Fighting for Power or Building Bridges

July 23, 2014

We can argue “’til the cows come home” about whether, percentage wise, per capita, blah, blah, blah more blacks than whites are on welfare, in prison, commit more crimes and so forth. Truth is, white power is the dominant (and pretty much only) power in the United States. And the wealthier the white, the more powerful the white. It is also true, that white power structure has worked mightily – from small town governments to the halls of Imperial power that rule us all – to keep it that way while maintaining an outward appearance of “striving for diversity”.

Not smart, folks. Not smart at all, because from what I read, twenty years from now – just about the time those full-on effects of Imperial decline really hit the fan – we white folks will be the newest minority in America. And if you are poor and white, (as a whole lot of us will be by then,) I can pretty much guarantee you that your percentage of white power will be equal in value to current black power in the eyes of a white, Imperial power structure intent on maintaining that power and its perks to the bitter end.

I had my first experiences with this when, as a single white parent working at a minimum wage job and trying to finish a bachelor’s degree, I moved into a house in a “white flight” black neighborhood because the white friend who owned the house (but had moved away during that white flight) let me rent it for the amount of the house payment.

Right off the bat, I was warned by horrified white co-workers to always lock my car door if I went anywhere, park under a light as close to the store as possible if I went shopping (even if I were just running in “for a minute”) and to always check the back seat before I locked myself into the car. These warnings were usually accompanied by lurid assurances that a cousin’s niece’s friend (white, always white) was raped by a black man hiding in the back seat of her car, which she had forgotten to lock, in that very neighborhood.

What I found was a pretty typical lower-middle-class and working-poor neighborhood made up of a few white holdouts and young families who had bought because the housing was cheap and a large number of somewhat wary, but basically friendly blacks – some with college educations, some on welfare – who, mainly through their children going to school with my son, introduced themselves, dropped by to visit, brought a dish by way of welcome or invited me over to their house to eat or visit. In other words, pretty normal activities in any Midwest neighborhood where someone new had just moved in.

My first real run-in with the “white power” experience came when I took one of my neighbors – a young, black single mother – to cash her paycheck at the neighborhood branch bank where my own account was.

When we pulled up to the drive-in window, I told the white cashier that I wanted to deposit my paycheck to my account and, pointing to my neighbor, who held up her paycheck, I asked if they could cash her paycheck, too.

The cashier looked at the check through the window and replied, “Sure.”

We signed our checks and I put them and my deposit slip into the pneumatic tube and sent them on their way. In a minute, the tube came back with an envelope containing my receipt and the small amount of cash I’d withheld from my paycheck. Thinking her cash would come next, we waited … and waited …

Finally the cashier looked up and said, “Was there something else?”

My neighbor leaned over and said, “You forgot to cash my check.”

“There was only one check in there,” the cashier insisted.

“No, that’s not right,” I said. “I put them both in there, myself.”
The cashier looked over as another (white) woman came over and asked, “Is there a problem?”

Pointing to my friend the cashier said, “She says she sent her paycheck to be cashed, but she didn’t.”

I tried to tell her what had happened, but she bent down to look at my friend and said, “I’m sorry. We don’t cash checks for people who don’t have an account with us.” Then she walked away.

And that was that. The cashier told us to please move the car, as we were blocking the window. My black friend gave me a resigned nod and we left. I offered her twenty dollars to tide her over until she could borrow money from family. After I knew the bills had been paid, I closed the account and opened one at a bank nearer work – back in White America.

But in forty years since, I’ve never forgotten the encounter with those two representatives of White Power or the realization that, to them, I was just another “black” whose word meant nothing.

It’s not that there were no problems, that everything was hunky-dory for the three or four years I lived there. There were the occasional hurt feelings, black and white. My house was broken into and my old 13 inch, black and white TV stolen – apparently by some black kids down the block according to a black neighbor who told me (accurately) that it would do no good to report the break-in because the police wouldn’t do anything about it. A neighbor – whose son had exchanged words with my son on a couple of occasions – ran over and killed my son’s dog. Whether it was deliberate or not, I still don’t know.

I do know that neighbors have spats, houses are broken into and neighbors do cruel and spiteful things in neighborhoods both black and white, rich and poor. But only in poor, black, or minority neighborhoods I’ve lived in have I seen the constant displays of white power (often including banks toward the white and minority small businesses there) that I’ve described above.

We’d like to think things have changed for blacks. Maybe they have, for a few. But, living in other black and mixed neighborhoods, now and over the years, it really hasn’t for far too many of the poor and working poor – especially minorities, especially blacks.

Over the last two weeks, trying to follow the stories out of Ferguson and the comments attached, I’ve seen the term, “black thugs” so frequently in comment after comment – often referring not just to those looting, but to all blacks – that I’ve frankly come to believe it’s just a newer, more sanitized, but no less hurtful or inaccurate white phrase for “niggers”.

So, as we whites move toward minority status in a country too many of us have always considered “ours”, it seems to me we have choices to make – especially those who understand the economic, geological, environmental and climatological perfect storm coming full bore toward us. We can isolate and arm ourselves against those “others” in a futile attempt to preserve whatever power we think we have against the power structure of a declining empire that will be only too eager to disabuse us of the idea. Or we can do a realistic assessment of our own fears about those others whose minority status we will soon join and begin to make friends with them, now.

There will be disagreements (a lot of them simply cultural differences) that will have to be overcome; there will be people you just don’t care for, for one reason or another; there will also be people who just don’t care for you for similar reasons. And there will be those you want to avoid – whether dangerous or just damned annoying – just like white people you know or run into.

But it has honestly been my experience, in every minority or mixed neighborhood I’ve lived in, that once you’ve made friends and built some trust, they will be as glad to point out the people who are truly dangerous (or truly annoying) as you would be, because they are as tired of being painted with the same broad brush as you also would be.

It’s going to be a scary place here in America as whites lose their majority status and an even scarier place as the One Percent try to maintain control of the declining Empire. Looking at the situation ahead, it’s usually a good idea to have your bridges in place before you get herded toward the edge of the cliff with nowhere else to go.

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8 Responses to Fighting for Power or Building Bridges

  1. justcaroles says:

    VERY cogently written!

    I’ll be reposting this . . . giving you the due credit, of course.

    Thank you.

  2. justcaroles says:

    Increasingly — and even more urgently with this latest development of militarized police force unjustifiably taking life — and the reactions to it being reduced on a local level to stereotypical/genetic traits of violence attributable to African Americans . . . (Huh? The cop shop the man in the back repeatedly, and the resultant outcries are violent???)

    I must ask readers to start reconsidering the trail of evidence.

    Whenever a fascist movement takes these drastic steps, they do so by also poisoning the facts. Their intent is exactly what is happening — divide! How much more convenient for them to fracture the body of people they are duping than to have them fighting amongst themselves?


    Please read: Fourteen Defining Characteristics Of Fascism

  3. graveday says:

    Yes, very cogently written. That was a sad story about the check cashing swindle. Damn.

    • theozarker says:

      Hey grave. I grew up in the fifties and sixties, watched the scenes of violence “down south” with the fire hoses and police dogs on TV, joined black friends from college in protests and stand -ins outside Woolworth to support the sit-ins down south. I really thought the passage of the Civil Rights Act had changed things for Blacks. And I guess it did, for some. Living in a black community sure disabused me of that notion.
      I think what shocked me most was the casualness and constancy of those types of incidents, that it was “the natural order of things” and how it wore/wears away at Blacks and other minorities – especially the poor.
      And that particular incident happened at a branch of what was a major bank back then. (How naive was I?)

  4. Nadia says:

    In the bigger context of things – I believe in the concept that the drive that fuels humans constitutes the actions that predict the future. I feel a constant dread of the future which seems fueled by a world-wide drive for MONEY and a persistent focus of pushing to the bottom and hollowing out of those that get in the way – especially growing in the US. Kind of like water moving from high ground to low ground when a hole appears. It equalizes the horrors amongst everyone without, especially those who have had some comforts in the lower levels and the least advantaged in a constant war for those who least need it to have more, more, more of everything and for what I might add.

    I, too, am only able to stay focused and calm when I focus on only the things that I can manage within my family/friends circle and the tasks at hand….. and I was an activist in my youth!

    I am enlarging my edible weeds garden – right now purslane. I enjoy every bite in the salads I make to calm myself.

    Yours is a powerful voice, Linda.

  5. theozarker says:

    Hey Nadia, I like purslane, too. Haven’t seen any so far this year, although it usually pops up about this time when it’s been dry. We’re supposed to have some pretty good rains next week, so I’ll check again after that.
    I guess, at my age, I just take the little pleasures life hands me and don’t worry too much about the rest. I’m going to keep going until I can’t any more. And then I won’t. 😀
    Enjoy those salads. I’m pigging out on tomatoes right now. I’m at the eat one, freeze two stage right now. Big hug.

    • Nadia says:

      Big hug back at you. I couldn’t eat tomatoes for the longest time – my mom just loved them but I had acid reflux from them. Then, pouf, the acid reflux mysteriously went away and now I LOVE these Missouri tomatoes! I eat one or two every day … delicious and I have discovered beets! Wow… with a little EVOO and fresh ground pepper steamed…. seriously, everything bad fades for a little while. Ahhh.

      I’ve become a little obsessed with edible weeds because, for the moment, it’s what we have the most of on this farm! My son visited for a week and, caught in traffic on Hwy 47 up to Warrenton, we were stopped by the traffic and I was ecstatic to find tons of lambs quarters growing along the highway – bushels of it. It’s amazing to find that so many of these timeless “weeds” are and can be the food(s) that could save the world from hunger.

      I guess you and I are going to just keep on going on! Take care – I always look forward to reading your thoughts.

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