America racial politics Racism Trump

Why Do We Pretend Racism is Only Committed By Poorer People?

"The racism of the people who attacked the Capitol was not some form of desperate attempt to make sense of their terrible economic situation as some narratives have told us"

James Morley

There is a myth in America that Trump is the working man’s choice. This is viewed as further evidence that the left has lost touch with its base and that far right populists are coming in to hoover up the votes that the left is letting slip through their fingers. 

A big part of this is the view held by those who lead the discussion that the working class and poor are more susceptible to give in to racist ideas. Racism is seen as part of the working-class anxiety, or that it is somehow inherent to the stupidity and ignorance of the labouring under classes. Racism is often brushed off as a rare problem that occurs when some lowly bigoted taxi driver makes some off handed comment about immigrants using one of the many slurs we should have abandoned years ago.

But this is a myth. Racism doesn’t exist like that: it is not the isolated hatred of poor people angry at their lot in life. It is systemic, it is built in and designed, and most importantly it comes from those with wealth.

Firstly, let’s get rid of the myth that Trump is a working-class hero, beloved by the impoverished masses. According to exit polls published by the New York Times Trump lost those voters earning below fifty thousand dollars by 11 points. He also lost the votes of those who work part time or who are unemployed by 15 points and failed to get union members to the tune of 16 points. Trump may have won white people without a college degree but that isn’t enough evidence he has become the white working-class leader, because not all people without a degree are working class. There are many examples of prosperous business owners without college degrees and there are many high paid jobs that don’t require a college degree. There are also those who are lucky enough to inherit financial security and wealth who don’t need college degrees. 

It wasn’t some racist underclass that stormed the capitol. These people were racists and white supremacists. Those carrying confederate flags and wearing hoodies with 6MWE (“6 million wasn’t enough” in reference to the number of Jewish people killed in the Holocaust), or those happily associating with them, are racist and white supremacist. That’s it. They were definitely not desperate, impoverished people who let their anxiety become hostility.

Ashli Babbit, the woman who died in the riots, owned her own business. Jake Angeli, “the DC Shaman” is a former actor and author who has demanded he be served organic food in prison. Jenna Ryan, from Texas, chartered a private jet to get to the Trump riots. Derick Evans, who forced staff to hide, is a state representative in West Virginia. Adam Johnson, the lectern thief, is a stay at home parent, married to a doctor, who can afford $25,000 dollars in bail. 

These people highlight where racism comes from and what it is. Racism is an extension of wealth and power, a systemic problem that finds its roots in people with money, influence, and political power. The racism of the people who attacked the Capitol was not some form of desperate attempt to make sense of their terrible economic situation as some narratives have told us. Their racism is rooted in their social and economic positions of power and privilege.

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In recent years this privilege has been questioned and chipped away at, and their anger is rooted in the fact that the status quo may be tipping away from them, slightly. This is the story of racism as a whole. As Renni Eddo-Lodge highlights in her wonderful book “Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race” classism and racism are intrinsically linked. Racism is not born of working-class resentment but is an extension of middle and wealthy class beliefs that some people are inherently superior to others. Where there is racism within working class communities which must be challenged, however what’s also apparent is that racism is often the result of the middle class and wealthy elites pushing this view upon them in order to absolve themselves and the system that has harmed working class communities and impoverished people. Racism is a tool that exploiters use to try and pass the blame for harm they have caused. It also helps elites to portray working class white people as the racist group because they can create a “bigoted and ignorant working person” narrative to justify why people are poor and disenfranchised. 

The extremist Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol are a display of the fact that we should all acknowledge: racism is a problem because wealthy people are more likely to be racist and wealthy people are more likely to hold and exert political power. Research published by Dissent magazine shows that the lower a white person’s income the more likely they are to hold progressive views around race and recognise the issue of racism.

Until the world comes to grip with the ties between wealth, class and racism as it really is and dispel the myth that racism can end when economic anxiety is eased for poor white people, then there will be no progress in fighting racism. The Trump rioters show us where the problem is rooted, and it is there that we should start making changes as a society.

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