Friday, August 13, 2010

Okay. Let's Talk. But I Get to Go First.

This is an interesting article. Food for thought. My only quibble is the suggestion that the racial grievances of working and middle-class white be heard. Most of their complaints, ie affirmative action and the safety of integrated neighborhoods, I find baseless. I mean, if they're willing to accept the facts, I guess it's a reasonable request, to be heard.

On the other hand, maybe they just want to be heard but not necessarily heard first - in which case, all right. Let's talk.

And maybe one day, I'll post my feelings about the grievances of working and middle-class whites. You know, with a list of common complaints and my response. It would look like this:
COMPLAINT - My kids may get beat up in an integrated neighborhood.
RESPONSE - So . . . kids in white working and middle class neighborhoods never get beat up?
But enough of my whining. Here's the article:

By Mark Naison
History News Network
August 2, 2010

Reading Ross Douthat's column in the New York Times blaming
Ivy League admissions for the disaffection of working-class
and middle-class whites made me laugh. As someone who grew
up in a working class neighborhood and spent large amounts
of time with working-class whites during my years coaching
baseball and basketball in Brooklyn from the early 80s to
the late 90s, I can assure you that among working-class
Brooklynites, Ivy League admissions NEVER CAME UP when the
subject of white racial grievances were raised. That
subject was, and still is, one that upsets white Fordham
students, but in the ballfields, bars and gymnasiums of
Canarsie, Bergen Beach, Bensonhurst, Marine Park and Bay
Ridge, the racial fears of working-class whites were
overwhelmingly focused on things they experienced on the job
and fears for their children's safety as neighborhoods and
schools turned from predominantly white to predominantly
black and/or Latino.

When my working-class white friends and fellow coaches
attacked affirmative action-which they did vociferously and
often-it was about preferential treatment that they saw
blacks and Latinos getting on the job, especially in the
civil service. They were convinced that in any government
agency-whether it was the police department, the fire
department, the bureau of motor vehicles or the board of
education-they were going to be passed over for promotion by
blacks and Latinos with lower test scores. When I told them
that these compensatory racial preferences, which were being
steadily undermined by Supreme Court decisions, were far
less damaging than the discrimination that blacks and
Latinos still faced in the skilled construction trades, they
listened, but were not convinced. The fact that they might
have to get a higher test score than their black or Latino
co-workers to get promoted to sergeant or office
administrator irritated them enormously, and easily led to
self-pitying arguments that "a white man couldn't get a
break in America anymore." When I challenged them with a
litany of things blacks went through on a daily basis-from
job and housing discrimination to harassment by police-they
listened, but rarely relinquished their deep sense of
outrage that color conscious hiring was now official policy
in many government agencies and some private employers.

But resentment of affirmative action was hardly the only
issue white working-class people I know raised when talking
about race. Their biggest concern was that their kids were
going to be beaten up and/or harassed by black and Latino
peers at Brooklyn neighborhoods and schools turned from
majority white to majority black and Latino.

Since this is something that happened to me when I was in
high school (see White Boy: A Memoir) and to many kids in my
Park Slope neighborhood (see Jonathan Lethem's novel
Fortress of Solitude), I could hardly tell them that they
were making these things up, even though my own children had
overwhelmingly positive experiences in integrated schools
and neighborhoods. When talking about race, they were prone
to view the world through the prism of "the glass half
empty." Whereas I saw neighborhood change as an opportunity
to create a more open and inclusive society, they saw it as
a threat to the value of their only asset-their home-and
something that would put their children and families at
risk. Were they wrong about this? There was certainly
evidence, both objectively and subjectively, that their
fears had substance.

Given these two sets of concerns, about fairness on the job
and safety in the neighborhood and the schools, it is no
wonder the working class and the middle class look at the
changing demographics of American society with some
trepidation. As whites are in the process of becoming a
minority, not only in the nation as a whole, but in the
communities they live in, they wonder if their economic and
physical security, which were already somewhat fragile, is
going to be compromised. And when they see a black
president, they fear that their concerns will easily
sacrificed in favor of some unspecified "black" or "liberal"

Their fears and concerns when it comes to President Obama
often take forms that are ugly and irrational, especially
given the president's history and actual policies, but the
experiences which fuel their fears are ones that must be
examined critically. The racial resentments of whites of
modest means are a complex mix of inherited racist
attitudes, folk tales, rumors spread by the media and
through word-of-mouth, and real-life experiences which lead
them to fear their emerging minority status. We ignore the
latter at our peril. We need to have a continuing dialogue
about race with our white working-class and middle-class
neighbors that confronts their prejudices but allows their
grievances to be heard.

Only through that kind of dialogue-which should take place
between ALL Americans-can create the basis of a fair and
just society in which everyone feels recognized and
respected irregardless of racial or ethnic background.

[Mark Naison is a Professor of African-American Studies and
History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham's
Urban Studies Program. He is the author of three books and
over 100 articles on African-American History, urban
history, and the history of sports. His most recent book,
White Boy: A Memoir, was published in the spring of 2002 ]

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This isn't too complicated. If you disagree with me, I'm more than happy to have an honest discussion. I'm quite open to learning new facts and ideas. I'm dying for a conservative to explain their ideas in a sensible way.

But, I do have rules, and they also apply to those who agree with me. They just get the benefit of my already knowing the fact they'll be referring to.

So, here're the comment thread rules:

1 - Use facts.
2 - Refer to policy.
3 - Don't rely on theories and conjectures. Show me how, for example, a public health insurance option will lead to "rationing" of health care.
4 - No unfounded attacks on any entity.

If you break those rules, I will edit your comment to my own whimsical satisfaction.

Lastly, perhaps most importantly, I'm not going to entertain too much pro-white/racism-denying discussion. I want this to be a space to discuss strategies to fight racism, not space where I have to fight racism. I want anti-racists to be able to come here for a mental respite. If what you're interested in doing is attempting to demonstrate the fallacy of anti-racism by repeating the same ole comments and questions and accusations we hear all the time, please do that somewhere else.

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