An Open Letter to the White Working Class: You Don’t Get to Hide Your Racism Behind “Economic Concerns”

Dear "Working Class" White Voters:

I don't feel like niceties today, so I'm just going to launch into my rant. Brace yourselves.

Look, I think we all know what part of your "white working class" identity is overriding for you. It's not the "working class" part. According to exit polling, Hillary Clinton won the working-class vote. It's the 'white' part that cost her the election.

Still, we're told by the media again and again that you guys aren't all racists, that you are all just pissed off that your working-class living is gone. We are told that the factory jobs - at least the good-paying factory jobs - have either disappeared from the "heartland" (given what you gave us though, we're going to call you 'heart-attack-land' from now on) or been replaced with lower-paying jobs. Even in the rust-belt, we're told, a white man can no longer expect to put in all day at the local manufacturing (or coal) plant and expect to own a home, put food on the table, and raise his children.

We're told that you are nostalgic for those days and that this nostalgia is why you voted for the human wrecking ball. You blame politicians for not being able to restore the olden days, for making trade deals that move "your" jobs overseas for the fraction of the cost, and for immigrants you view as willingly providing cheaper labor here at home.

But seriously, can we have a moment to address what your nostalgia is really about?

Think about it. What, exactly, do you think gives you the entitlement to these jobs? What exactly makes these your jobs?

During the glorious hayday of American manufacturing, the 50s and 60s, more than half of the world's population lived in abject poverty. Today, less than one in 10 do.

As a matter of fact, look at the almost-straight line indicating the sharp drop in world poverty (the black line), and you will see that this sharp drop began when international trade barriers started to be removed as "free" trade deals began to take shape. One can easily correlate the sharp drop in global poverty with the loss of your cushy factory-job living.

Oh, and another thing. Through the 1950s, '60s, and even '70s, the white share of the US population remained relatively constant in the high 80%s to low 90%s, before beginning to fall significantly. Even though 70% of the voters in this election were white, only 61% of the US population is now white, and the Census Bureau projects that white people - not working people - will become a minority by 2043. More than half the children under 5 in America - you know, born in the USA - are already non-white.

So, what you are experiencing as this rage against the machine is, my dear "white working class", a resentment based on entitlement that was never yours to begin with - highly-paid, relatively low-skilled American manufacturing rested on absolute poverty in the rest of the world - and that you now see slipping away as today's growth trajectory, service and technology, is highly concentrated in vastly diverse, liberal urban centers. That's even more starkly apparent by the fact that your human wrecking ball is losing the popular vote by unprecedented margins.

I hate to break it to you, dear "white working class", but your "economic" resentment is coming primarily from the fact that you - whether you realize it or not - don't really want to compete with the rest of us, whether your competition is in another country (trade) or right here at home (immigrants and people of color). You can take comfort by couching it in 'economics' all you want, but your resentment is deeply ethnocentric, at its core racist.

I don't want to totally discount your feelings, though. You have a right to feel frustrated by the lack of economic mobility in your communities. You have a right to demand that your economic pain be addressed effectively by your government. You have the right to demand that America makes trade deals that level the playing field with standards across the globe and not leave countries that abuse their workers and their environment at an unfair advantage. You have the right to demand that your government invest in you with social safety nets and most efficient ways for you to gain the skills for the new economy.

You have the right to demand that your government invest in rural broadband and roads and other infrastructure projects that can get you working. You have the right to demand that your government invest in clean energy manufacturing jobs that will stay in your communities (it's a bit expensive to ship wind mills from China) and will help your children and grand children breathe fresh air. You have the right to demand that your government invest in the next generation by upgrading your schools and making debt free college a reality for your kids. You have the right to demand that your government move towards a living wage so that never again do you have to work full time and still live in or near poverty. You have the right to do demand that you don't have to go bankrupt when your child gets sick.

Unfortunately for you, dear white working class, these are all things the Democratic president has been trying to do and to a good degree did, and the Democratic nominee for president had advocated and had detailed plans for. Unfortunately for you, these are all the things that Republicans in Congress has resisted for eight years, and your human wrecking ball has loudly advocated for dismantling.

But you could not see the rising tide because you were too worried that other people's boats would be lifted alongside yours. You could not see this because your resentment borne out of a sense of loss of privilege - a privilege that was never rightfully yours to begin with - took over your rational judgement. You could not see this this because your entitlement to the past prevented you from imagining a shared future.

So you gave us the human wrecking ball. You believed in a conman. You gave us Donald Trump and an unfettered Republican majority in Congress. They are already coming for what you have. For Medicare. For Social Security. For Medicaid. For your kid's health care when she gets sick.  Your kids' schools. And college? Fuggeddaboudit.

And if irony was a thing in your world, you'd see it in Donald Trump not caring one iota about your lost jobs. Already, as wrecking ball-elect, he's meeting with his international business partners (who are doing construction, mind you, but they're not building Trump's wall, they're building his hotel, in India), and if you believe those business partners have any interest in hiring you, I can see why you bought what Donald Trump was selling. Donald Trump and his Republican majority will give you nothing, and they will try to take from you what you have. And when they do, when the wrecking ball you elected comes to wreck your lives, you will not deserve even the most basic modicum of compassion.

Yet we will be compassionate. Because it's in our core as liberals. Because even if you see our children as "anchor babies", we will still see your children as our shared future. Because even if you think we're taking "your" jobs, we'll still try to build a future that you can be part of and be proud of. Because even if you don't think we, "the others" don't deserve the basic social safety net, we will fight hard to protect it for you. Because even if you think we should be "registered", we will want to lift you up.

Here's to hoping we as a nation last that long.

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