To My White Middle Class Friends and Acquaintances: This one is all about you. Let me start with some words spoken by the outgoing President. These quotes are from his last speech.
If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.
For blacks and other minority groups, it means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face — not only the refugee, or the immigrant, or the rural poor, or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who, from the outside, may seem like he’s got advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change. We have to pay attention, and listen.
I’ve heard the dialogue for the last several years:
White males in this country feel left out. The ‘left’ only care about their liberal sensibilities which include minorities and immigrants. Since 2008 we have been neglected and our interest are no longer prioritized. This is why I voted for Donald Trump. I may not agree with everything he says. But he cares about the needs of me and my family.
I have found these sentiments both alarming and insulting. There are a plethora of reasons that I won’t get into as this is not about me. Against my first thought I recently picked up and read a book called, “Hillbilly Elegy,” A Memoir of A Family and Culture In Crisis, written by J.D. Vance. The book focused on what would seem to be the idea Trump voter. Vance grew up in Rust Belt towns in Kentucky and Ohio. They are the epitome of America’s white working class America. I was hesitant to give it the time of day initially. I knew that Vance was going to attempt to explain a group of people who have some ideas about people who look like me that I wouldn’t find amusing. But I kept hearing it wasn’t that simple. With that I scooped it up.
I found the book to be riveting. I found parts of his family to be a little crazy. I also found some of them to be endearing if not equally tragic. Even with some ratchet behaviors that could rival any family’s, they had their principles, values and specific codes they lived by. They are perfectly understandable codes. I was able to understand more than I previously figured. But that didn’t exactly allow me to understand why and what it was that promoted this mindset that they were being mistreated or disenfranchised in whole or in part because they were Caucasian. I didn’t understand what was so attractive about a man like Donald Trump to them. What was he telling them that endorsed these ideas of victimization and more importantly what did they believe Trump would actually offer them?
I tried to get these answers previously before the election. But I couldn’t get a straight answer. I got soundbites and talking points about the opposite candidate. But I never got anything concrete that I could believe or take seriously. I don’t even believe the people telling me these things believed them either. But nevertheless, I write this today asking for understanding. I ask this in all sincerity. What is it that white males are going that’s different than what I’m dealing with? How are your needs been neglected what are you afraid of someone else getting that you won’t because you happen to be a White male?
There is but one condition. While it’s not mandatory to agree, the conversation must be 100% intellectually honest. There is no reason to waste one another’s time.
You talk, I’ll listen, then we shall see if there is a an opportunity for more dialogue. I am seriously and honestly wanting to get this.
But we’re not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do. If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. – President Barack Obama