As the presidential election of 2016 continues there are many conversations about whether Donald Trump can be stopped and what can be done to soften his support with his most important voting block, the "White working class". Much has been said about the white working class voter this election cycle and none of it has been good.
Somewhere along the way we've created a narrative that the source of all of the country's ills are working class whites. I have often heard them described as old, racist, homophobic, xenophobic relics of a past America. Liberals say that the white working class are idiots who should not be allowed to vote and that Donald Trump is appealing to the lowest common denominator of racism and intolerance, which is what motivates this maligned group of voters.
The language that has been used to describe the motivations of this group of voters should be troubling to any American that hopes for a unified and more hopeful future. People in the media have shown an incredible lack of understanding of what is happening to the average working class American, regardless of race. I know that liberals correctly strive to understand and empathize with the motivations of immigrants and refugees, but seem unable to coherently assess what is going on in their own country with their fellow citizens.
My friends and I work in white collar professions and run in affluent circles. Attending $500 per plate dinners and black-tie galas is not uncommon but we seem to be missing compassion for the people who provide these services to us. We speak of the ease of using Uber without being able to comprehend the reality of the sharing economy and what the lack of opportunity means to the livelihood of the person driving us around the city. The lack of well-paying middle-class jobs has forced many skilled workers to service industry jobs, so that they could support themselves and their families. What so many upper middle class and affluent individuals fail to realize is that opportunities are starting to lessen for everyone.
I see fewer opportunities in my chosen profession of law. The cost of education is getting so high and there are thousands of people who went to law school but will never get the opportunity to have a legal job. I see it every day as young lawyers approach me for advice on how to even get an unpaid internship to get their foot in the door somewhere. With restrictions on who can practice law my older lawyer friends feel insulated from competition, but what happens when people can get their legal advice from a web app or from lawyers in India at a fraction of our hourly rate. We have seen over the last few years a decrease in the number of equity partners in firms across the country. While we may not feel the effect of these changes currently, the next generation surely will.
If attorneys and other white collar professionals felt their livelihoods being threatened in the way that working class jobs are currently being threatened, you can be sure that we would be shaking things up and voting against the status quo. If I was a betting person, I would say that it's just a matter of time before that happens. The argument can be made that it's even happening already with the college educated children of middle class parents having difficulty finding jobs in any sector, never mind the hallowed halls of staid professional institutions.
The derisiveness being shown towards white working class Americans, I believe is centered on their whiteness. We have rightly attempted as a society to make amends for the country's previous stain of slavery, Jim Crow and racism. But in this pursuit of equality we have created a dynamic of attempting to oppress the oppressors, or at least those perceived as being oppressors. In this new world order, all working class whites are being cast as the villains and liberal whites and people of color as being either the heroes or victims. This idea is simplistic and dangerous. I believe that most people in America believe in fairness and equality for themselves and for others. I don't expect an apology for someone's whiteness any more than I should be expected to apologize for my blackness.
As an African-American woman, I can understand how seductive this idea of righting previous wrongs done to blacks can be but I believe it causes more strife and only makes it harder for us to move forward as a country. Of course I agree with the ideals of diversity, but what scares me is that in the name of political correctness we have gotten to the point of doling out retribution for any disagreement, hurt feelings or perceived wrongs.
Although I am not white nor part of the working class I am sympathetic to their concerns. I grew up poor and understand how difficult it is for poor and working class Americans to make it today. The dirty little secret that many don't want to acknowledge is that the issues of working class whites are the same issues of working class people of color. In fact, the issues affecting both groups can have an even more profound impact on minorities, so we should be working together to solve them, for the good of us all. It is impossible to fix it for one group and not the other. With stagnant wages and fewer job opportunities, the pathway to the middle class is shrinking for everyone regardless of race.
We have spent so much time focusing on the evils of white privilege that we fail to realize that white privilege, while accurate in describing some circumstances, isn't paying the mortgage or putting someone's child through college for millions of our white working class neighbors. Just like the social safety net and entitlement programs does not provide a lavish lifestyle for people of color who many perceive are unwilling to work. These are both narratives that have been used to divide groups of people who have more in common because of their economic concerns than many people realize. Poverty and economic instability does not discriminate. The thumb is being pressed on the poor and working class regardless of race and the urgency of those families is what is driving the support for outsider candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Many of the people who make up the working class are also older people and the generation that we are now looking down upon, are the people who have fought our wars, helped build this country and gave us so many of the values that have made America the place where immigrants yearn to be. One of those working class people would have been my grandmother who raised me and worked as a domestic until she was disabled in a bus accident. Although my grandmother didn't have a lot of education she taught me about what she considered to be American values, my obligation to give to others, treat people with respect and lastly my obligation to work hard and help make the world a little better than how I found it. She taught me to judge people by what kind of person they were not by their skin color or socio economic status.
The white working class that we blame for discrimination, the rise of Donald Trump and other issues want the same things as the rest of us. They want fair pay for a hard day's work, a safe place to live and raise their children, the opportunity for their children to have a better life than they did. These are all things I want for my own family members. Those are all the same desires that my black grandmother bestowed on me and taught me to strive for.
There are many issues that are confronting the working class like increased drug abuse, an increasing lack of stable family structures, lack of well-paid jobs, cost of college education, debt burdens and a global job market that has us competing against people from all over the world. It feels like we are being sold out for a quick buck without any regard to the damage that is happening to poor and working class Americans. Instead of deriding white working class citizens we should focus our attention on those that are perpetuating the economic demise of workers of all races. Just as blaming "brown people" for the problems that ail you is a red herring, so is blaming the white working class.
This isn't a race issue but an economic opportunity issue. So many of our politicians are unwilling to even discuss these issues for fear of disrupting the donors they need to win the next election and keep their job. If only our politicians cared about protecting our jobs as much as they care about protecting their own. We are told that free trade is better for all of us and gives cheaper quality goods, but where I come from that seems less important if you lack a job to be able to meet your family's needs. I don't necessarily believe that supporting Donald Trump will fix these issues but I can understand the desperation and fear that drive the hope that he can stop the tide that is drowning so many poor and working class Americans. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are at least willing to address their concerns and tell them that there IS something that can be done about their economic hardship, while the other candidates are telling them to get over it.
I stand with the white working class because the issues they are facing today are also being confronted by working class communities of color. And those issues, while maybe not today, will be facing me and my middle class and upper middle class counterparts in the future. It's time to ask ourselves who we want to be as Americans and harken back to then Senator Obama's speech at the 2004 democratic convention. "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America."
Will we continue to uphold our ideals of the possibility of the American Dream or do we continue to hurt the vast majority of our citizens? Let us not let the political forces drive a wedge between us and those that are fighting the same struggles. These working class white voters have the same concerns and values that I do and that is why I stand united with all Americans.