Sunday, May 4, 2014

Who are the optimists these days?


Frank Bruni is pessimistic about America.
More and more I get the sense that we’ve lost it, and by “it” I mean the optimism that was always the lifeblood of this luminous experiment, the ambition that has been its foundation, the swagger that made us so envied and emulated and reviled.

We’re walking small. And that shift in our gait and our gumption has been palpable for many years, during an unusually sustained period of frustration that has the feel of something more than a temporary dive: a turned corner, the downward arc of a diminished enterprise.
To bolster his case, Bruni quotes his friends - most of whom are other NYT writers and columnists. Given the current demise of print media, that shouldn't be too surprising. But I suspect he's also speaking for a lot of - here comes the kicker - white Americans.

The very basis of white privilege is that it means not having to listen to the thoughts/opinions/experiences of people of color. If Bruni were to listen, he'd hear a different story. For example, three years ago, Ellis Cose wrote about The New Optimists.
African-Americans, long accustomed to frustration in their pursuit of opportunity and respect, are amazingly upbeat, consistently astounding pollsters with their hopefulness. Earlier this year, when a Washington Post–Kaiser–-Harvard poll asked respondents whether they expected their children’s standard of living to be better or worse than their own, 60 percent of blacks chose “better,” compared with only 36 percent of whites.
Since then, this finding has consistently been repeated. For example:
Although many African Americans identify long-standing problems that still plague the community—such as unemployment and access to high-quality education—the black population remains largely optimistic about the future and satisfied with the direction the country is going in, according to a new survey by Ebony magazine and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Almost 90 percent also said they were either "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with the overall quality of their lives, the "State of the Black Family Survey" reports.
And apparently its not just African Americans who are optimistic.
The AP-NORC analysis of data from the General Social Survey, a long-running biannual survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, found just 46 percent of whites say their family has a good chance of improving their living standard given the way things are in America, the lowest level in surveys conducted since 1987. In contrast, 71 percent of blacks and 73 percent of Hispanics express optimism of an improved life – the biggest gap with whites since the survey began asking.
This is an example of how privilege hurts white America. If we weren't so self-absorbed, we'd be noticing this phenomena and asking questions about it. I suspect we'd learn that the election of the first African American president has had a pretty big impact. But I doubt that's the whole story. There is also the fact that we now have a couple of generations who have grown up in a country without the limitations of legal segregation and Jim Crow.

But here's an even more interesting possibility. Its true that - because of their low position on this country's economic ladder - blacks and Hispanics were hit even harder than white people by the Great Recession. But its also true that what happened in 2008 was a great leveler...because it hit white people too. Perhaps, after decades of inequality, black and brown people have developed the ability to hope against these kinds of odds in a way that too many white people in this country haven't.

If there's any truth to that - maybe we have a thing or two to learn. Oops, that might be a bit of a challenge for us.
Mi novia says that it really frustrates White people that no matter how much they know or want to know, there may be an area of experience or knowledge that they cannot access. Bingo, Gringo.

This is another way of saying White Privilege.

How dare the world harbor some sort of Thing that I cannot experience! How dare you insinuate that you possess knowledge I may have to ask you about in humility! How impertinent of you to even imagine that I cannot, with study and great wisdom and effort, also know what it is like to grow up Brown™ in America! The voice of privilege thinks no seat is unavailable, no land unconquerable, no food untasteable, no right deniable, no experience out of reach. It is a slap in the face to this line of thought that there exists an area that cannot be known, even to a WHITE person. Gasp.

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