One Way Tolerance: Seeing Through The Lens of Cultural Resentment

I grew up in the Frog Hollow district of Hartford, CT. When I was a kid Hartford was a battleground for gangs like The Savage Nomads and The Ghetto Brothers. Since the 70s Hartford, especially Frog Hollow, has consistently ranked among the ten worst U.S. cities in poverty, unemployment, and violent crime. Of course, I didn’t know that back then. I was just scared all the time. Before my eleventh birthday I had been jumped by gang members seven times. I’d been hit with brass knuckles long before I ever read Lord Of The Flies. I was a latchkey kid and I sprinted all the way home from school with a small knife in my hand. Both my parents and my teachers knew that I carried it. They never once said anything to me about it.

I’d find bullet casings on the sidewalk all the time. My bedroom window got shot out one night while I was asleep. When I was ten I got jumped by a dozen or so guys and hit in the teeth with a baseball bat because I looked at one of them. Later that same year my father was beaten and left on the side of the road. The car door was open and the engine was on. His attackers didn’t take the car, his wallet, or wedding ring. They just beat him. He had to have reconstructive surgery on the right side of his face. A few months later we moved to a suburb of Chicago.

I can still see the graffitied walls of the projects, the unused cinder blocks and pipes scattered about, the accumulated garbage all along the street, and corner trash-can fire. This was the only world I knew. I honestly had no idea that there could be anything different.

My folks found a house in Crystal Lake, Illinois. One day while they were unpacking I took a walk. The surrounding neighborhood was like a brick and mortar realization of a Norman Rockwell painting. I had never seen anything like it. The storefronts all had awnings. The windows were clean and didn’t have bars on them. As I walked through that small downtown area it had begun to snow. It was quiet. There were no sirens or horns, no yelling; just the sound of snow crunching under my feet. I remember seeing a group of older kids walking in my direction. I immediately scanned the environment looking for a door to escape through, a window to jump through – any way for me to get away from them if they attacked me. But they simply said ‘what’s up’ and kept on. They carried sleds and wore scarves. I stopped and watched as they disappeared around a corner. I couldn’t imagine why they wouldn’t have attacked me. I turned back around and nearly collided with an older woman coming out of a shop. “Oops! Hello there,” she said. I was stunned. I sat down on a bench outside of the diner and broke down crying loudly. I wasn’t scared; I was safe. The magnitude of this blessing was overwhelming, and still is now, some 25 years later.

We escaped Frog Hollow in our own way. My parents maxed out twenty credit cards and hung on for eight years.  The day I left for college they filed for bankruptcy. In an era that offers varieties of truth and history my own story could be molded to fit any ideology. For some in Black Lives Matter, my story could be seen as an example of how white people always manage to escape and come out ahead. For the Alt-Right, my story could be taken as a childhood damaged by being the only white kid in a bad neighborhood. In the end I am just a regular man who is tired of being told that to appreciate other people I must belittle myself.

The rise of white nationalism is the result of eight years of liberal cultural authoritarianism, not of a malleable people-pleaser like Donald Trump.

In 2014 as the town of Ferguson, MO burned there was a torrent of articles and news reports like, “White People Just Don’t Get Ferguson,” “What White People Need To Do After Ferguson,” “Black Violence In Schools: White People To Blame,” and the infamous “Hey White People” video that features a number of children spewing racist diatribes at white people. While we were dealing with race riots for the first time in a generation the global migrant crisis was turning Europe upside down. Germany was promoting replacement-level migration. The rural German town of Sumte in Lower Saxony – a township of 100 people – was made to take in a thousand migrants. Sweden has taken in the equivalent of 2% of it’s population over the past year. Since that time more than 50 areas have become “no-go zones” where police officers are unable to cope with the levels of crime being committed. All told, migrants are responsible for 95% of those crimes, which includes a stratospheric increase in the number of rapes – a crime that was virtually non-existent in Sweden thirty years ago. I began to see a blatant contempt for white people stretching out across continents and cultures. Of course, if I brought that up in a conversation or on social media I was immediately brushed aside and labelled a racist, an Islamophobe and a xenophobe by the same people that were making the claim that “Rape is sex + institutional power, and since the white race is ruling America and white women are the majority of the white voting population, they can’t be raped, not even by white men. It’s not rape, it’s just a temporary suspension of white female privileges.”

This is when I began listening to the Alt-Right. But this was pre-Pepe. This was long before the memes of people being burned in ovens by a Nazi’d-up Donald Trump. Back then I was just happy to find some people that I could talk to about these issues without being yelled at. I began listening to the Alt-Right because I had grown resentful of the avalanche of articles and reports circulating about toxic white men and our alleged culture of rape. I was tired of episodic racism being called systemic. I was tired of being told to love other cultures while being told that my own culture sucks. Even now when a person is kidnapped and tortured in Chicago for being white, or when a gay nightclub in Florida is terrorized by a jihadist, we are reminded that those are examples of justified social rage but to also remember that the actions of the few do not reflect the attitudes of the community as a whole. Then how is that the wickedness of all white men walked into that church with the despicable Dylann Roof?  

Just this week a Latino official for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California taunted white attendees at a city council meeting by telling them that blacks and Latinos are “the future,” and that they had “five years left.” For good measure he added that “we don’t want to see an America that is hateful.” Somewhere along the way we’ve confused having uncomfortable disagreements with experiencing hatred. It may be surprising then to learn that, despite the fact that nearly ¾ of California identifies as Democrat, 42% of the state’s voters believe that Donald Trump’s proposal to suspend immigration from countries linked to terrorism is a good idea; 44% support deporting illegal immigrants. Is that hateful? Is Barack Obama a racist for personally deporting 2.5 million illegal immigrants during his two terms? That’s 26,041 deportations every month for eight years.

Until someone figures out how to communicate their ideas without performing cultural interrogations then America will remain a playground of indecency for warring tribes that exist in ideological enclaves of self-indulgence.

It has been over a century since Booker T. Washington said,”There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances because they do not want to lose their jobs. There is a certain class of race-problem solvers who do not want the patient to get well.” Indeed, the class of people who make a business of keeping troubles has grown. We are living in a time when bad manners have become good politics while we compete for the gold medal in the grievance olympics. Partisan muckraking has and will continue to grow more audacious and offensive.

On the Friday before MLK Day Richard Spencer, the so-called leader of the Alt-Right, tweeted the following: “Overrated Democrats Dept: So Rosa Parks wouldn’t sit in the back of the bus – that’s all she did, so what’s the big fuss?”

Wait, I’m sorry. I got my notes mixed up. That wasn’t Richard Spencer, it was Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great About America, which in my mind is one of the sharpest portrayals of the exceptional character of our nation that I’ve encountered. Over the past decade I have watched with sadness as one a brilliant advocate for Americanism has transformed himself into just another partisan flamethrower.

Not 24 hours later, on MLK day Marc Lamont Hill said that there are “mediocre negroes being dragged in front of TV as a photo-op for Donald Trump’s exploitive campaign against black people,” to which Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, an African American himself, responded to by calling Hill a “jigaboo” and a “lackey for the Democrats.”

Seeing the world exclusively through a lens of cultural resentment is both lazy and dangerous. This climate of identity politics bolsters an us-against-them mentality that suppresses personal responsibility and leaves us all angry and vulnerable. Around and around we go, creating the very things we’re opposed to – so thoroughly splintered that we are left alone, standing over the ruins of everything that those who came before us accomplished.  

I closed the book on the Alt-Right about as fast as I opened it because it was overtaken by people promoting an ideology I cannot align myself with. I was and still am tired of being seen as some kind of silent oppressor and told that people who look like me aren’t the future but in my frustration I will not discard the Constitution. To Richard Spencer and the Alt-Right the phrase my people come first means white people. To Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam it means black people. To the men who founded our country and to those who defend it now, it means the content of their character – it means Americans.

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