Lessons in Race From a 14-Year-Old: Part Two
“They hate us ’cause we used to own ‘em,” he said.
It took a moment for this to sink in, a very long and very puzzling moment. How does one respond to that?
I simply dismissed the kid as a hopelessly ignorant, and the captain and I arranged for his parents to come pick him up. But after he left, something about his words stuck with me, tickling at the back of my mind for many days to follow. It wasn’t just the casually ignorant racism of his words, but the underlying, almost primal fear they expressed. For this kid, or, more accurately, whomever had planted those thoughts in his head, the worst possible future imaginable was one in which the metaphorical tables had turned, and that all the bad things his ancestors were supposed to have done would be revisited upon himself.
This is, of course, the core of the famed “Southern Strategy” promoted by Nixon and Goldwater during the sixties, and the politics of playing on that fear have certainly paid a national dividend. The once democratic south swung so far right that it has become all but impossible for liberal or progressive campaigns to be taken seriously. The south clings to its grudges like gold, and even though it was the one-time Republican party of Lincoln that ended the institutions of slavery, the decision itself was, and is still, perceived as a liberal intrusion into the affairs of the region; a violation of sovereignty and the rights of man that, were it not for the barbaric displays on the bridges of Selma, would be a hallmark of historical irony. The civil rights didn’t just aggravate the wounds of the Civil War, it rubbed sandpaper and salt over scabs almost lovingly preserved by the powers that use fear as a source of control.
What is striking about these sentiments is that nowhere within this fear of reprisal lies an ounce of guilt for the actions that invited outside intervention. Resentment is the primary motivation, followed closely by outrage and shocked dismay that the new crop of citizens seem to have little to no respect for the time-tested “rules of the game.”. “They just won’t do what we want ‘em to do,” they say.
In other words: “They don’t obey.” They don’t act like the property they used to be.
Now, of course, the politics of fear have gone global. Southerners should fear blacks, Westerners should fear Hispanics, Christians should fear Muslims, and finally, everyone should fear the poor.
And this is what it’s all about, really. It’s not about race. It’s about economics. One group is trained to hate another group because of what the latter can take away from the former. Capitalism creates materialism, and materialism is predicated on fear — fear of failure, fear of not fitting in, fear of reduced self-worth, fear of not being able to get by, fear of becoming a very part of the poverty you behold.