Don’t worry, white Americans. I’m not about to launch into an anti-racism tirade. Even though anti-racism is sort of my “specialty” – having been a history major, what do you want? – my chief goal and hope is for overall justice, equality, and fairness. And I think some lessons have been learned by African Americans that will serve white blue-collar workers well. I’m going to have to explain black high school socio-politics, but bare with me, you’ll get the point.
One thing that’s held against African American students is our detestation for “acting white.” In high school, it plays out like this:
First, there is a list of standards you must meet to be considered appropriately black –
-Speak black English vernacular
-Don’t be so quick to get on any white person’s, teacher, student, principal, good side
-Demonstrate sufficient athleticism and/or music ability
-Only date other black students or white students who act sufficiently black
-Don’t be a class stand-out
-Know the latest R&B, Hip-Hop, and Rap hits and artists.
I think the list goes a little something like that. Failure to meet any one or more of these standards immediately puts your “blackness” in question. You may even end up ostracize from the black students at-large. High school students usually do this to their own detriment. Either the best and brightest and prevented from leading the group; or, the leaders, who probably are exceptionally bright, are prevented from demonstrating their intelligence. This not only hurts the individual students; it hurts them as a group.
See, what black students are actually struggling against in the anti-black racism that’s ingrained into our educational systems. They can accomplish more as a collect group than any number of individuals acting alone can accomplish. Maintaining these standards for in-group membership often holds the larger group back, keeping them in a vicious cycle of underachievement and low expectations. Right? If the best and brightest were allowed to be honor students and maintain leadership of the group, maybe that would change the perception others have of the group at-large, thus leading to better education for all. Right? That’s fair?
So why aren’t the standards set aside? Well, the group wants to be sure that every individual is loyal to the group. This loyalty entails relating to and not being ashamed of other members in the group whose English may not meet what’s known as American Standard English. Some members of the group aren’t particularly academically gifted, though this by no means implies that they are “exception children.” At the end of the day, the group at-large needs to know that each individual is with them in the struggle against the prejudice and bias they face everyday. The aforementioned standards are simply a quick and easy way of finding out whether someone is for you or against you. In general, a student’s meeting these standards tells you a lot about where they are. But the standards, quick and easy though they may be, can be misleading, right? Cause anyone who holds too tightly may find him/herself graduating one day without a future.
I’m beginning to see it’s the same for white blue-collar workers, even during presidential elections. You want to know if the person who’ll be leading you can relate to your daily struggle and doesn’t look down on you for things they might not be into. (Just like a hip-hop fan doesn’t want to be looked down upon for not enjoying blues-jazz.) And so, you have a list of the standards a leader must maintain that looks something like this:
-Grow-up in an “all-American” type family
-Be a person of faith, preferably (fundamental) Christian
-Be a hunter
-Drink coffee at the diner in the morning, beer at the bar in the afternoon
-Dress “blue collar”
-Talk and sound “blue collar”
-Love, and I mean L-O-V-E love, America
-Hate anything, and I mean A-N-Y-thing, un-American
Just like with black high school students, what you really want to know is if this person is “one of us,” right? Cause a person who’s one of you is most likely to know and sympathize with your everyday struggle. That list is just a quick and easy way of finding out whether someone is for you or against you. But, holding too strictly to that list has gotten you into some trouble, right? In the most recent elections, holding too strictly to this list has gotten us into a war and an occupation of another country; all the while, the people we really want to get go free. The economy is heading into, if it’s not there already, recession. The housing bubble has burst. Health care costs are ridiculous, right? Sure, they doctors can get rid of the cancer, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg! Manufacturing jobs are going away, and not enough good-paying jobs are coming to replace them. The price of gas and heating oil is sky rocketing. And your struggle seems to be getting worse. Your faith sustains you.
But, wait. What does abortions and same-sex marriages have to do with you? Now, I can blog about either one or both on another day. For the sake of this post, just keep in mind that the gays ain’t the ones giving your kids poisoned toys.
See, what you really wanna know is whether or not your leader, or rather, our President, is someone who fights with you in the cause for economic fairness and justice. This person may not be able to bowl. This person may not enjoy hunting. This doesn’t mean that s/he doesn’t feel your pain and wants to change things to give you the fair shot you’ve earned.
I mean. Take it from me. All my high school teachers and principals loved me! I graduated at the top of my class and had one of the highest SAT scores. I didn’t dress “black.” I couldn’t dance well. My mother wouldn’t let me play sports. And because I had been a transfer student and my parents didn’t see the need to buy me a car, I couldn’t hang out with everyone else. I had to walk a tight rope in middle and high school, but now I’m able to use what I’ve gained by “acting white” AND my classmates know that I’m with them in the struggle.
So, just because someone doesn’t mean all your standards doesn’t mean they don’t care. It could mean that they’re being their authentic selves. Yes, they dress and different way and may act a different way, but they care about economic fairness and justice, they care about your struggle, just as much, maybe even more, as you do.
My advice to you? Don’t judge a book by its cover. At least read the inside folding first!
Or simply put, don’t dismiss Barack Obama just because he can’t bowl to save his life . . . or he doesn’t wear a lapel pin that’s made in China. If you’re going to vote against him, let it be because you prefer a health insurance mandate. Let it be because you don’t like his ideas about keep Social Security solvent. Just don’t let it be a few ill-spoken words. Just don’t let it be the fact that he keeps being himself and won’t mock you by playing at being you.