Rising Tides and the Ignored Plight of Being Boatless in the U.S.

While dystopian post-Apocalyptic literature, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, has gained renewed popularity recently, William Faulkner approached those essential elements differently in his dark and comic As I Lay Dying.

We may be able to imagine now the Bundren family, as ancestors to Trump-supporters, suffering fire and flood as a metaphor for the human condition magnified by poverty and ignorance.

Faulkner offers a double dose of complications through his own garbled and tone-deaf ideology as well as his experimental and multi-layered prose.

As the coast of Texas and the greater Houston area continue to be battered and flooded by Harvey, a re-reading of the flood scene in As I Lay Dying, when the family loses control of Addie Bundren’s coffin and horse-drawn wagon in the flood waters of a river, suggests that Faulkner is not dealing merely with allegory—but with how Nature often intervenes with lessons that should caution humans about the maxims they live by.

Along with traditional commitments to rugged individualism and chastising those who struggle to simply pull themselves up by the bootstrap, “a rising tide lifts all boats” stands as a common refrain in our uncritical hymn to capitalism and the so-called free market.

Harvey is today an ongoing human tragedy—one that could not be avoided but likely could have been lessened by a people less committed to “the myths that deform us.”

The bootstrap and rising tide myths render invisible and willfully ignore those without boots and the boatless.

As Harvey has shown, the media and mainstream responses to the flood are blinded by privilege and assumptions about human agency: How do poor individuals and families evacuate who have no transportation, no emergency funds, nowhere to go?

For the poor in the path of Harvey, the storm and the flood are exponential versions of their daily lives already stressed by a calloused American faith in deforming myths; poverty is the fault of the poor rests just beneath the bootstrap and rising tide myths.

The able-bodied but lazy poor, however, is worse than a myth because it is a lie: “more than 80% of the officially poor are either children, elderly, disabled, students, or the involuntarily unemployed (while the majority of the remaining officially poor are carers or working people who didn’t face an unemployment spell)” [Who Are the Poor? (1987-2013)].

Between the election of Trump and the landfall of Harvey, pundits and the media have spent a great deal of time wrestling with the so-called Trump voter who is white and working class or poor, and often rural.

That debate and myopic focus teach an unintended lesson about how the only the things that matter in the U.S. are those that impact white people (“working class” has become code for “white” as if black and Latinx aren’t working class). This same pattern has developed lately about opioid addiction.

But there is much we can and should learn from the white working-class/poor voters who remain in Trump’s camp despite many having those commitments checked by, for example, realizing that Obamacare is the ACA—and its repeal would have cost them healthcare.

Like the Bundren family, they are self-defeating in their stubbornness and ignorance, but to observe them still raises questions about how much they deserve compassion.

And here is the irony: these “Make America Great Again” legions, driven by white nationalism and racism, deserve the exact compassion and community that they deny the poor because of their indoctrination into the deforming bootstrap and rising tide myths.

When there are rising tides, the boatless always suffer—but in the U.S. we have decided to live as if that is the fault of the boatless.

Harvey’s devastation of Houston exposes once again the fragility of humans against the enormity of Nature, but it also unmasks the emptiness of the American character, unwilling to put community first because the dollar matters more than any person, even a child.

The Great Deforming Myth is the Invisible Hand that may or may not provide for you—unless you hit the birth lottery.

Like the Bundren family—mostly a clan of deeply selfish and bitter humans—standing on the river bank and watching Addie’s coffin tumble and bob in the churn of the flooded river, Americans watch Houston drown on smart phones, tablets, and 24-hour news channels.

The ugly subtext of As I Lay Dying is that Addie’s family members are using her death and burial to cash in on something they have been otherwise denied. Their journey through fire and flood seeks the cover of a grieving family to mask their pettiness, their emptiness.

In the receding waters of Harvey, we should consider that Faulkner, not Fitzgerald, has crafted the Great American Novel, and the characterization is not pretty.


Bonus Pop Culture Scene Refuting of the Rising Tide Myth

School Zones: A Meditation

I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishment after I’m dead.

Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian

No good route exists for my drive from my house to my university; my commute is a Groundhog Day of the Southernism “Can’t get there form here.”

To avoid the daily morning ritual of accidents on the interstate I could use to make that drive quicker, I tend to snake my way along back roads, and on that journey, I typically pass through two school zones—a high school near my house and then an elementary school closer to the university.

Both school zones bring traffic to a crawl, and then often, to a stop as crossing guards shepherd teens and children across the road to their schools.

These crossing guards are armed only with day-glo vests and matching wands to protect students from 4000-pound automobiles and the increasing reality that drivers are distracted by their smart phones.

The paradox of this cavalier optimism, this nod to the greater decency of people confronted with the frailty of children, is that schools have increasingly become more and more prison-like—police in the hallways, doors locked, intercoms to screen any who try to enter the building, and discipline codes and practices that parallel and even intertwine with law enforcement.

School zones and barricaded schools contrast sharply, however, with the broader disdain for and disregard for the conditions of children’s lives in the U.S. The largest group of people suffering in poverty are children, and this reality is far worse in the U.S. than many other countries.

And despite efforts to control students as well as protect them from the gun violence that the U.S. views as normal beyond the walls of schools, the U.S. also has more school shootings than almost four dozen other countries combined.

Our daily behaviors also reveal that too often our care for our own children, and children who look like us, exposes our disregard for “other people’s children”—in the cruel tolerance for corporal punishment as somehow just parenting and the rush to punishment in grade retention that negatively impacts poor children of color.

In our caustic and calloused political debates about healthcare, school choice, public monuments, and more, the absent voice is always that of children, and they are also rendered invisible as if our policies are not ultimately the world in which these children live.

No child chooses their parents or their places of their birth and living.

It may seem cliche, but there is no doubt that a people should be judged by how they treat their children.

The U.S. is the wealthiest and most powerful country in history. How we spend public funds and the laws as well as policies we implement are who we are.

Crossing guards in day-glo vests raise their orange wands to oncoming traffic all across the U.S. throughout the academic year, and drivers stop their cars while children laugh and even skip across the road to their schools.

It is in those moments mornings and afternoons that who we could be passes right by us.

Who we are remains in the tragedy of Tamir Rice, mostly ignored, mostly forgotten. Just a child who may himself have been shepherded across a road by a crossing guard in a school zone.

Who we are remains to be a truly negligent people unable to put grand ideals into our daily behavior, driven by a nastiness and callousness that in the future will be an ugly monument that tells a story of how we failed despite all the opportunities before us for being good and kind.

Essential Logic Fail of the Right in the US: 9 Seconds of Deadpool

As one example that can be extrapolated to most of the arguments on the Right (think the recent monuments and flags debate), consider the complaints that NFL players are being “political” by protesting peacefully during the national anthem. To wit:

  • Standing for national anthem = POLITICAL ACT
  • NFL playing the national anthem = POLITICAL ACT
  • Telling people not to protest = POLITICAL ACT

The logic flaw is grounded in this: People call “political” anything they dislike, don’t agree with; their own views appear “right” and thus “not political.” This is lazy thinking, and self-contradictory.

And thus, 9 seconds from Deadpool:

Resistance in Black and White: On White Proximity and Solidarity

The uncomfortable history of professional athletes being activists is often whitewashed itself, in part through the sort of revisionism that conservatives seem to reject. Think of how Muhammad Ali was mistreated while the Greatest athlete on the planet in the 1960s and then how he was praised in the decline of his life.

Peter Norman has become a symbol for white athlete proximity to black protests.

Because of ostracized Colin Kaepernick, the current focus on athletes as activists is the NFL, and we must ask how this monstrosity has become the focal point of moral urgency and debate.

The NFL coddles violence in its playing as well as violence outside the lines by the players who are deemed essential. The NFL coddles and embraces a white ownership and white elite players who are directly partisan in their politics, but christens black activism as too political.

The newest version of this circus is a call by black NFL players to their white teammates, resulting in a slow drip of white players showing solidarity with the pre-season protests of a few black players. The talking heads on sports media and those displays of so-called solidarity, however, continue to reek of a white resistance to resistance.

Images of black players sitting, kneeling, and raising a fist with a white teammate standing nearby, with a hand or arm displaying support, is ultimately a show of white correction—a see how I am supporting you but I cannot actually kneel, sit, or raise a fist.

AP photo/Matt Rourke

The vitriol of white supremacists and their ideology are likely not the real problem in the U.S. in 2017. Their hatred probably blinds and deafens them to black resistance and white solidarity.

Where we need change the most and where that change has the best chance of making a difference is among whites who consider themselves good people, much like the few white NFL players standing in solidarity with black players.

Whites must consider the following before resisting black resistance:

  • Check the urge to claim you are not racist and instead acknowledge the facts of systemic racism and white privilege without becoming defensive about what those forces say about you personally.
  • Recognize that all whites benefit from white privilege and are complicit in systemic racism even when some whites struggle and even as whites live in ways that seem to them to be “not racist” (“I have black friends”).
  • Black protests against inequity and injustice that focus on blacks is a call that matters to all people, a widening of the circle of equity and justice. Protests grounded in racial inequity are themselves not racist just because they highlight race.
  • Rethink what “racism” means by understanding that it is the combination of race and power, not just race. Blacks expressing anger toward or distrust of whites (as a generalization) is grounded in evidence that these generalizations are valid, but whites expressing white nationalism and white superiority are baseless and hate-filled ideologies that lack merit (race is a social construct and there is no biological differences that could be traced to one identifiable group being superior to the other).
  • Dignify black expressions of resistance and protest by honoring that space (stay out), remaining quiet in order to listen, and never interjecting a “yes, but” commentary.
  • Understand and reject respectability politics. Saying that you support a person’s right to protest, but disagree with the how and where is not an act of solidarity; it is itself an act of racism.
  • Don’t shift the focus of any black protests by asking “what about” and determining what issues matter for others through your white lens.
  • Assume the history you know is flawed, and then, commit yourself to knowing a richer story of history that includes all the voices omitted when the version you learned was being written.
  • Be careful about your solidarity and appreciate when you are checked for appearing to offer your white approval. To agree may often require that you (as noted above) step back and remain silent—even when you have a genuine contribution.
  • Resist confusing any individuals with identifiable groups; do not ask a person to speak for any group and do not assume anyone who looks as if they belong to a group somehow prove any generalization. Blacks such asOJ. Simpson, Bill Cosby, and Ben Carson do not prove any arguments among white resistance to black resistance simply because they echo the white “yes, but.”
  • Step away from blaming black protests of racism for creating or inciting racism; this is blaming the victim and is itself a form of oppression.
  • Solidarity can begin with asking how you can help; the advantages of white privilege are not your problem, but your problem is in what ways you use that privilege, for whose benefit.

Racism and white privilege were created by and maintained by whites with power, mostly ill-got power.

Whites are now responsible for ending both.

To resist black resistance to inequity and injustice is a great white failure that cannot be explained away, must itself be resisted.

Racial Slur

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

“Incident,” Countee Cullen

Earlier in the summer of 2017 during the controversy over Bill Maher’s use of a racial slur, I wrote a poem [1] that confronts the slur but also ends with an image that haunts me in the wake of Charlottesville and Barcelona.

The tyranny of the threat of being run over rests now in my bones after having been run over with a group of cyclists just 8 months ago.

But I have no direct personal understanding of what James Baldwin confronts about race in the U.S.: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ” [2]

Along with the pervasive threat of  physical violence and death for any black body even or especially at the hands of the state (the crux of Colin Kaepernick’s protests), there remains the threat of the racial slur.

As Baldwin interrogated:

As witnessed in this video: Watch Out Loud: What Was It Like the 1st Time You Were Called the N-Word?

My first grandchild is starting 3K in a bit more than a week from now. She is a vibrant and affectionate child who happens to be biracial.

She appears at 3 on a path to mostly pass for white—that itself a horrible thing to still be contemplating or acknowledging in 2017. In the dead of winter, people praise her lovely tan.

And she is attending a school in my hometown where my wife teaches; it is a solidly rural small town in the South that is far more white than when I attended those schools.

And when I look at my dear granddaughter, the engine I hear revving is when she will first encounter that racial slur, directed at her—to be defined—or at her father, a tall black man with dreads who, when then dating my daughter, used to leave our house in a hoodie in the time around Trayvon Martin‘s killing.

There is a powerful thing shared between parenting (and grand-parenting) and teaching—spending our time in the care of children and young people.

Parenting involves watching a baby grow into independence and the inevitability of kinds of loss.

But teaching is an ever-refreshed group of children and young people—a sort of permanent fountain of youth.

In that parenting and teaching, then, is a kind of hope. Intoxicating hope.

However, my dearest granddaughter is walking into the world of Trumplandia, and I am nearly bereft of hope, consumed instead by fear.

I am haunted now by a question: What is the critical mass of good people who will act on that goodness in any organization or society for it to matter?

I am haunted now by a realization: The critical mass of truly awful people needed to matter is incredibly few, often needing only one dominant figure head to render the whole organization or society essentially evil.

I am terrified by my midlife understanding of the term “gunning an engine.”

I cannot hold my granddaughter tight enough, long enough.


[1] white folk (switchblade)

But all agon eventually reduces itself to human violence….
But then the world has always made violent use of children.
The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch

to apologists for Bill Maher

white folk carry “nigger” in their throats

like switchblades secreted in designer boots

there are no excuses for such dormant violences

like white men with slick-backed hair and dark suits

who will slit your throat in a white-hot second

like a volcano spewing lava swallowing barefoot children sleeping

beware these smiling white folk clearing their throats

like an engine cold cranking before plowing over you

[2] “The Negro in American Culture,” Cross Currents, XI (1961), p. 205.

First Days of Class: Who We Are, Why We Are Here

At least the first half of my career as a high school English teacher for 18 years was spent learning to be the sort of teacher I wanted to be. I often feel I should apologize to those early-career students, many of whom remain kind and even praising.

Along that journey, I came to realize that the first days of any class or course must be a clear and inviting message to my students about who we are and why we are here.

A watershed moment for me was somewhat an accident. My administration ended the long and tedious tradition of spending the first day or two issuing textbooks by having all students’ texts placed in their locker before they began the year.

With that freedom, I stopped the equally tedious roll call and dedicated myself to conducting class on that very first day in a way that told students what the class/course was going to be about.

As I start my 34th year as a teacher, now a professor teaching two first-year writing seminars as well as a couple eduction courses, I also dedicate the first days of class to practicing what I preach: incorporating one or two different strategies or changes each new course (what I call taking baby steps since no teacher should feel compelled to overhaul entirely their teaching when they feel the need to change).

Here I want examine some first-days texts and activities, not as prescriptions but as models for how any teacher may take this same larger concept of how those first days establish who you are, who your students are, and why you all are on this class journey.

First, some of my new commitments are grounded in being more intentional about inclusive pedagogy, much of which will draw on the guidance of Dr. Anita Davis, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Associated Colleges of the South, who is helping facilitate a year-long seminar for a group of faculty at my university this academic year.

These new commitments allow me to incorporate existing activities and texts in order to improve the inclusive environment of my classes as well as establishing the disciplinary grounding of the courses I teach.

Regardless of the course, I use several of these activities on the first days, but I also will include a writing-specific opening days activity toward the end.

A central message for my students in the first days is that we will be bound to texts, important texts, and then we will also be using those texts for our own discussions and to write. The key texts I currently use for the first days include the following, all of which also model for my students that we are going to explore diverse voices and writers in order to challenge and interrogate our own ideas and assumptions:

Who We Are

Anita Davis opened her first seminar by explaining that she includes full name citations on her PowerPoint slides, even though most citation styles require last names only and APA hides first and middle names in initials. Davis stressed that names matter, especially if we are seeking to be inclusive.

Over the course of the seminar we also examined that roll calls can be intrusive and even stressful for students who are struggling with gender identification, establishing on that first day a hostile environment counter to our efforts of inclusion.

Part of our goal to be inclusive, we must all be better equipped when our students must name and identify themselves—issues about gender identity and pronoun preferences.

“My Name” (Cisneros) and “Naming Myself” (Kingsolver) are powerful texts for helping students think about how to introduce themselves in the context of a new learning community. I read these short texts aloud to emphasize there will be a common activity in my classes, read alouds.

Then we discuss how the speakers in the novel chapter and the poem emphasize the importance of names and of being named; both texts ask readers to consider sex/gender and race.

As well, “My Name” includes a recognition of how children/young people come to understand themselves in their names while “Naming Myself” challenges social norms of women being erased through re-naming during marriage.

These texts and activities establish that our names matter, but that naming ourselves is more complicated than some students have considered. I also want students to know that I appreciate texts, the read alouds, but that texts are not simply fodder for the sort of narrow analysis they have done in their English classes.

Finally, we introduce ourselves, first in small groups and then as a full class. This semester, I will invite students to talk about their names, and their pronoun preferences if and when this is important to them. I will also stress that our learning community must be a place where we honor confidentiality; we are free to share outside of class the topics we explore, but we should avoid naming our classmates in ways outside of class that breaks confidentiality, that fails to honor each person’s right to speak for themselves.

On the first day, we have avoided the drudgery of calling roll—and engaged in the sort of class dynamic that characterizes my classes throughout the semester. But I now will also establish an environment that honors inclusion more intentionally than I have in the past.

Why We Are Here

While the naming texts and activities are entry points for introductions and creating an inclusive learning environment, that first day also begins a journey into disciplinary expectations—why we are here.

Another first days activity I use is based on Hughes’s “Theme for English B,” but I will now include an activity, “Save the Last Word,” Davis used in our seminar.

“Theme for English B” lends itself well to any class because it investigates the power relationship between teachers and students; like the Cisneros and Kingsolver texts, Hughes also confronts the role of race in that power dynamic.

When I have used Hughes’s poem in the past, I have struggled with students shifting immediately into the literary analysis mode, eager to analyze the poem’s structure and technique to the exclusion of engaging with what the poem’s speaker is saying about power as that intersects teaching/learning, race, and age.

“Save the Last Word” is a wonderful strategy for keeping students focused on what a texts says (not the how of literary analysis) and encourages student voice in the context of that text.

My slight adaptation of the activity includes the following: (1) my read aloud of the poem, (2) asking students to read the poem again silently to themselves, (3) placing students in small groups (preferably of 3), (4) having students copy what they consider a key or challenging stanza on the front of an index card, (5) having students reflect on that stanza in writing on the back of that card, (6) after all students have done this each student shares out to the small group the key stanza so that the other two can respond to that stanza first, and finally (7) each person shares their reflection last for that stanza.

Through a whole-class discussion of “Theme for English B” following the “Last Word” activity, I will share with students why we are here: to take words, each other, and ideas seriously and carefully in the pursuit of our own growth through disciplinary moves as well as our developing literacy.

The course, like the activities around Hughes’s poem, will be both individual and collaborative as well as interrogating and investigating key ideas and concepts.

Why We Are Here (Writing Specific)

Finally, I want to touch on a first writing activity I use in order to highlight how to use the first days to stress the narrow goals of any course or class.

The first writing activity I do with students involves Cisneros’s “A House of My Own”:

  • I read the passage aloud.
  • Students are instructed to write their own versions of the passage, changing “house” to an object of their choice and then mimicking the passage exactly except for the content. I refuse to give more directions and urge students to trust themselves and complete a draft.
  • After most of the students have a full first draft, I ask for volunteers to share their versions aloud. During the sharing I ask the others to compare their drafts to the one being shared.
  • Next I ask other students to share or discuss how their version does something different in terms of mimicking Cisneros exactly.
  • Always students begin to re-think their mimicking as well as how carefully they read any text for the how (technique) and the what (content).
  • Finally, I invite students to revise their versions and send them to me by email for the next class meeting.

This activity stresses the importance of completing a full first draft (especially as a discovery draft not as a process to fulfill a set thesis), the value of peer conferencing and sharing drafts, and the necessity of revising all writing with purpose.

We also begin to look at the craft of language—sentence formation (the entire passage is a series of fragments), rhetorical and literacy techniques, vivid and specific details, grammatical and syntactic awareness.

One unexpected but consistent consequence of this activity is that students often email their revision to me and call the text a poem—even though Cisneros’s mentor text is a prose fiction passage from a novel.

This means the following class allows me to begin a conversation about genre awareness, how we determine the form any text takes (poetry v. prose, fiction v. non-fiction, etc.).

In short, an opening activity models why we are here and how we are going to proceed.

Throughout my career, I have rejected traditional views of the first days of any class or course needing to be about establishing teacher authority (don’t smile until Christmas) and classroom rules or management.

Instead, I am committed to making the first days of class about who we are and why we are here while remaining true to my larger critical philosophical and ethical commitments as an educator and a human.

See Also

Inclusive Teaching Resources and Strategies (University of Michigan)

The Vulgar Academic Pose of President Trump

Criticism of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate and then president has been intense among university-based academics and scholars across the U.S.

However, the great irony of that fact lies in how President Trump’s “both sides” approach to addressing the Charlottesville, VA, violence is merely a vulgar version of the academic pose found among those academics and scholars—the traditional call for professors and researchers to be politically neutral and objective.


second coming yeats


Having been a public school teacher for almost two decades in the rural South and now a university professor for 15 years and counting, I have lived the tyranny daily of being chastised as “too political,” as tarnishing my credibility as a teacher and professor by my writing-as-activism.

I stumbled through a bit more than a decade of teaching before I discovered an organized body of thought that defined for me what I had been practicing, although quite badly—critical pedagogy.

Critical pedagogy acknowledges two powerful and seemingly contradictory realities: (1) all human behavior, including teaching, is inherently political, and thus, the neutral/objective pose is itself a political stance, and (2) indoctrination must be avoided and rejected.


crit ped kincheloe


K-12 public education and higher education remain resistant to these concepts, continuing to demand apolitical teaching (or, actually, the appearance of apolitical teaching) and to bristle at teachers and academics as activists.

In fact, teachers and professors take great risk to their careers when stepping beyond the neutral/objective pose, even outside the walls of the classrooms where they teach.

That the norm of formal education remains entrenched in the same sort of “both sides” mentality shared by mainstream journalism is made more disturbing by the dishonesty of that expectation because educators at all levels of schooling do in fact take stances.

For example, history taught through a patriotic lens is a political choice that is allowed to appear neutral, although it is clearly not.

And there are topics, such as the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, that are taught with a clear moral imperative—no “both sides” false equivalence afforded those who believed in exterminating the Jews.

No classes ever treating as equal “both sides” of pedophilia, child abuse, misogyny, rape.

None the less, activist-academics such as Howard Zinn have been and continue to be marginalized as merely activists.


neutral zinn


Particularly in higher education, many go about their work as if the real world does not exist, and thus, the ivory tower myth and scathing phrases such as “merely academic.”

But to borrow Zinn’s metaphor, to remain in a neutral/objective pose in the classroom as an inequitable and unjust world charges on is to endorse that inequity and injustice.

President Trump’s “both sides” pose in the face of white nationalism and emboldened racism is inexcusable, but to pretend that Trump somehow sprang out of thin air is an ugly lie, a delusion.

The rise of Trumplandia confirms there is blood on the hands of neutral academics and scholars, just as there is blood on the hands of “both sides” mainstream journalists.


lady macbeth


Trump is capitalizing on a vulgar academic pose that must be refuted, but it is equally inexcusable that traditional academic neutrality remains entrenched as if it has no consequences beyond the walls of schools and universities.

The U.S. needs Trump’s vapid logic repudiated: Good causes will always have some flawed and even bad people, as well as bad decisions, but causes dedicated to hatred and racism never include good people.

If educators, academics, and scholars are somehow excluded from taking ethical stands, we have little room to point fingers at Trump and his reign of white nationalism.


See Also

white folk (switchblade)

False Equivalence in Black and White

It is well documented that marriage has many benefits for any person, including economic, health, and longevity [1]. Divorce, then, should pose a question about the consequences to both parties.

Even in cases of 50/50 settlements of divorce, an important dynamic exists:

Ultimately, the overall economic quality of a man’s life, based on earnings and amount spent on living expenses, increases after his divorce. He continues to earn more but bears fewer family expenses. The overall economic quality of a woman’s life, post-divorce, decreases. (Rosen, 2009)

While the factors in this inequity are complicated, they are all under a clear difference in gender: after a divorce men retain male privilege and women continue to suffer the consequences of misogyny and sex discrimination (both of which may be mollified or masked while a woman is married).

This example allows us to wade into how people often assume equivalence between two situations or arguments that appear superficially equal; that assumption is a logical fallacy known as false equivalence.

Discussions of logical fallacies, I believe, often feel as if they are much ado about nothing, or merely academic—the stuff of college composition, rhetoric, and philosophy courses.

However, the careful naming of ways people think and communicate are witnessed daily in how we live; currently, the destructive power of false equivalence is on display in the wake of the violence spurred by a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA.

One of the most bitter aspects of the U.S. as a current state of Trumplandia is the racial animosity emboldened by Trump, what has been characterized by the mainstream media as white pain or white angst (often oversimplified and whitewashed as working-class pain and angst).

Just as gender distinguishes the consequences of divorce, in the U.S., socially constructed race distinguishes pain and angst.

To be blunt, white pain simply is not equal to black pain since blacks carry daily the inequity of race through their lives while even struggling whites maintain some aspects of white privilege—just as men carry their male privilege even in challenging situations such as divorce.

The false equivalence, then, created with political and public speech about “all lives” or “both sides” or “many sides” fails to address the substantive differences, for example, in Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests (or Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling) from the white nationalists’ rally in Virginia over the removal of a Confederate monument.

BLM and Kaepernick are protest against inequity and calling for integrating all people into the same privileges that whites experience. White nationalists are railing against a false loss (symbolized by the removal of an offensive statue that represents oppression) and promoting racial inequity and segregation.

Again, simply put, two protests are not equal simply because they are protests, and one (BLM) has a moral imperative and a goal of expanding equity while the other (white nationalists) is clinging to an inequitable status quo and a romanticized oppressive past.

Just as expanding the marriage equities to gays never took anything away from advocates for so-called traditional straight marriage, expanding the promise of a just and equitable U.S. to everyone regardless of identity is not some assault on or removal of America but a long overdue path to fulfilling of America.

White nationalism in all its forms—from “Make America Great Again” to the most virulent Neo-Nazis and the KKK—is a plague on the U.S. It must not be equated to demands for equity in our justice system and liberty for all, which are the goals of BLM and counter-protests to white nationalism rallies.

The only thing whites are at risk of losing is their privilege, the false advantages of race that currently disadvantage people of color, the “peculiar benefits” Roxane Gay confronts that work invisibly to those who enjoy them:

We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply we have it easy and because life is hard for nearly everyone, we resent hearing that. Of course we do. Look at white men when they are accused of having privilege. They tend to be immediately defensive (and, at times, understandably so). They say, “It’s not my fault I am a white man.” They say, “I’m working class,” or “I’m [insert other condition that discounts their privilege],” instead of simply accepting that, in this regard, yes, they benefit from certain privileges others do not. To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. To acknowledge privilege is not a denial of the ways you are marginalized, the ways you have suffered. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult but it is really all that is expected.

White nationalism is a denial of white privilege and a calloused clinging to the injustice and inequity that are represented by the monuments and flags white nationalists protect and flaunt.

Black Lives Matter and white nationalism are both bound by race, but they are in no way equal—the former is a call for equity and justice for all and the latter is the gross necrophilia clutching the ideologies that bred the Holocaust and American slavery.

False equivalency is a master’s tool, a rhetorical lie to distract a people from the hard but good work recognizing the unity of all humanity.


[1] Note that this may also be more about gender inequity, however.