Some of you might remember the Pulitzer Prize winning, Chicago columnist Mike Royko. He often wrote about his alter ego, Slats Grobnik, to represent the white, working class view of life. I’m going to introduce you to John Q. Whiteman. I don’t know if he is my alter ego or not, but I do think he represents a point of view on race relations that is either underrepresented in the media, or misrepresented in order to justify a popular narrative.
Mr. Whiteman is a middle-aged, middle-class, white collar, white male, dealing with the immediate struggles of home, work, and family – in short, daily life. Living in an urban environment, he is very aware of issues around race on the local level: crime, schools, neighborhoods, community, government, and employment. He is also following race relations as a topic that has once again risen to the top of our national conscience.
Race relations had a pronounced effect on my childhood, which motivated me to write The Color of Character. Regarding race relations, I’ve ridden the roller coaster of hope, joy, frustration, fear and anger. If you read The Color of Character, and I hope you will, you’ll know how I got to where I am today. I’d like to see race disappear as an issue. I’d like to see universal opportunity to whatever is left of the American Dream. Mostly, I want open, honest, level-headed dialogue where there are no pre-conceived notions about the other person’s point of view – and no unfair judgments made. I’m convinced there is a lot of misunderstanding, and we all pick and choose the evidence we use to support our viewpoint.
Recently, a deluge of race-related news, some tragic, and mostly disheartening has created a backlog for me of how to sort out the volume of incidents, activities, speeches, articles, and editorials involving race. So I turned to John Q. Whiteman to give me his take on race in our current events. He had so much to say, that I’ll devote this entire post to our discussion. As I stated John Q. is white and middle-aged. He is also college educated and married. He is the second, American-born generation, in a Catholic family that arrived in poverty from an eastern European country. He lives in a stable, solid middle class suburb with his wife and their youngest of two children. Their older child is away at a state university.
“This quick to shoot aspect we’ve seen in these contentious police shootings of black men is unsettling. However, considering the amount of blacks involved in violent crimes in which police are called on to intervene, it’s probably a minute percentage of encounters. In fact, I read this week that despite what President Obama said, police are more likely to shoot white suspects than blacks (read here). Besides, the guys they are holding up as martyrs aren’t exactly model citizens. Is Michael Brown any sort of positive role model for your children? And the facts proved that he was not running away with his hands up. If the complaint is just, then it shouldn’t require a lie to embellish the facts. Why does the media keep ignoring the original lie?”
I asked John Q. about his politics. “I consider myself independent, but I mostly vote Democratic, because the right wing co-opted the Republicans to the point where I can’t support their views on various social issues. Also, they duped a lot of middle class white guys into thinking they had their backs, economically. That was a cart full of b.s. These Republicans helped decimate the middle class. My economic status has stood frozen for years. There isn’t much chance it’s going to improve quick enough for me to think about any kind of retirement, wearing Tommy Bahama clothes while sailing some bogus boat into a sunset – whether or not I consult a financial advisor.
“I’m getting disillusioned with the Democrats now. I’m sorry, but they are sponsoring this “it’s your fault, and your responsibility to help me” mentality that is crippling minorities and their chances to improve their lives. They’re turning our college kids into close-minded reverse bigots. They’re lining themselves up with these far left academics who never met a fellow white male they didn’t condescend to, and black ‘leaders’ who have made a good living out of shouting racism at every turn, while never preaching values that actually help their communities. Name one improvement they’ve made to the lives of their constituents.”
I asked John Q. if he considers himself racist, or part of any racist institutions. “Heck no. I never judged anyone I didn’t know simply based on color. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. I don’t even know what the heck they’re talking about institutional racism. It seems to me that the government has bent over backwards to undo previous wrongs, and that blacks have the benefit of government programs. Isn’t that institutional? And God forbid, an employer or landlord is found discriminating, there’s one federal agency or another after them, and probably costing them their business to defend themselves. And I might add, that every time a white cop pulled me over for speeding or something, he has been a total arrogant, rude asshole, and I invariably get treated like a criminal of some kind. Where was my white privilege?”
John Q. brought it up, so we then went on to talk about white privilege. “Spare me. I worked my butt off to get whatever little bit I have today. I wanted to screw off in school, but I resisted a lot of temptation. My kids got no benefit from being white. It sure didn’t help my son get into college. Everyone has obstacles. If you work hard, play by the rules, and aren’t a screw up, then your color isn’t an issue.
“A lot of the problems for blacks have origins going back centuries, but staring backward, feeling sorry for yourself, or entitled because of the past is not going to do a damn thing for you now. That’s just not real. It isn’t happening. That’s not what this country is about. If you want a piece of the pie, get out, and do what you have to do. I don’t know anyone consciously working to hold any minority down, although we all know there are some real bigots out there. There are enough examples of blacks who do just fine, because they do what they have to do, like any white person – even if, as they believe, it requires extra effort. You think that other minorities didn’t have to find ways to work around some system or another? Like I said, everyone has their own worries and concerns, and no one but some elite, condescending liberals have time to bemoan the past with you.”
We talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, and John Q. became visibly upset. “They have some valid complaints, but they distort reality. Michael Brown did not hold up his hands and retreat. Besides, to me, they’re hypocrites. I agree, with one thing: black lives do matter, but I wonder if they couldn’t be doing more to help black lives. The number of black on black shootings, and killings going on in America each day has my mind numbed. The numbers are so high that it’s incomprehensible. And unlike Michael Brown, many of the victims are not in the act of committing a crime, but instead playing in their school yard or even sitting in their own home. Where is the massive outcry in the black community and their white allies? Where is the self-admonition? Where are the big mouths like Al and Jesse to decry this? And most obvious by his stony silence on the subject, where is our President? Mr. Obama has had years to call out these guys – these whole communities. He can set himself up as an example. Instead, he only calls out racists, and finds reasons to justify whatever is wrong in the black community. Again, that’s looking at the past, and looking to others to do the work for you, and solve your problems. It’s not whites buying and selling those guns, and pulling those triggers. It’s not whites keeping them from opening their schoolbooks. It’s not whites encouraging them to have kids at an early age, and never form a family. It’s not whites telling them to assault whites on public transportation, on the street, in parks, stores – things that cause whites to fear integrating with blacks, and reinforcing negative stereotypes. The President should call them to task. He should verbally kick their asses. He’s their hero. Maybe they’ll listen to him. Everyone else they listen to is simply telling them why they should feel aggrieved and angry, but not how to use those feelings to take positive actions.”
John Q. clearly has given much thought about race relations in America, including how they affect him directly. “To tell you the truth, I have no problem when I interact with blacks on a day to day basis as I go about my business. They work in the stores, restaurants, and government agencies I deal with on a daily basis. And they work along side me in my company or with my suppliers, and they are my customers. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, ‘here is someone or other who is living the American life, just like me’, and it makes me feel good. When I get poor, lazy, or indifferent service from a black person in these interactions, I try not to blame it on his or her race, but rather on this particular person’s character. But it doesn’t always work, and I ask myself if this person were white, would he or she be working here with that kind of attitude?”
If you could tell the black community in general anything, what would it be? John Q. thought about my question, and then came out with a laundry list. “First, they have to acknowledge that they have a problem with criminal activity. I live in a large metropolitan area, and it seems to me that most of the violent crime, as well as the muggings, theft, beatings, and other ills disproportionately involve blacks. That’s what I see. That’s what I live with. Until that gets addressed the rest is all fluff. I’m no different from anyone else in that I am most concerned with what affects me directly. Fix that, and then we can talk about big ideas like institutional racism. They need to admit it, and like I said, work within themselves and their communities to find solutions. There are a few brave souls who try, but it needs to be as big a movement as those crying ‘racism.’ I confess to being afraid to be around anywhere where there are groups of black youths hanging out. I worry about them mugging me on public transportation. I avoid streets and entire neighborhoods because they are majority black or are known for a black criminal element. For those reasons, I wouldn’t want them moving to my neighborhood in large numbers or going to school with my kids. I’m basing that on what I personally experience and what I read or hear on the news every single day. I read the crime statistics from time to time. The amount of anti-social behavior coming from the black community feels threatening to me.
“Does that make me racist or just smart to avoid dangerous situations? I can’t do a damn thing to change all that anti-social behavior. In my church we raise money for various black communities, and have black community outreach, but it really doesn’t seem to make a dent in any of these overall social ills within the black community. The more the black community acts out violently and infringes on the safety of the white community, the more ingrained the negative stereotypes become, and the worse for race relations. That helps no one.
“I’d also tell them to stop worshiping low life athletes who beat their wives, and rappers who praise violence. They need to find some heroes in the black community who value education, public service, family, and community. They’re out there, but they don’t get much press. If only the usual screamers about injustice would take a break from pointing fingers, and speak to the positive effects these notions of civil society can have on every single life.”
Does John Q. feel optimistic about race relations? “Nope. There are lots of guys and women like me who don’t agree that we are the black communities biggest problem. But no one asks us. I’m sure someone would be please to analyze everything I’ve said, and break it down word by word to prove I’m a racist; that I uphold, willingly or not, the institution of racism to keep the black community down, as if that somehow benefits me. Please, spare me. I’d be happy to sit down, and have a discussion about this – civilly with black counterparts, so they can understand me, and I can learn more about their perspective. I think they have to realize that people like me are not out to deprive them, and that they need to stop blaming all of us for a lot of the problems that they themselves are helping to perpetuate on themselves. I resent it. But I’m not hopeful. The popular and acceptable point of view is that we have to atone for history in some way, and make allowances to help blacks succeed. Hey – to me the American the way is that everyone should have equal opportunity to succeed, and that’s as far as it should go. We shouldn’t have to contort our national life to guarantee everyone will succeed. There has to be an element of self-responsibility. Not every one succeeds. Not every one ever will. That’s just how life is.”
And there you have one man’s point of view. I suspect, there are many who share it.
August 17, 2016