I received the following e-mail before I went on vacation. I was impressed with the gentleman's honesty and his willingness to discuss an uncomfortable subject. I asked him if I could share it with my fellow field hands and he said cool. (The one caveat being that I didn't publish his full name). I will call him RL.
First off, I have to tell you that I'm white. I mean really white. I was born and raised on a farm in rural Minnesota. I grew up on country music, the religious right, and extremely boring food. After high school, I moved to Madison, WI. Madison considers itself a center of progressive, liberal ideas. I bought into that. I didn't fit in where I was from, and I thought the "liberal" Madison thing was right for me. But I worked for three years as a Special Education Assistant at East High- the school that serves more low-income/racially diverse students than any other in the city. I saw a disproportionate number of black kids labeled learning disabled or emotionally disturbed, and therefore part of Special Ed., simply because their parents weren't around (addicted to drugs, locked up, or just plain absent) or they realized that the standard education system didn't offer anything for them. Most of these kids truly believed that the only paths out of poverty were sports, music, or selling drugs. I thought it was a failing of black culture, black parents, hip hop, etc. I was in my early twenties. There had been only one black kid in my grade in high school. Nobody told me any different. I had no idea.
During the time I lived in Madison, I became friends with some Socialists and Anarchists. I sort of agreed with their ideals but I wasn't ready to face the fact that every bit of mainstream culture was designed to get me to distrust anybody that seemed the slightest bit different for any reason. Besides, the degree of their passion for the cause seemed to be proportionate to the size of the checks their bourgeois parents sent every month. Two years ago I fell in love with the Obama message- I truly believed that he would bring about a new era of equality and prosperity- and I was really proud to vote for our first black president. My more politically aware friends told me I was naive, but I told them they were too cynical. Hope and change would save us all.
Fuck that. It seems so obvious now. So obvious that I'm shocked there aren't riots in the streets.
I'm 30 years old. I live in a small town in northern Wisconsin (my wife got a job here when she graduated law school last year). With no college education, a year of unemployment under my belt, and the majority of my work experience in the building trades (where nobody is getting work right now) I should be on the Glenn Beck train blaming brown people and socialists for my situation.
Thank god for the internet. It's given me access to ideas that are not available from any other source around here. Such as: 1) Most of the problems that regular poor/working class people have are the direct result of decisions made by the rich, with the full knowledge of the inevitable result. 2) It's in the interest of the rich/ruling class to cultivate racism to distract people from the true source of their problems. 3) The choice between Democrats and Republicans is not a true choice between change for the better and change for the worse. 4) Capitalist greed is color-blind, but its effects are felt most harshly by non-whites.
Before I started reading your blog and others like it, I thought I was part of the solution. I know better now. I may not have been making things much worse by myself, but I wasn't making things any better. I have learned in the last year that patronizing, paternalistic thought and action are not part of the solution. I have learned that real equality and justice are farther away than the media and politicians would have white "liberals" believe. I've had racist thoughts. I've said racist things. I'd like to blame that on the culture I grew up in, but most of the time I knew better. And I can't blame my raising for my own actions. I am a grown man and I am responsible for what I do.
I don't know the answer to the problems facing our world. But I do know this: next time I'm in Madison (or another large city- I haven't seen any non-whites in Rhinelander, WI) and I see a black man on the corner asking for spare change, I'm not going to blame his lack of initiative or unwillingness to "pull himself up by his bootstraps". I know his situation is the result of systematic capitalist greed, made worse by paternalistic white bourgeois liberalism. It's easy to see everything in terms of color-blind economic injustice but I know there is more to it than that.
If you read this and think "This fucking asshole is just as racist as ever", I need to hear that. All I see are problems, in my own life and in the world around me. What I'm learning is that the problems in my own life and the problems in the greater world are interconnected. The most obvious solutions seem light years away, but I am trying to take steps in the right direction. Your writing has been a valuable resource to that end. Thank you."
No, thank you RL. Heartfelt honesty without paternalistic posturing is always appreciated.
If you are ever in Philly look me up. We will have some beers and cheese steaks together.
A real "Beer Summit".