‘White Working Class’ Narrative Is Nothing but a Racist Dog Whistle

Yes, they are angry. But they aren’t angry because they’re poor; they’re angry because they are white and poor—and that's not the American dream.

Supporters cheer for then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during a campaign rally at the Freedom Hill Amphitheater in Sterling Heights, Mich., on Nov. 6, 2016.
Supporters cheer for then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during a campaign rally at the Freedom Hill Amphitheater in Sterling Heights, Mich., on Nov. 6, 2016. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Here we are, eight days removed from President-elect, and corrupt businessman, Donald Trump grabbing the Electoral College “by the p–sy” and violating his way into the White House.

And predictably, instead of focusing on the wealthy white supremacist, xenophobic and misogynist elements of society that rose from their dirty corners and corner offices to vote for the man, much of the political punditry and chatter continues to focus on the innocent and frightened “white working class.”

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) once said, “There are many whites who are trying to solve the problem, but you never see them going under the label of liberals. That white person that you see calling himself a liberal is the most dangerous thing in the Western Hemisphere.”

But we’re not talking about so-called white liberals today. We’re not talking about the white liberals who are in the streets protesting against Trump but who have not stepped foot in the street to protest injustice and inequity against marginalized and targeted people of color disproportionately scarred by this nation’s violence—institutional, psychological and physical.

We’re talking about the “white working class” that blankets its working-class status in whiteness to intensify the perception of its victimhood. Those dangerous white people who would even call themselves such a thing.

There are certainly white people who are in need of economic stability and security, but they are still beneficiaries of whiteness. According to a recent study by the Corporation for Enterprise Development and Institute for Policy Studies (pdf), it would take the average black family in the U.S. 228 years to build the wealth of a white family. To put forth a flat economic analysis that does not acknowledge white supremacy and the intersections of oppression is racist to its core.

By all means, let’s discuss this “white working class” that’s full of “rural resentment,” but if we’re going to tell it, we need to make it plain.

Because where I’m from, these degenerates were called overseers and slave patrols. What they are really saying, what they’ve always been saying, is, “Don’t group us with the Negroes just because we’re working class; we’re still white and we are owed all the rights, privileges and power therein.”

Let’s take a closer look at the bellwether state of Pennsylvania.

Despite many “white working class” residents in Pennsylvania expressing their distaste for a black president, President Barack Obama managed to claw his way to victory there twice. In January, however, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews—who spent much of the 2016 election cycle lamenting the country’s failure of the “white working class”—predicted that there were “Reagan Democrats” just waiting to vote for Trump.

He was right. Trump turned three counties in the state—Luzerne, Erie and Northhampton—red.

But the industrial decline of the state, which some observers credit for the party shift, has been relatively consistent. So what could possibly have caused the political pendulum to swing?

A loud-mouthed bigot screaming about “Mexican rapists” and calling for “law and order.”

According to the 2010 census (pdf), the Latinx population in the U.S. grew by 43 percent between 2000 and 2010. In Hazleton, Pa., which is located in Luzerne County, between 2000 and 2010 the demographics shifted from being 90 percent white to nearly 50 percent Latinx. An estimated 10 percent of the Latinx population consists of undocumented immigrants, Philly.com reports.

Matthews, who is from Pennsylvania, touched on immigration in an interview with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, saying, “[The white working class] just feels that elite leaders, they don’t regulate any immigration, it seems.” Then later: “It’s a deep sense of the country being taken away and betrayed.”

So many white tears.

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