Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Open Letter to My Brother

Dearest One,

I have been mulling over your recent Facebook posts commenting on the reelection of the President – by turns angry and sad.  For example, the post that had a graphic that stated:  Election Day Prediction: Obama will take an early lead…  Until all the Republicans get off work.  It was indicative of the parallel narrative that has emerged on social networks - Obama voters were voting based on their dependency on government handouts and the changing demographics of the electorate.  

For the last four years, Tea Partiers and other disgruntled Americans who, like you, tend to be white have been ranting about the need to take back our country.  I have always wondered just whom they thought they were taking it back from and why did they think it only belonged to them.  To my ears, it sounded pretty racist – given that the President was black and the insinuation that his only supporters were black folks who were illegally registered to vote by ACORN.  Following the President’s reelection, where the active suppression of poor and minority people was part of the Republic strategy  (http://www.politicspa.com/turzai-voter-id-law-means-romney-can-win-pa/37153/) and the Democratic machine was focused on identifying and registering new voters, the reactions of those Americans who felt they were losing “their” America became even more crystalized.  The traditional electorate – not black, not Latino – but those who have enjoyed unearned privilege for centuries felt cheated and scared. 

Bill O’Reilly provided the most lucid and shameless explanation of those dual strains of thought – the belief that the blacks and browns are taking over and they’re taking your stuff:

“It's a changing country. The demographics are changing. It's not a traditional America any more. And there are 50% of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. And, whereby twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”

And of course, Rush Limbaugh’s explanation for women breaking for Obama was that we want free birth control – again, stuff.  I’d just like to note – since it is rarely pointed out – that contraception is typically considered by medical professionals as basic preventative health care, the cost of which is far less than the typical outcome: pregnancy.  But that’s a whole other post….

You clearly don’t have a problem with government assistance for yourself.  While you are the most outspoken person I know on issues of government dependency, you are also the person I know who has most availed himself of government assistant.  Beginning with your own public education, then the US military training which was wasted on you because you couldn’t stop using drugs, your dependence on welfare and Medicaid when your son was born, your repeated trips to rehab that were subsidized by taxpayers, your use of the Family Medical Leave Act to keep your job during your trips to rehab and finally, retraining for a new career when you were fired from your job.    Now your dependency on government has been passed on to the next generation of your family with your son’s addiction and trips to jail and his son born while on public assistance.  Your family’s story is not unusual – in spite of the racially coded language employed by the conservatives that are pushing this fantasy of black and brown Obama voters, most of those on government assistance are indeed white. 

So please – enough of the race baiting.  I don’t want to hear any more of your squawking and complaining about shifty, lazy people (code words for Blacks and Latinos) who don’t work electing the President, or the corollary, slutty, lazy women too cheap to purchase birth control having babies on your dime who voted for abortion.   What you are really angry about is that you are afraid that you will no longer get to ride on your unearned privilege.  Don’t worry – you are still white and only those who have known you for a long time look at you and see government dependence.  I, for one, am glad that there were programs in place to support you in your struggle for sobriety and provided an opportunity for your children to go to school and receive a free public education.  I’m pleased that government healthcare programs could provide a safe birth for my nephew and that public assistance kept a roof over his head in his early years.  And I am relieved that his son has the same benefits. 

I supported the President because his vision of America is aligned with mine.  I don’t want stuff.  I don’t even need birth control anymore.  I am a high-income earner and my children attend private schools – but I want to live in a fair and just society.  I want to live in a society that doesn’t rest on unearned privilege but on equal opportunity.  I want a chance to compete in the marketplace and not be handicapped because I am a mother and I want even those who have made mistakes and perhaps fallen down a few times – as you have – to have a shot at redemption.  There is a lot of space between absolute dependency and absolute self-reliance.  I think that the government has a role to play in regulating the markets, protecting and preserving our rights, including labor rights and providing a safety net to the most vulnerable.  It makes us all stronger when we stand together.

I love you more than you know.


Your Sister