The White Working Class Was Bamboozled

White Working Class BamboozledOriginally, this was to be a commentary on the plight of the white middle class, but that demographic no longer exists in America. So, let’s talk about the swindling of the white working class.

And although it has all come to a head in the past few years, it is a story that is years in the making. If Stockholm Syndrome relates to the feeling of empathy that kidnap victims have with their captors, then certainly what we are witnessing today is a Stockholm Syndrome of those on the losing end of American capitalism.

To single out white working people is not to assume that others are immune from identifying with those who would exploit them financially – their own economic kidnappers, if you will. At the same time, it was white working folks who made a deal with the devil a long time ago. And now they’ve been sent the invoice from that Faustian bargain. Allow me to explain.

American capitalism has promoted the mythology of the “American Dream,” the notion that everyone has a chance to get rich. In pursuit of that dream, poor and working white Americans chose their enemy years ago. They made a conscious decision to side with the “1 percenters” whose feet were firmly placed on their neck, rather than with similarly situated black and brown common folk. They decided it was those of a darker hue whose progress stood in the way of their own movement up the ladder.

Generation after generation, they fought and died in wars, someone else’s beef, designed to protect the interests of the 1 percent.

They opposed social programs that had any chance of helping blacks, even if they stood to benefit from the programs themselves. And ultimately they failed to join forces with workers of color to build a strong labor movement. As a result of that fatal decision, the jobs moved offshore to where the labor costs were cheapest. Chinese slave laborers are now making our iPhones, iPads, X-Boxes and other toys, and now even Chinese workers are becoming too expensive.

The most impoverished European immigrant had neither a pot nor a window to throw it out of. But at least he or she was not black, and thus could be considered a real American. Though poor whites had far more in common with their poor black-, Latino-, Asian- and Native-American counterparts than with some Wall Street banker or fat cat industrialist, nonetheless they viewed racial minority groups and others as the enemy. That’s how scapegoats are created.

So, the blame is not placed where it should, which is the über-wealthy sucking the lifeblood out of democracy. Rather the problem is identified as affirmative action, or welfare queens, or undocumented Mexican immigrants. Solutions to the nation’s woes are offered in the form of mass incarceration and the death penalty. Tighter social controls are introduced in the form of bans on Sharia law and Latino studies, voter ID, draconian anti-immigrant legislation and prohibitions on same-sex marriage.

Culture wars are the ultimate shell game, a cheap parlor trick of smoke and mirrors to mask the wide scale corporate theft taking place. These cultural issues – which also include gun proliferation and the war against a woman’s reproductive rights, including contraception – will do nothing to improve anyone’s station in life. Yet these time-tested culture wars are fought because someone is betting that the common folk will take the bait. And usually, such is the case.

Meanwhile, the sanctimonious and self-righteous right wing among us, a morals police and Christian Taliban of sorts, would distract us with fertilized egg personhood and mandatory sonograms for women seeking an abortion. But in the face of injustice, like the white clergy in Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, they “have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” King called the contemporary church “a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent – and often even vocal – sanction of things as they are.”

So, those who obsess over the sex lives of private citizens have said little about our national scourge of economic inequality or the suffering of the poor – you know, the stuff Jesus talked about. Preoccupied as they are with birth control bans and zygote rights, they were conspicuously silent when the living among them suffered and the innocent died. Last year, when the state of Georgia killed Troy Davis, an innocent black man, they said nothing. And they had remained silent seven years earlier, when the state of Texas wrongfully executed Cameron Todd Willingham, an innocent white man.

Yet, there is hope that for their own sake, people will not fall for the shell game forever. There is a chance that citizens are waking up, resisting the Stockholm Syndrome, and refusing to act against their economic self-interests. The spirit of the Occupy movement has liberated the public discourse, an alternative to the neo-segregationist Tea Party and its reliance on racial scapegoats.

David Love

Photo: Robin Doyno

Published Feb 23, 2012







  1. John says

    I think David is right. I was a republican. But Reagan’s program alienated me, and I haven’t voted for that party in 30 years. I’m a devout white Mormon, and my favorite scripture is Isaiah 32:5-8 (KJV). And I like to watch Al Sharpton. I’m currently reading Thomas Paine and the American Promise by Harvey J. Kaye. Many in my faith accuse me of “treason”, but the leaders say they are politically neutral. I don’t see any conflict with my political views and my religion.

  2. Tyrannus Evisceratus says

    People need to back off the troy davis thing there were 7 witnesses that saw him shoot the cop and 2 others who said that Davis confessed to them in prison that he did indeed shoot the cop.
    20 years later they got some of the witnesses to change their story, but not all of them.
    As far as what is in the white middle class’s best interest I think they should decide for themselves.

  3. RonF says

    “American capitalism has promoted the mythology of the “American Dream,” the notion that everyone has a chance to get rich.”

    No.  The American Dream is the idea that if you work hard you have a chance to be self-supporting and not dependent on someone else; that you can afford to buy a home and a car and lead a middle-class life.  And you used to be able to.  Until the politicians decided to ramp up the tax load on them to fund people who have no intention of being productive.  Until they ramped up regulation far past the level necessary to produce reasonable levels of safety and efficacy in products and their production.  Until they cut back on teaching English and math and science and history rigorously in order to squeeze in “self-esteem” and “diversity” and de-emphasized the work ethic because other cultures were of equal importance, and until the schools started teaching the kids that the State owed them a living because they were members of one aggrieved oppressed group or another and that they shouldn’t have to work because the oppressors should be giving them money, food, shelter, clothing, etc.

    The American Dream isn’t to get rich.  The American Dream isn’t nearly as materialistic as that portrays it.  The American Dream is to be able to pursue “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – without the government deciding to suck away your substance.

    • Nate says

      Ron , you missed the basic point : it’s the corporations & gop that’s done all this damage ~ not the Govt. unless at the behest of those same corporations . I live in The Ghetto so I know : 99 % of the people there just want to work and raise their families , not suck on any one’s teat . nor get ‘ free ! ‘ anything .

      OTOH , the corporations & gop , they get millions of taxpayer $ in FREE welfare & tax returns even when they’re making absurd profits and PAYING NO TAXES ATALL .

    • JoeWeinstein says

      Ron, You are correct and David is not, as to the essence of the American dream:  not to get rich but to be self-supporting in the middle class.  And David has far overstated his case about ‘white workers’ – as if tens of millions of folks can correctly be stereotyped with allegedly common all-encompassing attitudes. 
      But Nate is right too:  over the past decades the enemy of the dream has not been primarily taxation – which is quite moderate compared to other countries where the middle-class dream has been realized – but precisely the absence of meaningful enforced government regulation on the greed of the few.  

  4. Jon Williams says

    Can any of this have to do with that magical day when those who wanted to pay us less teamed up with those who wanted to lend us more? The former were perplexed: the less they paid us the less of their crap we could buy. Along came the latter who realized they weren’t getting filthy rich by banking our savings – we had some in those days – and lending it sensibly to sensible businesses. No, the way to get stinking rich was to loan lots of money to those who’d quickly spend it and come back for more, at ridiculously high rates of interest. The justification for apparent usury? The lendees were obviously uncreditworthy. And to make them uncreditworthy they’d have to be too poor to ever successfully pay down their loans. America’s major employers were only too happy to help make their employees poor, by underpaying them, so long as the lenders were willing to keep supplying credit so the underpaid employees would continue buying crap. Will the circle be unbroken? It appears not. The fix appears to be a combination of decent wages and sensibly-restricted credit. Uh-oh, “Over our dead bodies,” says the point-one percent. And the rest of the one percent doesn’t know what to say.

  5. Nate says

    Sadly David is all too right .

    But , that’s us poor white working folks for you . so few of us value any more than basic education .

    I bought into The American Dream , it doesn’t involve riches by any stretch but it *does* involve me owning my own home in a nice quiet neighborhood , leafy tree lined streets with children playing and folks walking  thier dogs , nodding to their neighbors hello….

    What ? you say I live in The Ghetto and am one of the few Whites left ? yeah , so what ? it’s a nice place, little crime and *very* family oriented , give it a try White America , you just might like it , I certainly do .

    Do not give up the fight against the 1 %’ers ! .

    Wealth is nice but I’ll never really know , I’m content instead and so don’t really care for riches .


  6. Scott Peer says

    I tend to think that poor whites have no understanding of the rich, and don’t even think much about what it might be like to be rich. They don’t understand that wealth has little to do with happiness, nor that they have much in common with others who don’t look or sound like them. But they do look for others fight against in a tribal manner. And the rich are smart enough to stay behind their guards and gates, out of view. So when the poor go looking for someone to fight, they find other poor people, and that’s who they fight. This was perhaps the biggest reason why the rich were so focused on crushing the occupy movement, because a variety of non-rich people were dropping their animosities and noticing who is taking advantage of them.  

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