This case study focuses on the growing gap that exists between working class whites and the elite politicians in America today. Specifically, this case will focus on how a challenge to the hematologic center of our current political system is underway by an Anti-Democratic far right wing movement. Research by Susan Hekman, in her evaluation, “Truth and Method: Feminist Standpoint Theory Revisited,” offers insight concerning the possibility constructing a framework for judging reality across cultures. Her research, along with Sandra Harding’s evaluation, “How standpoint methodology informs philosophy of social science,” will help underscore the ways in which standpoint theory seeks to move the center to advantage those who sit on the margins of American society.
Research by Michael S Gibbons in “White Trash: A Class Relevant Scapegoat for the Cultural Elite,” offers insight on how the Law, Politics, and Society intersects with social class systems. Likewise, Author Carlos Lozado’s analysis in “White Trash” — a cultural and political history of an American underclass also is central to the discussion. The context provides an assessment of the advent of the alt right movement and how its “dark intellectual center” threatens democracy and exploits race and class differences in America.
A growing distance exists between marginalized and elite Americans. While this cultural gap between the poor and elite has existed throughout history, the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States has potentially grown the existing divides to never before seen levels.
In “White Trash” — a cultural and political history of an American underclass, Author Carlos Lozado references Kaplan (Kaplan 1998) and (Leach 1999; Reich 1992) to provide “a picture of an emerging cultural system that reflects an economic structure of polarization.” Lozado’s analysis exposes how local people, economies, and cultures are left behind while, what he terms, “a cosmopolitan elite” benefits from a culture that reflects an emerging global economy (Lozado, p.8).
Lozado’s evaluation is based on the work of Nancy Isenberg, who outlines a 400 year history of class in America. In her book, Isenberg offers many examples of class hierarchy, dating back to the founding of our nation. Lozado points to a passage in which Isenberg quotes George Washington as having said the, “…lower class should serve as foot soldiers” in the war for independence (Lozado, p.1).
Similarly, Lozado points to Isenberg’s reference to Thomas Jefferson in which he is said to have hoped to improve the work ethic of poor whites by using German immigrants as an example. Jefferson, a Virginia farmer, said, “”The circumstance of superior beauty is thought worthy of attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other animals.” He added, “…why not in that of man” (Lozado, p.1)?
Analysis by Michael S Gibbons in “White Trash: A Class Relevant Scapegoat for the Cultural Elite,” says culturally, these poor whites are stereotyped as being racist and intolerant in ways that are manifest in the ideology of white supremacy (Gibbons, p.5).
Tim Wise, another expert on race and class issues, offers insight concerning the unintended consequences of racial privilege. In his analysis, Wise claims there are advantages to being poor and white in America that supersede just being a poor person of color. According to Wise, the downside is poor whites are provided just enough advantages in society to prevent them from clearly reflecting on the actual reality of their condition (Wise, p.4).
Elites keep this system of advantages in place to keep poor whites from aligning with poor blacks and browns in organized rebellion. To this end, poor whites, Wise says, become complicit in the ongoing oppression of people of color. One consequence, Wise says, is the suffering of poor whites has become invisible because the public focus, both negative and positive, is on the black and brown poor (Wise, p.2).
It is white privilege, according to Wise, that leads whites to avoid forging alliances with poor working class people of color (Wise, p.4). The result is that poverty has become racialized in ways that have increased the suffering of poor whites. Wise says poor whites also are subject to the stigma of being shunned by other whites (Wise, p.2). The public sees the poor, Wise says, as blacker than they really are and as a result their attitudes toward black work ethics lead them to provide less income support to the poor in general (Wise, p.3).
According to Lozado, today’s white elite enjoys eccentric tastes from around the world, global travel and commerce, and works in an economy that is increasingly one of symbolic manipulation. The local people in these areas suffer the worst kind of urban fragmentation as their city services erode and their local economies suffer (Lozado, p.8).
While our nation has always experienced multifaceted cultural, social, and economic difference the impact of differing standpoints within the context of the current political reality reveals of gap of new proportions between the most marginalized and the elite decision makers in our nation.
An article by staff writers at News.com offers great insight for how an elite alt right white identity movement persuaded working class whites to join them in support of billionaire Donald Trump’s bid for president. This particular election has produced a President whose rhetoric is growing the cultural divide. In this article, the alt right is defined as an online movement that stands against mainstream conservative politics (staff writers, news.com.au, 2016).
The Southern Poverty Law Centre, an anti-hate organization, describes the movement as a “set of far right ideologies,” groups and individuals who think their core beliefs are being attacked (white beliefs) by multi-cultural groups by using political correctness and “social justice,” to undermine people and their society (staff writers, news.com.au, 2016).
The term first appeared in 2008 when Richard Spencer, the head of the National Policy Institute, defined America in his speech as a “white country designed for ourselves and our prosperity. It is our inheritance and belongs to us” (staff writers, news.com.au, 2016). The movement grew exponentially during the 2017 election. Spencer views today’s generation, millennials, as being too politically mainstream, and therefore, essentially useless and weak.
Social media is energizing the alt right and making their message more assessable and popular with young people by using hash tags, memes and conspiracy theories to push its ideas forward. This is giving the group wide coverage and sparking lots of criticisms and concerns. The alt right played on the discontentment of these voters to propel Trump into the white house using online interactive communication.
Aja Romano offers insights for how the Alt-right uses sexism to lure men who are searching online into white supremacy. He reveals how computer mediated communication is helping far right complete a fully online indoctrination process. Romano tells us online communities, like Reddit, are pushing an alt right message that is distrustful of feminist empowerment. They claim it promotes disempowerment of men. Alt right Web sites are, Romano says, both racist and misogynistic in their point of view (Romano, p.2). He calls it an “insidious process by with young men are radicalized” (Romano, p.3). They are united initially in a bid to foster new friendship in what some call the “manosphere” only to find themselves indoctrinated into the alt right belief and goal to establish “a complete white ethno-state” (Romano, p.2).
The implication here is Trump won the presidential election arguably by playing to the alt right’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric. According to Lozado, Trump epitomizes ‘pseudo aristocracy’ (Lozado, p.2) of the white elites who have rejected and stigmatized poor or working class whites. Yet, he derived great support from them in his bid for president.
The question is, why would poor whites join hands with these elite whites to further their cause and advance their interests hinged to the tail end of a race based populous movement? Wouldn’t it more rational to push for a place in a more labor centric poor people’s movement that seeks to advance the interests of all marginalized people?
Theory Inflected Analysis:
Standpoint theory may offer some insight. It gives voice to the perspectives of marginalized groups by allowing them to challenge the hegemonic center that represents the masculine, white male, or dominant position of privilege within society. Standpoint theory is a postmodern method of analysis that focuses on the individual perspectives regarding power and the authority it exerts in shaping their individual perspectives.
It sees varied perspectives as rooted in individual social and political experiences. This includes the ways in which sex, race, and class help an individual judge life and form argumentation to advance their own interests. Standing in opposition to or in alliance with the central authority is imperative to understanding the logic or objectivity of marginalized perspectives in society.
Crucial to this effort, Researcher Sandra Harding says, in her analysis of how standpoint as a methodology informs, is a perspective on standpoint and the equalizing of power.
Effective argumentation and persuasion are key, along with public participation to achieve the goal of effective decision making within an organization as a result of ongoing dialogue (Harding, p.301). The key here lies in blocking what she refers to as the “inherently colonial relations of social research” (p.301), which means the distribution of funding in ways that are fair to those marginalized within society. It is in Harding’s view, “…designed to serve primarily the already most economically and politically advantaged groups” (Harding, p.302).
There is no secret that elites hold the upper hand, while poverty continues to have a marginalizing effect on poor people, including poor whites within American society. Still, according to Wise, poor whites are favored and reap more benefits than poor people of color. Wise, in his evaluation, offers several examples of historical white privilege as examples.
For instance, during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl the poor were, as a visual, primarily seen as rural whites. Their images are describes as disturbing to the masses, along with those of poor whites from the Appalachia. Yet, the conditions of poor whites were framed in ways that reflected sympathy not blame for what they were going through (Wise, p.2).
By the 1970s the media shifted the way poverty and races were viewed. The media framed welfare programs as being predominately for the blacks in America and failed to include poor whites in their negative news coverage. The backlash for these stories ended up making blacks political targets who received no sympathy for what was happening to them, while allowing the poor whites to escape this negative stereotypes of poverty (Wise, p.2).
Another example occurred during the farming crisis in the 1980s. Once again, instead of being blamed for crop shortages that impoverished them, poor whites were sympathized with and given governmental support. This, on top of the government farm subsidies they were already receiving. Their problems were deemed to be systemic and out of their hands or due to nature’s force. In contrast, inner city blacks were cut no slack and faced blame for the poverty they were facing (Wise, p.2).
However, this white privilege extended by the elites to poor whites, Wise says, came at a price. First, it rendered poor whites invisible within the social process. Second, it opened poor whites up to the bias and stigma of white elites for being poor ‘and white’ in America. And, third, with poverty being racialized and assigned a black face, social programs received less funding, affecting poor whites as well as the ‘undeserving’ brown and black poor, who were being targeted (Wise p.3).
The implications throughout history and for our modern society and our current political climate lie in the reconstruction of oppositional social movements as counter measures to the primarily white, male, right wing power structure. Many see a threatening oligarchy on the rise. Yet, many poor whites have yet, in their cost benefit analysis, to view the benefit of joining a cross cultural poor people’s movement as superseding the privilege of white skin.
Heckman’s evaluation of the analysis of Max Weber offers insight. Weber argues that the cultural values of a society can offer a starting point for comparing and reflecting on shared meaning that may be inherent in contradictory cases. (Hekman, p.361). According to Weber’s analysis, if society is held together by shared beliefs and values, then what is local is both multiplicity in difference and situated in terms of knowledge and shared human engagement.
The alt right movement, to which many poor whites have attached themselves today, would not agree. In his evaluation, Romano cites a favorite catchphrase of the alt right regarding political progressives that he says originated with Breitbart founder Andrew Breitbart. It is “cultural Marxism.” The terms is applied to left-leaning progressives who are said to espouse beliefs in socio-economic and cultural inclusiveness or diversity. Online communities of alt right white males believe these liberals to be “colluding to destroy white Western manhood” (Romano, p.10).
Romano says the term, “cultural Marxism” is defined as existing in Nazi propaganda and as conveying, “…a distrust of modernism and the spread on non-Germanic culture that Hitler called “cultural Bolshevism” (Romano, p.11). The author cites a book on Nazi history by Joseph W. Bendersky in recounting Hitler’s having referred to “cultural Bolshevism” as, “a disease that would weaken Germans and leave them prey to the Jews” (Romano, p.11).
Clearly he tenants of the alt right belief system are primarily masculine, and racist, as evidenced by the degree of misogyny and hatred in their well-documented views. Employed properly, feminist standpoint theory could provide an effective framework to renegotiate a less oppressive and less marginalized society, even for working class whites. However, there is no room for democracy in the nationalist racist autocracy the alt right seeks to build.
So, how can a singular metanarrative ever be achieve to unite the varied cultures within American society? As Weber asserts, no one perspective offers total truth as our realities and truths are all one-sided and situated locally, or in our own experiences (Hekman, p.360).
We cannot, Weber says, rely on any absolute truths or get caught in the trap of trying to forge agreement about whether or not to study a particular topic (Hekman, p.361). Weber suggests we only look to compare our shared values in an effort to understand whether the arguments we are using as a basis for inquiry are logical.
Echoing the need for the construction of a framework for evaluating perspectives across cultures, Susan Hekman, in her evaluation, “Truth and Method: Feminist Standpoint Theory Revisited,” offers insight concerning the possibility of selecting a “metanarrative.” While Hekman discusses this option in her analysis, she ultimately suggests another path forward, preferring, in the quest to create a method for dealing with politics from a feminist vs. masculine perspective. She also feels strongly about not making the mistake of ignoring the “multiplicity” of female (or any) perspectives or standpoints that exist in an effort to singularly define the “reality” at play in the daily lives of all people (Hekman, p.359).
Hekman, who echoes Weber’s appeal, offers the following solution based on her belief in the need to change the dichotomy or approach to revisiting standpoint theory. This new approach, she says, will “articulate a counter hegemonic discourse” that will allow feminists political arguments to create a less repressive society (Hekman, p.362). The new approach to standpoint theory is an attempt to “destabilize the hegemonic, by moving the discourse surrounding feminist politics beyond the narrative of masculine science” (Hekman, p.355).
These shared concepts and realities can be used to create what Weber calls the “ideal type” or a basis of understanding that helps us understand our social reality (Hekman, p.361-362). It is in exploring the danger inherent in this creation of absolute truths that seems to offer the most insight for our current political situation, as well.
The questions that remain are, how do we bring order to the multiplicity of truths and realities that exist in our lives as Americans today? Is there any hope in the construction of an ideal type as a tool for analysis? Does feminist standpoint theory offer any solutions?
Analysis of the Outcome:
Today, many white working class citizens see their best bet for socio-economic salvation in the color of their skin and tied to white identity politics of the alt right and the current White House. Unless and until this marginalized working class white segment of society sees itself as akin in some way to the suffering, challenges, and goals of other marginalized people in America, there will be no bonding and no reaching to build a shared democracy. As a result, the implications and imperative for their eventual embrace of a feminized standpoint theory and its acceptance of diversity and multiculturalism as strengths is not likely.
By numerous accounts, the alt right plans to ban immigrants, build walls between nations, challenge judicial authority, and destroy the EPA and Department of Education. The best bet for unity lies in the marginalized others and the effectiveness of their “push back” against these attempts by the alt right in its bid, not to move the hegemonic center as standpoint theory seeks to do, but to deconstruct and take the center.
While Hekman condemns the “absolute relativism” of any perspective, including those that aim to push the agendas of women’s politics forward, she asserts, for unity’s sake “This multiplicity must be condensed in some manner…” (Hekman, p.359). Or, there will never be a logical basis for argumentation required for nation building where a diversity of perspectives prevails.
The alt rights intention to deconstruct the American establishment stands in opposition to the democratic tenants of feminist standpoint theory. Their goal is to build a political power center around the executive branch of government in a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise marginalized “others” within society. If the only benefit of the alt right’s governance goes to those of European descent; then what becomes of the “others?”
Those who sit at the margins in American society cannot leave the definition of “reality” open to the perspectives of the highest bidder, the highest ranking executive, or technocrat. In doing so, those on the margins may be determined to actually “in reality” not exist. Where you are standing at the time of such a decision is made is likely to make a huge difference in whether or not you’ll be standing at all, once this decision is made.
This makes it all the more imperative, as Weber’s new approach suggests, that we look beyond the boundaries of our own truths and financial means to achieve a coherent axes of analysis to help us articulate, through effective argumentation, our shared reality (Hekman, p.359). In this sense, revisiting standpoint theory may be, today, an imperative to maintaining democratic freedom. As such, it also may be a necessity for poor whites and poor people of color to join forces. The goal would be to strengthen the collective power of the poor in a movement that pushes the hegemonic center of social and political power in America toward a more perfect and inclusive union.
Gibbons, Michael S. “White Trash: A Class Relevant Scapegoat for the Cultural Elite.” Law, Politics, and Society, University of Evansville, IN: Michael S. Gibbons and Journal of Mundane Behavior. (2004): Web. 20, Feb. 2017.
Hekman, Susan. “Truth and Method: Feminist Standpoint Theory Revisited.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 22.2 (1997): 341-365. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.
Harding, Sandra. “How standpoint methodology informs philosophy of social science.” The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of the social sciences (2004): 291-310.
Lazado, Carlos. “White Trash” — a cultural and political history of an American underclass. Washington Post – Blogs, Washington: WP Company LLC d/b/a. The Washington Post. Jun 23, 2016. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
Romano, Aja. “How the Alt-right’s Sexism Lures Men into White Supremacy.” Vox. Vox, 14 Dec. 2016. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
“The Story behind the ‘Alt-Right’ Hate Group.” News.com.au. News.com.au, 24 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 Feb. 2017. <http://www.news.com.au/finance/business/media/what-exactly-is-
“The Rich Kids of Fascism: Why the Alt-Right Didn’t Start with Trump, and Won’t End With Him Either.” It’s Going Down. It’s Going Down, 16 Dec. 2016. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
Wise, Tim. “Collateral Damage: Poor Whites and the Unintended Consequence of Racial Privilege.” ZNet Commentary. 03 Oct. 2003. Web. 20 Feb 2017.