The Problem of Whiteness

I’m a white man from Connecticut. I go about my life as you go about yours – working, paying bills, raising a family. Imagine what life must have been like for a white kid growing up in Connecticut, years before the era of forced diversity and white privilege. What do you see? A little boy carrying an invisible backpack full of get out of jail free cards? Green grass and wealthy insurance moguls drunk by lunchtime, surrounded by the spoils of great fortune acquired at the expense of others?

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 was hit with brass knuckles long before I read Lord Of The Flies.

I was a latchkey kid.  Every day after lunch I would start getting nervous. Only three hours until school ends. What if my timing is off? What if I run into those guys again? I was always one of the last kids to leave school at the end of the day. Sometimes I’d pretend that I forgot something in my locker. Sometimes I’d wait in the bathroom until the janitor came by to lock up the doors. Anything to delay my walk home from school.

I started carrying a small butterfly knife on those walks home. I didn’t know how to properly work it and cut hands several times. Eventually my teachers found out about that knife. But they never said a word to me about it.

I remember kicking bullet casings down the sidewalk. I can still see the graffiti on the walls of the projects. Some of those symbols stuck with me. I used to draw them in the margins of my school notebooks even though I didn’t understand what they meant.

Twice  my bedroom window was shot out while I was in bed sleeping. When I was ten I got jumped by a big group of guys, ten, maybe twelve of them. I got hit in the teeth with a baseball bat. I remember feeling my teeth slide down my throat.

Not long after that, it was my father’s turn. He’d just dropped me off at a friend’s house and was on his way home. It was a sunny day. He stopped to have a cigarette on a park bench. He was jumped from behind, beaten with bats and left on the side of the road. He wasn’t robbed. They didn’t take his wedding ring or wallet – they just beat him. He had reconstructive surgery on his face. A few months later, on Christmas Day, we moved to a suburb of Chicago.

Our new neighborhood was like something out 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.

I remember my first walk through the small downtown area. It was snowing and so quiet. There were no sirens, no horns or yelling – just the sound of snow crunching under my feet. I remember seeing a group of older kids walking in toward me. I carefully opened my knife with my hand still in my coat pocket. I looked around for a door to run through, a window to jump through – any way for me to get away if they attacked me.

But they simply nodded at me and kept on down the street. I stopped and watched as they disappeared around a corner. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t attacked me. I turned back around and bumped into a woman with white hair as she was leaving one of the shops. “Oops! Hello there,” she said. I just stared at her for a second, mumbled something and walked away. I was stunned. I sat down on a bench outside of a restaurant where, years later, I would take my first girlfriend for dinner. I sat there on that bench and cried for a good long while. It was the first time that I really wasn’t scared.

The magnitude of this blessing was overwhelming, and still is, some 25 years later.

We escaped Frog Hollow because my parents maxed out twenty credit cards. They spent the next eight years doing everything they could think of to keep us in that house. The day I left for college they filed for bankruptcy and moved into a one bedroom apartment.

These days I make my living as a bartender, but it’s a rare occasion that I pour shots or beers. I make cocktails that can take up to ten minutes to prepare. It’s a different kind of bartending, and it’s intriguing. One of the main reasons people choose to sit at the bar is to watch me make the drinks – carefully measuring the juices and syrups, cutting garnishes with genuine care. I light orange disks on fire, rinse glassware with scotch and absinthe, and I tell stories about whatever drink I’m working on. I’m not just a bartender, I’m an entertainer, and I’ve been doing it for over a decade. During that time I’ve learned so much about people – I can spot a lie a mile away, I can tell when someone is trying to conceal a drug habit, I see people that are desperately in love, incredibly bored, or really lonely.

I see the best and worst of people every evening. It sounds cool – and maybe it is – but it’s also incredibly difficult, because I don’t do this just for the money. I have a deep appreciation for others. My phone is full of people who come in regularly. Sometimes they call hoping that I’ll reserve them a spot at the bar, sometimes they call to have me help them piece together the night before, sometimes they call just to talk. One is a very successful lawyer who has the ear of every politician in town, even the mayor. One is a serial-dater that shows up at 7 o’clock every night to meet a new woman that he connected with on match.com. He does this four nights a week, minimum. He’s also a complete douchebag – red-faced from years of nightly drinking, crass and unapologetically idiotic. There is nothing that we agree on, and I’m good with that. Every night when he comes in we shake hands, tell a couple of jokes, and I go about treating him with the same reverence as I do the lawyer, whether he notices or not.

If I were to die tomorrow and my wife invited all of the regulars I have in my phone, she would be astonished by such an incongruous mix of people. Here, at my funeral, I imagine Bill the serial-dater standing next to Myra the doctor and Kyle who hosts drag-queen bingo down the street every Tuesday. Bart the rabbi might stand next to Ed the college football star who blew out his knee and now happily works for Pepsi. There would be Katrina – an alcoholic who takes a pill for every big feeling she has, and there would be Carlos – a legal immigrant from Mexico who spends his days as a copywriter and his nights bouncing from dancefloor to dancefloor only to end up at my bar for one last Mojito before calling it a night. If these people were gathered anywhere else, under any other circumstance, I don’t imagine they’d have much to say to one another. But at my funeral, just the same as at my bar, I know they’d all relate. Of course, I deal with plenty of unsavory characters on a given night but one of the great lessons of working in the service industry is understanding the importance of letting go. I have been surprised by people countless times over the years. It seems like every time I pass judgement on someone I am proven wrong. It’s humbling and I’m grateful for that.

But it’s not like that for a lot of my coworkers. They’re a little younger. They’re just passing through, en route to different things.  

I work with blacks, whites, jews, latinos, gays and every night at least one of them takes the time to gleefully belittle white people. A young white woman asks about renting one of the private rooms, it’s white entitlement. A white man wearing a delivery uniform asks for a light beer, he’s a standard issue knuckle-dragging hick. If a well-dressed man orders a drink for a lady, he’s probably a date-rapist. After delivering drinks to a group of white college students laughing, one of the servers will turn to me and mockingly say “Huh-huh, I’m white! Huh-huh.” Last week we booked a Turkish Flamenco guitarist to play for an hour in the lounge. During his set one of my bosses walked up to me and said, “Man, I hate this white people shit.” Well, I hate it too.

I hear a lot of people say that racism is institutionalized in America. I’m beginning to be believe it.

The Bank Street School for Children on Manhattan’s Upper West Side designed a “Racial Justice and Advocacy” curriculum that segregates children into Affinity and Advocacy groups. Minority children are placed in the Affinity group to “voice their feelings, feel embraced, share experiences about being a kid of color, and have an opportunity to be in a majority setting.” White children are put into Advocacy groups that focus on “Raising awareness of the prevalence of whiteness and privilege, challenging the notion of colorblindness, challenging assumptions of good, normal, and American, and understanding and owning European ancestry and its ties to privilege.” These programs are not unusual. In New York alone similar curriculums are taught at Riverdale Country School, Brooklyn Friends School, The Cathedral School, The Calhoun School, Elisabeth Irwin High School, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, and Little Red School House. Far from producing some kind of mystical oneness, these programs activate bias, and cultivate racial tribalism.

The sense of fatalism that arises from being reduced to a horror story is certainly not the hallmark of a privileged class. A recent study by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton reveals that over the past two decades, middle-aged white Americans have been pummeled by “diseases of despair” – drugs, drinking, and suicide. Rich countries like the United States typically have low mortality rates. While those rates continue to decline across the Western world, for middle-aged white Americans they are increasing. Ultimately Case and Deaton believe that white Americans are suffering from a lack of hope, but are unable to fully explain why.

Last October fliers depicting a white couple with the caption “We have the right to exist,” were posted to a bulletin board at the University of Iowa. While university police investigated the incident, the Vice President for Student Life issued a statement that read: “The messages depicted do not reflect the values of our institution. The University of Iowa is committed to maintaining an environment that promotes the robust exchange of ideas. We are equally committed to maintaining an environment that recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of every person and that fosters tolerance, sensitivity, understanding, and mutual respect.”  

This new diversity is not true diversity – it is a repudiation of individuality. James Madison once said that “if you aren’t free to think your own thoughts and believe your own beliefs, you aren’t free.”

There can be no progress without intellectual freedom. Madison was 25 when he took part in drafting Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, and he rejected a provision that included religious toleration. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Madison was a monster! And he was white, too. But Madison believed that it was not the government’s business to tolerate someone’s beliefs. He understood the right of private judgement, that individuals should be free to judge the meaning of their own lives.

Tolerance is not a virtue, nor is it lasting. Tolerance is what you do when you want something to just go away. I tolerate my neighbor’s loud music, their dog’s incessant barking at all hours. There is a clear distinction between tolerating something and celebrating it. Necessary movements that once reflected personal pride marched for acceptance. Now they demand celebration. Outrage is so fashionable that companies like HP, Nike, Hulu, and ESPN have built entire advertising campaigns on it in the hopes that you will become nothing more than your suspicion of others. Modern liberalism exploits the craving for moral prestige and communal membership, just like the Savage Nomads and Ghetto Brothers back in Hartford. Those street gangs broke laws, liberalism diminishes those laws by turning issues with a long history of bipartisan support into cultural interrogations.  

“All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants, the public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens. In the budget I will present to you, we will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace, as recommended by the commission headed by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. We are a nation of immigrants but we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws that we have seen in recent years and we must do more to stop it.”

The entire chamber of the House of Representatives gave a standing ovation to Bill Clinton when he said this during his 1995 State of the Union address. For today’s Progressives, this racist hate speech. It took just over twenty years for the concept of sovereignty to become considered “far-right” ideology.    

If the current trajectory holds, whites will become a minority in my lifetime. What racial or ethnic majority on this planet would actively celebrate the possibility of becoming a minority,  let alone in an environment that teaches grade school children that they are born racist? College students are offered classes like The Problem of Whiteness. We hear claims that “race is a social construct” while at the same time hearing this from Joe Biden:

“Folks like me who were Caucasian of European descent, for the first time in 2017 will be in an absolute minority in the United States of America. Absolute minority. Fewer than 50% of the people in America from then and on will be white European stock – that’s not a bad thing, that’s the source of our strength.”

A little while back a Latino official for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California was speaking at a city council meeting. He described blacks and Latinos as “the future,” and said that whites “only have about five years left.” Perhaps then, if a person is kidnapped and tortured in Chicago for being white, or when a gay nightclub in Florida is terrorized by Jihadi ideology, we won’t be told that those are examples of justified social rage. He concluded his remarks by saying “we don’t want to see an America that is hateful.”

Well, neither do I. Neither does my little boy.

 

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