Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Where are the Caucasians with gunshot wounds?

Recently I was involved in two conversations with fellow Caucasians that veered uncomfortably toward bigotry. The first was with a former admissions or guidance counselor (can’t recall which) at Heritage College, a now-defunct for-profit career college whose enrollment was predominantly black.

The former counselor told me how, after spelling out the rules and regulations, students would invariably tell her, “Well, that’s not how I roll” and / or “Hey. I’m a grown-a_s woman!” I was stunned that someone would generalize this way, but didn’t say anything. Whatever I would think of to say would come out sounding like I was accusing her of lying; after all, she was a credible person, and she was there; I wasn’t. So I said nothing.

Then I listened to another account, this one from the mother of a resident working in the ER of a city hospital serving a predominantly black area. She said her daughter, a physician, had told her that she saw several cases of gunshot wounds nightly, most of the patients with police records.
She said that after one patient that they’d tried to save had died, his family members almost rioted and she was compelled to ask for a security escort her to her car at the end of her shift. Another gunshot patient came in at 4 a.m. After treating him, she asked him, “What are you doing out this time of night? You know this is a rough neighborhood. Stay indoors.” Again: She was there; I wasn’t. I said nothing.

But I couldn’t let these two conversations go. I just didn’t like the direction they headed in and their subtext about blacks and the black community. Then I finally arrived at what might be an answer, what I wish I’d said: “Somewhere, there’s a career college serving a mostly poor white population, and you might hear the same things out of the mouths of the students there. Somewhere, there’s an ER serving a mostly poor white population, where the staff sees gunshot wounds [or hunting injuries?] on a regular basis. Like some of the black wound patients, some of them might even wear their wounds as a badge of pride." Of course that’s f_cked up. The difference is:

We don’t see poor whites – or any whites – as a group to be commentated on, analyzed, and / or victim-blamed. We don’t see poor whites as a threatening group with its own culture and codes, or as losers unable to extricate themselves from the cycle of poverty. We aren’t instantly suspicious of young poor white men. We don’t talk about white-on-white violence, or the alcohol abuse and teen pregnancy (that invariably results in poor mom-headed households on public assistance) that pervades poor white communities. Quite simply, we don’t see a "poor white problem", and we certainly don’t attribute these ills to their being white.


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