Lately I’ve been trying to make sense of the people who voted for Trump by focusing on the failing cities and towns of white middle-America (here and here). Places that once had successful manufacturing or natural resource operations that have declined in recent years, largely due to outsourcing, globalization, and (maybe?) stricter environmental standards. Today, I read this editorial in the New York Times by Ekow N. Yankah that makes the point that by that focusing on drug addiction for white people is just another example of how the dominant culture of white supremacy dictates what we care about. Yankah writes:
“America is transfixed on the opioid epidemic among white Americans (who often get hooked after being overprescribed painkillers — while studies show that doctors underprescribe pain medication for African-Americans). But when black lives were struck by addiction, we cordoned off minority communities with the police and threw away an entire generation of black and Hispanic men.”
The title of the article “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” was destined to stir people’s emotions, but most of the top comments are from angry readers who feel attacked, dismissing the piece as “bigotry.” These comments expose the level to which white people are unable to empathize with the author. To many of these angry readers, being friends with black people is enough. I think what Yankah is trying to say is that most white people won’t go out of their way to stand up for the rights of historically disenfranchised minorities when it counts the most, and I completely agree. He is wise to not trust white people. I’m white and I certainly don’t.
Yankah is conveying how inhabiting a black body as a child in America is risk in and of itself and how navigating the dominant culture comes with major psychological baggage. For anyone who wants to better understand what Yankah is trying to say, I highly recommend the book “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.