Why Elites Want to Mask the Suffering of Poor Whites

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/why-elites-want-mask-suffering-poor-whites

White elites and opinion leaders are wary of poor white people because they expose the defects of capitalism.

By Chauncey DeVega
August 1, 2013

NBC’s recent story on how 80 percent of Americans will be living at or near the poverty level in their lifetimes was accompanied by the above photo of a “poor white family”.

The heart of the the AP’s report on the (further) economic imperilment of the American people is focused on the rise in “white poverty”, and the struggles faced by the “white working class” in the time of the Great Recession.

Images that feature human beings “work” in communicating political and social meaning because of how the viewer “reads” them. As such, there are stated and unstated assumptions which the person who is “seeing” applies to the “object” of their gaze.

For example, the White Gaze views a photo of a young black man wearing a hoodie and whose pants are sagging and sees a person who exists in a state of criminality, and is a social predator.

A photo of a white man wearing a suit and walking down Wall Street in New York will be seen by the White Gaze as representing a “respectable” person and a “hard worker” living the “American Dream.”

In reality, the former may be on the way to his 3rd job, has never been in prison or arrested, and takes care of his aged parents and siblings. The latter could be a child-molesting murderer and rapist, who is also embezzling millions of dollars from his clients.

White and male–and Whiteness more generally–views itself as benign and harmless. Black and male–and Blackness more generally–is viewed by White American society as dangerous and pathological. The power of images is how they harness and channel assumptions about how various types of personhood find representation in, and are configured by, a broader system of dominance, subordination, privilege, inclusion, exclusion, and hierarchy.

NBC.com’s photo is an example of those processes at work. There we “see” two overweight white women with a young child, and thus make social and political assumptions about gender and class. We see a small home and generalize from that visual about how “poor people” live, and more importantly, “what type of people” they are.

Images also give the viewer permission to empathize or to condemn the subject. Are these “good” people or “bad people?” What is my sense of obligation to them? Does my sense of community extend to people like them?

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/why-elites-want-mask-suffering-poor-whites

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