Updated: May 29
Systemic discrimination isn’t just to your disadvantage. It’s to mine too.
CC0 2.0 photo by InvestmentZen on Flickr
I’ll admit: I don’t have all the answers. I have a lot of diagnoses, and I do occasionally offer some answers, but they tend to piss off anyone resistant to the notion they have personal agency and might share some role in where they’re at.
What I do know is this: United We Stand, Divided We Fall ain’t just a cheesy-sounding motivational poster phrase. It’s for reals. We’re proving it right now.
Tribalism divides us equally — what’s called ‘identitarianism’ on the right, a dog whistle for ‘racism and other assorted bigotries’ — and ‘identity politics’ on the left, a dog whistle for ‘woke identitarianism and other assorted bigotries’.
I’m tired of all tribalism.
Tribes are drawing lines and saying You have to do this to make our lives better. You owe us this. You have harmed us. Keep your hands off our cultural shit, because, you know, it's ours, not yours.
The antiracism movement is famous for this. Many want 'slave reparations' to compensate people who have never been enslaved from people who've never owned slaves.
While I recognize the United States was founded on mind-bogglingly brutal systemic discrimination and injustice based on owning other people — dividing ourselves up with ever more precise labels (I’m a pansexual tripartite half-black one-quarter Native American Libertarian Satanic Scientologist who identifies as a Japanese otaku) and fighting for only our own tribe (of like two or three?) makes no sense.
It sounds cheesy to say We’re all in this together, because we don’t believe it, but we really are, especially with the most non-racist enemy ever closing in on us all: Climate change. We’re going to be together a lot more closely in the coming decades as we began congregating in the islands of North America and elsewhere where climate change will be somewhat less traumatizing than wherever you live now.
Midwestern Red States with an influx of California liberals moving east: I hope I’m still alive to see that!
It may sound cheesy and ’60s and all kum-bye-ya to say it, but I’m done with tribalist thinking.
I reject your tribe, including my own. If you can’t play nicely with others, you are not of my new tribe: Us.
Screw your tribes, and mine too
Why am I fed up with you and your tribalism? I read Kurt Andersen’s book Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History.
It’s a forty-year revisitation describing how conservative masterminds remade America with subtle, behind-the-scenes political and economic changes, benefiting those with money and privilege and creating the yawning chasm of inequality we experience today (and if you’re still well-off, Matt Taibbi’s ‘vampire squid’ siphon is coming for you too).
It’s a depressing slog through How The 1% Did It.
I won’t get into the details — if you haven’t read it, buy it or borrow it. It’s an eye-opening read, especially if you’re old enough to have been an adult through all this mishegoss. You’ll find yourself nodding and thinking, “I remember that! So THAT’S how they did it! Holy crap, I had no idea at the time.”
I had a news junkie friend who had a bit of a nose for prophetic news a while back.
Fifteen years ago he regularly forwarded articles he thought interesting. One, from the mid-2000s, warned of the danger ARMs — Adjustable Rate Mortgages — posed to the global economy which came to pass just a few years later. A couple of years later, they came to pass in The Great Financial Apocalypse of 2008.
Another article warned of the dangers of growing economic inequality, and how the poor had been siphoned dry, and the working class almost there, and how they were coming for the middle class next.
This is exactly what happened, for many new members of The Class Formerly Known As Middle after the GFA2008.
Trillions in investments were lost by people who weren’t super-rich, and those trillions went somewhere. Hmmm?
‘Middle’, of course, meant ‘mostly white people’.
(Off-topic question: How much money does a black person have to make before they become a Republican? Discuss. Debate. Explain.)
The article also warned the money will continue to flow upward, which meant the higher classes will come next, except for those able to scramble higher.
But — now our ‘slightly betters’ can’t find people to work for them, since they’re unaccustomed to paying living wages to those losers, which puts their businesses and livelihoods in jeopardy.
The 20% ‘haves’ will become 10% and then the 5% and then the 1%. Then, it will move to .5%.
Unless something changes. Now.
My bud’s articles didn’t speak much about climate change (though he sent articles about that too), and virtually nothing about pandemics driving many to commit suicide by conspiracy theory, which may change or delay the prophesies but the pattern is clear: We’ll get there eventually if we permit it.
We can’t fight it with tribalism. Group-rights protests are critical for change but they can only accomplish so much when your message is You have to change a system that benefits only my people, not your people.
How can social justice movements get everyone on board?
What’s in it for me?
The system doesn’t work anymore even for us privileged white folk. Some people just haven’t gotten the message yet, and that’s a whack load of white people and male people. You know, the ones at the top of the power hierarchy.
I’ve begun to imagine what it might take to equalize the system for all of us.
I’ve assembled some random thoughts on this to get others thinking. I have no hard answers, and even if I did we couldn’t implement them any time soon, perhaps even for generations after the Trump Epochalypse.
But we have to think differently. Tribalism ain’t working for America and it never has. Not white supremacy and not identity politics — two sides of the same corroded coin.
It only worked — and works — for some, and you can recognize an inequality system by its volume of civil unrest.
CC0 2.0 photo by Chad Davis on Flickr
The system ain’t working, period. Creative Commons CC0 2.0 photo by GoToVan on Flickr
Here’s what I randomly muse when I’m out walking.
Not all white people are created equal
White skin isn’t the magic ticket to everything you ever wanted and a hassle-free, stress-free life the way I suspect some people of color imagine. Their 'Kyles' and 'Karens' are the Critical Race Theory antiracism set's stereotypes of the incels' 'Chads' and "Stacys'.
If melanin deficiency was a fix-all, there’d be no such thing as Trump rallies because we’d all be sitting around in our hot tubs sipping Dom Perignon and checking our investments. We wouldn’t worry he might actually return in 2024. Republicans have juiced white fears of loss of privilege and power-sharing because they know how to manipulate their white inferiors.
How all white people live, as envisioned by the CRT-addled. CC0 2.0 image by Christopher Porter on Flickr
Trump supporters are what the Soviet Union's Communist Party called ‘useful idiots’, or people too ignorant and uninformed to fully understand the goals of the ruling party seeking to undermine them. Including some of the better-off ones who think the money siphon will pass them by.
The system doesn’t serve many Trump supporters much better than it does POC, although MAGAs may arguably get away with shoplifting more unless they look like heroin addicts.
Green privilege trumps white privilege
Money is privilege, and its brother is celebrity privilege. The latter is icing on the cake for those who want to break any law imaginable.
It blows my mind to think how long Bill Cosby got away with raping mostly white women when you consider how many black men swung from trees or worse for the alleged crime of raping white women. Was there ever a guilty black man lynched? I’d bet not in pre-civil rights America. A black-on-white rape would be the equivalent of a Slut Walk protest in Afghanistan today.
Cosby is accused of having committed his first rape back in the mid-1960s. A black man genuinely raping white women, and he got away with it! His victims knew damn well his green privilege (and possibly his male and celebrity privilege) outranked their white privilege. Even in the 1960s. My mind boggles, because back then, had it come out, I’m not sure what would have happened to Cosby. It’s conceivable he himself might have been murdered, especially if he ventured below the Mason-Dixon.
He might today be A Civil Rights Martyr, rather than a convicted rapist recently released after serving less than three years in jail.
Just like a white man.
O.J. Simpson got away with murdering a white woman and her white male friend. He could afford the hugely expensive legal ‘Dream Team’ most black men can’t.
Also, O.J.!!! Heisman Trophy winner! Record holder! First-time 2,000 yards in a season rusher! Movie actor! Hertz airport-jumping guy!
“If [the gloves] don’t fit, you must acquit!” said Johnnie Cochran even as someone said they heard O.J. confess to former footballer-turned-minister Rosey Grier.
Green privilege trumps white privilege far more than we acknowledge. Some of us have more green privilege than others and there’s where you encounter fifty shades of white privilege. Plenty of white people are now left behind with the ones who were always behind. Plenty more of us will be joining them soon if we don’t all start fighting our common enemy.
The 1% is everyone’s problem.
I’m okay with a world where we share wealth and power with people who don’t look like me because…
I actually believe that United Negro College Fund shit
I appreciated the value of education and learning growing up even if I wasn’t so fond of school, where I was bullied, but also because I was the same young dipshit most American kids are, more preoccupied with the opposite sex and TV shows than lessons I found pointless at the time.
I learned to value education more in university, and I agree with the United Negro College Fund commercial from the '70s. A mind really is a terrible thing to waste.
I often wonder what the world would look like today if women and POC had been granted educational opportunities sooner, or never been denied them at all.
I wonder how many great brains, how many amazing innovations and brilliant insights we’ve missed out on because we rely so heavily on white male thought leadership? Sure, white people have innovated and invented many positive contributions to Western culture, but always built upon the innovations of people who didn’t look at all like us. Thank the early Muslim world as just one example, bringing us pioneering surgical techniques, hospitals, medical knowledge encyclopedias, algebra, trigonometry, geometry, pharmacology, and numerous other progressive innovations, before it descended into ignorant fundamentalism about four hundred years ago like the U.S. is doing today.
What would a genuine meritocracy look like?
What if we made HR’s ATSes (Automatic Trash Systems — er, I mean Application Tracking Systems) work for all of us, rather than overqualified young people willing to work ‘entry level’ jobs requiring multiple degrees for less money than a Starbucks barista?
What if employers were forced to run applications stripped of identifying information into the system and evaluated on genuine merit? If you didn’t know the age, race, gender, or economic class of the applicant? And those systems were regularly audited by third-party impartial firms to ensure employer impartiality? And hiring decisions were made based on true impartiality?
Sounds impossible but how rock-solid airtight our most contentious recent federal election was is why I think this is imaginable and workable.
How equalizing would a UBI be?
We’ve begun revisiting nascent UBIs (Universal Basic Income) in the U.S. and Canada, where mini-experiments in a guaranteed ‘mincome’ have been conducted for decades. Read about Canada’s most successful one, which debunked a lot of conservative myths about lazy humans and was, unsurprisingly, shut down by a Conservative government (although it was begun by an earlier one).
In 2020, CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit) kept many of us from sinking into economic oblivion by offering $2,000 a month to those who qualified. (In the U.S., taxpayers received three different stimulus checks.) My employment insurance payments had just ended and I still had no job thanks to purple squirrel-seeking ATSs and a heavy dollop of age discrimination, so CERB saved my bacon, along with millions of other pandemic-shocked Canadians.
Today Americans receive additional stipends that cause employers to complain people would ‘rather sit on their asses than work’, an utterly ludicrous claim in a society that worships ‘free market capitalism’. As Biden sarcastically whispered, “Pay them more!”
Believe me, when I finally got a job with a freelance sales agency that paid more than CERB, I happily departed, and I would much rather continue working for them than go back on (less) government benefits. Also, I don't feel like a parasitic loser.
The cost of living is shooting up everywhere. Time for wages to shoot up too. If you can’t afford to pay people more you may not be bright enough to run your own business.
Hey, Mr. & Ms. Former Business Owners, I hear Starbucks, Wal-Mart and Dollarama are hiring! G’wan, they’re dying for people not too lazy to work!
How do *you* imagine a more equitable world?
I’ve focused on ideas that will mostly outrage conservatives, but I don’t want to leave progressives out of the fun. Dealing with a voracious 1% for whom too much is never enough is our biggest crisis (or maybe climate change; or maybe the next killer pandemic).
The left at least pays more attention to social justice for which I can grant them that, but it takes too many cues from Christian fundamentalism and identitarian politics. And while the right destroys lives with policies and mass shootings, the left destroys them with social media’s ‘cancel culture’.
As Dave Chappelle said in his controversial Netflix special The Closer, “When you destroy a man’s livelihood it’s the same as killing him.”
Nice work, ‘Progressives’!
This first appeared on Medium in October 2021.