Boundless White Self-Pity. (With a poll!)

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We kind of knew that a lot of white people felt this way, but I’d thought it was just a whiney, victimy minority of whites.  Turns out, as a recent Harvard/Tufts study reveals, that a MAJORITY of white people now see racism as “a zero-sum game that they are losing.” Despite all evidence to the contrary (which we’ll examine later) most Caucasian Americans really believe that THEY are the greatest victims of racism nowadays.  As a Proud White Man myself, I find this baseless self-pity somewhat embarrassing.

This particular study, which looks only at whites vs. blacks, is not a perfect fit for a blog about Orange County, which of course, aside from Anaheim, HAS no black people.  (Many of the black folks I know from LA and other neighboring counties are literally afraid to drive through the OC at night.  Hey, when is the last time you heard the expression “Driving While White?”)  No, it’s mostly Latinos and Asians that your poor OC honkies feel victimized by and resentful of.  Isn’t it?  Well, let’s have  a quick informal Orange Juice poll and see:

[poll id=”305″]

Back in the Real World…

Just today – Tuesday – the Pew Research Center released an analysis of the latest census, and it turns out that the economic inequality that has always existed between whites, hispanics and blacks has BLOWN UP over the last few years to chasm-width due to the inordinate impact our foreclosure crisis has had on the minorities.

As of 2009, the median wealth of white households was 18 times that of hispanics, and 20 times that of blacks. As this AP article explains:

“the housing boom of the early to mid-2000s boosted the wealth of Hispanics in particular, who were disproportionately employed in the thriving construction industry. Hispanics also were more likely to live and buy homes in states such as California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which were in the forefront of the real estate bubble, enjoying early gains in home values.

“But those gains quickly shriveled in the housing bust. After reaching a median wealth of $18,359 in 2005, the wealth of Hispanics — who derived nearly two-thirds of their net worth from home equity — declined by 66 percent by 2009. Among blacks, who now have the highest unemployment rate at 16.2 percent, their household wealth fell 53 percent from $12,124 to $5,677.”

Roderick Harrison, a former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau who is now a sociologist at Howard University, adds, “Typically in recessions, minorities suffer from being last hired and first fired. They are likely to lose jobs more rapidly at the beginning of the recession, and are far slower to gain jobs as the economy recovers.  One suspects that blacks who lost jobs in the recession, or who have tried to help family members or relatives who did, have now spent whatever savings or other cashable assets they had.”

Okay, that’s recent history.  Should we go back farther?  If we do we see that unemployment for blacks has ALWAYS been almost exactly DOUBLE that of whites.  Now you’re thinking to yourself, even if you’re not saying it, that that’s because they’re lazy, uneducated, not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps like Geoff Willis would, etc. etc.

Well, this eye-opening Salon article (if you scroll down to the section entitled “Twice as hard, half as far”) depicts a series of experiments in 2001 and 2004, where groups of equally qualified young black and white men applied for jobs around first Milwaukee and then NYC.  The experiment was originally meant to measure how much of a drawback it was to have been in jail, as some of the whites and some of the blacks both pretended to be ex-convicts.  What really amazed the sociologist running the experiment was that, while the imaginary criminal history was definitely a drawback in the job hunts, race was even more of one – to the degree that the white applicants with a criminal history got more callbacks than the black applicants with none!

Hence the old and still-true black expression alluded to in the subtitle:  “You’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as a black person in white America.” Professor Sam Sommers, an author of the Pew study, marvels at white folks’ perceptions of their own hardships, pointing out that “economists have documented over and over again that it takes twice as many resumes to get a call back from an employer if you have a black-sounding name.”  I could go on and on, especially given the vast bibliography of sources that my trusty research assistant Anonster has provided me, but I think I’ve done enough for now.

Much white-man victimhood stems from perceptions that you’re losing economic opportunities to less-qualified minorities because of racial quotas, affirmative action and such, and “conservatives” constantly dream of a “color-blind” society where everyone is treated exactly equally, but data like the above show that we are still far from that place.  (And by the way, affirmative action is malfunctioning if it results in a lesser-qualified applicant getting a position;  it is only supposed to favor an underemployed minority if they are equally qualified – and that’s almost always how it works, despite the understandable disgruntlement of any rejected applicant.  Especially during hard times that are hard for working people of ALL races.)

Reflections of some Nice Guy…

If there’s somebody who can respond to the Pew study charitably by empathizing with white resentment, putting it in context, and skillfully talking you down, it probably wouldn’t be me, it would more likely be some Chinese-Filipino Presbyterian pastor named Bruce Reyes-Chow, who wrote this compassionate piece on SF Blog.  Some excerpts:

The findings of the report were no surprise to many I am sure, but they do raise a significant question… What do we do when a vital member of the community holds a perspective that is more about perception than reality? While I get how White people can “feel” that this is their reality – they are targets of racism – we must not allow this perspective to drive the future of our conversations on race. Yes, there may certainly be instances where White folks are pained because of their race, but the idea that racism against White people should be taken seriously as a larger social reality does not hold water for me. Compassion and understanding for particular instances where White folks are harmed because of the color of their skin must be had, but as a norm that drives larger understandings of race in the United States, acceptance and agreement are simply not options for me.

What I think is really going is that as the perceptions of racial relationships get better, there is a social understanding that if it is not that bad for brown people anymore than certainly it must be worse of for White folks. This “if it’s better for ‘them’ it must be worse for ‘us'” mentality only exacerbates the problem of genuine racial harmony.

Now in business circles, where the primary matrix of success and relationships is financial profitability this may actually be true. There is a finite amount of resources that are available for people to attain and exploit. For instance, when I travel and board planes, I see that there are a limited number of seats in first class. There is not an unlimited space for people to be part of that part of the airplane, so IF equal access and opportunity ever does level the playing field, a few of the 90% of White men who generally occupy those seats are going to have to walk a few more rows into coach because there will be women and brown folks moving on up. The same goes for upper-management of fortune 500 companies, leaders of educational institutions and other places where White men still occupy a disproportionate number of high-level seats.

This notion that we each hold a finite amount of resources that must be protected at all costs, and even if those gains have roots in historic injustice and unearned privilege, is dangerous and will get us nowhere. This will be especially true if this posture of scarcity and protectionism is transfered to our understanding of dignity, compassion and community. We often treat our own ability to see people as complex and created human beings as some kind of commodity that is doled out based on merit and/or availability furthering the idea that if am going treat this person with a generous spirit, than I must have to take something away from someone. And even worse, we fall into the destructive trap of believing that if I see someone else being treated with a generous spirit, then obviously something is being taken away from me.

… [skippin’ religious stuff] …

So . . . all compassion to White friends and strangers for the emotional and physical struggles around your experiences of race, but the social understanding that racism is now worse for White folks than for others must be not only be shed, but challenged by you and the rest society as a whole if we are truly going to move forward to a place of genuine racial wholeness.

In other words, man up, you’ve still got it better than most.  Save your anger for the wealthy who are reaming ALL of us, and their politician puppets – YOU know who they are!

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Next up:  The incredible, staggering Persecution Complex of SOME Christians!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.