The Privileged vs. the White Working Class
by Victor Davis Hanson
A RECENT study published by the National Academy of Sciences, co-authored by a Nobel laureate, revealed a spiraling death rate since 1999 of Americans described as middle-aged (45 to 54), middle/working-class (without a college degree) whites (apparently self-identified as such). That is not supposed to happen to sizable demographic groups in our postmodern societies. The regression to shortened lifespans is more akin to the trend in the old Soviet Union than in the United States. The supposed culprits are inordinate use of alcohol and drugs (both legal and illegal), psycho-social maladies leading to increased suicide, and legal and financial problems. In search of root causes, are we to think that the white working class eats less healthy foods than, say, blacks and Hispanics of the same class? Do whites visit the doctor less? Or are they more prone by nature to disease and culturally induced illnesses? The answer seems probably not.
The study’s findings belie conventional wisdom, which has focused almost exclusively on the plight of minorities, who in many areas have proven unable to achieve parity, ostensibly because of endemic and lethal white racism.
Indeed, the authors, Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton and his wife, Anne Case, found their study rejected by several prestigious medical journals. Again, their conclusions are explosive — given that they raise questions about the conventional wisdom that “white privilege” trumps class considerations and is the key driver of minority despair and the inability to ensure equality of result.
We know whom Deaton and Case are studying by simply watching reality television. An entire genre has arisen of filming in mediis rebus poor, overweight, working-class loggers, truck drivers, fishermen, hunters, trappers, and the underemployed, who seem to win audiences by their now ossified muscular jobs and screw-you autonomy, and who apparently provide vicarious amusement through their anti-metrosexual appearance, their drawls, and their supposedly oafish working-class culture. Pajama Boys and the subjects of Esquire articles, these vanishing Alaskans, Montanans, and Alabamians are not.
When Hollywood seeks its generic villains — terrorists, crime-syndicate members, non-American bogeymen — they are increasingly of three types: working-class racist whites with Southern accents, Russian émigrés, and South African racists. Only that way do directors safely avoid the thought police.
Most commentators on the Deaton–Case article quickly pointed to obvious hypotheses for the disappearance of well-paying muscular jobs and the consequences to the white working class. After a lifetime of residence in the impoverished Central Valley of California, I can offer anecdotal agreement. The vast majority of so-called working-class whites with whom I graduated from high school did not go to college. Yet they started off their working lives in 1971 with good prospects at the nearby trailer-manufacturing plant, the fruit processor, the man-lift factory, and an array of high-paying welding and fabrication jobs. All such employment has now disappeared through globalization. Most of my classmates did not return to school. The ones whom I still keep up with are not enjoying the livelihoods that their parents took for granted. Instead, government and the protocols of government hiring were the new ways to upward mobility in California.
The same negative trajectory was the case for family farms. I wrote about the destruction of the small-farming class in Fields without Dreams (1996) and The Land Was Everything (2000). After 1970, our local agrarian mosaic was insidiously eroded by globalization, crashing commodity prices, vast increases in state and federal regulation, bureaucratic busybodies, increasing litigation and the consequent need for ever more expensive insurance, and corporate vertical integration from farm to consumer. I used to know dozens of families who farmed in my general vicinity. All are gone; the land, to the degree there was still equity, was sold to large conglomerates. In my own family, my two siblings make far less than did our parents and grandparents, and most of my nieces and nephews found it difficult to find well-paying blue-collar work once our family farm was liquidated.
But is there more to the despair that drives people to drugs, drink, and a culture of nihilism than just the disappearance of well-paying jobs?
Some conservatives have more controversially pointed to the constant drumbeat of racial polarization, summed up best by the sloganeering of “white privilege.” Academics and activists like Elizabeth Warren, Ward Churchill, Rachel Dolezal, and Shaun King, who all successfully invented and profited from minority identities, are emblematic of the trend that being white is now less advantageous in careerist terms than is minority status. Eric Holder’s children will be more likely to be admitted to Stanford than a straight-A, high-test-score white male from an impoverished family in Great Falls, on the argument that racial and gender identity renders class irrelevant.
As a professor at California State University, Fresno, over some 21 years, I had hundreds of conversations with working-class white kids from Merced to Bakersfield, who had stellar academic records in the humanities and who wished to go to top law schools or Ph.D. programs. I ended up offering them roughly the following caveat: “I’m afraid the chances of you as a white male from Fresno State being admitted to a top program are almost nil.” I was being neither alarmist nor nihilist, but simply reflecting the experience of my own lobbying efforts for brilliant students to gain admittance to top-ranked graduate programs.
In fact, over those 21 years, we sent dozens of bright students to schools such as Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Berkeley. In almost every case, however, they were women or classified as minorities. So blatant was the discrimination, it became a running joke along the following lines: “Professor Hanson, I’m a white guy from Tulare. Can you at least help me get into UC Riverside?” One of the most gifted classics students I ever taught once came to my office, anguished that he had been admitted only to Penn State (which has a fine classics Ph.D. program), while someone quite talented but perhaps with a less stellar record had been offered a five-year mega-package of free tuition and expenses to a Princeton Ph.D. program. I could only shrug to my student, “Well, yes, your record and test scores may be somewhat more impressive, but he too is bright and he is an illegal alien. You are a white working-class statistic.” In ethical terms I thought such cynicism was more helpful than promulgating the lie that the elites who run graduate admissions evaluate only on the basis of merit.
* * *
Source: read the full article at NRO