don't speak to one another. What is there to say but I'm sorry. I'm sorry you're so poor and so ignorant and so dislocated but I have a home and a mortgage and a car payment and expensive insurance premiums and a job, and you don't and I'm sorry but I have to live my life. That's basically a one way conversation because it's very hard to communicate what poverty is like and how it functions. And anyway who's actually listening? I know this because it's the way I addressed poverty when I had everything and others had nothing.

The truth is that Donald Trump doesn't have to become president to win. He's already won. He wins with every rally, every time his constituents beat down a protester, with every bit of rhetoric because he's brought to light somethings that it had briefly become impolite to say and think. He's given poor whiteness a new language and a new rage and a new way to communicate. A new life for the twenty first century. All he has to do is command a television camera and he's won. For a certain sector of the United States he will be the King of Hearts for evermore. He's become the champion of poor whiteness all the while concealing the most salient fact; he's taken advantage of people who have no voice and who have no money and while they will always lose as poor people must, he sacrifices nothing and adds nothing to an already impoverished mindset. He wins over and over and over again.

The thing that Diane will never understand no matter what is that here in the shelter we're all poor; there's nothing to be gained beyond self satisfied spite by dividing our power. If all the poor people of the country could band together think then what power could be wielded for change. Think of how the fabric of capitalism would rend itself to destruction. There's so little to be gained from division of strength. But the power of white supremacy never speaks to this idea by its very nature.

It's interesting to note that during President Obama's term the word racism itself has become such a reactionary word. White people hate hearing about it and that's nothing new but the fact that to label a white person as racist brings such howls of pain and anger that it's almost a dirty word. The yelps of protest you hear! But why is it so incendiary when the thing is so obvious? There's no need for the truth shy attitudes that surround such rhetoric.

At least if you're going to be racist then be like Diane and just own it. Trump plays coy all the while he plays ugly, feinting and tipping about like the emperor in his new clothes, bare but proud. When confronted with the truth he argues, lies, shrieks, clumsy and disjointed.

In a way, he's brought back a kind of racism that never went undercover exactly but that definitely became uncouth for many years. Now we're talking about it and plenty of people are touting the king. It's not new of course, it's familiar but re-cast with a special glow, reforged if not reformed. The bottom line is that white people have a problem and it's this: only they can stop Donald Trump and the Dianes of the world. The question is whether there's the will to do so.

God make it stop.


  1. But they - we - won't. I might on a one-to-one basis, I might shut down a co-worker who wonders why "they give their children such odd names". I might even go to the boss when a co-worker calls a client a "little pig". Or maybe not. A friend told me what I could do. Shut up and listen. So I do. Or I read.

    Collective will? No, I don't think so.

    1. But what about people like you WHY is there an absence of will to stop such ignorance among the ignorant? Real question