THE DAY WHITE FOLKS LOST
About 12:01 on the afternoon of
January 20, 2009, the white American mind began to
It had been a pretty
good run up to that point. The brains of white
folks had been humming along cogently for near
on 400 years on this continent, with little sign
that any serious trouble was brewing.
White people, after all, had managed to
invent a spiffy new form of self-government so
that all white men (and, eventually, women)
could have a say in how white people were taxed
and governed. White minds had also nearly
universally occupied just about every branch of
that government and, for more than two
centuries, had kept sole possession of the
leadership of its executive branch (whose
parsonage, after all, is called the White
But when that streak was
broken—and, for the first time, a non-white
president accepted the oath of office—white
America rapidly began to lose its grip.
As with other forms of
dementia, the signs weren't obvious at first.
After the 2008 election, when former House
majority leader Tom DeLay suggested that instead
of a formal inauguration, Barack Obama should
"have a nice little chicken dinner, and we'll
save the $125 million," black folks didn't miss
References to chicken, particularly of the fried
variety, have long served as a kind of code when
white folks referred to black people and their
gustatory preferences—and weren't many of us
already accustomed to older white politicians
making such gaffes? But who among us sensed that
it was a harbinger that an entire nation was
plunging into madness?
Who didn't chuckle,
after all, the first time they heard that white
people had doubts that Barack Obama had even
been born in the United States and was therefore
ineligible to be president? It sounded like one
of those Internet stories in which some (usually
white) writer does his best to prove something
everyone knows to be true is actually the exact
opposite. And you go along with it for a few
paragraphs to see how long the writer can
convince you that what you know is right is
Seemed like that,
didn't it? After all, what was the beef? Obama's
father was Kenyan, and the kid was born in
Hawaii—which is barely a part of the United
States to begin with (only a state in 1959!).
His mother was white, and after the Kenyan guy
left, she married an Indonesian guy, so little
Barack lived in Jakarta for a while before
coming back to Hawaii to be brought up largely
by his white grandparents. . . . And that's it?
Come on, this was after-school-special material,
the kind of thing that brings a tear to your eye
because little half-Kenyan/half-white Barry made
good, not the stuff of conspiracy novels.
But the more you
shook your head at it, the more it seemed to
have taken root deep in the lizard part of the
white nervous system.
Obama is not an American. He says he's
Christian, but he has a Muslim-sounding name.
He's not black, he's not white. . . . Is . . .
is he even human?
Newsweek has found, nearly a quarter of
Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim, with
barely 42 percent of the nation accepting his
claim that he's a Christian. CNN finds that a
quarter of Americans also believe that Obama was
"probably or definitely" born in another
Harris found in an
online poll that 14 percent of Americans believe
in their hearts that President Barack Obama is
the antichrist, with nearly a quarter of
Republicans saying so.
At least in this
form, however, Satan (sometimes) wears a flag
What was going on? Had decades of
sucking down so much high-fructose corn syrup
not only made Americans incredibly obese, but
also messed with white brain chemistry to the
point that some sort of tipping point had
Not a bad theory,
but no, there's a simpler explanation, with two
parts: For the first time in their lives, baby
boomers are hard up against it economically, and
white boy is becoming outnumbered and it's got
his bowels chilled with fear.
"In an age of
diminished resources, the United States may be
heading for an intensifying confrontation
between the gray and the brown," writes Ronald
Brownstein in his July National Journal
article, "The Gray and the Brown: The
Generational Mismatch." That's a polite and
understated way of saying that older white folks
are losing their stuff as they're being replaced
by young brown and black kids while the economy
is in the crapper.
that 40 percent of the nation's population under
18 is already non-white, with that number
significantly higher in the Southwest (read:
Mexicans!). By 2023, that number of young
non-whites will be an outright national
At the same time,
the baby boomers are getting older. At 80
percent white, boomers have gotten pretty used
to dominating nearly every field of endeavor in
this country since they came of age—politics,
business, education, the arts—just about
everything but MTV programming. Boomers set the
national agenda in so many ways that we can
forget how much the national economy and
national media cater to them.
Bewildered by the number of Cialis ads you see
on television showing those flabby couples
sitting in bathtubs? Or the way that older women
are suddenly "cougars" and "MILFs" and . . . oh,
yeah, you remember, boomers are getting old, but
still want to think they can get the sheets
sweaty. See? Boomers and their fixations and
fears explain nearly everything. . . .
Anyway, as boomers
age, they get more politically active. That's
just human nature, and their 40-million-strong
AARP is the nation's biggest lobbyist. But as
they try to wield that power, they're running
into the growing, and less white, younger
plates, these slow-moving but irreversible
forces may generate enormous turbulence as they
grind against each other in the years ahead,"
At some point, when
tectonic plates build up enough tension, that
destructive energy gets unleashed in a major
earthquake, which is a pretty good metaphor for
what happened on November 4, 2008. A black man
got elected president, and suddenly every aging
white boomer in this country turned into Carole
King—they sure as hell felt the earth moving
under their feet.
brother moving into the White House inherited
the kind of mortgage that even Wall Street
executives might hesitate to call "sub-prime."
economy. Two wars, neither being fought with
clear goals. Housing markets that resembled war
zones. A health system crippled with costs. An
auto industry cratering.
But surely, in a
time of crisis, the country could pull together
to fix this mess, right?
Can you help a
brother on health care? No.
Now, some black
folks can be forgiven for thinking, as they
watched the political drama in Washington unfold
over the past two years, that this was just
another form of the same old thing they'd put up
with in one way or another in this conflicted
But there is another
White people have
simply gone sheer f---ing insane.
Let's look at some
examples to nail down that theory.
The Association of
Community Organizations for Reform Now was a
nonprofit that organized voter drives and worked
for improved wages and housing for poor, mostly
non-white Americans. And because of who they
organized, they became public enemy No. 1 in the
eyes of certain people not so thrilled with
black folks registering to vote in large
Obama had once
defended ACORN in a voting-rights case (as
co-counsel alongside the Justice Department and
the League of Women Voters). An ACORN offshoot
was one of many Get-Out-the-Vote enterprises
employed by his primary (but not general)
campaign. The group's members did the same kind
of community organizing that Obama had done as a
young man. But throughout the 2008 election
season, there was a concerted campaign to whip
up hysteria about ACORN, and by November 2009,
Public Policy Polling found that more than a
quarter of Americans (and an outright majority
of Republican voters) believed that ACORN had
stolen the election for Obama.
This was, of course,
after the classic bit of Nixonian "rat-screwing"
pulled off by a prankster named James O'Keefe.
O'Keefe, a veteran
at creating videos to make blacks look greedy
and stupid (look for "Taxpayers Clearing House"
on YouTube), spent the summer driving around the
country with his accomplice, Hannah Giles,
making videos in ACORN offices asking for advice
about avoiding tax troubles with prostitution
money. You've no doubt seen the images of
O'Keefe dressed as a '70s pimp. But O'Keefe had
carefully edited his tapes and left out, for
example, that he was decked out in college
preppies clothes, not pimp-wear. At least one
ACORN office threw him out, and at least two
knowingly played along with his ruse.
(The San Diego
office called the cops after he left, and the
Philadelphia office filed a police report.) The
upshot was that after his edited tapes became
public, Congress quickly voted to strip ACORN of
all federal funds. The organization effectively
went out of business before the bill could take
effect or be thrown out in court.
maintained he was "absolutely independent" in
his project. But in September 2009, the Voice
reported that he'd been funded by billionaire
conservative Peter Thiel and the Leadership
Institute, the same outfit that funded young
Grover Norquist and Karl Rove. That revelation
fell on deaf ears, however, and to this day,
media outlets perpetuate O'Keefe's claim that he
was operating without backing.
O'Keefe got further
help when his tapes were pushed by
BigGovernment.com, which is run by an
underhanded blowhard named Andrew Breitbart.
O'Keefe was arrested by the FBI in a bizarre
prank at Senator Mary Landrieu's office, in
which he was either attempting to plant a
wiretap or, in his explanation on Breitbart's
website, just trying to find out whether her
phone system worked to help her constituents
reach her. (Yeah, that was a good one.)
Breitbart picked out another black target with
another selectively edited video, this one of a
USDA employee named Shirley Sherrod. His editing
so mischaracterized Sherrod's words and intent
that the fallout, in the words of Frank Rich,
"could not only smear an innocent woman but make
every national institution that touched the
story look bad. . . . The White House, the NAACP
and the news media were all soiled by this
But, hey, politics
is hardball, right? We've had rat-screwers like
Breitbart and O'Keefe around forever (the
founding fathers were certainly not immune to
dirty tricks in their day). What's different
this time, however, is just how easily the lies
and distortions of the rat-screwers are being
soaked up by the damaged crania of this
country's drooling white masses. What sort of
senility is softening up the frontal lobes of
America's palefaces that they can't see through
the black-hatred of a wanker like Breitbart?
meanwhile, as home prices dropped faster than a
burst piņata, an easy scapegoat was found:
Mexicans. Long the scourge of aging white folks,
who don't seem to understand the economics
behind their cheap groceries, immigrants from
Mexico, Guatemala, and other sweltering southern
destinations became enemies of the American
Suddenly, it was
open season on brown-skinned fruit pickers and
seamstresses. Arizona passed S.B.1070—a law that
would force its residents to carry identity
papers with them at all times. Jurisdictions
around the nation are salivating to copy suit.
meanwhile, we have our own brown-skinned devil:
the Muslim. When an imam who had done diplomatic
work for the Bush administration put together
plans to build the Muslim version of a Jewish
Community Center a few blocks from Ground Zero
(but farther away than an off-track betting
joint, a strip club, and the very financial
institutions that had detonated the economy),
white people freaked out.
Preservation Commission meetings, white
housewives from Staten Island suddenly took a
great interest in preserving mid-19th-century
cast-iron facades and the architecture of Daniel
Badger—all to try to keep New Yorkers from
taking swimming lessons in the same building
where Muslims would have a place to pray.
They argued that Muslims could never understand
the impact of 9/11 (even though more than 20
Muslims were killed that day) and could never
understand the concept of Ground Zero being holy
ground (as if a building that would contain
prayer services was somehow less holy than an
outlet for betting on horses or stuffing dollar
bills into G-strings).
But by now, those
sorts of distinctions are nearly impossible to
make for a white mind so cluttered by decay.
Race was always a tough one for white people to
deal with, but now the back-flips some people
are doing over it requires a scorecard.
There may be no
better example than Laura Schlessinger and the
great white outpouring of support following the
bizarre flame-out of her radio show.
It all started with
the most incomprehensible of happenings: that a
black woman would, out of all reason, call the
Dr. Laura show seeking advice.
The sister called
Schlessinger to ask how to handle her white
husband's white friends, who sometimes say
racist things that she's uncomfortable with,
including using "the N-word."
immediately went to, "A lot of blacks voted for
Obama simply 'cause he was half-black."
She told the caller
not to "NAACP" her by taking her out of context.
She said "nigger" is
fine to say because "black guys use it all the
She then wrote the
caller off as having a "chip on [her] shoulder"
and declared, "We've got a black man as
president, and we have more complaining about
racism than ever."
She told the caller
that if "you're that hypersensitive about color
and don't have a sense of humor" (i.e., you even
question that your husband's white
friends say "nigger" to you in your house),
"don't marry out of your race."
Schlessinger thought, was suffering from
"hypersensitivity—which is being bred by black
activists." Her discomfort with the word
"nigger," Schlessinger said, was just another
"attempt to demonize whites hating blacks."
The reaction from
white America, who clearly had not remembered to
take their thorazine that morning, was
overwhelming: Who, if not Laura Schlessinger,
should say "nigger" with impunity?
announced on Larry King Live, however,
that in order to "regain" her First Amendment
rights of free speech, she would be canceling
experts are still trying to parse that one.
Sarah Palin then
rushed to Schlessinger's, side, Tweeting in her
inimitable style, "Don't retreat . . . reload!"
Palin, we can only assume, wanted Schlessinger
to utter "nigger" as often as she wanted.
Perhaps the two of
them, having both quit their jobs, can get
together and put on a road show, opening with
"Zip Coon" and finishing with a rousing
rendition of "Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny"?
On February 19,
2009, not a month into Obama's presidency, Rick
Santelli—a former hedge-fund manager—had a
meltdown on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile
Exchange while broadcasting for CNBC. Santelli
was incensed not that the government was
bailing out the multimillionaires who had run
giant financial institutions, but that
assistance would also be going to help out
ordinary people who found themselves defaulting
on their home mortgages. Calling such folks
"losers," he said, "How many of you want to pay
for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra
bathroom and can't pay their bills?"
He then added that
he was not only mad as hell, but wanted to do
something about it: "We're thinking of having a
Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists
that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I'm gonna
angry (and obviously very confused) white people
began organizing their own "tea parties" and,
from the start, had to defend themselves from
charges that there was more than a little racial
component to their movement.
Few were really
surprised, for example, when Tea Party Express
President Mark Williams turned out to have
penned a letter that could have been written in
the worst decades of Jim Crow: "We Coloreds have
taken a vote and decided that we don't cotton to
that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means
having to work for real, think for ourselves,
and take consequences along with the rewards.
That is just far too much to ask of us Colored
People and we demand that it stop!"
And it turns out
that the "grassroots" modern tea party effort
has been largely funded by the Koch brothers,
reactionaries whose combined oil wealth places
them just behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet as
America's wealthiest men. The brothers have
given some $100 million toward the Tea Party's
astroturf call to arms.
redneck stuff works for them," a former Koch
associate told The New Yorker. "They see
this as a way to get things done without getting
dirty themselves." And in primaries across
America this year, the Kochs have gotten one
hell of a return on their investment. After
decades of pouring money into think-tanks, the
billionaire brothers now have an ally no
institute fellow could ever match: a scared,
angry white mob that votes.
And what a mob.
White folks used to shy away from
candidates who e-mailed pictures of a woman
being sexed by a horse, didn't they? Can you
just see the scene down at the Republican Party
headquarters: "Well, except for sending out
those e-mails of horse-loving, other e-mails of
nigger jokes, and also fathering a love child,
this guy Carl Paladino is just our kind of guy!"
Finding Rick Lazio
not crazy enough, white New Yorkers nominated
Paladino for governor by a margin of almost two
Sure, Lazio had made
an effort. He'd gone after the "Ground Zero
Mosque" like a good race-baiter, but he just
isn't in Paladino's mouth-frothing league.
"Crazy Carl" is threatening to take a baseball
bat to Albany (and our Tom Robbins explained
last week how Carl's looney ravings are an empty
Now, try, if your
cortex is not too far gone, to reel things back
a couple of years. Imagine, if you can, Barack
Obama surging in polls in 2008 if it were known
he'd sent out e-mails of a white woman getting
it from a horse, revealed that he had a
10-year-old love child, and was threatening to
take a baseball bat to federal employees. It's
really impossible to conjure up, isn't it?
That—right there, more than
anything—demonstrates just how much the white
brain has become Swiss cheese in the last couple
of trips around the sun.
A close second
place: the really crazy white shit happening
down in Delaware, a state that never really
caused much trouble (except for unleashing Joe
Biden on us) until it nominated one-time witch
Christine O'Donnell, who is so bat-crap crazy
she makes Sarah Palin sound perfectly
By now, just about
everyone has seen the precious moment in MTV's
1996 Sex in the '90s when O'Donnell made
this monumental discovery about masturbation:
"If he already knows what pleases him and he can
please himself, then why am I in the picture?"
Fourteen years later, it doesn't really seem to
be dawning on the still-unmarried O'Donnell that
she's not "in the picture" and might never be.
But that, apparently, isn't going to stop her
waging war against the sex lives of everyone
Again, only white
lunacy explains it: Neither O'Donnell nor
Paladino is a fringe candidate. O'Donnell has a
difficult, but not impossible, chance to become
a U.S. Senator. Paladino may yet become New
York's next governor. (He's already polling
ahead of Andrew Cuomo among likely male voters,
who are generally white and clearly stark raving
Can the white mind
be cured? And what—other than a massive
lobotomy—can salvage it? It's hard to imagine a
cure when, at this point, the patient doesn't
seem to realize that he's sick. Rush Limbaugh,
for example, has declared that it's black
Americans who have a problem. The "black frame
of mind is terrible" because of unemployment,
and, equally important, because of "Tiger
Woods's choice of females," he has said. What
was that about a pot and a kettle?
If there is a cure,
it likely won't come from Barack Obama. There
are those who say that this president invited
our current derangement by not being commanding
enough. They say he should have inveighed
Franklin D. Roosevelt, who famously said before
ever being re-elected, "I should like to have it
said of my first Administration that in it, the
forces of selfishness and of lust for power met
their match. I should like to have it said . . .
of my second Administration that in it these
forces met their master."
But if Obama ever
referred to being the "master" of
anything, he'd scare white people more than he
Glenn Beck is one of
the downright terrified, and has said that Obama
has "a deep-seated hatred of white people or the
white culture." Which
makes you wonder, has Beck really not seen Obama
in his golf attire?
In the end, it goes
beyond Obama, and the current economy, and is
really about the inevitable demographic future
of America, those coming browns and the grays.
They will—one way or another—have to learn to
It is true, as
Brownstein says, that the graying boomers will
hate to pay for the education, health, and
welfare of the coming browns. They'll be stingy
about it. They'll scream about it. But they'll
have no choice but to do it.
After all, who but
the hordes of young browns will be around to
work when the grays retire? To pay taxes? To
fund their Medicare and Social Security? And how
will they earn enough money to finance boomers
in their retirement if they're not well educated
To do this dance effectively,
the white American mind is going to have to
focus and prioritize. Maybe, just maybe, it
might be required to act with a little
ever-loving sanity every now and again.