Throughout my entire adult life, my Republican friends insisted GOP policies were not racist: the laws are the same for everyone; let people pick themselves up out of poverty; there are poor white people too! As a white person myself, I wanted to believe this. I wanted to believe in a just government.
When I was young, I lived in Philadelphia. During a full decade of my life, I saw how the Move conflict developed because of race and ended in the bombing of a home full of black men, women, and children.
My father’s family were Texas farmers, and when I traveled to visit them in the slowly dying town of Nevada, TX, we passed through nearby Greenville – as you drove through this small town in the early 1980s, a banner hung across the road that read “The blackest land and the whitest people.”
Everywhere I lived and every state I have visited – it has been the same: in both the city and in the country I saw first hand that, no matter what, white people always had the advantage.
I saw the effect with my own eyes as I grew up – I knew people didn’t like to hire blacks, and that made it harder for them to earn a living. But I didn’t know that the federal government told banks not to invest in black neighborhoods. I didn’t know insurance underwriting was priced along racial lines. I didn’t know developments were authorized as long as they would not allow black residents.
My family moved to the suburbs to send my sister and me to good public schools. City schools were not good – like in so many cities. Because we were white, it was relatively easy to build on our assets and leave the city. I don’t remember one black person in my neighborhood. They lived across “City Line”, in Philadelphia.
My friends and relatives understood that slavery and racism was wrong in the abstract. But it did not seem to help them understand the full weight of racism on black people and communities. They didn’t see it with their own eyes. Or they turned away from it. It just was the way it was.
In my teen years, when Reagan attacked welfare using the “black welfare queen” idea, and I passed through black neighborhoods in Philly, I could see that was a big fat lie. No one was getting “rich”. It was harsh, depressing, and hopeless.
It is easy to believe the lie. With no real experience about black communities, it is easy to believe the political slogans and to blame black people for “their choices”. But “their choices” were our choices. Their conditions and limited opportunities were a product of our laws and social norms. And so poverty and all that comes with it deepens.
For 50 years Republican policies have successfully limited the black community and kept them “in their place”. But their anti-labor/anti-education/pro-big agra agendas, which unrelentingly include tax write-offs and benefits for the wealthy, have also slowly drained white working class communities of their opportunity and modest savings. They have drained poor white communities of hope.
And so, poor whites who may or may not have known or cared about the discriminatory policies of our government of the past century cry out, “What about us?”
And rightfully so.
Single issue voters have given Republican ideology so much power that now the GOP has openly abandoned even whites, especially poor ones.
Keeping people poor limits their choices and their voices.
Make no mistake. The African-American community has been silenced again and again by their poverty and their lack of options. Now the white people in Missouri and across the nation are also being silenced the same way. They are feeling the increasing pinch of the powerful removing their opportunity and freedom. GOP policies will only make this situation worse for struggling white voters.
The recently failed Republican healthcare bills are evidence of this. Instead of actually solving problems, they continue to carry on with an ideology that provides healthcare to those who can afford it. If you can’t, it’s your own fault or it is okay you are left behind.
The GOP in so many states, including Missouri, has voted against making healthcare affordable or expanding Medicaid, has voted against infrastructure projects with decent wages, against retraining, against innovative businesses that bring new opportunities, and against education – the only way out of poverty for many. What have they really done to help the white working class avoid sinking into debt, illness, and poverty? I would argue nothing or very little.
It’s not the blacks or the Mexicans that are draining the system away from us and toward those in power. It is lobbyists and strategists and politicians.
It’s time for people of all races, Republicans and Democrats alike, to come together and demand change that benefits everyone. Not just ourselves. Not just the people at the top. Everyone.