College-educated progressives and people of color MUST find ways to respect, interact with, and ally with these white working class folks.
— Noah Smith (@Noahpinion) November 19, 2016
Don’t you fucking tell me what to do, was my immediate response when I saw this tweet. Someone had quoted it and added, “LOL NO” to the tweet, which I found amusing. I was just going to move on, but something about the tweet stuck with me, so I decided to check out his TL. I found that I agreed with much of what he said, but the bad taste from his initial tweet remained in my mouth. Since I thought the person was being earnest and arguing in good faith (and had some good ideas), I decided I’d make a post in response to it and to the general notion that it’s on PoC to reach out to working class white people.
One, the tweet assumes that this isn’t already happening. It is. Some of us live in cloistered Democratic bubbles*, but many Democrats live in heavily Republican areas and have to interact with working class white people on a regular basis. Two, we’ve come to believe this idea that all opinions are equally valid. They’re not. Yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that doesn’t mean their opinion is right. In addition, respect is earned. I can be civil to people who have loathsome (to me) ideas, but I don’t necessarily extend them respect.
More to the point, I’m tired of white dudes telling PoC what we have to do. If he had stopped after the first half, I would have been fine with the tweet, but it’s pretty galling for him to lecture PoC like that. There has been a lot of this going on, and I’m not here for it at all. I’m a big believer in everyone having a place at the table,** but I do think that if you’re in the majority, you should do more listening than talking. In addition, to put it bluntly, this is a white people’s problem. Yes, all of us have to deal with the ramifications of this white resentment, but the onus is on progressive white people to do something about it.
“Why is it OUR responsibility to reach out to THEM?!”
Have you never done anything that it wasn’t your *responsibility* to do?
— Noah Smith (@Noahpinion) November 19, 2016
To put it even more bluntly, all the fucking time. That’s what being a minority in this country means. It’s our responsibility to make the majority comfortable around us. It’s our responsibility to not be too threatening or outlandish or foreign or whatever. Again, to have someone who doesn’t have to deal with this on a daily basis asking this question in such a self-righteous manner is grating. It also shows that he doesn’t understand how difficult it is to be a minority in this country. He talks about how galling it is to think about PBO handing the reins over to Trump, but it’s more than that. It’s fucking terrifying to think about what life is going to be like for marginalized group in two months.
Guys like this are talking about how to win elections–which is important. Minorities are fearing for our lives, which is even more important. I’ve been coping with PTSD since the election, and it hasn’t been pleasant at all. Even living where I live, I’m more cautious about scanning my surroundings wherever I go. When I think about Trump’s presidency, I get heart palpitations, and my extremities start tingling. So, when well-meaning white liberals talk about PoC reaching out to working class white people,*** they need to understand that it is too much for some people.
Can reaching out work? Yes. Here’s a story of a white supremacist heir who renounced his past and embraced progressive ideas, all because a Jewish student welcomed him to his Shabbat dinners. So, yes, it’s possible. But, it’s really hard work, and it has to be done on a constant basis, and it puts the onus on the marginalized group to do most of the work. You can ask us to do this, and I think people who are in a position to do so and want to do so should, but to demand we MUST do it is shortsighted and patronizing. It also assumes that we’re all on an equal footing or that PoC are above working class white people somehow, which we aren’t. We have had to eat shit for a very long time, and ordering us to eat more is irritating to say the very least.
I’d like to talk about something that might seem like a detour, but it isn’t. It’s the safety pin thing. The basic concept is that allies wear a safety pin to signify that they’re safe for marginalized people. There’s been backlash to them, of course, and it’s been frustrating to watch the back-and-forth. I’m pro-safety pins, but with a caveat. If you’re going to wear it, you have to be fully committed to stepping in every time you see something going on, and you have to accept that you might get hurt. I think people don’t really get that and some people are doing it more to feel good about themselves than anything else.
Back to the tweets. Someone asked the OP what he wanted people to do (in order to reach out to WWC people). He said he didn’t know, which is part of the problem. We liberals are pretty good at lecturing each other about what we should or shouldn’t do without actually having a plan in place. We like to dwell in the theoretical, rather than the here-and-now, and we’re in our heads too much of the time (me included).
Real talk: I’m tired. Many PoC are. We’ve been loyal Democrats for a long-ass time, asking for little in return. Now that we’ve made some progress and are asking to be focused on, some white liberals want to push us to the back of the line again. It’s hard not to be pissed off by the focus on how to win back white folks because it sounds like it’s to the exclusion of marginalized people. And, you’re asking us to extend the olive branch when we feel like we’ve been betrayed by some white people. I should amend that. I feel betrayed by some white people, and it’s really hard to just get over it like it didn’t happen.
I think I’ve said extensively that I think we should try to bring working class white people back into the fold, but not at the expense of marginalized groups–which is what I feel like a lot of white liberals are saying. “Yes, yes, diversity is important and good, but not too much of it, mind you.” It’s telling to me that some white liberals are griping about identity politics while at the same time they’re pushing to focus on white working class people. That is identity politics, too, in case you didn’t know it. White. Identity. Working class. Identity. Male (that’s what people mostly mean). Also identity. Christian. Identity. It’s all fucking identity.
So, yes, I know we need white people right now in order to win elections. That won’t always be the case, but it’s true right now. I accept that there has to be some reaching out to white working class people, but I want to reiterate that this is the job of white progressives. These are your skin folk. You need to collect them. I’m not being snarky, by the way. I know it’s hard to tell. But, this is not something PoC HAVE to do, though those of us who can, will. This is on you. Same as with the safety pin. What can you do? Talk to your friends and family members about these issues, and call them on their shit every damn time. Thanksgiving is coming up, and for those of you going home, don’t let Uncle Bob get away with his racist comments or Aunt Doris to look down her nose on queer folks.
Prepare yourself to be uncomfortable, and stick to your guns. You don’t have to curse and swear and yell (though you can if you want), but don’t just sit there when Cousin Jack snickers about building that wall. If white liberals want to focus on outreach to white people, then you have to do it yourself. Every time. All day long. Do it with love. Do it with firmness. Do it with conviction. But, just do it.
Also, realize that you’re asking a lot of PoC and other marginalized folks if you want them to do the same thing. I’m dealing with being betrayed, being afraid of what this new regime is going to bring, and if my niece and nephews are going to be OK in America in 2017. Many of us are dealing with things on a more visceral level, and all this academic talk about whether or not we’re not being exclusive enough to people who hate us isn’t really on the forefront of our minds. Understand that we’re fucking afraid, and they (WWC who voted for Trump) have contributed to that fear. So, don’t tell us what to do. It’s really not helping anything.
*Like me. I live in a very blue area.
**Which is why I’m very much for reaching out to working class white people as part of the plan to diversify the Democratic Party. But, not if it’s at the expense of all the progress we’ve been making for marginalized groups.
***By the way, there are working class people of color. Many of them. Funny how they don’t get mentioned when talking about ‘economic anxiety’ and the validity of that argument thereof.