“WHAT ABOUT US?”
We recognize that there are people and groups in our society who are treated unfairly, discriminated against and whose problems remain unresolved. We may at times acknowledge their situation and recognize the obstacles they confront, but just as often it reminds us that we face our own “issues”, problems we regard as equally urgent.
Grievances, anger, resentment, a sense of unfairness – so many Americans believe they are victims. In such an environment it can be difficult to mobilize support against many of the ills that beset our society. Call attention to the problems faced by any particular group and you encounter resistance from others who consider their problems to be just as pressing and even more of a priority.
Many women are understandably upset that despite progress they still do not stand on an equal footing with men. When it comes to occupying choice positions or enjoying equal pay for equal work or adequate and affordable day care services or meaningful protection against male aggression, much still needs to be done. But the ongoing efforts of women to achieve their objectives have prompted men to respond with their own set of grievances. Men’s needs, they insist, are too often overlooked because women have become increasingly “pushy” and demanding. Men are under increased pressure of late to perform more housework and cook, to remain at home with their children and to become more sensitive and supportive sexual partners. They must allow women entry into formerly male bastions, accept female bosses, and rein in their sexual appetites. Men are hearing some women declare that they are the superior sex and that men may no longer even be needed. Little surprise then that such talk leaves men both angry and aggrieved.
The grievances of African-Americans are of long standing and broadly based. Any detailed survey would include slavery and a very limited emancipation experience thereafter, ,persistent segregation, anti-black riots and violence (e.g., lynching) targeting individuals and communities, as well as unending discrimination in employment, education, housing, the criminal justice system and nearly every other sector of American society (even including, for a long time, sports). Most blacks would probably acknowledge that there’s been progress, but all would insist it has fallen well short of what’s needed. But increased awareness and pressure from blacks has often ignited a backlash of white anger and feelings of abandonment. Affirmative action, according to whites, favors blacks and limits white advance. Government programs to support those in need, e.g., welfare and food stamps, go, they claim disproportionally to blacks with whites benefitting far less. The inability of African-Americans to advance more rapidly in recent times has nothing to do with slavery and its aftermath, whites suggest and is more the consequence of persistent dislocations within black communities. Some whites will respond to black assertiveness by proclaiming that the US is fundamentally “a white man’s country” and should remain so.
It is also, for tens of millions, a pre-eminently Christian nation founded by devout Christians inspired by their God and guided by the Holy Bible. The success of this nation is, as they view it, a testament to those devoted to the Christian message one generation after another. Most disturbing, Christianity is, to their mind, under attack owing to the rise of secularism the decline in traditional morality the erosion of belief associated with scientific advances, the pursuit of pleasure, and the consequence of rampant consumerism. Christians must, they insist, reassert the primacy of religious beliefs, particularly in the public arena, demand that biblical accounts be treated seriously while upholding the sanctity of human life by blocking abortion and opposing demands from the homosexual community. If America is to revitalize its society and find its way, it must do so, they maintain, within a Christian framework.
We could, to underscore our point, also examine the problems of young adults as they confront mounting college indebtedness, shrinking job opportunities, the growing unaffordability of home ownership and a future that, given environmental disruption, could soon produce nightmarish scenarios. We could also explore the dissatisfactions and growing unease of small businessmen and women who encounter difficulty raising capital, obtaining bank loans, facing costly regulatory restrictions while obliged to compete against large corporations which benefit greatly because of the economic and political leverage they enjoy. Our examination could, in addition, focus on America’s working classes angered by declining real wages, lagging minimum wages, persistent unemployment and underemployment, the loss of manufacturing jobs as well as the continued shrinkage of unions and weakness of the labor movement. Working class individuals beset by such pressures are unlikely to support objectives set by other groups within our society.
And that holds true for every group just described and for others not included in this survey. This chorus of grievances, resentment and loss, whether legitimate or contrived, provides a reason, and sometimes an excuse for particular groups, not to support those proposing remedies for others. This “what about us” mentality will continue to subvert reform efforts unless effective coalitions and alliances can be formed and broad cooperation achieved.