writing

About Those “Working Class Whites”

Note: all of the data I cite is coming from exit polls that you can find here: http://www.cnn.com/election/results/exit-polls. Now you can go do your own homework. You’re welcome

Trump was elected President, which was no surprise to me because I haven’t lived in a magical fantasyland full of non-sexist and non-racist people and I’m also not delusional. But for those of you who did face a painful shock, you now are looking for an explanation and someone to blame. Many of you have decided to blame “working class whites.” Or rather, the media assigned these people responsibility and you all keep perpetuating it despite all evidence to the contrary.

Whites did vote for Trump. 70 percent of men and 49 percent of women voted for Trump. Now, some have noticed that people without college degrees were more likely to vote for Trump, and this is true, even though whites with college degrees ALSO voted for Trump. Some have taken this information and labeled these people “working class.” This is a really fun twisting of data that has no basis in reality.

When only 30 percent of the country has a BA, it doesn’t make sense to call the 70 percent “working class.” Those without college educations have incomes that span all three classes. One can be very rich and not go to college and one can be very poor and also have gone to college. I have TWO degrees from Stanford and until I got married, I was very poor. Like edge and fringe of society, nutritional deficiency poor. And I have been my whole life. I’m also white.

Fortunately for us, pollsters weren’t fooled by this conflation of education and class and they broke the numbers down by income too. When you do that, you find that the poor voted for Clinton. In fact, its the only income group that Clinton won. This is true even in mostly white swing states like Wisconsin. Now, this is just for the poor whites who got to vote, most poor people never vote at all and to make matters worse, the DNC suppressed the most politically active poor whites when they suppressed Sanders voters.

Trump didn’t win the white working class. He won the white middle and upper class. And now I’m witnessing a whole lot of upper and middle class people say that Trump won because of the ignorance and racism of the “white working class,” which seems a little convenient, don’t you think? They don’t have the data to support that and yet this is the one group that the media has repeatedly tried to blame for this outcome. It’s a pretty convenient cover for the middle and upper class to continue pretending as if they aren’t racist and part of the problem and the left has bought into it and is now using it as an excuse to scapegoat and oppress an already marginalized group. Which is, unfortunately, not a new experience for me and the rest of the trailer trash, even though all the other trailer trash I know is a group of radical socialists who have also been fighting for other causes the whole time.

There are lots of proposed explanations for why the “white working class” voted for Trump. Because of the economy. Because of racism. Because of isolation. And those might be good explanations IF the working class whites were responsible but they are not. Now some have challenged me by saying that because whites in rural areas voted for him, that disproves my statements, but unfortunately for them rural does not equal poor or working class. The fact is, that even in relatively rural states we see the same percentages. M0st poor whites didn’t vote at all and when they did, they voted for Clinton.

Understanding this even explains the phenomenon of counties that voted for Obama but went for Trump this time. Let me explain.

The main reason the Democrats lost was turnout. Republicans basically had similar numbers to previous years with some crossover, but the Democrats had a good 6 million voters that voted in 2012 but didn’t vote in 2016. The counties that Obama won then, had a decreased turnout and it was mostly working class whites who were suppressed in those areas. Therefore, because of lack of turnout among the folks Sanders carried during the primaries, the Republicans won those areas with their normal turnout.

Now,  before you blame Sanders, keep in mind that during the primaries, the Democratic party engaged in the same kind of voter suppression the Republicans do. Voter suppression pretty much only happens to poor people. Since those people had such a hard time voting in the primaries, they didn’t vote in the general. Or they couldn’t vote in the general because they had work. Or they were too disgusted with the way Sanders was treated to vote. There were no attempts by the Democrats to mobilize working class whites to vote for them.  In fact, Hilary Clinton and her surrogates spent a considerable portion of their time during the election belittling working class whites in general. And still…. even with all of that, most did not vote for Trump. Many stayed home, but Clinton still won the working class vote, even in states where the working class is almost entirely white.

So where do we go from here? The first thing we need to do is understand that you can’t determine what people believe based on what they look like. Lots of people that didn’t look like the media stereotype of a Trump supporter voted for Trump and lots of people that did look like that stereotype didn’t. The data shows he carried middle and upper class whites and then some percentage of men from all groups. In fact, Trump got more minority votes than any Republican of the last few decades. This is, of course, not those voters’ fault. It is not the fault of Black people or Mexican people who felt disconnected from the Democratic party and Hilary Clinton. It is not the fault of people who feel like the Democrats have been screwing them over. And it’s not ok to blame any oppressed group for feeling like the status quo was bad enough that they voted for the oppressor who was at least honest about his intentions over the one that has repeatedly lied to them and sold them out. The responsibility lies with the DNC and it lies with the left, who has apparently done such a poor job of addressing the needs of the people that lots of people didn’t feel like they would be better off with Clinton than they would be with Trump. Many supporters of Trump are racist and sexist, but many others thought they were protesting against the status quo and for a while now, the status quo has been a strictly enforced leftist orthodoxy. It’s interesting to watch people get fired now for speaking out against Trump, when just a few months ago, the left was calling for people to be fired if they supported Trump.

I belong to the left and I take some responsibility for this. But I also speak to the experience of many who didn’t feel that Clinton represented them. The left has treated me extremely poorly over the years, and other working class people have watched that happen. I’ve been kicked out of groups, mocked, demeaned, told I don’t deserve access to resources, and silenced all because my whole existence as a poor white person ran counter to the ideology of college leftists. I dropped out of my PhD program, in part, because I was told that I didn’t have a right to study school segregation because I’m white, even though I went to an economically segregated school. And if I had a nickle for every time some “liberal” across all racial lines said something classist to me, I’d be independently wealthy right now.

So those of you who are heaping this blame on the shoulders of working class whites are not only unsupported BY YOUR OWN data but are continuing the perpetuate oppression for a group of people that is just as a likely to suffer under Trump’s regime as the rest of the poor. In fact, if you look at the numbers and the fact that higher incomes voted for him, this looks a lot more like the upper classes voting to oppress the poor than it does like “working class whites” leading some revolt.

And it’s not just working class whites, it’s all working class people. The left has done a particularly poor job listening to their needs for a long time.  Seriously, turn on your tv right now and ask yourself who is butt of our nation’s jokes. You’ll find it’s the poor. You shut down freeways working class people needed to use to get to work and then are surprised when they can’t be bothered to show up for you at the polls? Those decisions, which I warned would backfire only to be purged by other leftists, are on us. It matters how we talk to the masses and how we interact with people. Mao won China with 15,000 highly disciplined foot soldiers BECAUSE he was so good at talking to the people and making his case that the people should support them. Instead of working on supporting the people, we’ve been yelling at them about what awful people they are because they don’t talk the way we want them to.

We don’t have to keep doing this. We could start talking about the complex reality of race and class in this country. We could talk about, for example, the fact that the voice you are hearing is the voice of a working class white girl who grew up in a racially diverse, but still technically rural area in a blue state and who comes from a racially diverse family. My experience isn’t representative of all working class whites, but its one part of the experience and its one that’s been hidden. And it has been hidden because I was silenced, not because I never tried to share it. If the way I’ve been treated by the left is any indication, we really owe the working classes a huge apology.

So what can you do? Stop perpetuating this myth and start talking to middle and upper class people. Start learning how to speak to the masses and start thinking and talking about what the left has to offer all working class people. Mobilize these people again. Educate them, take them in and give them positions of leadership within groups. Tell them what YOU plan to DO FOR THEM. It’s been a pretty long time since any of us thought about that.

Looking for a scapegoat helps no one right now, especially because you can’t determine who voted for Trump by what they look like. If you want this country to get better, start dealing with life outside the echo chamber and take some responsibility for educating and connecting others. No one can make you talk to people who are different from you and you are welcome to stay in your “safe space” if you choose to do so, but there are consequences to that decision and now we are facing them.

The left lost, and we lost big. In fact, we got our asses handed to us. And if it weren’t for the fact that I know its the people that didn’t vote for Trump and who are innocent and marginalized that will suffer, I would say we got exactly what we deserved. The days when we could purge people for lack of ideological purity, when we could dismiss anyone or demean anyone who disagrees with us, when we had the kind of power to guilt people by shouting at them, are OVER. GONE. FINISHED. Mourn them and then get your ass to work. We need all hands on deck. We need good people everywhere. We need clear eyes and open hearts to pull us out of this mess.

And the only way out of this is mess is to start being good to each other. To everyone. To people who you don’t know or don’t understand. To people you see who don’t make sense to you or who scare you. That’s hard fucking work. Not everyone will be able or willing to do it. But if you are, and you are down for the whole fucking team, no matter what, you know how to find me.

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