Did the title make you uncomfortable? The title is actually based on a quote from the Black preacher, Michael Eric Dyson, where he told “White America” to “stop being white and just be human.” His quote probably didn’t elicit the same emotional response because a double standard exists within our culture. It’s a double standard driven by a form of identity politics that establishes a hierarchy of privilege where it’s okay to “punch up” at whichever group is perceived to be more privileged than yours.
Identity politics aren’t inherently bad. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.” There’s nothing wrong with groups coming together to lobby for their interests. America has a rich history of powerful political activism being driven by groups lobbying for their benefit such as the Women’s and Civil Rights Movements. Nobody denies that those movements were noble causes and few would argue against their efficacy.
The problem arises when identity politics are used as a tool to silence other groups. Nowadays, it’s mostly been used to silence and denigrate white people, or “White America.” This kind of sanctioned white disparagement is everywhere and does nothing but divide and polarize. Groups can advocate for their causes without putting other groups down.
White America refers to the set of all white American people and their shared life experiences. It’s also a term used as a catch-all for anyone in this country with white skin. The quintessential member of White America is the affluent straight white male, and that is who people picture when they decide to “punch up.”
However, more white people in this country look like this:
Like I said during my speech at Shia LaBeouf’s He Will Not Divide Us art installation, the struggle doesn’t discriminate. Poor white working class families have more in common with poor non-white working class families than they do with the preppy lads you saw in the image above. And yet the poor whites, because they are white, are being told by popular culture and the media that they are the privileged ones. Of course, the argument can be made that so called “white privilege,” a social privilege, is what’s being talked about and white people shouldn’t be so offended.
But, you know what? They don’t care about that nuance, and as a member of a working class family myself, I completely understand why. When you’re barely putting food on the table to feed your family because all the factories closed down and moved to Mexico and China, you neither have the time or energy to worry about social justice issues. Hunger, rent, and health insurance are bigger, more immediate, and more important issues than the color of people’s skin. Economic privilege is more real and tangible than so-called “white privilege.”
Think back to how uncomfortable you felt when you first read the title of this article. If you’re Asian, you were probably uncomfortable because you felt dehumanized. You are obviously much more than the color of your skin. You’re a human being with your own unique, deep, and meaningful experiences. It’s easy to demonize and scapegoat an entire group of people but if you zoom in enough on “White America,” you’ll find that these groups are made up of individuals like you and me.
If you passed that little empathy test, is it now easier to see why White America, and especially White Working Class America, voted for Trump? They’ve been ignored by the politicians that they’ve been voting into office for the past half century and then told by the media that their problems are insignificant because of the color of their skin. So when a loud charismatic man comes along and addresses their economic and cultural pain by promising to bring back jobs while shunning political correctness, they are going to listen. Of course not all of them voted for Trump, but enough did to win over the Rust Belt states which helped change the outcome of the election.
As for why I, an Asian-American man, am writing an article defending white Americans? Because they’re just as American as I am and somebody has to. Nobody would care if this article were written by a white person. At best they would be shrugged off as whiny, and at worst they’d be called a racist. No other group has this stigma surrounding their advocacy, which is understandable given this country’s history with segregation and white supremacy. But I implore you, the reader, to not instinctively dismiss what you’ve read as “pro-white” — because it’s not. Underperforming groups can be lifted without putting other groups down. That used to be what the fight for equality meant. It wasn’t long ago when those who called themselves progressives and liberals embraced the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and judged people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.