Reader unhappiness with last week’s column prompted some searching conversations. I’m pleased. When I get no pushback, I worry that, like MSNBC, I’m simply reinforcing your current opinions.
My focus was the reluctance in places like Ashland to talk about class in contrast to our readiness to talk about race, and why that’s a mistake. As I develop this subject further, I’ll start by making sure my position is clear.
What I did not mean: 1. That racism isn’t still a serious problem in our country. 2. That well-intentioned whites like myself don’t still have a long way to go to understand the injustices and slights black people must endure. 3. That Trump hasn’t brought racism more into the open.
What I did mean: 1. That our huge discrepancy in economic power is the primary cause of our troubles and must be the main focus of our struggle. 2. The insistence that racism is the primary cause plays into the hands of the ruling elites and blinds us to their control of both major parties. 3. That liberals need to stop scapegoating working class whites.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose 2015 book “Between the World and Me” was wonderful, has emerged as a leading voice of the thesis that White Supremacy put Trump in the White House and that we are now in the midst of a reaction to the gains of the Civil Rights Movement akin to the backlash against post-Civil War Reconstruction. August Nimtz, Professor of Political Science and African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota, tellingly responded to such claims in an online article (mronline.org/2017/11/17/).
Nimtz pointed out that the 206 counties, mainly in the Rust Belt, that decided the last election by going for Trump had twice gone for Obama. He asked, “Can Coates really claim that all of those whites who voted twice for Obama suffered two bouts of false racial consciousness and finally came to their senses in 2016?” He also noted that more Confederate monuments have been removed since Trump took office than in the tenure of any previous president, and that after months of online organizing, white supremacists were able to get only 500 protestors to Charlottesville, whereas thousands of their opponents marched along the same route six nights later.
The title of Coates’ new book is “We Were Eight Years in Power.” What “we” can he mean? Obama re-enriched the very rich after the 2008 bust, gave small help to poor and working-class people of whatever color, and did nothing to re-distribute power.
Let me come closer to home. Last year, Christiana Clark, a black actress with OSF, was subjected to a verbal racist assault by someone on a bicycle. Shortly after, on “Juneteenth,” there was a large rally at the Green Show to affirm Ashland’s commitment to racial equity. Of course I attended; so ugly an incident required a display of solidarity. But if I had to choose between enduring an anti-Semitic remark from a lone passerby or sleeping with my kids in a car, there’d be no contest. After all, it’s illegal to sleep in a car in Ashland.
I’ll close by noting that, in 2004, both presidential candidates, George W. Bush and John Kerry, had been members of Skull and Bones when they were seniors at Yale. If that says nothing to you about elite control of U.S. politics, finding out is next week’s homework assignment.
— Herb Rothschild's column appears in the Tidings every Saturday.