I'm part of the problem too

I'm currently a white woman, though I might not always have passed for one. Because I am Jewish. People of "my tribe" have been excluded from "whiteness" in the past. And perhaps are again by those who identify themselves with the alt-right (aka, neo-nazis and other racial, religious, and ethnic hate-mongers). So as Jews begin the High Holidays tomorrow at sundown, I am writing this from a precarious position of privilege. But precarious or not, I need to own it, to reflect on it, and to act to change it. I hope you'll bear with me for a brief look at what white America has wrought.

Ta-Nehesi Coates argues, in a much discussed essay in this month's Atlantic, that Donald Trump is America's first white president. Of course, all the others save one, he acknowledges, were also white. But Trump has a special distinction: "Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness.... Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president."

We've continued to argue passionately about who elected this white man, this bigot and misogynist, this ignoramus with zero qualifications and even less aptitude for leadership or wisdom. One favorite narrative lights on the plight of the white working class. And there is certainly a problem there. But as Coates so eloquently points out, both in his essay in the Atlantic and in an even clearer and more concise way in an interview with Chris Hayes, we're focusing on the wrong adjective in the analysis. Though they suffer exactly the same economic stresses (indeed often even greater ones) and share the same effects of economic displacement, working men and women of color DID NOT vote for Trump. The interview with Hayes is worth watching in full (about 10 minutes all told) but the link takes you directly to the place where he states most forthrightly that the population of voters who put Trump in the White House share one overwhelming characteristic: they consider themselves to be white. He outlines the data this way:

When white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class. Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent. Hillary Clinton’s did, in states as disparate as Florida, Utah, Indiana, and Kentucky. From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to nascar dads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant.

In her much discussed book The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, political scientist Katherine Cramer locates voters' discontent in the disconnect between rural and urban worlds. She says very little about racial resentment, focusing instead on rural citizens' perceived lack of power and resources (those goodies flow to the larger cities of Madison and Milwaukee) and their perceived lack of respect from the elites in power. No doubt her research has some explanatory power but the data from the last election shows that the majority of urban whites, including the majority of those very elites (see college-educated whites) who presumably do not respect rural folk, also voted for Trump.

So, we have a problem. White people, through no fault of our own, understand the world through the frame (way of seeing) into which we have been born. And our framing is inevitably filtered through a pervasive whiteness we cannot see directly. In "Peering Through White-Rimmed Glasses: A Letter to My Fellow White Americans," my sister Fran Kaplan observes: "Over our lifetimes, we humans develop a frame of reference – a particular way of seeing the world. Our habits of seeing are based on the cultural norms we learn at our parents’ knees, at school and work, from the media, and in the social circles where we spend the most time. Our personal frames shape how we behave, but they tend to operate outside of our awareness, without our having to think about them." If you are a white American, you operate in a largely invisible "white racial frame." Notice that it is not a RACIST frame. It's just a white way of seeing and knowing the world. We glimpse it most directly during moments of high national drama: when Rodney King is beaten half to death and some people riot; when the OJ Simpson trial produces a shock of recognition that black and white citizens don't see the world the same way; when Treyvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Gardner and Dontre Hamilton and all the other innocent people are killed for no reason and with no consequences for the killers and people take to the streets to protest. During those moments it's easy to see that the world really is different for people of color. But it's hard to keep that insight operative in our day-to-day concerns.

Jamele Hill, sports analyst for ESPN, calls Donald Trump a racist. His press secretary urges her employer to fire her (and many people concur!). But Trump can say “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” He's elected president for all that.

If we read the data right, our still majority-white country has a problem. "A new Reuters/Ipsos poll ... finds that while there is relatively little national endorsement of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, there are troubling levels of support for certain racially-charged ideas and attitudes frequently expressed by extremist groups" (New Poll: Some Americans Express Troubling Racial Attitudes Even as Majority Oppose White Supremacists, University of Virginia Center for Politics, Sept. 14, 2017). Have your eyes opened to the extent of the problem: read the entire analysis of the survey.

As progressives and the Democratic Party wrestle with our future direction, I want to make my own position clear. This is no time to ignore identity politics. As Coates reminds us, whiteness is also an identity in the political sense. Unlike black or LGBTQ or female identity, it does not have to be named or overtly recognized to be powerful. Coates ends with this insight:

It has long been an axiom among certain black writers and thinkers that while whiteness endangers the bodies of black people in the immediate sense, the larger threat is to white people themselves, the shared country, and even the whole world. There is an impulse to blanch at this sort of grandiosity. When W. E. B. Du Bois claims that slavery was “singularly disastrous for modern civilization” or James Baldwin claims that whites “have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white,” the instinct is to cry exaggeration. But there really is no other way to read the presidency of Donald Trump. The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous president—and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.

I long for a satisfactory understanding of how to tackle this problem -- head-on, effectively, and immediately. The only thing I know for sure is that acknowledging that we (white people) have a systemic problem is an essential, first tiny step toward revising the frame.


The Obamacare repeal nightmare is haunting us again. I know you know what to do. If you don't, look for information about direct action from organizations like CItizen Action.

Help Grassroots North Shore prosper: come to our annual fundraiser "Laugh 'Til it Dursts" on Thursday, September 21, from 7-9pm at the Bay Shore Lutheran Church. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Additional donations gratefully received. RSVP and get your tickets online.

 

EVENTS

Tue Sep 19, 2017

About Climate Change, 6pm - 7:30pm 
Central Library, Community Room 1, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee
 
UW-Madison Assistant Professor Ankur Desai will present some of the basics of climate change and some of the research at UW-Madison on impacts of climate change to Wisconsin forests and wetlands. Discuss what we know about the science, what it means for ecosystems and society, and why developing climate policy or technological solutions are so difficult.

Wed Sep 20, 2017

Unlearning Racism: Tools for Change, 1pm - 5pm 
1915 N Dr Martin Luther King Dr., Milwaukee
 
YWCA offers in-depth 6-session class (Wednesdays: 9/20, 10/4, 10/18, 11/1, 11/15, 11/29). Join the YWCA of Southeast Wisconsin for an opportunity to learn about the history and impact of racism and what you can do about it. Facilitated dialogue, activities, documentaries, and listening pairs will move you forward in addressing racism where and when you can. This is one of the most comprehensive local training programs on this topic. More information.

Refuel the Resistance, 5pm - 8pm 
Bounce Milwaukee, 2801 S. 5th Ct., Milwaukee
 
Weekly gathering at Bounce Milwaukee's mezzanine bar for networking, inspiration or just to vent. Bring along any evidence of your civic resistance from the last week to get a beverage (up to $7) on the house, and compare notes with other individuals and groups working to make things better. More information.

Drinking Liberally Wauwatosa, 6pm - 8pm 
Cranky Al's, 6901 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa
 
Come join fellow Wauwatosa progressives for good conversation and good beer at one of Tosa's most gemütlich establishments, Cranky Al's. DLW meets monthly on the 3rd Wednesday at 6 pm.

Thu Sep 21, 2017

Green Drinks Milwaukee, 5:30pm - 7:30pm 
Lakefront Brewery, 1872 N. Commerce St., Milwaukee
 
Good drinks, good conversation and a chance to network with other environmentally minded people. RSVPMore information.

DACA Demystified, 6pm - 7:30pm 
MSOE Alumni Partnership Center, 1120 N. Broadway St, Milwaukee
 
The Politics & Policy committee of the Milwaukee Urban League Young Professionals is hosting a dynamic roundtable discussion on the impactof the President's decision to phase out DACA. In this moderated session, panelists will address the economic, educational, and workforce development impact of the Administration’s DACA announcement on the greater Milwaukee community. More information.

Fair Housing Training Seminar, 6pm - 8pm 
Brown Deer Village Hall, 4800 W. Green Brook Dr., Brown Deer
 
Training for rental property owners and managers on how to implement rental property practices in compliance with fair housing laws. This free seminar is presented by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council. Preregister by calling 414-278-1240.

Mike McCabe Event, 6pm - 9pm 
The Eight Nightclub, 618 N. Water St, Milwaukee
 
Mike McCabe, candidate for governor, will hold a campaign event in Milwaukee to chat with attendees and then share his vision for Wisconsin with the crowd. Doors open at 6pm and speakers start at 7:30pm. Make sure to come early to get your chance to talk to him in person!

GRNS Benefit with Will Durst, 7pm - 9pm 
Bay Shore Lutheran Church, 1200 E. Hampton Rd., Whitefish Bay
 
A Night of Political Comedy to benefit the work of Grassroots North Shore, featuring nationally known political comic, Milwuakee native, and UWM alum Will Durst. This event is the major fundraiser for the year. Ticket Prices: General Admission: $25.00 per person in advance ($35.00 at the Door) | Friend of Grassroots North Shore: $50.00 | Patron of Grassroots North Shore: $100.00 | Sponsor of Grassroots North Shore: $250.00 | Grassroots North Shore Host: $500.00 | Angel: $1,000.00. More information and purchase tickets.

Peace and Justice Movements, 7pm 
UWM Union, Room 191, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd., Milwaukee
 
A panel and discussion on the importance of linking the struggles against injustice, poverty and racism at home with those against war, militarism and exploitation abroad. Panelists will discuss this challenge and opportunity, each from the perspective of the social movements they are involved in. Please join Peace Action-WI’s End the Wars Committee, the Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump and other organizations for a night of conversation on how to build the peace and justice movements in the age of Trump. Free and open to the public. More information.

Fri Sep 22, 2017

WAVE open house, 4:30pm - 6:30pm 
WAVE office, 4100 W. River Ln., Brown Deer
 
Appetizers, live music, and fellowship. We can't wait to let you know about our plans for the legislative session. Please mark your calendars! RSVP.

NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner, 5:30pm - 9pm 
Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee
 
Speakers at the dinner will include NAACP Milwaukee President Fred Royal and Jane Elliot, creator of the “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” social experiment and award-winning documentaries. More information and tickets.

Political Comedy, 8pm - 9:30pm 
Comedy Sportz Theater, 420 S. 1st St., Milwaukee
 
Will Durst, Milwaukee native turned political comedian, will bring his one-man show titled "Durst Case Scenario," a hysterical exploration of the changes in America during the Time of Trump. More information and tickets.

Sat Sep 23, 2017

Community Brainstorming, 8am - 11am 
St. Matthew CME Church, 2944 N. 9th St., Milwaukee
 
Community Brainstorming Conference Breakfast Forum Breakfast: 8 am, Program: 9 am. Program: Foxconn: What is it and how do we get involved? How does Milwaukee get the jobs? What do you need to do now? Presenters: Lena Taylor, Senator, 4th District, ranking Senate Democrat on the Finance Committee Ashanti Hamilton, President, Milwaukee Common Council Others TBA Moderator: Wallace White Chairperson: Hon. Russell Stamper Sr. All Are Invited, Come and Participate. Details.

Shared Values Unity Gathering, 9:30am - 12pm 
Wauwatosa Library, Firefly Room, 7635 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa
 
Progressive and Democratic-leaning groups with shared values are invited to update people in our community about what is going on in their groups. Speakers are: Tim Burns and Rebecca Dallet, Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates; Khary Penebaker, Wisconsin DNC representative; Sandy Zellmer, Democratic Party member and volunteer Wauwatosa organizer; Mary Yung, SOS; Mike Arney, Citizens Climate Lobby; Erica Flynn and Gabby Sweeney, Indivisible Tosa; Wauwatosa Alderperson Nancy Welch, city development and updates on County grounds development. Other groups may be added. RSVP: Sandy Zellmer or leave a message at 414-315-0291.

"Backpack Full of Cash" Film, 10am - 1pm 
Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, 5130 W. Vliet St., Milwaukee
 
Narrated by Matt Damon, this feature-length documentary explores thegrowing privatization of public schools and the resulting impact onAmerica’s most vulnerable children. Filmed in Philadelphia, NewOrleans, Nashville and other cities, BACKPACK FULL OF CASH takes viewers through the tumultuous 2013-14 school year, exposing the worldof corporate-driven education “reform” where public education -- starved of resources -- hangs in the balance. Free. More information.

Political Comedy, 8pm - 9:30pm 
Comedy Sportz Theater, 420 S. 1st St., Milwaukee
 
Will Durst, Milwaukee native turned political comedian, will bring his one-man show titled "Durst Case Scenario," a hysterical exploration of the changes in America during the Time of Trump. More information and tickets.

Sun Sep 24, 2017

John Brostoff Fundraiser, 5pm - 7pm 
1158 E. Kane Pl., Milwaukee
 
Please join State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff to celebrate his 34th birthday, connect with other supporters, and enjoy great food and discussion about how we can work together to strengthen the future of Wisconsin. Hosted by Julilly Kohler. Donations may be made online or via check, payable to "Friends of Jonathan Brostoff" and mailed to PO Box 511216, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202. More information.

Tue Sep 26, 2017

Fair Maps Town Hall, 6:30pm - 8pm 
Ovation Sarah Chudnow Community, 10995 N. Market St. Mequon
 
Sachin Chheda, Director of the Fair Elections Project, will discuss what you need to know about unfair election maps, why the case against them that will be heard by the US Supreme Court on October 3 is so important, and what voters can do to ensure that our future voting maps are fair for everyone. Free and open to the public. Refreshments provided by the Ovation Sarah Chudnow Community. Co-sponsored by the Fair Elections Project, OFA WI, and Citizen Action Milwaukee Co-op. RSVP.

Wed Sep 27, 2017

Citizen's Hearing: Got Milk? Not Without Immigrants, Stop AB190!, 10:30am - 12:30pm 
Wisconsin State Capitol, 2 E Main St, Madison
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Refuel the Resistance, 5pm - 8pm 
Bounce Milwaukee, 2801 S. 5th Ct., Milwaukee
 
Weekly gathering at Bounce Milwaukee's mezzanine bar for networking, inspiration or just to vent. Bring along any evidence of your civic resistance from the last week to get a beverage (up to $7) on the house, and compare notes with other individuals and groups working to make things better. More information.

Palzewicz Fundraiser, 6pm - 8pm 
Bougey's Bar & Grill, 16760 W. Greenfield Ave., Brookfield
 
Join Tom Palzewicz at a reception to support his campaign for Congress in the 5th District, taking on Jim Sensenbrenner. He is a successful small businessman running as a Democrat on issues of equality and fairness. Host: $1,000 | Patron: $500 | Friend: $250 | Sponsor $100 | Suggested Contribution: $50. Contributions of any amount are greatly appreciated. Contribute. To RVSP or for questions, please contact info@tomforwi.com or call 262-204-7213.

Drinking Liberally Glendale, 7pm 
Bar Louie, 5750 N. Bayshore Dr., Glendale
 
Drinking Liberally Glendale meets on the last Wednesday of the month. Come drink a beverage or two of your choice and talk about Liberal stuff. More information.

John Nichols Author Event, 7pm 
Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave. Milwaukee
 
The amazing John Nichols will talk about his latest book, "Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America," which examines the Trump rogue's gallery of alt-right hatemongers, crony capitalists, immigrant bashers, and climate-change deniers who now run the American government.

Thu Sep 28, 2017

Mental Health Board Meeting, 4:30pm 
Washington Park Senior Center, 4420 W. Vliet St., Milwaukee
 
Milwaukee County Mental Health Board Meeting. Public Comment session. More information.

Sat Sep 30, 2017

March for Black Women, 10am - 2pm 
44th Street and W. Auer Avenue, Milwaukee
 
Local march in solidarity with the March for Black Women in Washington, DC, part of a movement to create a just and equitable future for communities of color. Hosted by UBLAC Milwaukee. More information.

Sun Oct 1, 2017

Fair Maps Send-off Rally, 5pm - 7pm 
Plymouth Church, 2717 E. Hampshire Ave., Milwaukee
 
Join the "Whitford" plaintiffs for a send-off rally. Let them know that we support their case for fair elections maps! Plaintiffs in Wisconsin's landmark gerrymandering lawsuit are heading to Washington, DC, to argue their case before the U.S. Supreme Court on October 3. Rally from 5pm to 6pm, reception with good eats to follow from 6pm to 7pm. Please RSVP.

Mon Oct 2, 2017

Drinking Liberally Waukesha, 6:30pm - 9pm 
Clarke Irish Pub, 314 W. Main St., Waukesha
 
More information.

 


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