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Chris Hedges: The Pathology of the Rich White Family in America

The pathology of the rich white family is the most dangerous pathology in America. The rich white family is cursed with too much money and privilege. It is devoid of empathy, the result of lifetimes of entitlement. It has little sense of loyalty and lacks the capacity for self-sacrifice. Its definition of friendship is reduced to “What can you do for me?” It is possessed by an insatiable lust to increase its fortunes and power. It believes that wealth and privilege confer to it a superior intelligence and virtue. It is infused with an unchecked hedonism and narcissism. And because of all this, it interprets reality through a lens of self-adulation and greed that renders it delusional. The rich white family is a menace. The pathologies of the poor, when set against the pathologies of rich white people, are like a candle set beside the sun.

There are no shortages of acolytes and propagandists for rich white families. They dominate our airwaves. They blame poverty, societal breakdown, urban violence, drug use, domestic abuse and crime on the pathology of poor black families—not that they know any. They argue that poor black families disintegrate because of some inherent defect—here you can read between the lines that white people are better than black people—a defect that these poor families need to fix.

Peddle this simplistic and racist garbage and you will be given a column at The New York Times. It always pays to suck up to rich white families. If you are black and parrot this line, rich white people are overcome with joy. They go to extreme lengths to give you a platform. You can become president or a Supreme Court justice. You can get a television talk show or tenure at a university. You can get money for your foundation. You can publish self-help books. Your films will be funded. You might even be hired to run a company.

Rich white families, their sycophants opine, have tried to help. Rich white families have given poor people numerous resources and government programs to lift them out of poverty. They have provided generous charity. But blacks, they say, along with other poor people of color, are defeated by self-destructive attitudes and behavior. Government programs are therefore wasted on these irresponsible people. Poor families, the sycophants tell us, will not be redeemed until they redeem themselves. We want to help, rich white people say, but poor black people need to pull up their pants, stay in school, get an education, find a job, say no to drugs and respect authority. If they don’t, they deserve what they get. And what the average black family ends up with in economic terms is a nickel for every dollar held by the average white family.

Starting at age 10 as a scholarship student at an elite New England boarding school, I was forced to make a study of the pathology of rich white families. It was not an experience I would recommend. Years later, by choice, I moved to Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood when I was a seminary student. I lived across the street from one of the poorest housing projects in the city, and I ran a small church in the inner city for nearly three years. I already had a deep distaste for rich white families, and that increased greatly after I saw what they did to the disenfranchised. Rich white people, I concluded after my childhood and Roxbury experiences, are sociopaths.

The misery and collapse of community and family in Roxbury were not caused by an inherent pathology within the black family. Rich people who treated the poor like human refuse caused the problems. Layers of institutionalized racism—the courts, the schools, the police, the probation officers, the banks, the easy access to drugs, the endemic unemployment and underemployment, the collapsing infrastructures and the prison system—effectively conspired to make sure the poor remained poor. Drug use, crime and disintegrating families are the result of poverty, not race. Poor whites replicate this behavior. Take away opportunity, infuse lives with despair and hopelessness, and this is what you get. But that is something rich white families do not want people to know. If it were known, the rich would have to take the blame. [continue reading]

copyright 2015 Chris Hedges. Reprinted from Truthdig.

3 comments on “Chris Hedges: The Pathology of the Rich White Family in America

  1. Luz Vega-Hidalgo
    May 19, 2015

    Sorry I mistakenly include the wrong VIDEO by comedian Reginald D. Hunter in my comment earlier today. However it is the same performance, somewhat related. But to include the portion of his speech where Reginald talk’s about how class discrimination is used in Great Britain and compares it to how racial discrimination is used in America.

    If you are having trouble opening the VIDEO the regular way, just click on the label which says YouTube at the bottom of the VIDEO and it will immediately connect you to the same VIDEO on the YouTube web site, you’ll then be able to view the VIDEO from there…thank you…


  2. Luz Vega-Hidalgo
    May 19, 2015

    Fantastic reading, thank you Vox Populi. Chris’s diagnoses are always phenomenal, on target, he’s top notch, one of the top experts! I’m glad Chris made a point of attributing the pathology he describes, to WHITES WHO ARE RICH, AND NOT JUST WHITES. However Chris make a very important observation in this article, which sounds simple, and it is stated by many, many times over, but it is very true, he says, ” Drug use, Crime and disintegrating families are the result of poverty not race.”

    However in terms of understanding what is the difference between poverty race and class, in my opinion, one of the problems in America which keeps many folks separated and not seeing social problems more clearly, is that the concept which was classically identified as class for centuries ( at least in Europe ) has been substituted with race, and that I think has turned into a humongous stumbling block i clearly identifying the problem. Substituting race for class has exacerbated the race problem no doubt. Racial groups as African Americans are purposely targeted, an dare kept form opportunities, not just for being poor but for being Black. But in America when one says poor, it is almost always synonymous with race.

    Substituting the label of race for class accomplishes what the American economic and political elite intended, by this human created “social construction of the concept of race” which is to keep groups in the society separated and unable to form one union. But I believe that at some level The American rich, or the new billionaire class, privately acknowledge their exploitation of America and the rest of the world’s poor, and many times some have slipped and admitted they were afraid of what the exploited crowds could do to them.

    But what some fear is not just in their imagination, history documents such events, as in the French Revolution or the American Revolution, and onwards. There are cases where some of America’s rich and very rich, have been poor in their ancestral history, both in Europe and in America. Some even boast of their ancestors taking part in the American Revolution, and If they go back enough in their ancestry, some even have links to being serfs in Europe, and possibly not just for 300 years, or 400 years as African Americans, but for over a millennium and a half. So at some levels of their consciousness, possibly transmitted throughout many generations by way of their family culture and it’s symbols, their imagination or their cultivated intuition understands the justification for the class confrontation between the rich and the poor. So that perhaps on some very private occasions while they are walking down one of their rich corridors, a fear suddenly confronts them, and they freeze. They then may momentarily recognize a possible inevitable reality, that in the last 400 years of human world history, it has largely been true, that where there is oppression there has been resistance; and unless they are direct descendants of the very upper crust of European aristocrats, somewhere in their ancestral line their blood has confronted a rich human exploiter. So perhaps for a split moment they do understand, almost experientially, the great conflicts. But perhaps (as they are still counted as the “new rich” the nouveau rich by the remnants of the old still living feudal European aristocracy) they know more of the dynamics of this class conflict because of where they have come from. So the mental walls of separation have been purposely constructed to keep the crowds from becoming one giant force against them. And it is not something they imagine, the giant racist walls are built to keep at bay, as much as possible, what history well documents, of what has been the overthrowing of the destructive power of the very rich, or to prevent the passing of government reforms which weaken their class power, privilege and grasp of all the wealth; as what happened with FDR’s New Deal, which was a consequence of a century an a half of strikes, general strikes and protest.

    But the substitution of the concept of race for class has worked extremely well for the economic and political elite in America, especially after McCarthyism and after the 1950’s. After the 1950’s the concept of class was purposely down played, and the concept of race took it’s place in a stronger manner. But the human constructed imaginary walls of separation, which in the past meant class, but in America it has come to mean race, have proven themselves to be powerful, and they seem to be more difficult to overthrow than real concrete walls. Consider that in the past, such imaginary mental walls kept the separation between the ruling class of pharaohs and the slaves, and servant classes divided for thousands of years. Such mental walls also served the same purpose in Europe for over 1800 years; and so it has been true in the history of many cultures, but how long will the imaginary walls of racism last in America.

    The African American comedian Reginald D. Hunter while perfuming in Great Britain told a joke which was based on much truth. He said that when he retuned to America to be with his family, members of his family asked him, “was there racism in Great Britain?” He answered,” yes there is, but Britain has more of a class system which is a system you use to discriminate against people who look like you, but back in the states we still use the color thing, but over here ( in Great Britain) – it’s state of the art discrimination.” Then they asked him if there were any Mexicans in Europe, and Reginald Hunter said, ” Yes there are but they are called Polish people.”

    VIDEO of performance by Reginold D. Hunter

    Frederick Douglass in his autobiography sheds some light on what could be the cause for keeping some middle class and poor Whites being racist towards Black and Brown people. Douglass tells the story of what he observed as a boy while living as a slave in a Southern Plantation. Douglass writes of slave overseers, who were slaves themselves, but functioned with many privileges. He says that some overseers gave better treatment than others to the lower ranking slaves, but that most of them, in spite of being slaves, felt more superior than the rest of the lower ranking slaves which were under their watch. He tells how some overseers were exceptionally cruel towards the lower ranking slaves; these overseers were condescending and scornful towards the lower ranking slaves. These overseers were given guns and whips by the master, and were also given authority to use these weapons against the lower ranking slaves, when ever they judged it was necessary. Douglass gives account of overseers brutally and senselessly killing lower ranking slaves. Douglass tells the story of his observations of one overseer, who after he killed a slave, he remained cool, and did not demonstrate any guilt or sense of kinship for having killed one of his brothers. In other words the overseer didn’t experience the slave he killed as a brother, or that he was the same type of human as himself. However Douglass does make a very important observation in this narrative, which may also explain what may be happening in the minds and emotions of some poor and middle class Whites in America who hang on so tightly to their hate and racism towards African Americans and Brown people. Douglass states that the possible cause for the overseers actions could have been that, “They seemed to think the greatness of their masters was transferrable to them.” Of course in the case of poor and middle class Whites the place of the master is represented by the Rich White economic and political elite of America.

    The class struggle of European-Americans in America has been deliberately suppressed, there is great fight in that history, a strong attempt by many to make all people equal. So the history teaches what have been the solutions in the past to present problems of class that appear very similar, and that may be dangerous to the upper classes or to the economic and political elites of our day.

    But the teaching of true history is a great liberator and a great equalizer, if only more European-Americans could read or learn the facts of what their ancestors have been through, they would no longer say that the poverty of poor Black and Brown people is because of their race, but instead it’s because they are people.

    Some of the historical readings which I have read recently which document the poverty and class discrimination suffered by European Americans in the past are the following:

    ” How the Other Half Lives” by Jacob Riis, on the history around 1890, describes the White Ghettos and life in the tenements of New York City.

    Women, Children, and Uses of the Streets: Class Gender, Conflicts in New York City 1850- 1860, by Cristine Stansell, also describes the poverty faced by Irish and poor German immigrants in New York City.

    The Condition of the Working Class in England, by Fredrich Engels, 1845
    the first chapter gives vivid descriptions of the great poverty lived by the working class in England.

    Howard Zinn, A Peoples History of the United States, Zinn’s whole history is great, however his history of the first part of the 20 century, 1900- 1950, has facts given in very few histories of the period.


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