Hey, you. White dude with the red cap. You with the gun rack in your pickup’s rear window. You who live in a white rural town where people are real and eat real food and have real values and go to real churches.
I understand you.
You think I don’t, but I do.
What? Did you think I was born in a city? Well, actually you’re right. I was. I was born in Santa Monica, CA. But I didn’t stay there long. I’ve lived in Ohio. I’ve lived in Texas. I spent six years of my life in rural Utah, and there’s a good chance my town was smaller and whiter than yours.
I understand you.
It’s not hard. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not that deep.
I know that people of color in your towns have to be careful how they act, lest they eat your shit. The only reason I got a pass was that I was passing. My skin is light enough that people didn’t know, right away, that I was “a n—–.” (They’d have felt no embarrassment at spelling out the slur.) I know that gays and lesbians have to hide who they are to avoid your violence. I know how religion binds your communities, because I saw, from the outside looking in, how it bound mine.
I know the stories you use to explain your lives to yourselves. I know you see yourselves as standing in a line. It’s a long line. At the front are the rich people, and you think that if you stay in the line, don’t ask for too much, and behave yourselves, the rich people at the front will one day shower you with riches and all will be happy. You don’t question why there has to be a line, or why you’re the one standing in it. As long as the rich people at the front pass down an occasional treat, it’s a sign of their goodwill. And as long as the darker people are behind you, which they deserve because they’re more unruly and impatient than you, and don’t talk English as good as you talk it, all is right and just.
This is the story your ancestors used to explain slavery to themselves. Most of the more southerly of them didn’t own slaves, but they hoped if they stood in line, one day they could. Later, under our nation’s 100 post-civil-war years of legal apartheid, your grandparents could still tell themselves that no matter how bad off they were, they were better than the “n——“. They could vote, get the front seat on the bus, and ogle a white girl’s ass without dying for it. And if any “n—–” tried to get in line in front of them, there were hoods to wear, crosses to burn, and branches suitable for nooses.
When this system of apartheid was dismantled, suddenly people wouldn’t let your parents, or you, use the word “n—–” anymore. You got yelled at for it, and that hurt, partly because feeling guilty hurts, but partly because that meant that the darker people had moved up in line a little. Soon, black people were on TV and in movies and ads. They played sports. They were cops and lawyers and business executives. Black bodies were closing in on your position in line. Some were ahead. And what’s more, it looked like some of your fellow pale people, ones who lived in cities and always made fun of you, were helping them cut in front!
Yeah, I think I understand you.
Then along came a black President, with a foreign, black name. He never could have been in line. Now he’s at the front of it! How can that be fair? The treats were supposed to come to you first! And when he sends something down the line to you, bails out your auto industry, stabilizes the banks, gets you health care, you’re bewildered. Where does that–you won’t say the word because you’re not racist–get off trying to help you? And why isn’t he doing more? And why is he also helping those other people you don’t like: the gays and lesbians and Mexicans and Asians who don’t live in your town because…well…any one of them who tries gets the message? Now you’re pissed off. And now those fancy types are telling you you’re racist and sexist because you’re angry about all the non-white, non-male people ahead of you. You’re not mad because you hate them. You don’t hate. You’re mad because people of color and women don’t deserve those spots. The rich people promised your grandpappy.
I understand you.
You never got mad at the rich guys or their promises, even though they’re made of lies. You’ll never get that they told your grandpappy to stand in line because they feared he might revolt and then died laughing when the poor sap fell for it. You’ll never ask why your grandpappy, or your pappy, or you, never made common cause with the people of color to take what the rich man was denying all of you. Instead, you’ll let the rich guys pollute your land, air, and water if it means a job. And you’ll elect the smiling toady the rich man asks you to vote for so he can go to Washington and make sure that no uppity people ever try to give you health care, education programs, housing assistance, or the right to form a union. Why would you want those things? The rich guys at the front of the line will be passing down a treat for you anytime now. Anytime.
I understand you.
At last, one day, the rich guys stopped passing their treats down to you. They took your factories away and left you. And that confused you. Where’d the line go? Where’s your shower of riches? They couldn’t have been fibbing all along, could they? No. It must be the fault of those liberals in Washington. They regulated them too much. They drove them away. They’ll pay for that, them and the city slickers in Hollywood who make jokes at your expense and sip lattes and drive nice cars and know Jews. (Not that you’re antisemitic. Why would we think that?)
Idiots. You think voting for Trump upset the elites in Washington? They’ll adapt. They have money, influence, and time. They’ll be here long after Trump’s gone to Orange, Rapist, Con-Man Heaven. You may think by electing Trump you threw a brick at Washington Elites, but you hit poor people, the elderly, the vulnerable, and yourselves. After four years of Trump, your pockets will be emptier, and his fuller. Your towns will still be sucky and poor, and you’ll still be sad, paranoid, and angry. But maybe, if you’re good, Trump’ll send you some of those Trump Steaks. That should tide you over, because now that he’s at the front of the line, the wait for the shower of goodies can’t be much longer. You’re so close. Right?
Yeah, I understand you.