We were at a day long gathering of friends. There was ample food for a brigade and whenever the door bell rang more friends and more food were welcomed. Four generations of friends and family of friends were present, and while almost everyone was acquainted, there were enough unfamiliar faces to keep conversations interesting throughout.
In the afternoon a handful of folks gathered on the patio. I wondered into the group, taking a chair next to a gentleman I had yet to meet (I’ll call him Bob); a relative of a friend, I believe. I settled into an ongoing discussion of social assistance programs, their cost and their abuse.
Bob was leading the group in a rant about “them”. You know who “they” are. They’re the lazy people, mostly criminals, with drug dealer being the profession of choice. Those not dealing drugs support the illicit trade through their addiction.
Bob’s sharing of what can only be divine insight into a segment of society he has no real first hand knowledge of was well received among his like minded listeners.
I listened quietly as the group entered into their emotionally charged descriptions of the how and why of “them” feeding at the teat of government. Apparently vacation cruises, new cars, and per newborn income increases are the norm.
The obvious solution to end this problem of dependence (i.e., stealing from the wallets of hard working white folk) is to drug test everyone benefiting from assistance programs. Bob is big on this remedy, and he’s rewarded with smiles all around as he regurgitates the conservative party line. Drug testing is sure to eliminate a great deal of fraud “they” commit.
There were retirees among us. Some were Social Security recipients, I imagined. Championing their cause, I acknowledged we can no longer support from our own pockets those receiving money from the government. Wholeheartedly agreeing with drug testing, I suggested we need to go further. Everyone receiving government benefits of any kind must be regularly drug tested.
I was surprised. It seemed they hadn’t considered extending their perfect remedy beyond the problem of social assistance. I realized that in the moment I had won the room.
I casually observed that, of course, social security recipients will have to be tested. “They” get social security, too. I expressed my confidence that Bob and the others wouldn’t mind submitting to recurring drug testing, then looked across the group as if seeking supportive acknowledgement. They were hesitant, unsure; feeling inconvenienced, I suspect. Bob said nothing.
What about military retirees and disabled veterans? I reminded him that “they” serve in the military, too. We’ve all heard the reports of the Veterans Administration driving veterans into addiction. “Should they be tested, also?” I asked Bob.
I perceived some tension in the group. I presume the discussion crossed out of their comfort zone of attacking those they perceive as beneath themselves and into the realm of disrespect for a group they champion at every opportunity. I wondered if, outside of their immediate discomfort, they had an inkling of the dichotomy of their positions.
I think not. That would require their acknowledging of, and accepting responsibility for, their racism. They would have to stop blaming the victims. Then who would they hate? Who would “they” be?.
Bob will always be that angry white man. I hope, though, the next time he’s railing on “those” people he’ll remember there’s more in play than his anger and false sense of being wronged. “They” are people. They live, love, and feel, as do we all.
This is a recounting of a discussion that took place in late 2014.
For anyone unfamiliar with such discussions, I assure you they are not at all uncommon. The participants are not white supremacists, Klan members, or anything so interesting. They’re working and middle class folks ranging in age from 20’s to 70’s.
They are everywhere. Look around.