Written the day Starbucks was closed for “sensitivity training”
Roseanne Barr tweeted something gross. Actually, it was a calculated racist slur. Barr became an overnight favorite of the “forgotten masses, jobless, addicted, without healthcare, fearful of immigrants and others” ….. well, actually, a lot of those folks voted Democratic and may again. It was White people who voted for Trump, in droves.
Having just read Chris Hayes’ A Colony in a Nation, his central theme of White fear made me wonder about today’s closure of Starbucks. I talked with an Indian friend who tries his best to grasp our racial politics. Trying to explain all of this to someone raised in a different culture really pushes you, forces you to reach for the essence. My good deed today was to direct a family away from the closed Starbucks to the open one inside the nearby grocery store. They were almost slobberingly grateful. (I, too, am a caffeine addict). I was ready for a comment about why Starbucks was closed but it never came.
People in general in this country are getting used to public efforts to reduce tension between the “races.” Older White people wonder what happened, since their mantra is “we used to all get along.” The conservatives call it political correctness, as in, “My god, you can’t even tell a joke anymore!” The overall effect of all this training remains negligible in my perception because I don’t see much change in attitudes on the part of individuals and I have been through this so many times as an observer, participant and even trainer myself and know the typical reactions of people.
I put a number of words and phrases above in quotes for the simple reason that so much of this needs to be unpacked instead of assuming we all know what each other means. So far example, sensitivity training. We used to call it multicultural training in which locations and institutions seeing for the first time kinds of people they had not seen there before: Black employees, Hispanic students, Chinese store clerks, Middle Eastern professors, and so on. Due in part to the weak-kneed buying in to the conservative redefining of multiculturalism as anti-Americanism, the term became diversity training and a great show was made of showing people in wheel chairs, as if hatred of paraplegics ran rampant in the land. Even “diversity” now deserves quotation marks since jokes abound about it. My little joke on how everyone knows what is meant by such terms that become code words is that “changing demographics” is code for more Blacks and Mexicans; when educational administrators refer to changing demographics of their district, you know the White teaching staff is panicking. (that panic gave rise, in San Diego, to some die-hard teachers remaining behind as their school changed its demographics – quite deliberately – and invented the AVID program to promote those kids who displayed a willingness to achieve in desperate circumstances)
So now we have “sensitivity”, which goes back to the good old days of counseling when we had process groups rather than focus groups, where instead of bitching and complaining about “those people”, we delved into our own motivations and practiced self-reflection (a tautological formation). Everyone now knows that what we are being trained for is sensitivity to others…… or rather The Other. In some ways this means just the old-fashioned “tolerance”, or putting-up-with people you’d rather not be here, like your Uncle Harry.
But Uncle Harry is family and you can’t get rid of him, at least not in polite society. These Others though present another possibility. And here come Trump. Trump’s American dream is to get rid of all those bothersome people who aren’t like “us”. There go those quotation marks again. Who is us? I witnessed an interview with some inactive coal-miners (very inactive looking at the size of their stomachs), the talker White, the guy sitting next to him Black. The White guy was sneering at the way their tax dollars were going to “those people” up North. Maybe the Black guy missed who those people were; maybe he didn’t think they were us; maybe he didn’t want to rile the other miners by protesting the absurdities the spokesperson was uttering. Who knows? But clearly nobody in that group had been through sensitivity training.
Another possibility is that both men, Black and White, thought their status as unemployed coal miners thrown down the shaft by Hillary, united them in a brotherhood of victimhood – no wait, that’s Al Sharpton’s crowd – OK, a brotherhood of the oppression of White people – no wait, the one guy is Black – OK, a brotherhood of resentment. Aha! That’s it: the politics of resentment. There you have it. Deprived of a job, a livelihood, status, a sense of belonging almost gone…… all generating resentment. But is that resentment misplaced? Do we really blame welfare recipients up North aka Blacks? Do we really blame coal companies for abandoning a dried-up business? Do we really blame China or whoever?
We Liberals like to blame the Cosmos. We believe things always change; that’s why many of us are Buddhists or Episcopalians – pretty much the same thing. So economic cycles cycle on and demographics change inexorably and it’s up to us to adjust. So why don’t the coal miners adjust? And, according to Liberal faith, it is up to us, the society, to soften the effects of change by offering…… wait for it…….. government programs. That, at least, is the Progressive solution as I understand it. The Liberal solution would be for government and industry to combine to provide retraining for workers in disappeared jobs. IOW, a kind of socialism. A job for everyone and a chicken in every pot, and throw in free higher education while we’re at it.
The conservatives among us balk, and by “conservatives” I mean thoughtful conservatives who have been replaced by compassionate conservatives. Whatever, it means retraining people and easing them through transitions to lower paying jobs or early, less lucrative, retirement. Where is the money coming from? cry conservatives and even some Liberals. Oops! Can’t capitalize one and not the other, so “liberals”. Liberals cry, “Tax the corporations at an appropriate level!” (only very educated people insert ‘appropriate’ into a battle cry); conservatives cry, “Let them eat cake!”
Nevertheless, conservatives will have to be overcome in order to provide retraining or a slipping into early retirement abetted by a job at a lower salary, like so many civil servants and military do. Conservatives want the market place to decide winners and losers (read The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin or just about any of the old conservative writings from Burke on – the Portable Conservative Reader, Russel Kirk ed., is a good source). Don’t let conservatives fool you with their compassionate blather, they believe in hierarchies.
A few items in quotes:
races – a category no longer used precisely by scientists, social and otherwise, but used broadly to refer to social categories. The older concept of race can be summed up in “they all can sing and dance; it’s in their blood” or, a more contemporary version of our department head refusing to let Mexican-American students go on trips to Mexico because they already knew the language and culture when in fact many did not, but the trip was in reality for Mormon kids to train them for their missions). How about, “Why should that Chinese kid take Chinese?” “Because he doesn’t know Chinese.” “Jesus Christ, he’s Chinese for God’s sake, he’ll smoke all the White kids in the class!” OK, I made that last one up; I’ve never actually heard anyone say that but I’ve heard similar.
we used to all get along – aka, they knew their place – and besides, the cops were all Irish.
us – not those people vide infra
those people- anyone who, in Chris Hayes’ words, make things look disorderly. A Mexican gardener or Black fry cook, no problem; a Black tax attorney? WTF!? I remember the first Black bank teller in Arizona; I guess up until then the fear was that White women getting so close to those massive members would get the vapors. I don’t know. But they got over it……. or did they?
Starbucks deserves applause for the two efforts they have made to overcome 400 years of insensitivity training.