For conservatives in America, what they are witnessing now was never supposed to happen. The United States was founded as a white Christian nation but all of that seems to be unraveling, rapidly and permanently.
A genocidal war reduced the native populations to a fragment of their numbers. Greed brought in millions of dark people to create wealth on the backs of their free labor. Strict immigration policies sought to limit undesirables. The Chinese were let in to build the railroads and a few Mexicans were welcomed back to pick fruit and clean chickens. Everything seemed under control for centuries of white hegemony. What happened?
How in the world did a black man named Barack Hussein Obama get to occupy the White House? I remember in the sixties hearing about a bumper sticker that read: If I knew this was going to happen, I would have picked my own cotton. So what did happen? In the effort to maintain the upper hand and keep control of the vast resources of this nation, conservatives began promoting policies that were designed to cement their hegemony. Supply-side or “trickle-down” economics: give tax breaks to the wealthy so that the “job creators” can create industry and prosperity that will benefit everyone. Eliminate the estate tax so that wealth could be passed on to the next generation of plutocrats.
Only Anglos could be trusted to manage the economy and commandeer the most powerful military force on the planet. They were America’s natural leaders. They embodied all of the values that make America great. They were the great men that Ayn Rand lionized in Atlas Shrugged. Stop all this talk about America being a land of opportunity for everyone and a “melting pot” of cultural diversity. There were Americans and there were “real” Americans. Social Darwinism reared its ugly head again when conservatives finally won the White House with Ronald Reagan and began instituting policies that they believed would save America. What went wrong?
When you are on top and seem to be winning all the time, it is difficult not to believe you are superior. Conservative commentators—even black ones like Thomas Sowell and Stanley Crouch—extolled the virtues and superiority of Western civilization that must be preserved at all costs. Inequality existed because of meritocracy—those in power had earned the right to rule. Racism was a claim to victimhood and an excuse for underachieving. Ours is—or is very close to being—a colorblind society. Isn’t that what Dr. Martin Luther King preached about?
There was one thing that stood in the way of this perfect plan. It is called democracy. While not perfect, the United States is a democratic society. Citizens fought and died for the right to vote. Conservatives who found their political home in the Republican Party continued to promote legislation designed to impede the full voting potential of people of color. Ari Berman traces the history of the struggle for voting rights after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in his award-winning book, Give Us the Ballot. Social workers have joined the struggle to empower would-be disenfranchised citizenry to exercise their small but meaningful influence on policies that impact their lives.
The challenge for conservatives is to decide how they can promote the values that they believe are important to the survival and growth of the United States if they truly want to see the nation prosper for everyone’s sake and not solely for their own. Republican policies have resulted in the rich getting richer. Economic inequality is at an all-time high and largely responsible for the tepid economic growth this country has experienced during the last two decades. Their policies have generated angst and rage among white working-class voters, particularly males, that has given rise to the political fortune of Donald Trump. Armed to the teeth, many anti-establishment types would like to take their country back, but from whom?
Ultimately, conservatives need to realize that in order for the nation to reach its full potential, white privilege must end. It will take many years to undo the inequities in our society. The median wealth of white Americans is 13 times that of blacks. Working-class whites are realizing that they have been lied to by the leaders they trusted. President Obama is not their enemy. African Americans are not their enemies, nor are immigrants. Poor whites have been denied better futures by those who would deliver all the economic benefits to a fortunate few. Policies that promote better wages, consumer protections, and affordable education works for all Americans.
Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D
Whose United States Is This Anyway? was originally published @ Charles Lewis – Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy and has been syndicated with permission.
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