From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
Bad for Democracy but Good for Business
by Ishmael Reed
William Bradford, in his Of Plymouth Plantation, says that the Puritans came to America because their youth were being seduced by the Netherlands’ “licentiousness.” Things haven’t changed. Dutch writer Hans Plomp, who translated my novel The Terrible Twos, and whose poetry was published by City Lights, told me that the Netherlands is where Europe dumps its sins. In the United States, the entity known as Black America is the receptacle for the nation’s sins. Those committed by whites are rationalized or ignored. For example, the media assert that the opioid epidemic among whites is a recent phenomenon, but I’ve saved clippings that report heroin epidemics in the Philadelphia suburbs in the late nineties. Opioid addiction is shortening the lives of whites, yet when the New York Times reported on the problem it showed a white woman intervening on behalf a black opioid addict. Recently, a Times feature about infidelity was introduced with an illustration of a black woman holding a shirt with lipstick on the collar, even though infidelity is a widespread occurrence throughout American society. As I wrote in the Nation, when it comes to reporting on white sins, the media have a “no snitch” policy. To expose the flaws of white Americans would alienate those whom media marketers consider their consumer base.
This is how Trump voters are being treated. Though two studies cited by the Nation and the Atlantic Monthly trace the Trump vote to racial resentment, pundits and columnists continue to assign noble motives to millions of haters, just as they did the Tea Party, which, according to a hundred-page report entitled “Tea Party Nation,” was infiltrated by every broken-down has-been veteran of the hater circuit. While the Wall Street Journal asserted that the media is opposed to Donald Trump, a study issued by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy concluded that the media favored the entertainer over Clinton. Even before the study was issued, the head of CBS — Leslie Roy “Les” Moonves, now in a big jam of his own — said of the Trump campaign that it “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Since the election, the media have broadcast every Trump tweet and hung onto every ignorant, Fox-inspired utterance from Trump voters, among whom are people who believe that the sun revolves around the earth.
Is the white working class the only group excited by its leader’s attacks on a whole bunch of Others, which is how the media would have it? Forty-four percent of college-educated women joined white women of other classes to deliver votes to Trump. Have Trump voters been left behind, as the media claim? Even at the height of the recession, the white unemployment rate was at 7 percent while the black and Hispanic rate was about 12 percent. Have they been neglected? Both the public and private sectors have catered to white America while the capitalist system has turned over the assets of Native Americans and blacks to whites since the invasion of North America and the arrival of the slave ships.
And so what did this racist vote, some of which was the expression of a backlash against a black president, reveal? One third of white Americans are so afraid of blacks and Hispanics gaining ground that they elected Donald Trump president.
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Ishmael Reed is a prolific author of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and theater. His latest book is Conjugating Hindi.