Friday, March 31, 2017

Do Republicans Even Want to Live in a Democracy? Part Two

While I was doing research for my wife and I's recent book, Maryland's Chesapeake: How the Bay and its Bounty Shaped a Cuisine, I was struck by how little I really learned about our nation's early history in grade school. We were taught about the Puritans landing at Plymouth Rock and John Smith helping to form Jamestown in Virginia. Sure, the Native Americans were here, but they just showed up with some pot luck dishes at Thanksgiving and one young squaw prevented John Smith's beheading. The rest of the history lesson was Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and a bunch of other white guys doing stuff. Given our early introduction to the founding of this country, it's little wonder so many white Americans have adopted the notion that Europeans were the dominant race in this country and our governance should be based on white supremacy.

The reality of our history is much different. It's not simply that the Native Americans were here first, they had been here since the Ice Age. By the time we arrived, they had established a complex, interconnected tribal system and a form of self-governance along with an elaborate system of growing and gathering food. The Europeans who first arrived here would simply not have survived had they not learned from the Native Americans how to grow and store corn and feed off the native creatures that walked the land and swam in the waters.

There's also a perception among a section of white Americans (although they might not state it publicly) that the Africans who were brought here were merely ignorant savages who were too stupid not to get captured and, by inference, deserved to be nothing more than slaves. This is also, of course, a major fallacy, but something that many Whites might not be aware of is that the English landowners in America initially brought over their own countrymen to function as slaves. Granted it was for only a period of seven years rather than a lifetime, but I think it illustrates the point that slavery has nothing to do with a person's intellect or brain size or whatever, but everything to do with the rich oppressing the poor.

There's always someone with more money or more power who is in a position to oppress someone lower on the totem pole. I find it amusing that President Trump's chief adviser, a White Nationalist, has the last name of Bannon. Clearly, he has Irish roots. So what happened with the early Irish who came to America? They were thought of as the lowest of the low, even less valued as human beings than slaves. A slave, after all, was property and had monetary value. The Irish were completely expendable and only hired to do the dirtiest, nastiest, most dangerous of jobs.

And then I think of my own grandfather, who was white and British. He had been unemployed in his native country for a long time and decided to start fresh in the United States. He came here on a ship in third class because, as he put it, "there was not fourth class," and hardly had any money to his name when he landed in Boston. Since he had learned a trade as a bricklayer, he ended up working at Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore. He worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week in the beginning. Eventually, the unions fought for better wages and better hours, and he was able to buy a house and raise a family and do all the things we put into the category of the American Dream. I don't see any difference between my grandfather and the Hispanic workers I see in my neighborhood, putting up brick fences and repairing roofs and laying down cement sidewalks. People come here from all over the world because this is the land of opportunity where everyone has a shot at making a better life for themselves and their families.

Still, we have an administration and a political party that's pushing the notion that Whites, and particularly White Christians, are somehow more valuable to our republic than any other group and that they should be given priority. Of course, all of this flies in the face of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and everything we've tried to build in this country over the last 250 years. Any government that "holds these truths to be self-evident" that everyone is entitled to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" cannot impose a form of governance that holds one group of people above another or who makes laws infringing on the rights of one group over another. Yes, we done it many times, particularly in the case of slavery, but we have fought hard to overturn these laws and we can never go back.

But I guess that's the point. For the Baby Boomers who remember the early 60's when the country was 85% white, they were used to seeing mostly white faces in their daily activities and could feel comfortable with their prejudices against minorities because, hey, we're the main ethnic group so we can do what we want. As they turn into senior citizens and feel more vulnerable with the onset of aging issues, they are also seeing more brown faces around them and changing attitudes about racial stereotypes. The "snowflakes" don't want you to make fun of the Hispanics or the Asians or the African-Americans. Suddenly, whites are asked to throw away their prejudices and treat others with respect. For some, that just isn't the America they're comfortable with.

By 2011, the white population in the U.S, had dropped to 63%. As the Baby Boomers die off over the next 20-30 years, that number will drop significantly. The projection is that whites will only represent 47% of the population by the middle of this century. That is no longer a majority.

So my point to White Nationalists is, the numbers are against you. America is becoming more brown. Trying to manipulate the government to oppress people of color won't change that. Whatever short-term gains you may attain are simply that. Maybe it's time to stop worrying about how the country does not have the same demographics it once did and focus on the underlying principles that make our country great in the future.

Besides, race is a distraction put forth by Republicans to cover their fundamental end game: the wealthy oppressing the middle-class and the poor. Next time I'll try to sort out the whole Wall Street versus Main Street thing.

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