Bad-mouthing working-class whites

The December, 2018 issue of the Atlantic carries an article by Joan C. Williams titled “The Democrats’ White People Problem.” White argues, in part, that Trump and the Republicans have a strategy of keeping liberals focused on race and racism, instead of addressing class issues:

“These gestures [Trump’s inflammatory comments on race] may seem like pandering to racists. But in truth they are aimed equally at the left, in an effort to keep liberals’ attention focused on race rather than class. If Democrats were to focus more attention on economic issues, they just might be able to win back the non-elite white voters they’ve been bleeding for half a century.”

I admit that I have little skill in political analysis, so I have to take Williams’ political analysis on faith when she outlines some strategies that the Democrats could follow to regain votes.

But Williams is also making an ethical observation here, and ethics is something I know more about. She is speaking of ethics when she says:

“A final dynamic will be particularly hard to fix: the broken relationship between elite and non-elite white people, for which people of all races are paying the price. This is a white-people problem, and white people need to fix it. (I wouldn’t presume to advise people of color on how to respond to racism, or to suggest that they should refrain from seeing the 2016 election through the always-powerful lens of race. But as an elite white person, I do see it as my place to tell elite whites to stop displacing blame for their own racism onto non-elite whites.)” Williams emphasizes this last point later on: “Once you start a conversation about class, elite white people have to admit they have not only racial privilege but class privilege, too.”

We elites whites cannot dodge our own ethical responsibilities by bad-mouthing Trump and his supporters. Fighting classism is as ethically necessary as fighting racism, and in both cases we elite whites have to begin by examining ourselves: How are we contributing to the problem? And then: How can we stop contributing to the problem?

Or, as a sage two thousand years ago put it: Don’t go trying to pull the sawdust out of another’s eye when you’ve got a chunk of wood stuck in your own.

2 thoughts on “Bad-mouthing working-class whites”

  1. Why give the black elite a pass? They have been complicit in capitalism ever since a black slaveowner, Anthony Johnson, went to court to establish that John Punch, the African he had bought, was a slave and not an indentured servant and therefore should not go free.

  2. Will, I’m following the old saying: Write what you know. I know how the white elite dodge responsibility for classism. I know it, not just from being an elite white myself (which, as a minister, I now am), but from having been downwardly mobile and having spent 12 years in the residential construction industry; during those 12 years, though a college graduate, I was condescended to on a regular basis by upper middle class whites who were sure they were a hell of a lot smarter than I was when I knew they were just plain lucky and living off their class privilege. In short, I’m really good at spotting how the white elites are complicit in capitalist exploitation, and I feel more than competent to write about it. Besides, I know some elite black intelligentsia who are expert at calling out other elite blacks; while there aren’t nearly enough elite whites calling out other elite whites.

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