when the real enemy is colored green and gold

I had a conversation with an uncle last week about politics. We rarely see eye to eye on issues, and he has had to apologize in the past for racist remarks he made in the presence of my friends, when I made it clear it was unacceptable. The remarkable part of the conversation, though, was getting a glimpse at how he arrived at his worldview.

My mother had told me he had it rough as a kid, but I didn’t know how rough. It was after WWII, and his family was immigrant German. He lost his father young, and had to work every day to support his family. At age 11, his paper route helped fed the family. He was the punching bag of the class, mostly friendless, until the day he fought back from a punch in the face.

This man now walks around the town as if he owns it – not in the way of a braggart, but with a quiet confidence. His story of alienation was an absolute shock – a sort of punch in the face in itself. But the lesson he learned from his childhood was anything but compassion. As we argued back and forth on the points of what the responsibilities of a government should be, what is a right and what is a privilege, I kept coming back to the same question: “Would you really want to penalize a child? What lush life do you think someone has in the projects? On food stamps? Why would you want a child to go through what you did?”

He never had an answer for me. I know he loves kids – a big part of his life’s work was in caring for them – and that he understands the anguish a parent feels when a child goes astray or worse. Still, I couldn’t understand why it didn’t transform him in a different way.

Another person who endlessly posts feeds from Newt Gingrich and the gop’s Website lost her father to cancer in a European country which waited too long to treat him. When I responded both with sympathy for her father’s loss but also with facts as to how the public health system performs in Denmark (according to my brother-in-law who is a physician there), she only answered, “It runs better in richer countries.” Then she continues to post and comment on the evils she has yet to understand – she only parrots what she is told.

Another conversation was with a conservative who had the benefit of private education, one she earned. And her comment wrt rights v. privileges was “paddle your own canoe”. I know she never lacked for material things, and her prep school pedigree made it easier to transition to private higher education, no doubt underwritten by the burden of loans. At least she has made some effort to read and comment without heat and with some intelligence, but even there, all roads lead to tort reform, socialism, and something my uncle comes closest to saying out loud.

Many of these people are afraid. Afraid that someone they may have discriminated against in the past has re-emerged in the form of a president. And the same disrespect, fear, prejudice, becomes the lens to best observe him and his actions. The most fearful are those who never attained President or Mrs. Obama’s level of success, and refuse to acknowledge that they achieved those goals because of their abilities, because of their willingness to work harder in the face of others’ discrimination. They blame the folks they think got a pass – almost all browner and poorer than them – instead of people who are the same color but are unwilling to share what they have.

I see this in my privileged neighborhood, and wonder what it will take to help the fearful people see the truth – their worst enemy is the one they think they will be, since they look the same.

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5 Comments

Filed under communication, compassion, racism, relationships, republicans

5 responses to “when the real enemy is colored green and gold

  1. HWB

    I like this post, and I think I can understand where your uncle is coming from. Although I may be wrong, I too have felt resentment towards people (still do at times) but not because of race. Instead it has been down to class, because of my own impoverished background. Tough environments require a hard shell to protect you. And do you think Obama got there purely from his own effort, and not the contacts from being an Ivy League old boy? Is ‘meritocratic’ thinking seen as a sham by people, like here in the UK?

    • I think you should read his autobiography – he gives a clear explanation of his path, from his nearly illegitimate birth (his mother married when she was 6 months pregnant), through the abandonment by his father, and his grandparents’ hard work to get him a chance at a better life. He wasn’t an Ivy League old boy until much later in life, and yes, the network in the US is everything.

      But as someone who had a similar upbringing in the same town – between them, my parents held 5 jobs – I came out with a very different view of the world, that I was luckier than most people, and should give back. The class issue is something people don’t like to talk about – at least, not in any intelligent way in the mass media – but the biggest lie is that rich whites and poor whites have more in common than poor people of any background. It does so much harm to those of disadvantage.

  2. HWB

    Yes, I agree, but although I don’t know much about top-down ‘diversity’ in the US, I think here in the UK class needs to become the most important social referrent when pursuing social change. Here we have a form of official and professional multi-culturalism promoted throughout society, but this is done so within a framework that while celebrating difference, ignores or does not see as important the very real economic inequalities that exist here. We have various communities, groups, identities, which although consist of people that have much in common with others due to their class and poverty, end up competing with one another for public resources. This causes all kinds of social problems. Class is no longer seen as the thread that holds together people of differing backgrounds. Also, the demonisation of white working class people here (you may be aware of the ‘chav’ phenomenon over recent years), portrays us as being almost inherently racist and definitely culturally backward and uneducated. This seems to me to perpetuate a myth in which poor non-white people have more in common with rich white people (where a lot of this kind of prejudice originates). A bit like the ‘white trash’ thing you have in the US?

    • I can’t speak to the UK phenomenon, but I do think the day-to-day reality of life as a non-white person is far more stressful – simple anecdotes of being tailed by security people in stores, something I witnessed first-hand, or being always selected for “random” screenings… these become part of everyday life in a way I can only relate to as a woman in an inherently misogynist society.

      I’m glad to have the conversation with you. It’s clear you have given a great deal of careful thought to these matters.

  3. I remember watching a news program over her in Aust during the Presidential election in the US and I saw a McCain/Palin rally on that program and they were in this dirt poor town of the south and they were on the podium and they said something to the roaring crowd before them about how “Obama is about wealth re-distribution” and it got this tremendous Boo. And I was dumbstruck – from what I could see of the crowd they were poor, some really poor – wealth re-distribution would have helped these very same people. They were the people who should have been in support of Obama’s so called wealth re-distribution policies.

    Amazing.

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