White Americans learn what it’s like to be marginalized
Someone needs a hug. Many white Americans are feeling pushed out, pushed aside, pushed around and pushed against the wall.
And now, in the Trump era, some of those folks are pushing back against what they see as a kind of reverse racism — where the minorities become the majority, gradually ascend to positions of power, and eventually settle the score for centuries of mistreatment.
White nationalists pushed back last year in Charlottesville, Va., when a group of them clashed with protesters while chanting, “You will not replace us.”
More than a decade ago, Brian Bilbray — then a Republican congressman from San Diego — pushed back when, as a defender of English, he asked for voters’ support to “make sure your grandchildren learn Spanish because they want to” and not because they have to.
Sociologists call it “cultural displacement.” It’s an anxiety about being marginalized and losing your place in line. It can be triggered by anything from protesters waving the Mexican flag, or a Spanish-language billboard, or having to “press one for English.”
But mostly, it is about fear of changing demographics. For many people, making America great again means making it white again.
According to the Brookings Institution, by 2045, whites will comprise 49.9 percent of the U.S. population, compared with 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for African-Americans, 7.8 percent for Asians and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations. In 2017, communities of color grew faster than white communities.
No wonder Fox News host Laura Ingraham sounded the alarm about “massive demographic changes (that) have been foisted upon the American people.”
Recently, the Washington Post provided a sympathetic ear to white people who feel squeezed by changing demographics. And it earned criticism from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
According to a statement the Post released in response to the criticism, reporter Terrence McCoy’s story “captured the perspective of those who feel displaced by demographic change, by conveying what it is like for two white Americans who must themselves adapt to a new America.”
The article is set at a poultry plant in Fredericksburg, Pa., — precisely the kind of hard, dirty and smelly job that Americans usually won’t do. There, we meet two exceptions — 20-year-old Heaven Engle and her boyfriend, 25-year-old Venson Heim. They don’t speak Spanish and don’t feel they have to learn it. They skipped college and work in low-skilled jobs for $13-$17 per hour. And they’re both annoyed that they’re surrounded by Latino co-workers who don’t speak much English.
“The everyday experiences that have long challenged millions of black, Latino and immigrant Americans — the struggle to understand and be understood, feeling unseen, fear of rapid judgments — were beginning to challenge them, too,” McCoy writes.
Engle and Heim are now, he writes, “coming to understand what it means to be outnumbered.”
Gee. What does that feel like?
“I swear to God, if they don’t say anything in English, I’m going to freak out,” Engle said at one point of her Latino co-workers. When she hears one of them say the word “gringa,” she thinks they’re talking about her. And they probably are.
“They don’t give a rat’s ass about people with white skin,” Heim whined. He dreads a future where whites find themselves in the minority and get paid back because, as he told McCoy, “we haven’t been the nicest race.”
The NAHJ complained that the story was “incomplete” because it didn’t include the perspective of those Latino workers who are supposedly all over the chicken plant. NAHJ President Hugo Balta said it contributed to “the polarization of the Latino community as the others.”
That’s the least of the problems with this story. Nuance, context and reality checks are valuable. And if a newspaper is going to play with cultural dynamite, it ought to be more careful with it.
As for white folks who feel displaced, I want to help. As a Mexican-American who has spent much of his life feeling like an outsider, I can get you through this scary time. Here are five survival tips:
Don’t see yourself as a victim.
Confront discrimination, and don’t let it derail your dreams.
Expect unfairness but take it in stride, work hard and persevere.
Accept that you have to be twice as good as those in the majority.
And when someone tries to tell you “up” is “down” and feed you nonsense, call them out on it.
You’ll survive. Good luck. Stay strong.