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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson: Pay for My Massage; White Skin is Magic

You can read this review at FrontPageMag here

Michael Eric Dyson is the University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. One website listed the average tenured professor's 2012 salary at Georgetown at $167,000, three times the median US income. No doubt a professor occupying an elevated position such as Dyson's, in 2017, earns more. Dyson received his PhD from Princeton, ranked by US News as the best American university, beating out Harvard. Dyson is the author of five bestselling books and the recipient of numerous awards. His three children have six degrees including from Ivy League schools. His son is an anesthesiologist.

Dyson's 2017 book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America has received over-the-top praise from Stephen King, Toni Morrison, and Michael Medved. Reviews call the book "frank," "searing," "urgent," "eloquent, righteous, and inspired … lyrical." "Anguish and hurt throb in every word," along with "brilliance and rectitude."

Dyson's main point is that America is a hellhole that dooms black people to failure, silencing, and death, while whites uniformly bask in unearned wealth and good fortune. "You know that white skin is magic."

Blacks are analogous to captured birds. Whites will decide whether they want, finally, to open their hands and liberate blacks, or just, out of spite, strangle them to death. "It's in your hands."

As reparation, whites must hire blacks instead of whites. Whites must pay blacks more money than is appropriate. Whites must give blacks money for school tuition and zoo, museum, and movie admission, and pay for massages and textbooks. White people must also tell every white person they meet that he enjoys white privilege. Dyson provides the script: "Whites must understand that they benefit from white privilege in order to realize how white privilege creates the space for black oppression."

Tears We Cannot Stop opens and closes with quotes from Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. The first quote, by Morrison, "We flesh. Flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh … they'd as soon pick out your eyes … break your mouth … What you scream from it they do not hear." The closing quote from Alice Walker's The Color Purple: "Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved."

One can't debate with an enslaved fictional character; to do so would be unseemly and irrational. Dyson doesn't open or close with statistics or peer-reviewed scholarship; he opens and closes with works of art that imprison African Americans in stereotypical images of helplessness and suffering, images created by college-educated, professional women who wrote in faux-Ebonics. Walker and Morrison have been embraced and feted by a majority-white academic and literary elite. Between them, they have won every possible prize, including two Pulitzers and a Nobel. In these opening and closing quotes, African Americans sound like the roadshow of Porgy and Bess.

Dyson does not include quotes by actual slaves. Such quotes often include an insistence on human dignity, no matter the circumstances, and an awareness of how complex life can be. Frederick Douglass wrote, "A smile or a tear has not nationality … they, above all the confusion of tongues, proclaim the brotherhood of man," "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men," "People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get," "We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future," and "The soul that is within me no man can degrade."

Booker T. Washington is a treasure-trove of quotes for Dyson to ponder. "Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition … than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe … This I say, not to justify slavery … but to call attention to a fact." Note that Douglass and Washington chose to make their points in Standard English.

Another of Dyson's rhetorical ploys: he prostitutes religion to forfend rational thought. Dyson opens his "Invocation" with the words "Almighty, hear our prayer. Oh God how we suffer." He closes the book, "Oh, Lord, black folk are everything … we are going nowhere." In the same way that one can't debate a fictional character, especially one who merely wants to dance and be loved, and whose eyes evil white people want to poke out, one can't debate something as sacred as a prayer.

The Old Testament prophets were brazenly courageous. Jeremiah told his fellow Jews exactly where and how they were disobeying God and tempting catastrophe. Dyson cannot breathe a single word of criticism of his fellow African Americans. Dyson never so much as brushes against the New Testament's love and forgiveness. "Father forgive them for they know not what they do," "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," and "Love does not keep account of injuries" are words that do not appear in Dyson's Bible.

Dyson mentions having once lead a Bible study. "I hammered away at the parallels between sexism and racism" because sexism is bad for "black Christianity." His emphasis on sexism and racism is truer to identity politics than to the Bible's larger message. The very concept of "black Christianity" contradicts Galatians 3:28, "In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek … you are all one in Christ Jesus." Whites' only path to acceptance is to acknowledge how debased they are. "I'm a rich, white guy, and I'm sick to my stomach thinking about it," reports basketball coach Gregg Popovich, as quoted by Dyson. Dyson mentions Christian publisher Jim Wallis who prescribed "repentance for white people as dying to whiteness." No concordance would turn up any Biblical verses that support "dying to whiteness" as a form of repentance.

Dyson's prostitution of religion as cover reaches its nadir in blasphemy. He equates the spit of a black girl on a white girl's body with Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament. The black girl's spit "may as well have been holy water … Holy Communion … the biggest miracle since you turned water to wine."

The book is so repetitious one gets a sense of its entire message from two pages of its "Invocation": Blacks are not free; they are "ensnared." Whites are "tormentors" and nothing blacks can do will "stop their evil." Blacks cannot convince whites that "we are your children and don't deserve this punishment." Whites are "slaughtering us in the streets" because they want "to remove us from the face of the earth." Whites "are lying through their teeth." Whites "are invested in their own privilege" so "they cannot afford to see how much we suffer." "White folk act like the devil is all in them." Dyson watches helplessly as racism threatens to snuff the life out of his grandchildren.

What the hell is Dyson doing in the US? Genocide, he insists, is inescapable. The borders are open. He has money. Why isn't he on a plane?

Black people never do anything unpleasant, but, on those rare occasions when they do, it is white people's fault. OJ was guilty but "The hurts and traumas against black folk had piled so high … and the refusal of whiteness to open its eyes had become so abhorrent that black folk sent a message to white America." Please note: "whiteness" has "eyes" that "whiteness" can "refuse to open." Suck it up, Ron and Nicole. Dyson grudgingly acknowledges the existence of black-on-black crime, only to blame white people for it. In any case, white people only mention black-on-black crime to torment blacks. "You do not bring this up because you're genuinely concerned," he says.

Trayvon Martin, Dyson reports, "lost his life to a bigoted zealot." Black people die because white society "hates black folks in its guts." Dyson avoids facts: according to sworn testimony and forensic evidence, The Retreat at Twin Lakes, the scene of the Martin shooting, is 50% white, 20% Hispanic, and 20% black. It is not wealthy, and at the time of the Martin shooting, it had a history of break-ins by young black men. Martin was lingering behind homes on a rainy night. George Zimmerman was a volunteer in a watch that had started up in response to burglaries. According to Zimmerman, whose testimony was supported by his injuries, Martin punched Zimmerman in the face and was pounding Zimmerman's head into a concrete sidewalk. After a struggle over his gun, Zimmerman shot Martin. Zimmerman is about as white as Dyson – he has one white parent and one Afro-Peruvian parent.

Police are uniformly demonic entities in Dyson's book. A "pig" will kill a black in order to "thrill himself to the slow letting of blood … while he blithely ignores their suffering" so he can "high five" his fellow police officers. Police are afflicted with "a terminal degree of black revulsion." Intelligent blacks must suffer the indignation of mistreatment at the hands of stupid white police officers whose only IQ is their "Intimidation Quotient." Dyson believes that "some son of a bitch with a badge" "the white folk in blue" one of the "enraged white male cops" who "murder us like animals" will murder his grandchildren. "I want to kill dead" these police, he confesses. Blacks must "sacrifice our hides to feed America." That's why it is okay to refer to police officers as "pigs." Because America requires that blacks "surrender life to fill the bellies of a nation that eats our souls and culture while excreting us as so much waste." "We think of police" he writes, "as ISIS."  

Dyson recounts an anecdote about an encounter between his son Mwata, and a cop. Dyson baptizes his account with the words, "as I chant this prayer. " An intelligent, integral person would ignore Dyson's attempt to shield his anecdote from analysis by disguising it as prayer. We recognize that anecdotes are one-sided, subjective, self-serving, and subject to the vagaries of memory. Never does Dyson acknowledge, "I may be remembering this wrong, and the other person may remember it differently."

In his 1977, Academy-Award-winning film Annie Hall, Woody Allen managed to accomplish, in a scene less than one minute long, what Dyson never does in 228 pages. Allen depicts his main character insisting that he overhears people referring to him as a Jew, for example, by asking him, "Jew eat?" rather than "Did you eat?" The two phrases sound identical when spoken quickly. Maybe people are expressing anti-Semitism to Woody Allen, or maybe, as the script says, he is "paranoid."

I recently heard an anecdote on NPR meant to seal America as a racist nation: a cashier was slow to serve a black customer. I had to ask: was the cashier rude to the black customer, or was the cashier merely distracted? Has the cashier ever been rude to a white customer? Had the black customer been rude to the cashier first, and was the cashier using the weapons of the weak, passive aggression, to avenge herself? What is our standard for rudeness? NPR did not ask these questions.

Such questions can have historic consequences. Did Michael Brown raise his hands in surrender and say, "Don't shoot," only to be murdered by a racist cop? Witnesses report that Brown attempted to gain access to a police officer's gun, fled, and later charged. The officer in question was pursuing Brown because Brown matched the description of a suspect in a recent robbery. Video and eyewitness accounts reduce to nothingness the "Hands up; don't shoot" anecdote, and yet Black Lives Matter activists insist on clinging to it. Ferguson, Missouri, was torn apart for an anecdote.

Dyson does not have to acknowledge that anecdotes alone are not adequate evidence because Dyson does not acknowledge that there is any point of view other than his own. Merely to suggest that there is, is to exercise racism. The better part of the book consists of Dyson telling white people what white people think and what white people feel. When he appeared on Michael Medved's radio show, Dyson claimed that black people understand black people and also understand white people. White people understand neither. White people require black people to speak the truth to them, the truth they, as whites, are incapable of seeing or articulating. On Planet Dyson, Michael Eric Dyson sees all, knows all, tells all.

Dyson transparently attempts preemptively to silence any disagreement. He repeatedly says some variation of this – and this is my paraphrase – "I know you disagree with me. You disagree with me because you are a racist. I will speak for you." If whites decline to agree with his prescription to hand their money over to blacks, Dyson preemptively argues – and this is an actual quote – "Please don't say that your ancestors didn't own slaves … Black sweat built the country you now reside in, and you continue to enjoy the fruits of that labor."

When telling white people what they think and feel, Dyson adopts the provocative habit of addressing whites as "Beloved." A sampling: "Beloved, white racial grief erupts when you fear losing your dominance," "It is being proved wrong that leaves you distressed," and "You are emotionally immature about race." Ironically, Dyson diagnoses all whites as suffering from "L.I.E.: lacking introspection entirely." His lack of self-awareness is not surprising; reading the book, one rapidly discovers that he is full of himself, and that he suffers from a frustrated Messiah complex. Again and again, those with whom he interacts fail to recognize his genius. For example, his African American parishioners eventually locked, and voted him out of the church in which he emphasized racism and sexism. Between his inflated ego, his seething rage that the white people who have advanced his career haven't yet crowned him absolute monarch of the known universe, his conviction that he alone can save humanity, and his gift for blindness to any fact with which he might disagree, Dyson is just a few Kool-Aid shots away from being another Jim Jones.

In 1978, Reverend Jim Jones brainwashed his followers to believe that racist white Americans would subject their children to "terrible things" and "bring them up … to be slaves and subhuman." "The kindest thing to do … to spare them from what's coming" at the hands of white Americans, Jones told his followers, was to force three hundred children to drink cyanide-poisoned punch. Jones' majority-black followers believed this narrative of white evil and black helplessness. Of the 909 suicides and homicides at Jonestown, 300 were children killed by their own parents.

Dyson insists, "Nothing about us without us." In other words, if you are going to talk about black people, you must allow black people to speak. Dyson insists this while silencing, and speaking for, whites. Dyson reserves special condescension and absolute silencing for his mockery of poor and ethnic whites, including Irish people, Italians, Jews, and Poles. No doubt he knows that his rich, white liberal funders join him in their shared contempt for poor and ethnic whites. Dyson spits on white ethnics' "polkas and pizzas." Poor and ethnic whites have no right to pride in their accomplishments and no right to complain about their pain. Poor and ethnic whites enjoy "dominance" over other cultures.  

He says that his words may "frighten" or "anger" white ethnics or reduce them to attempts to "deny" him. "I know this is a lot for you to take in," he condescends, italics in the original. The Irish, Poles, Italians, Jews and poor whites are not smart enough or strong enough to understand Dyson. His intellectual brilliance "must make you woozy and weak at the knees." With the exactitude of Stalin's photo archiver, Dyson erases epic suffering and resilience: the Potato Famine, the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Poland, the Holocaust, and, in this country, restrictive covenants, early deaths and maimings among coal miners and steel workers – ugly stories of men "roasted alive by molten slag that spilled from a giant ladle" of coalminers whose "spit you could use as ink." Dyson erases  "No Irish Need Apply," and lynchings of Italians such as occurred in New Orleans on March 14, 1891, and massacres of Poles, Slovaks, and Lithuanians such as occurred in Lattimer, Pennsylvania on September 10, 1897. Dyson renders taboo mention of how current college admissions and immigration policies disproportionately push back poor whites. And Dyson disguises his own reduction of the word "white" to a smear that conflates vastly diverse peoples, from Lapps to Jews, into a single, hateful, entity that is responsible for all the world's problems and has no right to compassion for grief or pride in accomplishment.

Dyson saves special venom for poor and ethnic whites because he knows that poor and ethnic whites' true narratives are one of the worst enemies to his favored narrative. They are not the worst enemies of his favored narrative, though. Dyson never mentions the ethnic group that poses the greatest threat to his worldview: recent immigrants from Africa. This cohort, undeniably black, is among the most successful in America, so much so that recent African immigrants constitute a "model minority." Elite schools allegedly "pad" their diversity numbers by favoring recent African immigrants in Affirmative Action programs. If Dyson really wanted to help black Americans, he ought to do what columnists like Nicholas Kristof have done, and examine what skills and behaviors help some ethnic groups to advance.

Any poor and ethnic white upset by Dyson's words is not upset because a powerful man who has the media by the short hairs is promulgating propaganda about their own history – lies about their own grandmothers, mothers, and themselves. No, Irish, Italian, Polish, and Jewish readers are upset because "so much has been invested in whitenesss that it is hard to let it go. It is defensive, resentful, full of denial and amnesia." Dyson's racist bullying of poor and ethnic whites has the full support of squadrons of rich white liberals and a near-Ivy League university, Georgetown. "No matter how poor you are," he rants from his comfortable Georgetown office, from his position as an author of five bestselling books, from his microphone, from The New York Times, "No matter how poor you are … you know white skin is magic." Of himself, he insists, "What you scream they do not hear." He is unheard. In a bestselling book. That silences poor and ethnic whites and police officers. Clear?

The book's structure is grab-bag. Dyson rants against that evil song, "The Star-Spangled Banner." He declares that "the election of Donald Trump was all about whiteness … You will deny it of course." He mentions that America elected Barack Obama, a black man, president twice, mostly because it just goes to show you how racist America really is. "There is no denying that Obama is one of the most profound, impressive, gifted, and inspiring Americans this nation has seen" Disagree? Racist. Dyson is mad at the movie Mississippi Burning because it dared to mention that not all whites were KKK. Dyson flaunts his messianic power: his student breaks down and confesses, "For the first time in my life, I feel guilty about being white." "Savvier" students had concluded the shame of whiteness earlier than this boy. Dyson still has work to do: "I wanted the other white students to share his shame."

There are almost no references to peer-reviewed studies. Dyson crucifies police officers as uniformly subhuman scum, but Dyson never goes near the work of Heather MacDonald and merely dismisses Roland Fryer for not gathering more data. This is the cheapest of criticisms: tobacco executives levelled it against early studies linking smoking with lung cancer. "We need more data," they insisted.

Dyson mentions the Moynihan Report very briefly, only to disparage it as yet more evidence of evil whitie's attempt to "keep blackness in place."

There is no air in this room – the windows are nailed shut. The few references to real facts in a real world outside of Dyson's ego are references to lowbrow pop culture and those enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame: the Rachel Dolezals and Colin Kaepernicks. Dyson has the priorities and aesthetics of a preparer of the front page of a supermarket tabloid. This appetite is evident in the book's dedication to "Beyonce Knowles Carter" – boldface in the original – "Lover of Black People Genius and Greatest Living Entertainer Feminist and Global Humanitarian." There are subsequent dedications to Solange Knowles and Tina Knowles-Lawson, also boldface.

Page after repetitious, lightless, airless, predictable, self-parodying, unspeakably, thuddingly boring page: after all this, one begins to conclude that the world is a frighteningly small place to Michael Eric Dyson. You want to kidnap and deprogram him. Like those blind people who receive miracle-working operations that give them sight at an advanced age, Dyson would be overwhelmed to encounter anything that isn't a direct support for his grievance-ego complex. Has Dyson ever been able to enjoy an ice cream cone for all it is, and not tried to make it something it is not?

Who would read this and enjoy it? This dominatrix-inflected iteration of "Naughty, naughty, naughty, naughty"? Masochists, that's who. It's not just the white shaming that makes this such anti-literary godawful tripe. It's the anaerobic divorced-from-reality but true-to-genre predictability of it. Some rich white liberal out there craves, publicly, to be spanked. And this craving is so deep-seated that it obliterates the mind's curiosity and integrity. Rich, white liberals and blacks who prefer grievance to living life to the full will cling to this book as if it were a sex toy. Both fulfill the same function: they allow the user to live out rigidly choreographed fantasies.

On Planet Dyson, skin color transcends any other reality. Whites who claim to admire Martin Luther King Jr are wrong. White people could never understand a man as black as the "real" Dr. King. "You don't really know him … he sprang from a black moral womb." "King's soul was indeed black … beautifully black" "He understood the white psyche" so he didn't tell the truth to whites because whites can't handle the truth. In fact, Martin Luther King was a universal hero, inspired by a Jew – Jesus – white men – Thoreau and Tolstoy – and a Hindu – Mahatma Gandhi.

King's successes were earned through the cooperation and sacrifice of whites from the Oval Office to Viola Liuzzo, a white housewife and mother who was martyred by the KKK for her Civil Rights work. Those who insist on implacable white evil use King's assassination to erase this narrative of black-white cooperation. The assassination allegedly proves that no matter how nice whites may seem, ultimately, America will always betray blacks.

The decade that took Dr. King was bookended with the culling of Kennedys, Jack and Bobby. If, as they sometimes do, sons of the Auld Sod cited their deaths as seal of implacable Protestant anti-Catholicism, Dyson would mock their grief and insist that "white skin is magic." Ronald Reagan, George Wallace, Larry Flynt and Andy Warhol were, alas, all shot. These shootings do not prove that America hates conservative icons, segregationist governors, pornographers or wig-wearing, Bohunk boho pop stars. 

In dividing the world into unreconcilable blacks and whites, whose skin color is their only salient feature, Dyson confers authority on himself. I am black; my blackness is my authority; you are white; you are genocidal, morally degenerate, and blind. Interestingly, whites in general, and poor whites and ethnic whites in particular are not the only people Dyson works hard to silence. Dyson silences blacks.

Dyson paints America as a killing field where a genocide of blacks is imminent, if not actually occurring. Do most blacks agree? In a 2016 Associated Press poll, African Americans were more optimistic about America's future than whites. One African American, 72-year-old Ethel Tuggle, told a pollster that "she's amazed at the progress she's witnessed since her childhood in rural Missouri, when she was barred from entering shoe stores and had to trace her foot on a sheet of paper so a salesman inside could fit her for shoes. Her grandchildren live under the nation's first black president." Multiple surveys point to higher self-esteem among African Americans than among whites. Recent "deaths of despair" among whites have no parallel among blacks.

Other than a brief diss of Clarence Thomas – his "decisions on the Supreme Court mock our humanity" – I found no reference to leading black conservatives Shelby Steele, Larry Elder, Allen West, Walter E. Williams, Thomas Sowell, Orlando Patterson, Jason Riley, Mia Love, or Deneen Borelli in Dyson's screed.

Dyson insists that whites tell blacks to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Alas, no. As Dyson's race-mongering career proves, rich white liberals reward blacks for displaying real or feigned wounds.  

Rather, contra Dyson, it is blacks themselves who urge other blacks to exercise self-reliance. Not just prominent black conservative intellectuals like Steele, but blacks whose only soap box is YouTube do this. Thanks to YouTube, a black woman can voice her rejection of the concept of "white privilege" here. Another woman insists that Michael Brown made decisions that sealed his own fate here. The self-described "Doctor of Common Sense" rejects Dyson's major premises in a video entitled "Ghetto Folks Who Blame Whites."

I can't endorse every syllable of the above-cited YouTubers. I agree on this: people like Dyson are spreading an unholy scripture that emasculates, paralyzes, and poisons black people. This scripture insists to blacks: you are doomed. You should not even attempt to improve your lot. Only white people have power. Your only hope is to perform before whites as a combination of victim to be pitied and menace to be feared. Then they will give you their money. Begging and theft are your only professions.

Dyson wants my money. He can have it – the day I can buy a ticket to Dyson debating the producers of the above videos.

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Lent / Tarot / The Queen of Cups

A bit over forty days ago, Facebook friend Daiva Markelis bid us all a temporary farewell, saying that she would be taking a "Facebook fast" for Lent.

This year, on a whim, I decided to do something I'd never done before: choose a tarot card at random, and blog about it, in relation to Lent.

Today is the last day.

The card I just drew is just perfect.

It's the queen of cups.

The queen of cups is a highly sensitive, intuitive, reflective woman. She can get deeply involved in others' feelings. Because she is so sensitive, she is also especially vulnerable. She is the one card I identify as being, herself, a tarot card reader. Because she can be a tarot reader, and she's my last card in this Lenten observation, I see her as me, reading cards for forty days of Lent.

The queen of cups is gazing at something. I wonder how tarot readers who don't like Christianity read this card. The queen of cups is gazing at a ciborium. Ciboriums are made of precious metal, like gold. They are often elaborately decorated. The queen of cups' ciborium depicts two worshipping angels facing the central container, and a cross crowns the ciborium. Ciboriums are the containers for the Eucharist. The queen of cups is gazing at, and meditating on, the vessel in which Christ's body is stored.

Just like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, two thousand years ago. These women waited, outside the tomb, for the biggest event in history to take place.


I'd like to thank Jeanne Piquet, Karen Wyle, and Liron Rubin for being the most likely readers of these posts, and anyone else who stopped by to offer a comment or two: Sue, Sue, Melanie, Judy, and everyone else. Doing this for forty days has been a discipline. I posted some of the entries close to six a.m., because I needed to get to an early class.

I tried not to post other material during Lent, so I restrained myself from posting as much about politics or nature or personal woes as I usually do. Starting on Monday, I've got a bucket-load of stuff I need to discuss. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Lent / Tarot / Stumped - That's a Pun

When I first began this project, of choosing a tarot card at random and blogging about it for the forty days of Lent, I looked forward to today, Good Friday, and I hoped I'd draw the Hanged Man. The Hanged Man would be the prefect card to talk about on the anniversary of Jesus' crucifixion. I also looked forward to today and thought that the page of wands would be the one impossible card, one I couldn't possibly blog about on Good Friday.

Well, guess which card I drew. Yes, the page of wands.

The page of wands represents a youthful, adventurous, happy-go-lucky, in-love-with-life individual and individualist. I call this the "hippie" card.

What to say about the page on Good Friday?

I'm stumped.


I just looked at the classic Rider-Waite-Smith image of the page of wands. I listed inside my head all the reasons it is an inappropriate card for Good Friday.

And then I saw it in a whole new way.

The youthful page is gazing at his – WAND – which is a branch taken from a tree. The branch should be dead, unable to produce new, green shoots.

Except that it *isn't* dead. This branch *is* producing new, green shoots.

I was just listening to the Brian Lehrer radio call-in show, and callers were talking about how they see the cross as a symbol of Christianity.

One woman named Maureen, I think, talked about how she thinks about the tree from which the cross was created. How painful, she said, for a part of nature to be exploited so cruelly. She said she reads folklore that talks about the various tree species that might have made up the tree on which Jesus hung.

One website reproduces a Scottish poem that identifies the elder with the crucifixion:

"Bour-tree, bour-tree, crookit rung,
Never straight and never strong,
Eer bush, and never tree,
Since our Lord was nailed t'ye"

Another website includes another poem that says that the yew tree was used

"And they went down into yonder town
and sat in the Gallery,
And there they saw sweet Jesus Christ
Hanging from a big Yew tree."

And yet another website recounts an even more elaborate tale:

"An old Greek myth relates that when the announcement of Christ's crucifixion was made, all the trees met together and agreed that none of them wished to be part of the event. When the time came for the wood to be selected by the soldiers, each piece began to split and break into many other pieces, making it impossible to use.

Only the evergreen oak or the 'Ilex' did not split and allowed itself to be used. Hence, the other trees looked upon the oak as a traitor. Some Greek people will not have any part of the evergreen oak tree brought into the house, or allow their axes to come into contact with the tree. The tree is seen to be eternally condemned."

There's lots more folklore you can find on the web about the species of tree used in the crucifixion, and how the tree "felt" about being so used, and how others feel about it.

Maureen, the radio-call-in-show caller, also talked about the MOAB that was dropped in Afghanistan yesterday. She said that she thought of all the wild animals that the bomb killed, in addition to its human targets. She said that Christ's sacrifice on the cross, on a tree, a part of nature, cause her to feel compassion for nature.

In the page of wands tarot card, an energetic, effervescent, and hopeful young person is gazing at a cut branch that magically produces green growth.

Maybe not such a bad card to draw on Good Friday after all.

Literally – I was "stumped." 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lent / Tarot / The Lovers

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T. S. Eliot

When I drew The Lovers this morning, I thought, it's almost over, and here I am at the beginning.

Tonight, as Christians around the world celebrate Jesus' Seder, his Last Supper, and the washing of the feet, and as we anticipate the big climax: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, I am looking at Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

They have everything they need, except the knowledge of good and evil.  They are about to gain that.

Even in this very brief story, the foreshadowing prophecies: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

God will enter history and suffer what we suffer, for love of us.  

But all of that happens much later, tomorrow, Good Friday.

For now Adam and Eve are happy in Eden, safe under the wings of an angel. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lent / Tarot / The Man Who Went Away Sad / The Eight of Cups

I cherish the style of French novelist Marcel Proust – a style so detailed and so contemplative that, as one editor rejecting Proust's work wrote, it takes one of his characters thirty pages to turn over in bed before falling asleep.

Detailed, interior writing moves me.

The writing of the Bible is not like that. It's amazing how brief, how bam, bam, bam, the stories in Genesis are. Creation! Expulsion from Eden! The first murder! The flood! And yet these rapid-fire narratives have captured imaginations and sparked debate around the world for thousands of years.

My first exposure to Bible stories was listening to them in church. I peopled these sparse narratives. I embroidered their mise-en-scene and provided rich backstories. All this happened in my head spontaneously. Thus these stories have had a hold on me all my life. The combination of their sparseness and their power recruited my creativity to engage with them.

So it is with the man who went away sad.

It's a very brief encounter; only a few sentences in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Jesus was teaching. He was answering questions about marriage. A rich man approached him and asked how he could best live his life. Jesus said follow the commandments. The man asked which ones. Jesus listed them. I already follow those, the guy said.

Now, here's the thing. The man could have stopped there. He could have said, Okay, Jesus. I've got it. I asked you what I should be doing, and you told me something I already do. So I can just move on now, satisfied.

But he didn't.

See? That's how a briefly told story gets under your skin. You pay attention to every detail.

The man asks what else he can do.

And Jesus delivers his zinger. "Sell what you have, give to the poor, and follow me."

In retrospect, how many of us wish we could have been in this man's sandals? Jesus Christ is holding out his hand and saying "Follow me." What a supreme adventure and privilege!

The man merely "goes away sad." He is rich. He doesn't want to sell what he has.

And that's it. That's all we have of the man.

But I see him, and I feel him, too.

I see him as young, and handsome, with lots of the finer things in life, including women, which really are just things to him. I see him as really comfortable, and knowing that craving that only a lucky life can instill: the craving for something other than good fortune.

He's on the brink of entering into splendor and satisfaction beyond his wildest imaginings, and he turns it down for just more of the tawdry same: more coins, more babes, more bread and olive oil. Not even pizza. No tomatoes for another 1,490 plus years.

The story ends there. He is still going away from the best thing he has ever encountered. He is still focused on his material wealth and status. He is still sad.

I talk to him. I try to convince him. Maybe someday I'll write a story about him. No doubt someone else already has.

When a movie ends sadly, I often try to make up a plausible, alternative, happy ending. That's harder to do than it sounds. I can conjure no plausible happy ending for "Age of Innocence," for example, no matter how hard I try. Newland Archer is such a royal screw-up. I can't give Archer a happy ending and remain true to the character Edith Wharton created.

I want to give the man who went away sad a happy ending, but I want to be true to his character, and I want to honor his choices.

I hope the story has been written that creates a believable rich man who went away sad, but eventually found happiness.

Today's reflection brought to you by the eight of cups, a card that depicts a man walking away sad. 

"Deaths of Despair" and Left-Wing Hostility to Poor Whites' Narratives

Hour of Despair by Christophe Desaigne Source
"Deaths of Despair" and Left-Wing Hostility to Poor Whites' Narratives.

Where there Is No Vision the People Perish

In March, 2017, Anne Case, the Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University, and her husband, Sir Angus Deaton, a Nobel laureate, gained much media coverage for their work. They reported that death rates are rising among those American whites who are classified as "working class," "non-college educated," or simply "poor." Suicide, drug addiction, and alcoholism cause a significant enough number of these anomalous deaths that the researchers dubbed them "deaths of despair." There is no similar rise in death rates among Europeans in roughly comparable socioeconomic cohorts, or African Americans or Hispanic Americans, whose death rates are improving.

Case and Deaton are economists. They seek the cause and the solution to the problem they describe in facts and figures. I seek the cause and any potential solution to "deaths of despair" in narrative: in the stories that people tell about themselves, and the stories their opponents tell about them. Abundant examples of warring narratives are readily found in the comments sections of online discussions of Case and Deaton's work.

In The Atlantic, the most popular comment is from an anonymous "middle-aged white man." He wrote,

"We feel downtrodden, but we don't even get to use the language of the oppressed since we're universally acclaimed as the oppressor. And we don't even get to take on the role of an oppressor since we're powerless. We used to be breadwinners, but now we're not. We used to be fathers, but more and more often our kids aren't with us. We're certainly not the heads of household … We've abandoned religion, so there's no hope of a reward in the next life. We have no faith in a government who doesn't seem to care about us … the world has passed us by and doesn't need or want us anymore."

Responses to this plaintive confession are unsympathetic. Posters allege that poor whites are racist, ignorant, lazy, junk-food eating, beer-swilling opiate addicts who cause their own problems by voting Republican.

One April, 2016 Salon headline reflects the attitude: "We Must Shame Dumb Trump Fans: The White Working Class Are Not Victims."

In December, 2016, after Markos Moulitsas advised his readers to rejoice over coal miners losing health insurance, The New Republic suggested, "Liberals Should Try Not Having So Much Contempt for the Poor."

In October, 2015, In These Times asked "Why The Left Isn't Talking About Rural American Poverty." Their answer: the left assumes "that rural white voters are racist and illiberal and intolerant" and unworthy of concern.

Case and Deaton's work on "deaths of despair" among poor whites is a challenging topic for me. As my fingertips hover over a silent keyboard, my guts begin to twist and my breath becomes shallow. I am poor and white. My father mined coal and carried rich men's bags at a country club. My mother was a cleaning woman and factory worker. My grandparents, in the Old Country, were peasants. There are no princes, bishops, or admirals in my family tree. There are lots of folks who withstood Nazis, Soviets, kulturkampf, and czars. As a child visiting Slovakia I met an aunt who was gang raped by Red Army soldiers and I saw the beaten, animal look in the eyes of my loved ones when talk turned to the Nazi occupation.  

By merely mentioning left-wing prejudice against poor, white people, I risk being demonized as a flesh-and-blood embodiment of the very stereotype I am attempting to reject. I must be a KKK member. Silencing me earns the silencer points as a Politically Correct knight – not in white – oh, no, not in white – but in multicultural armor.

There isn't even a name for what I am trying to describe, no "Islamophobia," "transphobia," "looksism," or "ableism." Liberal contempt for poor whites is the hate that dare not speak its name. What do you call someone who chooses to condemn people he dislikes as "white trash," "rednecks," "Bohunks," "honkies," "crackers," "hillbillies," "greasers," "trailer trash," "Okies," or "knuckle-dragging-wife-beater-t-shirt wearing Neanderthals"? Possibly you call him "professor," "author," "congressman," "minister," or "late night comedian." Maybe you call him "Mr. President." During his successful, 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama told wealthy donors in San Francisco that poor whites are bitter xenophobes who cling to guns and religion. One blogger paraphrased Obama's message as, "Vote for me, you corncob-smokin', banjo-strokin', chicken-chokin', cousin-pokin', inbred hillbilly racist morons."

Yes, right-wingers support cutting government programs, and right-wingers can be snobs. But a right-wing person's ideological adherence to small government, free market principles, or even merely his own fist tightening around his earnings that the taxman craves to requisition is one thing. What I have felt in encounters with some-not-all leftists is something different. While the left protects some groups with speech codes and concepts like "microaggression," ugly slurs against poor whites are met with laughter – or a sense of righteousness. Not only is it okay to mock poor whites; doing so elevates the virtue status of the speaker. Why? Left-wing hostility to poor American whites is not caused by mere chance, but by real conflicts in how left-wingers and poor whites tell their respective stories.

During the mass immigration c. 1880-1924, the left passionately courted coal miners, steel smelters and garment workers. Marx wrote, "Workers of the world, unite!" but these immigrants didn't want to identify as workers. They identified as Poles, or Italians or Americans, or Catholics. And they didn't especially want to unite with other workers. In spite of robber barons' harsh treatment, the immigrants wanted to succeed at capitalism, not overturn it. Marx wrote that religion is the opiate of the masses, but these immigrants clung to their faith.

I tasted some of poor white's rejection of leftists' unrequited love back in the 1980s, when I was a fellow traveler with Manhattan's card-carrying communists. "Don't you see," a comrade instructed, "when chivalrous Polish men kiss your hand, they are silently demanding that you use those hands to wash dishes?" Being a Polish-American woman who runs a clean home is a cherished part of my self-identification. I could never adopt his ideal of a communist woman, who, apparently, is anti-dish-washing.

I repeatedly pelted my comrades with this question: Marx taught that the onset of the dictatorship of the proletariat was an historical inevitability. Communism was so appealing to the workers that humanity would eventually evolve into the workers' paradise. And yet, no one was less interested in bringing on communism than the workers themselves. Communism smashed "bourgeois" values. Free love, violence, and sedition were all morally acceptable. But in left-wing thought, there was original sin, and that sin was rejecting communism. American workers were not only uninterested in reading my comrades' free pamphlets, American workers, by ignoring Marx and living by capitalist and Christian values, were deeply immoral.

My comrades replied to my question by identifying themselves as the "vanguard," a more advanced and more enlightened version of the working class. It was the vanguard's job to bring the workers into alignment with the party. They were, in short, an intellectual and moral elite whose goal it was to educate, lead, and save American workers. Working class Americans were not yet quite smart, moral, or trustworthy enough to run their own lives. The vanguard's self-definition condemned American workers to a contrasting definition: "You reject us because you are stupid."

The left realized that poor whites were not embracing them. They moved on to more revolutionary populations. Poor whites were abandoned for blacks.

Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson, himself a black man, remarks that young African Americans, as a group, perform worse than other groups academically, and yet they have among the highest self-esteem. Why? Their positive self-image "has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations." Drugs, crime, sexual conquests, and hip-hop music earn blacks "a great deal of respect from white youths." American culture has worked hard to elevate the self-esteem of African Americans, and to marginalize any critique of them. When poor whites attempt to adapt to and succeed in American capitalism, leftists dismiss them as contemptible, counter-revolutionary suckers. Patterson describes powerful whites rewarding blacks for playing the role of the outlaw. Blacks who don't play the outlaw, from Booker T. Washington to Sidney Poitier to Ben Carson, are derided as "Uncle Tom."

The left has shown that it can abandon blacks, too, and move on to even more revolutionary Muslims. In 2010, black journalist Juan Williams said that when he sees passengers in Muslim garb on airplanes, he gets nervous. NPR fired Williams for this comment. NPR's president, Vivian Schiller, publicly stated that Juan Williams, because he fears Muslims on airplanes, requires the ministrations of a psychiatrist. 

The left's self-definition as a vanguard who is leading the less enlightened masses to a Utopian future plays into another, related reason why the left has such a problem with poor whites. It's a blunt and primal urge: everyone wants someone to feel superior to. African Americans traditionally supplied that need in the US. The Civil Rights Movement rendered taboo overt displays of white-over-black. The need to feel superior to someone did not disappear. Poor white people filled the gap. Two kinds of poor white people, Poles and Southerners, were selected as epitomes of everything that was supposed to be wrong with the entire class.

UC Berkeley folklorist Alan Dundes described how Polak jokes suddenly became popular in the 1970s, shortly after the previous decade's Civil Rights advances. Dundes wrote, "Lower-class whites are not militant and do not constitute a threat to middle-class white America ... with the Polack [joke] cycle, it is the lower class, not Negroes, which provides the outlet for aggression and means of feeling superior."

Poet Lloyd van Brunt is from the south. He, too, saw the Polak joke as an expression of contempt for all poor whites.

"Unlike blacks and other racial minorities, poor and mostly rural whites have few defenders, no articulated cause ... And they have been made to feel deeply ashamed of themselves – as I was. This shame, this feeling of worthlessness, is one of the vilest and most self-destructive emotions to be endured. To be poor in a country that places a premium on wealth is in itself shameful. To be white and poor is unforgivable ... That's why I call them the Polish-joke class, the one group everybody feels free to belittle, knowing that no politically correct boundaries will be violated ... trying to hide some shameful secret, some deep and unreachable sense of worthlessness ... is the legacy of America's poor whites."

This culture-wide treatment of poor whites as inferior is so powerful poor whites resort to it themselves. As a graduate student, I worked on the Polak stereotype. One day I was seated at a staff table with other university personnel. One of my peers proudly remarked that she had received her degree at one of the best universities in the South. The following words popped out of my mouth, "'The South' and 'best university' cancel each other out."

Everyone at the table laughed, except for the Southern woman. Her face fell. I had hurt and humiliated her in public, and no one at the table had the sense to come to her defense, and to chastise me.

It took me years to recognize that in the same way that my fellow Americans had been brainwashed into unquestioningly accepting prejudice against Polaks like myself, I had been brainwashed into unquestioningly accepting prejudice against all Southerners.

Not only did I feel it was acceptable to make such a nasty comment to a peer and friend, I felt righteous doing so. I had been brainwashed to locate the sin of racism in the South. By making fun of a Southerner in public, I was avenging Emmett Till. More on this point, below.

White working class culture, or cultures, are simply different. My grandparents didn't speak English. Two of them could not read or write. I've been hungry enough that I think throwing food away is sinful. In a million, similar, small ways, I am culturally closer to other low class whites, from north or south of the Mason Dixon line, than I am to middle class people.

Rich liberals have learned, at least publicly, to interpret black people's cultural differences as "different not worse" and often "different and better." Black people are soulful, musical, good athletes. Illiterate black grandmothers are griots, warehouses of unique tribal wisdom. Illiterate white grandmothers are slobs, proof of poor whites' inferiority.

When I served in Peace Corps in Africa I saw this romanticization and exoticization of non-whites run amok. I knew a volunteer, a daughter of two Ivy League professors and a descendant of Mayflower arrivals, who hired an African man to clean her house, because, as she told me without any hesitation, she enjoyed watching his scantily clad, heavily muscled black body performing domestic chores. She was a thoroughgoing political liberal.

Recently a wealthy, liberal friend remarked to me how much she admires and envies black and Hispanic women's body attitudes. "They parade their fat in midriff-baring tops and spandex tights, even if they have cellulite." She found this beautiful. For herself and her family, this friend maintains a strict regime of diet and exercise. She keeps her husband and children slim with Fitbits, a fridge full of wilting kale, and, affixed to household surfaces, notes recording weights, exercise routines, and optimal food choices. 

This romanticization of "people of color" may have reached the point of self-parody in the opening sentence of best-selling author Emma Donoghue's 2017 book, The Lottery Plus One: "Once upon a time, a man from Delhi and a man from Yukon fell in love, and so did a woman from Jamaica and a Mohawk woman. The two couples became best friends and had a baby together. When they won the lottery, they gave up their jobs and found a big old house where their family could learn and grow." This fantasy would lose its allure if it were about "cisgendered," working class whites. Who wants to read about Stan and Heather and Frank and Jane, who work at Walmart and live in Buffalo?

Having black friends earn points for rich liberals. Poor white friends earn scornful glances and inquisitorial questions: "Slumming?" Once I visited a friend's summer home. His spinster aunt was weirdly protective of her handsome young nephew. Every vocabulary word, every item of clothing, every food choice, made me feel like a witness in the dock giving high-stakes testimony to prove a case I never really understood. I had never eaten lobster; indeed, I had never been on premises where lobster was served. I tasted and it found I didn't like it. Scandalous! I went to bed early. I heard my friend's "liberal" aunt harangue him, in a voice certainly loud enough for me to overhear. "What's this all about? What's she doing here? She is not our type. She lives in New Jersey. And not the desirable part. I've never heard of anyone like us living there." I rose at dawn and left, truncating my visit. John and I had been friends for a year – but I had never met his family, nor visited his exclusive zip code. John's aunt won. We never spoke again. I've not eaten lobster since, either.

With the power of the new invention, TV, the Civil Rights Movement tarnished white supremacy. TV brought police dogs and lunch counter hooligans into American homes and changed how we assessed Jim Crow. Rejection of American racism was propelled with America's horror over Nazism's crimes committed in the name of a master race. We came to understand racism as America's original sin. We needed a scapegoat – someone to be blamed for that sin. Empowered whites chose poor whites as that scapegoat, as their trash receptacle. Numerous observers, writing in the 1970s, noted how popular culture was beginning to insist that racial prejudice was a phenomenon to be found exclusively among poor, not rich, whites. These observers also pointed out that when it came to real, measurable behavior and attitudes, poor whites were no more racist than rich ones. Sociologist Richard Hamilton's "Liberal Intelligentsia and White Backlash," which appeared in Dissent in 1972, sounds like it could have been written today. "In the world view of liberal intellectuals, those persons who share decent and humane values form a tiny minority standing on the edge of an abyss … there are so few people who share those values." Not included among those who share decent values are "the dangerous white working class." Hamilton cited a series of opinion polls proving that working class whites are not the bogeyman that the liberal intelligentsia were making them out to be.

In Archie Bunker, Norman Lear, a Hollywood producer, put race hatred in the mouth of a fat, cigar-chomping, working class slob in Queens. South of the Mason-Dixon line, somehow slavery and Jim Crow became, not a blot on rich white landowners, but on the kind of poor white sodomizers, idiot-savant banjo virtuosi, and inbred cannibals and serial killers who inhabited the Grand-Guignol fantasies of Deliverance, Prince of Tides, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Racism has been contained – in the bodies of poor whites. Like hazardous waste, we must be quarantined.

Of course there are racists among poor whites, as there are among rich ones. But liberals use a distorted, self-serving metric to differentiate between racist and non-racist. When it comes to how one talks about race, there are differences between poor whites and rich, white liberals. In this instance, poor whites are again defined, not as black people might be, as different-but-equal or even different-and-superior, but rather as different-and-sinister.

I have lived among black people all my life – my childhood next-door neighbors and playmate were black, and I live in a majority-minority city now. To me, black people are no better or worse than anyone else, and I employ no conversational kabuki to talk to or about black people. There are no Magical Negroes in my narratives.

"A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged," quipped Irving Kristol. Given statistical realities, poor whites are more likely to have been victims of black crime than rich white liberals. There is an historic, silenced narrative in New Jersey. Many Italians, Jews, and other immigrants' children, all of them over fifty years old, have recounted to me detailed narratives about their family arriving in the US, struggling to reach home ownership in Newark, Paterson or Camden, and being driven out after their white child was singled out for a beating by black bullies, or their store was burned, or their street hosted a National Guard tank. They know these details of their biographies are taboo, so they merely speak these stories, and never commit them to print. These stories are whispers, and when the tellers die, they may leave no trace.

In print, in official narratives, in college classrooms, in journalism, all of these working class Italians, Jews, and Irish are simply racists. When blacks began to move to northern cities, those city's white residents engaged in an historic "white flight" whose only motivation was white supremacy. The official story is that poor whites are ignorant racists who remade American demographics and ruined American cities with their irrational hatreds.

Economically better off and liberal whites are more likely to have had ancestors who owned slaves, killed Indians, or exploited natural resources. They may have had black servants. They are more likely to suffer from white guilt. As Shelby Steele describes, rich and liberal whites expiate their guilt by becoming the magnanimous saviors of blacks. They do this through government programs like welfare and affirmative action. They assume that all whites should feel as they do – that high taxes and government programs are the only non-racist approach.

Poor whites are much more likely than rich whites to experience any of the goods of life – home, wealth, achievement – as coming after lifetimes of hard work, delayed gratification, self-sacrifice, and stoically swallowing biblical amounts of insult, frustration, and disappointment. Poor whites may conclude that African Americans' surest route to advancement is through right-wing solutions like a work ethic rather than through left-wing solutions like government handouts. Given this, poor whites are likely to be positioned as the philosophical and economic opponents of rich white liberals' narrative of white guilt and its expiation through paternalistic government programs.

I have never seen my rich, white, liberal friend "Tom" interact with a black person. I've attended parties at Tom's house with dozens of guests, all of them white. Tom proves his virtue by adopting stilted speech codes when discussing black people. 

When I say to Tom that I think that LBJ's Great Society may have damaged the black family and developed a crippling dependency, Tom reacts as if I had said, "Let's go lynch someone." He has concluded that I am a hardcore white supremacist because I question welfare. Tom doesn't give me enough space to mention that I reached my conclusion at least partly by reading the work of black economists, Thomas Sowell and Walter E. Williams.

Poor whites cannot tell their own life stories in a left-wing environment. If they attempt to do so, poor whites must be silenced, or, most generously, "corrected."

I attended college decades ago, shortly after the Civil Rights successes of the 1960s, and during the rise of the Polak joke, and the evil redneck Southerner as the most reliable go-to cinematic villain. Deliverance was released in 1972, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974, and The Deer Hunter, about a bunch of working class, rust belt Bohunks who are somehow single-handedly both responsible for and victims of the Vietnam War, was released in 1978.

Like a lot of poor whites, I attended a "non-selective" school. We worked as waitresses, gas station attendants, and landscapers, took a shower, and went to class. Our professors, with Ivy League degrees and attitudes, held us in open contempt. In English classes, we were assigned to read, of course, the canon: Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Hemingway. We were also assigned to read works newly appearing on college syllabi, like The House on Mango Street, about Chicanos and Puerto Ricans, and The Color Purple. Our professors divided the world into elite whites and struggling, noble "people of color." I was never assigned anything that reflected the life I or my friends lived. There were no struggling white people on our syllabi. No one like my mother who worked two minimum-wage jobs: running a noisy, stinking wick machine in a candle factory during the day and cleaning offices at night. My mother told me that she once saw a police officer kick my downed father in the stomach. This story could not be told at college; in the professors' world, only black men were ever mistreated by police. There were no white girls like me who worked full time as nurse's aides, attended school full time, and got straight A grades. No, I enjoyed "white privilege," the equivalent of a comic book hero superpower, that magically protected me from all harm and delivered into my lap whatsoever my heart desired.

My friends and I survived on contraband wordsmiths we passed around with urgency, as if they were bits of bread in a distant prison. I didn't learn of Anzia Yezierska, Jean Shepherd, Jack Kerouac, Bruce Springsteen, or Dorothy Allison from teachers; I learned about them from friends, and they kept me going. When I mentioned to my betters how much their work meant to me, I was given little lectures about why their work was not "art."

If we told our stories, our professors' stories, about rich, empowered whites and struggling, noble minorities, would crumble. We poor, white college students were not allowed either sympathy for our struggle nor pride in our successes. If we had to work menial, minimum-wage jobs, it was because that was all we deserved. If we got A grades in spite of lives that left us exhausted and tuition bills that left us eating potatoes for a week, we got those A grades because we were privileged.

The white privilege dogma receives religious defense. Even for the purposes of discussion, it cannot be questioned. Somewhere some poor white person is trying to tell a liberal that he had to defy odds and work very hard to acquire everything that he has. In response, the liberal screams, "Oh yeah? Well, slavery was much worse!"

The poor white person might respond, "I know. I've read Frederick Douglass' Narrative. I've also read John Guzlowski's Echoes of Tattered Tongues, about his Polish parents' enslavement under the Nazis. Have you? I've read about the Muslim Slave Trade that, in time, geography, and number of victims, dwarfs the Atlantic Slave Trade. Have you? I've read about my ancestors, who were serfs until 1861. Have you?"

The liberal, as sure as night follows day, will respond, "You are a beneficiary of structural racism!" "White privilege" and "structural racism" are no poor white person's superpowers; rather, they are rich liberal's kryptonite; they exist to erase poor whites' biographies.  

Leftist dogma locks poor whites into the bottom rung of a human classification system as rigid as the Darwinian hierarchy of species. Given how "privileged" poor white people's lives are, given "structural racism" that greases their chutes to pots of gold, if a white person has not succeeded, that person must be especially worthless. Right-wing people who invest in the Horatio Alger narrative do not imprison poor whites in such a rigid system. They believe that if we try hard, we can make it. Right-wing people, in my experience, unlike liberals, have no ideological need to silence poor whites' mention of their own struggles, or poor whites' pride in their accomplishments.

Finally, of course, contempt for religion supplies rich liberals with yet another a Politically Correct excuse for their contempt for poor whites. Not all liberals are wealthy or atheist, and not all poor whites are religious, but atheism is more frequently found among high-income people, and religiosity is correlated with poverty. Bill Maher has said that religion is "stupid and dangerous," and that Americans' belief in the Bible is "proof that this is a stupid country." Maher called the God of the Bible a "dick." Richard Dawkins compared religion to smallpox. Sam Harris called Christianity an "engine of stupidity." Christopher Hitchens said that people who believe in Jesus Christ would believe in anything. The Bible provides the most important, life-affirming narrative for millions of poor whites. To rich white liberals, the Bible is the opiate of the people and a seal of poor whites' stupidity.  

Rich liberal contempt for poor whites is not a victimless crime. Richard D. Kahlenberg has shown how Affirmative Action programs, meant to elevate African Americans, victimized poor whites – and disproportionately aided rich and middle class blacks, including recent African immigrants whose ancestors never experienced antebellum slavery or Jim Crow. Marie Gryphon makes the case that Affirmative Action has done more harm than good to African Americans. Princeton sociologists Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford demonstrated that "diversity" "punishes poor whites." Diversity programs are designed in such a way that poor whites and white Christians are underrepresented on elite college campuses. George J. Borjas, the Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, has shown that recent immigration trends have hurt poor whites.

I'm no Nobel-Prize winning economist. I don't know if any of the above cultural trends and hostilities contribute to shortening the lives of Case and Deaton's subjects. Whoever wants to address "deaths of despair," though, must at least take these trends into consideration.

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete

 You can read this piece at FrontPage Magazine here.