The Myth Of Self Reliance
Why Republicans Don’t Recognize White Supremacy.
By David Todd McCarty
On March 12, 2018, the Facebook page for the Cape May County Young Republicans shared a story titled, “A Restaurant Is Charging White Customers More To Highlight Racial Wealth Inequality” with the comment, “Thoughts?”
This was an article about a restaurant in New Orleans who wanted to raise awareness of racial wealth differences in the country by charging white customers more. Here is an excerpt:
SAARTJ is a pop-up restaurant in the Louisiana city run by local Nigerian chef Tunde Wey who will be charging white customers $18 extra for their meal.
Much like the cafe in Melbourne, Australia which charged a ‘man-tax’ due to the gender pay gap, SAARTJ is charging an increase to highlight the racial pay gap in New Orleans.
In 2013, a study found that the average household income of an African-American in the city was 54 per cent lower than that of a white person.
Customers have two price options to choose from. Either $12 or the suggested price of $30.
As Tunde explains the standard price is available to everyone, but only white customers will be asked to consider the suggested price.
The temporary program ran for a month and proved to be successful and helped create discussions. Around 80% of white customers chose to pay the extra fee, which he believes came from “positive social pressure” and the need to feel like someone is doing something to help others.
Now in all fairness, we’ve all commented on Facebook stories based on the headline, without reading the actual story, and that certainly seems to be the case here. For all their talk about fake news, Republicans seem particularly susceptible to being manipulated by provocative headlines without doing any fact checking or even basic research.
Social media is filled with conspiracy theories, half-truths, shared opinions and straight up incorrect, uncorroborated or downright falsified information.
In this particular case, it would appear that simply no one read the article.
Jeffery Pierson, Cape May County Freeholder (R) wrote, “I’m sorry I don’t believe the color of ones skin dictates privilege, inequality or racial biases. Charging more for a product, food or whatever based on a persons color to me is racist. My family work hard for everything they have. I have worked hard my whole life to achieve success. No one has ever put me or my family into an advantage over someone else. This is all socialist and communistic crap. You get out of life what you put into life. Sit on your a$$, don’t work, don’t educate yourself and that is why you don’t achieve. Don’t put this BS on someone else.”
“I’m sorry I don’t believe the color of ones skin dictates privilege, inequality or racial biases. Charging more for a product, food or whatever based on a persons color to me is racist. My family work hard for everything they have. I have worked hard my whole life to achieve success. No one has ever put me or my family into an advantage over someone else. This is all socialist and communistic crap. You get out of life what you put into life. Sit on your a$$, don’t work, don’t educate yourself and that is why you don’t achieve. Don’t put this BS on someone else.”
– Jeffery Pierson, Cape May County Freeholder (R)
Mr. Pierson clearly doesn’t believe he’s had any advantages in his life, even though he entered military service in 1961, a full three years before the Civil Rights Act was even passed. Racism was certainly prevalent in the Army during his career, just as it was in the civilian life, so it’s preposterous to think that his ability to rise through the ranks was not privileged in that he did not have to compete with anyone of color for the job.
But just on the face of his comments, Mr. Pierson seems to imply that non-whites are unemployed, lazy, uneducated and unambitious. He says he doesn’t believe that the color of one’s skin dictates privilege, inequality or racial biases. That’s almost laughably, and historically, inaccurate. He might believe that he being white gives him no special privileges, or even that he has no racial bias against non-whites. Maybe he doesn’t. But wealth inequality is demonstrably real between blacks and whites in America, and whether he chooses to see it or not, racial bias isn’t a matter of opinion, it’s something we all deal with.
One commenter on the post, believes that bringing up disparity in wealth is Leftist race-baiting, and that disparity exists, not due to race, but to “cultural factors, group dynamics, sociology, psychology, biology and ignores the fact that all groups will not have the same outcome just as men and women do not choose the same jobs. They think those type of studies are racist and sexist. They’re the same factors that contribute to Jews and Asians actually earning more than white people on average, despite Asians having been an oppressed group in the mid 20th century. The left-wing loves race baiting and ignoring the fact that there are rich people of color and poor white people and that your choices have a lot to do with it, they would rather further them into the victims.”
These are standard white supremacist arguments. Sociology, psychology, and biology play a part in how successful a group is. Poor people of color, choose to be poor, or are poor because of their choices, not because of their lack of opportunity. No one helped white people. They did it all by themselves.
You don’t have to wear a white hood (actually they appear to have give them up anyway) to be a white supremacist. It simply means you believe white culture is the standard by which everything else should be judged. If you don’t recognize that people of color live in a different world than you, you are claiming you don’t see any difference. This is often used as an argument for why they are not racist. “I don’t even see race,” they’ll tell you. There could be nothing more privileged or racist than to claim you don’t see race. The audacity to live in a world where people of color disappear is astounding.
You know who sees race, everyday of their lives? People of color.
White supremacy ignores the obstacles that people of color experience just navigating a white dominant world. When we talk about privilege, we’re not talking about being rich, or having things handed to you. Think of it less like the things you’ve been given, and reflect on the sheer weight of the things you take for granted that a person of color must struggle to obtain.
When your baseline is growing up without hunger, with a decent education, protected from violence, free to move about, expected to succeed, go to college, get a job—when that’s your baseline, it seems like you did it all yourself.
But when you grow up hungry, afraid, with a substandard education, surrounded by violence, with no opportunity to leave, no chance of higher education, no money and now not adequately prepared to enter the workforce in a meaningful career, you’re so far behind, there’s no way to catch up.
White supremacy relies on assuming that everyone experiences the world the way white people do.
White supremacy relies on assuming that everyone experiences the world the way white people do.
This is clearly, and obnoxiously preposterous.
One would hope that Mr. Pierson, an elected official of a county with many problems including unemployment, a rising drug epidemic, a lack of opportunity for young people, and a huge disparity in wealth, would take some time to understand just how privileged he is, but that’s unlikely, because it doesn’t fit into his narrative.
The problem that most Republicans have with the idea of privilege and white supremacy is that they have bought into the myth of American self-sufficiency. The pioneer alone in the wilderness. Your Robinson Crusoe. The cowboy ethic that puts the individual at the center of the universe.
The issues with this ideology is that it favors liberty over equality. Wealth and income inequality have many reasons, and all capitalistic nations deal with disparity between the rich and the poor. But America’s emphasis on the individual, our emphasis of Liberty over equality, means that we now have an empathy gap as well.
Lawrence Mitchell, a professor of law at Case Western Reserve University, talks about it this way:
We understand intuitively that, because others are like us, they suffer similar pains and enjoy similar pleasures. So far, so good.
The problem – the disconnect if you will – is that those similarities sometimes are superficial. The working poor may look like the more advantaged – they have jobs, houses, cars, etc. But the truth is that they live on the margins of financial disaster. Because they look like the advantaged, the latter assume that the working poor are just like them in all relevant respects – except for hard work. Superficial similarity allows the rich and powerful to assume their success is simply a result of working harder because in their minds it’s clear that the poor could be just like them; they’re just lazier or failed to develop the same skills.
The reality is different. The working poor are not like the advantaged, superficial similarities aside. A very significant component of success – one that may even be more determinative than hard work – is luck. This is true, even if the advantaged have worked hard to maximize the benefits of that luck. By luck, I mostly mean circumstances of birth and natural talents and abilities (which might well include the propensity to work hard).
Ironically, our ability to identify with others because of our essential similarities leads to a singular lack of empathy by the advantaged. Because the disadvantaged look like us, despite very real differences, we conclude that their disadvantage is their own fault. We believe that the disadvantaged would succeed, just like us, if only they would work harder. We conclude, in effect, that they have freely chosen not to succeed. This is, for the most part, untrue. (How the American myth of self-reliance is fueling income inequality)
Mitchel goes on to say that even our laws are based in Aristotle’s concept of structural and procedural fairness, that we all start from the same place and are given the same opportunities. The problem is, that when you focus on structural or process, the result is the status quo. So if you start with inequality, you end with inequality.
If you start with inequality, you end with inequality.
In his book Stacked Deck: A Story of Selfishness in America, Mitchell says, “Combine the empathy gap with structural and procedural fairness and you get what I call the selfishness surplus. That surplus is the excess awarded to the rich and powerful over and above what they would have gotten if the resources in our society had been distributed more fairly and if our laws had been more redistributive in terms of fairness.”
The problem with inequality is the flaw in the American Dream. The idea that anyone is capable of being upwardly mobile. We tell ourselves that we don’t have a class system in America, but that’s not true either. Because of the wage gap, the rich continue to get richer, and the poor continue to get poorer.
The fact that Republicans lack empathy is tied to an economic ideology of a free market. That the cream rises to the top and the only reason for failure is not working hard enough. They pat themselves on the back for being hard-working and industrious, never lucky.
This lack of empathy and a belief that self-sufficiency is somehow, an American ideal, means that there is no room in their narrative for inequality based on anything other than hard work. To admit that whites somehow get a head start in American society would be to weaken their claim of success through hard work, as well as force them to admit that some in America are disadvantaged through no fault of their own.
Republicans have built their entire brand on the narrative of a conservative, white, Christian, culture that feeds an economy of merit-based success. God loves everyone equally and rewards those He favors. America is a nation of laws that are all fair and just. Work hard and you will get ahead.
To admit any flaws in this argument would bring their entire house of cards falling down and they aren’t about to allow that.
So Mr. Pierson, and the rest of his band of merry men, strike out against any idea that they might have somehow been advantaged in any way, and that any accusation of such is “all socialist and communistic crap.” They believe this is attack on the very core of who they are. Their own identity politics.
But as usual, it isn’t even about them.