Johannes Relleke is in the Guinness Book of World Records for surviving the most bee stings of any human being. In 1962, he was stung a whopping 2,443 times. Each stinger was painstakingly removed and counted by medical staff. Needless to say, he almost died. If I ever meet Johannes in person, I’ll make sure to tell him about the time I got bit by a spider back in 3rd grade, because I want him to know that I can relate to his struggles.
It’s almost an American tradition to try and relate our hardships to one another; mainly because it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge when aspects of our lives are inherently easier than someone else’s. Having advantages, it seems, takes away from the legitimacy of our accomplishments, and indeed our self-worth. That’s why we’re often willing to label others as disadvantaged, yet so reluctant to label ourselves as advantaged. But much like Ann Coulter and my drinking problem, one would not really exist without the other. A trend has developed where we take offense to the notion that other people are dealing with massive, deep seeded, societal issues that we do not experience— or in many cases, even know exist. This is one reason why anecdotal comparisons come out of the woodwork whenever racial disparities and injustices are discussed in the United States— usually in the form of a White guy declaring how poor and/or oppressed he is. It’s about as predictable as walking down the street singing “Shave and a haircut…” and waiting for someone to emphatically chime in “Two bits!” The purpose of the interjection is usually to undermine the harsh realities faced by ethnic minorities and dismiss their plight as one of classism, and not racism.
But what’s the reason White America tends to ignore the impact that race plays in society and substitute it with class? Well, for starters, class (unlike race) can be changed. Successful White people, who grew up poor, can look back with fondness on the days when they were broke, and consequently feel good about how far they’ve come. They can’t, however, look back and recall being born Black, and facing the type of discrimination that comes along with it, only to ultimately become a rich and successful White person. [Insert Sammy Sosa/Michael Jackson joke] People want to believe it was their hard work that got them to where they are, but if you walk through any college dorm in the country you’ll realize that hard work has little to do with most of the individuals happily taking their spot among the ranks of the middle class. Hard work is but one of many factors, and often it’s not even the most significant. To acknowledge that, is to admit your success might be largely attributed to your race, and not your ability– a shame usually reserved for affirmative action appointees (who, by the way, are predominantly White as well).
Another reason White society attempts to shift the focus from race to class is that there are a lot of poor White people in this country struggling to make ends meet. After all, there are just as many Whites on welfare as Blacks. This doesn’t negate the fact that Black families in this country have exponentially less wealth than White families, but the sheer number of White Americans means that there are bound to be many living in poverty. Just over 1 in 10 White Americans is impoverished. Meanwhile, more than 1 in 3 African Americans (13 million) is living below the poverty line—with 5 million more hovering right above it. That’s over 40% of all African Americans. Being poor is an epidemic in the Black community. But realistically, being poor and White has nothing to do with race.
High rates of poverty in the African American community are the direct result of American slavery (which, by the way, actually ended in 1928) and the period of time leading up to the Civil Rights Movement. For some reason, such an obvious thing seems to bother Whites even more than it bothers Blacks. Although slavery’s been over for almost 100 years, it will likely take several generations to undo the adverse effects of 400 years of enslavement followed by the 100-year-shit-storm known as the Jim Crow Era. “BUT BLACKS TODAY WEREN’T SLAVES! AND I’M NOT A SLAVE OWNER!” No need to raise your voice. I’m aware. But imagine if your great grandparents were systematically bred like livestock and regarded as property by greater society. How many generations do you think it would take for people to stop treating you like a rogue family pet?
Subconscious and systemic oppression are still embedded in the collective psyche of Americans. We know that Black lives are worth less than White lives. That’s why Black Barbie is always on clearance and gang homicides don’t count as “real” murders. We also know that most of the people who control the wealth in this country look more like Rupert than Jerome. It’s not a coincidence that so many African Americans live in poverty. So even though a bunch of poor White people are born at the very ground level of society, Black people, by and large, are born in a deep hole that they must first climb out of to even get to that level. It’s not a competition to see who has it worse; all groups face problems unique to their demographic. But even in the event of identical wealth, it’s worth acknowledging that NOT belonging to certain groups can be a huge advantage.
To put this into perspective: in 2007, 50% of White Americans had a median net worth of over $143,600 (cash, houses, cars, stocks, trust funds, inheritance, etc). Meanwhile 50% of Black and Hispanic Americans max out at $9,000. Poor White Americans are the exception, not the rule. And if you think it’s just because White Americans have historically been working harder than Blacks and Hispanics, I can think of a few million slaves and migrant workers who might disagree. Not to mention that minority families make roughly $20,000 less than White families annually, so it’s nearly impossible for them to save and accumulate wealth in order to escape poverty. If you don’t have access to money, vehicles, houses, and financial knowledge when you’re just starting out, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll achieve financial stability by the time you reach middle-age. Of course this applies to poor Whites as well, but that’s a relatively small group when compared to the percentage of Blacks in poverty. Also, when attempting to leave poverty, upward mobility is MUCH easier for Whites than it is for Blacks, which plays a huge role in the persistent nature of Black poverty. After all, a White man with a criminal record is STILL more likely to get a job offer than an equally qualified Black man who’s never been incarcerated.
White people shouldn’t feel guilty about this. Especially poor White people. But don’t use classism as an excuse to ignore how big a role race plays in the lives of minorities in America. All poverty is not created equally.
Which brings me to my next point: All racism isn’t created equally either.
A reader recently asked us why The Daily Racist doesn’t address instances of “racism” imposed upon White people by Black people (if you have a confederate flag bumper sticker you might refer to this as “reverse racism“). I think in order to even ask that question you have to overlook a very fundamental understanding as to why people fight for social equality and write about racism in the first place. We’re not trying to do away with racism (that’d be cool though), we’re trying to expose and do away with injustice.
You see, prejudice against any group is only really an issue when there’s a component of injustice. Simply being a bigot doesn’t necessarily hurt anybody. In fact, I’d defend anyone’s right in this country to be a bigot. But when that bigotry results in injustice (like racist police targeting minorities), that’s when the wheels of change have to kick in. Fortunately, modern society has had centuries to decide how to handle most instances of injustice. If a murder is committed unjustly, for example, it’s society’s job get justice for the victim in the form of legal prosecution and conviction. If a murder is committed, but the victim was posing an immediate threat to someone’s life, society determines that the homicide is just. Think about that. Injustice is such a weight on humanity that we’ve even made murder OK, so long as it’s justifiable. Our whole legal system is built around the idea that victims of wrongdoing should get justice. Even the mere illusion of justice can keep society from falling into chaos. And here’s the important part: certain groups of people get less justice than others.
This is why White on Black crime can cause more outrage in the Black community than Black on Black crime. Perpetrators of Black on Black crime are more likely to receive judiciary penalties (i.e. justice) for their actions than White offenders. In fact, more often than not, Black on Black violence is actually committed in the name of retaliation– a form of street justice, in and of itself. And when a Black person commits a crime towards another minority, the judicial system is more than happy to arrest, convict, and incarcerate the offender… or pretty much anyone who even kinda, sorta, looks like the offender. The same can not be said of White perpetrators, who seem to be able to target Blacks with impunity. Conversely, if the VICTIM of a violent crime is White, and the perpetrator is Black, you’d better watch out or risk getting hit by a veritable sharknado of justice. Members of Black communities know all too well what the ramifications are if, God forbid, a White person is harmed in their neighborhood. It’s as if The Avengers and The Justice League suddenly join forces in the pursuit of all that is lawful and righteous.
The most recent example of this is the “Knockout Game.” For those you who slept through last summer, the Knockout Game is when a scary Black teenager walks up to an unsuspecting White American tax payer and punches them square in the face– immediately killing them. The attacker then removes the skin of his victim and fashions it into a full-body costume. Once wrapped in pure White flesh, the attacker uses his new White privilege to infiltrate media and law enforcement agencies to perpetuate the urban MYTH known as the “Knockout Game.” Afterwards, he goes home to sleep with all of your White women!
There’s just one problem though. Violent “hand/fist/feet” attacks on strangers and muggings occur all over America, in fact there were 127,577 in 2012, but they’re actually on the decline across the board. And even if EVERY instance of “hand/fist/feet” violence reported turned out to be the dreaded “Knockout Game,” and not your run of the mill assault, you’re still FIVE TIMES more likely to be a victim of auto theft than to get attacked walking out of Starbucks. Why isn’t the media warning us about the dangers of on-street parking? The reports continued even when police officials in several cities noted that the vast majority of these attacks are “nothing more than the sort of random assaults that have always occurred.” Despite this, the country got in a panic over a relative handful of reports of sensationalist street crime because America has a nasty habit of using fear as a means to perpetuate oppression. Gay people know this is true. Women know this true. And Black people sure as Hell know this is true.
So if you’re White and have experienced prejudice, bigotry, or even violence at the hands of minorities at some point in your life, that’s truly unfortunate (and in many cases tragic), and you have my sincerest sympathies. But it does not, in ANY WAY, diminish or discredit the scale of what racial minorities in the United States collectively experience, every day, in terms of systemic racism and widespread injustice. You should find comfort in knowing that for every prejudice Black bully you might encounter, there are a thousand judges, police officers, doctors, lawyers, employers, and politicians out there that look just like you.
Small Print: For the purposes of this article I’m omitting the necessity for race-based discrimination or oppression to occur in order to constitute an act of racism. This component essentially makes it impossible for literal racism to take place against the dominant societal group by a dominated group. In other words, it implies that minorities can’t, in fact, be racist. But since most people today refer to “racism” when they’re actually referencing bigotry and prejudice etc., I’ll use that all-encompassing definition. Thanks for reading the small print.