I don’t mean to sound racist, but I’ve got a problem with white people.
Lately I’ve realized that, living in my rural area, the people who drive too slow in front of me, the construction workers who (as I write this) blast country music toward my house, and the voters who made this guy my county’s sheriff are, almost without exception, white people. Also, the drunks, the racists, and the racist bullies out here are mainly white. (What’s uniquely stupid about rural racism is that it’s based almost entirely in the abstraction of difference, rather than in actual experience with people of various races, because these experiences simply don’t happen often in rural towns.)
I usually say this as a joke to my friends and family members, most of whom are also white, but I think the reason that this seems to be a joke is because so many of us rurals think of whiteness as being the default, so much so that we often aren’t even aware of our whiteness (our skin color, but also our cultural choices, not to mention our privileges). I suspect this is why some of my white conservative acquaintances sneer about “political correctness” — white people out here are so used to only talking to other whites that they don’t often think how their words and statements would feel to people of other races. My grandma didn’t think calling my wife a “dago” would offend her, but by pointing out my suburban-born wife’s difference from my family’s ruralness, my wife did feel hurt.
This is partly why I found this recent video, which points out the weirdness of what so many white people think is acceptable, so amusing and enlightening:
I particularly enjoy “You must listen to that rural music, right?” and “You don’t sound like a dumb hick at all!” (which, of course, a lot of my fellow rurals can’t carry off).
My serious point here is this: All too often, national discussions of poverty seem to fall into the pattern of a white guy like Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan diagnosing poverty as being a problem of nonwhite people who live in cities. As Ryan said this spring:
“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” he said.
Of course, as rural areas in general lack racial diversity but do not lack for poverty, the rural poor ignored in Paul Ryan’s quote are mainly white. In fact, if Ryan wanted to address the largest racial group of people in poverty, he’d be talking to white people. This U.S. Census report from 2012 (located at a link from this site) shows the raw numbers of our population in poverty:
More than 19 million whites were considered to be in poverty in 2010 and 2011, millions more than the poor of any other race. And while people of nonwhite groups can show how they’ve been harmed economically by a history of discrimination (as pointed out here), white people can’t offer a similarly systemic cause for their poverty. So, what’s the reason for white poverty, white people? Is there also a culture of poverty among poor whites? And can we include country music in this “tailspin of culture”?