The racial violence at Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend was tragic, and it was sad many political leaders would not denounce it as such, but Americans make an equally tragic mistake in believing condemnations of white supremacists by the nation’s top political leadership will, alone, make the underlying problem go away.
Indeed, focusing too much attention on racists and bigots will only exacerbate the problem. It is unlikely they can be “fixed.” It is better they be marginalized, prosecuted when they commit crimes, but otherwise ignored.
Their “take America back” campaign, with the support of self-serving/expedient/misguided leadership, has been fueled with the frustration of a huge class of otherwise decent, but increasingly disenfranchised white males they have influenced, even brainwashed, to see minorities and women as suppressing and supplanting their own roles in American society.
They fail to see that “taking America back” under a racist rubric will take everyone nowhere.
The president talks about record low unemployment and the soaring stock market as proof that America is doing well. He admonishes all to get along.
The reality, though, is that disenfranchised white males (and others) see a dearth of real opportunity for themselves as middle class Americans aspiring for more, largely relegated to dead-end jobs with stagnant wages and little basis for optimism and hope.
They are falling behind. They struggle to meet day-to-day needs, have few or no resources to invest in the stock market, and are less likely than their parents to own a home or ever experience retirement security.
In their cloud of real frustration and loss they see “affirmative action” for women and minorities, where quotas are disguised as “goals” and minority candidates need only be qualified, but not best qualified, for the same educational and career opportunities and advancement these white males, too, desire.
They see women and minorities–even those from well-connected and relatively wealthy families–admitted to universities, medical, law and other professional schools with lower test scores and grade point averages that would routinely preclude white males from consideration. Special career admission and development programs also exclude them.
They are falling behind, and they are angry that politicians pander to other groups as they are ignored or even maligned. They are tired of hearing blame for historic discrimination they believe they had no role in perpetrating.
They are weary of the whining and protests of others. White males matter, too, they tell us. They want someone to blame, and the alt-right has pointed them to others.
But many in this frustrated cadre, focused on what they view as special treatment for women and minorities, also fail to recognize the impact of other factors in the equal opportunity equation.
They discount the scientific evidence of the adverse impacts of implicit/unconscious bias, mostly on women and minorities. The disparate realities of opportunities for children educated in wealthy suburban schools compared to opportunities, obstacles and limitations affecting kids educated in inner-city and rural schools are often ignored. Overt discrimination and the realities of historical white privilege, too, are denied.
Diversity will keep and make America stronger, but only if it is accomplished with truth and open but respectful dialogue. Our diversity must respect and value differences, but be accomplished in a manner which facilitates overall cohesiveness and collaboration.
The promise of affirmative action/equal opportunity was to be that a rising sea raises all boats, and that one group’s ability to increase the size of their slice of pie was not supposed to come at the expense of a smaller slice for others since the pie baked in racial harmony and cooperation would get bigger to ensure larger slices for everyone.
But that has not occurred. Americans are told the economic pie is getting larger, and displays of tremendous wealth are visible everywhere. The dirty but not so secret secret is that not everyone has a fair shot at a larger slice. The sea tide goes much higher in some special, largely restricted coves and bays than in others.
The nation’s unfair tax, healthcare and educational policies are increasingly concentrating the nation’s wealth and opportunities into the control of a small but powerful group of economic and social elites, favored with special tax considerations and complicated investment schemes and other benefits which drive their ability to grow and concentrate even greater wealth to facilitate even greater opportunities and privilege for themselves and their children.
Connections and access, not merit, largely dictate economic success. The result is that America’s working, middle class members from all ethnicities are fighting among themselves for diminishing scraps.
The pie access is not getting larger for them, and America’s political leadership–satisfied with the status quo but wanting more for wealthy supporters–does not seem to care. There have been efforts to placate the masses through lip service, lofty but divisive and manipulative speeches on patriotism and “fairness”, and divisive quotas and goals, but the economic picture for most working and middle class Americans remains dim.
The future will not be bright until leaders facilitate more inclusive, full access to consistently high quality education and healthcare for ALL Americans, and address unfair tax and economic policy that favors the wealthy at the expense of all others.