In a 1988 issue of Life magazine,* I wrote about the high rate of suicide among white males and attributed this to what society expected of them. Superman, Spiderman, maybe? They’re supposed to be everybody’s Deux Ex Machina, the cavalry that arrives when individuals, groups, or even the globe are in trouble. I noted that as a black man, I could attribute my setbacks to racism and find plenty of data to back me up. Disputing the idea that racism is a drag on black progress has become a lucrative industry whose members have been called the counter-intelligentsia.
William Simon encouraged members of the Fortune Five Hundred to finance a counter-intelligentsia ** to oppose what he considered a socialist discourse in punditry and academia. Many books, foundation reports, television shows, movies and other media created by the counter-intelligentsia have been devoted to disproving the notion that racism–whites being favored by the mortgage lending industry, and the criminal justice system, for example–was still an impediment to black progress. Some of these writers were sincere. But one mustn’t overlook the payroll that was involved. In an effort to shame blacks, some used the stereotype of the model minority, without citing the poverty rates among those from Southeast Asia. Apparently, those elderly Asian Americans who line up in front of food banks a few blocks from my home haven’t heard about their own prosperity.
One of the hangouts for these writers is the American Enterprise Institute. The AEI’s support for DiNesh D’Souza’s book, The End of Racism, was so offensive that even two black conservatives resigned in protest***.
The investment of corporate dollars in a counter-intelligentsia of writers has paid off. I wasn’t surprised that the term, ”Ferguson Effect” originated in a right-wing Think Tank that offers Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, a platform. It was coined by Heather Macdonald, a racial-profiling denier, who gets paid by the Manhattan Institute to cook up sensational language that will draw ratings for the media, and distract The Movement. Her colleague at the Manhattan Institute, which has the corporate money to assure its fellows’ access to commentary space, is John McWhorter. He got the memo from his right wing bosses and ran an errand on their behalf by criticizing Black Lives Matter on the networks. He blasted me in a racist rag that the Institute publishes called City Journal and in Commentary magazine, which supported Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve. In the period of slavery, he would have been one of those slaves whose job it was to groom his fellow slaves so that they’d draw more money at the auction block.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in profits have been obtained by the media, publishers, Hollywood and even theater producers from shaming blacks. Moreover, while the Fortune 500 finance think tanks like The Manhattan Institute, where writers like the two I’ve mentioned get paid to do a number on blacks, the dire social situation of the white working class has been ignored.
Now the crisis among hundreds of thousands of whites has become too serious to ignore. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control shows that the rate of suicide among white males has gotten worse since I addressed it in that 1988 article in Life magazine. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that White males accounted for 70% of all suicides in 2013.
I didn’t notice a single Op-Ed commenting about this tragedy. The counter-intelligentsia was obsessed with pointing to the moral failings of Negro Town while, on the other side of the tracks, white America was deemed as a kind of Lake Woebegone, with Appalachia as the sole exception. Now comes a report whose pull quote is the following:
“The major causes of the excess deaths are suicides, drug abuse, and alcoholism. (For once, obesity is not on the list as a major player.) But while deaths from these causes have increased among middle-aged whites, they actually decreased for blacks and Hispanics. In the past, drug abuse deaths were more common in middle-aged blacks than in middle-aged whites. Now they are more common in whites. The same pattern holds for deaths from alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. The suicide rate for whites was four times that of blacks.” ****
I found the reaction to this report from a couple of progressives, who are supposed to be aware of patterns among the white working class more than others, to be revealing. Amy Goodman, appearing on Melissa Harris Perry’s show (11/7/15) offered that heroin had been a problem in black communities, but now had seeped into the white working class. She said, “for so long the black community has dealt with this. Now it affects all communities.” Melissa Harris-Perry agreed. Now? Heroin addiction has affected the white community for decades. It’s been reported only occasionally. And while blacks received jail for heroin use, most whites were provided with treatment.
There have been reports of an epidemic of white heroin and crack use among whites dating back to the late eighties? ***** The comments from Goodman and Harris-Perry indicate that there was a consensus among the white left and right that the black communities were where all of the dysfunction lay. They just had different solutions for it. Did they neglect the growing crisis among white Americans, because, apparently, for some, there was no money or ratings in addressing it?
What would have been the result had these trends been noticed twenty-five years ago, when they were first reported? Would the deadly social problems among white working class Americans–meth, heroin, alcohol, addiction, suicide–now be out of control? Will this report come as sobering news for the millions of white Americans whose situation has been ignored by the counter-intelligentsia, which could be considered a form of betrayal? Or will they continue to vote against their interests as they did in Kentucky last week? If their enormous sacrifice on behalf of white supremacy during the Civil War, while the planters’ sons and daughters partied in Richmond, is any indication, they will continue to support white supremacy even if it kills them.
*** Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine by Joe Conason