White Identity & Shame of Poverty

Nkrumah Commentary / Opinion 0 Comments

Carl Jung said that shame is a soul eating emotion.

In his New York Times opt Ed piece, Raising A Moral Child, contributor Adam Grant explained why Carl Jung wrote that about shame.
The difference between shame and guilt is that shame speaks to you being a bad person where guilt speaks to you having done a bad thing.
“Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, which is devastating: Shame makes children feel small and worthless, and they respond either by lashing out at the target or escaping the situation altogether.”

I recalled that quote while I was reading a piece in Salon by Edwin Lyngar titled “I was poor, but a GOP die-hard: How I finally left the politics of shame” and the word shame stood out to me. Edwin Lyngar basically put into words how he felt shame for being white and poor and as a result he consistently voted for politicians and political ideologies that as a poor person went against his own self-interest. This answered a question I have had for as long as I can remember, why are there so many poor, uneducated whites that identify with fiscally conservative values that support the wealthy?

A survey conducted by the Survey of Economically Successful Americans, or SESA, asked the top one-tenth of 1 percent of wealth- holders, people who have roughly $40 million or more each in net worth, a list of questions to see how their views measured up against the average American.
When asked if the government in Washington should see to it that everyone that wants to work can find a job only 18% of the wealthy agreed compared to 68% of the general public.

When asked, if the minimum wage should be high enough so that no full-time worker should fall below the official poverty line only 40% of the wealthy agreed compared to 78% of the general public.

When asked if the government should provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed 23% of the wealthy agreed compared to 50% of the general public.

When asked if government must see to it that no one is without food, clothing or shelter only 43% of the wealthy were in favor compared to 68% of the general public.

Coming from the white working class, I’d always been taught that food stamps were for the “others” — failures, drug addicts or immigrants, maybe — not for real Americans like me.Edwin Lyngar
Edwin Lyngar wrote, “”Coming from the white working class, I’d always been taught that food stamps were for the “others” — failures, drug addicts or immigrants, maybe — not for real Americans like me.” The internal conflict Edwin felt between who he is supposed to be and who he was standing in line for much needed public assistance was so difficult to bear that he and his wife left before his number was even called.
The point that stands out for me is “real Americans like me.” Any time you hear people talking like that they are speaking to identity. So if you define as a “real American” as someone who is not in need of government assistance, what does it say about you if you are in need of government assistance? You can’t be a real American while at the same time failing to meet the criteria to be a real American. Whenever we have a part of our identity where we are failing to meet the expectations of we often try to compensate in other ways. One way apparently is to be supportive of the interests of those who we see as meeting that criteria.
“To make up for my own failures, I voted to give rich people tax cuts, because somewhere deep inside, I knew they were better than me. They earned it. My support for conservative politics was atonement for the original sin of being white trash.”

Capitalism necessitates that someone have nothing. That is the only way it works. It is a profit driven economic system. Even if a college education were free to everyone, all of the resources possible were available for every student to help them succeed in school someone would still have to cook our food, remove our garbage, stock our store shelves, build our homes, pick our fruits and vegetables etc. and no one is paying a short order cook or a person who picks bushels of apples for a living 55k a year because they have a college degree. To maximize profit capitalism necessitates that you cut costs wherever you can and one of the easiest places to do that is in the wages of the workers whom the company relies on to built the products and provide the services that generates its wealth. In order to do that you need a reliable pool of workers who will be willing to do the work for whatever wages you offer. Its even better when the pool you are pulling from feel that they have little choice but to accept what your offering because it affords you even more wiggle room to cut even deeper into their wages in the future to increase even more profit. So in Capitalism poverty is built into the system itself.

Some of the wealthiest people ever to walk the Earth we among the slave-owning aristocracy in the Antebellum Southern United States and they earned their wealth in the conditions of purest Capitalist system imaginable, chattel slavery, where the owner pays virtually nothing for the labor that generates his wealth.
As Antebellum Slave-owner Katherine Stone pointed out, because slaves were vital to the continued unparalleled prosperity of the slave-owner he did have an interest in making sure they were alive and healthy enough to work but pointed out “with a sharp eye on the bottom line,” masters gave most of their poorly sheltered, coarsely clothed, and badly nourished human property little “hope of more” than that.” (Levine, Bruce. “The Fall of the House of Dixie.”)

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