Friday, March 25, 2011

Angry white people

I always find it amusing, if not sad and a little trite, when someone claims, “I’m not a racist.”

It’s usually followed by the qualifier “but…” and then a list of complaints about a particular ethnic group.

I recently received an email that’s making the rounds, subject line “Buchanan to Obama,” in which the conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan presumably wants to have a “two-way” dialog about race.

Fair enough, you might say, until you get into the heart of his message; which has the same “I’m not a racist but…” ring to it that seems to be making polite rounds in conversational and email circles these days.

Before we get to the “Buchanan to Obama” message, however, there’s a note at the beginning, from someone, probably an angry white person—it’s never clear where or how this “not a racist” message originated—which says: “Finally............It is Said Publicly.    I have never seen the white side explained better! Pat Buchanan had the guts to say it. It is about time.

Never mind that the introductory note is riddled with errors in composition more common to grade school spellers than to those who think critically and ask questions about where they’re getting their information.

Never mind that it’s clear from the beginning that this is the “white side” of the story that is seldom told out of fear of being politically incorrect.

Never mind the little squiggly American flag, waving at the top of the message indicating that patriots will not want to miss this important word from an angry white person.

The note alone is usually the first thing that causes me to press the delete button on these electronic circulars, which do more to diminish rather than promote democratic thinking, dialog and debate.

If you haven’t noticed, lately, the quality of public discourse in the U.S. seems to have gone into a steep decline. I don’t expect it to get better any time soon, not when we can hurl more than a hundred million-dollar Tomahawk missiles exploding into the North African desert while handing out pink slips to thousands of teachers across the nation. (The late comedian George Carlin pointed out not so long ago, the United States doesn’t bomb white people, only brown people.)

Perhaps I romanticize the notion too much, that we could give more of our public time and attention to ideas and conversations that actually improve our lives rather than degrade them. I find few things more degrading than racism (or even the hint of it, as in “I’m not a racist but…”), and lack of education.

I get these well-meaning e-circulars from friends and family, attached with the email addresses of previous senders, who then forward them to others and on it goes, until they get to me. I usually trash them but sometimes, out of curiosity, I have to check them out.

When I find one that is utterly or even partially false, I’ll send the correct information to all whose names appear in the previous forwards.

This one, as it turns out, is for real, and is taken from a passage of one of Buchanan’s syndicated columns. In “A Brief for Whitey,” published March 21, 2008, Buchanan argues that whites cannot be blamed for high rates of crime and illegitimacy in the black community, that whites should not be held responsible for problems they did not create.

“Is white America really responsible for the fact that the crime and incarceration rates for African-Americans are seven times those of white America?” he asks. “Is it really white America’s fault that illegitimacy in the African-American community has hit 70 percent and the black dropout rate from high schools in some cities has reached 50 percent?”

In fact, the overriding message is that blacks in America should be more grateful for all that whites have done for them. And this is the central message of the e-circular.

“First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks,” says Buchanan. “It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.”

Here’s where I have the most trouble with Buchanan’s and other angry white people’s thinking. What does Buchanan really know about “levels of freedom and prosperity” experienced by blacks?

Yes, Christian salvation brought to life some of our nation’s best activist churches, mostly black, during the Civil Rights movement, but Christians, especially U.S. Christians, have also been known for less charitable acts of righteousness, like slavery.

The worst part, I guess, is the subtle justification of bringing 600,000 slaves to the colonies so that we could cultivate and groom them, through several hundred years of brutality and servitude, into free and prosperous citizens of a freedom-loving state.

“We hear the grievances,” he says, but “where’s the gratitude?”

Yeah, where’s the gratitude? Thanks for Jim Crow, and segregation, and thanks for economic inequities that never make it into the mainstream conversation about race in America, but thanks most of all for a country that knows very little about racism.

Let’s not get into the racial issues of why statistics for crime and incarceration are “higher” among blacks than whites. Let’s not weigh the odds of how 300 years of brutality against people of color have become embedded into our national psyche and value system.

Let’s stay focused on the importance of being earnest and saying, “Thank you, America. Thank you for uprooting my ancestors so that I could be born in a free country to enjoy this nation’s endless opportunities and great prosperity, to have avoided the perils of the backwards jungles of Africa.”

That’s the message of Pat Buchanan try as he might to couch it in the vernacular of “angry white guy is tired reverse discrimination,” where blacks are given “unfair” advantage over whites through affirmative action or other entitlements.

What’s not said, however, is that without these programs, which may indeed have spent their usefulness, blacks would still be fighting (as some still are) for the right to vote, let alone attend the university of their choice.

“OK,” concludes the nameless angry white person who originally sent out this important message, “will you pass it on? YES. I did but will you? Because I’m for a better America. Sorry. I am Not racist, Not violent, Just not silent anymore.”

NO. I don’t think so. I won’t pass it on, because I’m also for a better America, and I too refuse to be silent. §

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