42) The Despair of White American Gen-X and the 2016 Election
(Revised and Edited for better accuracy on 08 Apr 2018)
You are a dying breed… It’s the angry white guy. Total number of white guys over the age of 35 now in the United States… 19 percent. That’s all we are guys… that whether cheery our demise, our extinction, that’s what’s going on you know… we know it’s over for us. We had a good run. 10,000 years wasn’t bad. – Michael Moore Trumpland
As a single, white, college educated, middle-aged Gen-X woman, I know despair so well, ‘I’m in love with my sadness’ as the song goes. It is not because I am trying to be dramatic; it’s part of my generational landscape. I am one of the average Americans who suffer from depression living in a world I have never been able to fit into the general societal mold.
I’ve always been ambitious, not in the way that success means to people like Donald Trump. I’m not interested in money or things, with the exception of books and archival boxes. My income is just below poverty level and I am lucky to live with a family member, despite my education and coastal elite zip code.
My despair is more existential. It has nothing to do with a desire to preserve whiteness or bring back anything from the 1950s, with the exception of Chuck Berry. In my opinion, the planet needs color in humanity and if this is part of our evolution, then I am all for it. But, for many in my generation, there is a primal fear coated in thick nihilism that has grown into a populist movement the country has witnessed, but not quite the same as present day. There is a deep isolation and palpable anger that is festering from years of societal deterioration, often of their own making.
Two angry white men, Gen-X rappers Kid Rock and Eminem, represent a small cross-section of Middle America in the Trump era.
According to the Huffington Post, “Kid Rock’s rural hometown of Romeo, located in 82-percent white Macomb County, voted Trump in the election; Eminem’s home base of Wayne Country, the 55-percent white area where the city of Detroit is located, voted for Clinton.”
Fans of both musicians may listen to one or the other and not share the strong political views of the musicians themselves, but it is clear that this tearing apart of country is further pulling apart rural whites and urban whites. White families across the country are engaged in heated political debates at the dinner table or in my case, stopped talking altogether.
According to a Washington Post article in late 2015, “The mortality rate for white men and women ages 45-54 with less than a college education increased markedly between 1999 and 2013, most likely because of problems with legal and illegal drugs, alcohol and suicide, the researchers concluded. Before then, death rates for that group dropped steadily, and at a faster pace.”
Growing up in a white middle-class mountain community, I never lacked food, clothing and shelter, but my family was not a close one and rarely made the effort to connect beyond my father’s sister’s family and my mother’s older brother’s family. I have attended more family funerals than weddings and as each elder passed on, we became further isolated.
Most of my cousins on my mom’s side are spread out geographically and we saw each other a handful of times growing up. When my grandfather died, all of us breathed a sigh of relief, not because we didn’t love him, but because the world was more peaceful without him.
My older brother had three marriages and 4 children, all who live in different states. I never had the opportunity to truly bond with them as their parents went through bitter divorce, custody battles and moved far away.
I’ve often witnessed many white families are less unified than non-white families, at least from my perspective. My Armenian friend has 3 children with a large extended family who all live in the same city. My Hispanic co-worker has 4 grown up children and posts photos of beach outings and parties and dinners with her siblings and many aunts and uncles. My African-American co-worker has several children and runs a barbecue grill restaurant with his extended family. They are all in my generation and are devoted to family despite our shared struggles in the economy and current political environment.
Whether we like it or not, the future is not predominately white, and that is okay and all those jobs in the past are not good for our future. In my life, I won’t be having children. I’m content to see my non-white friends raising their children and I hope that one day, our future leaders will work harder to ensure that no one is left behind, that no one is forgotten or dying of despair and that we all rise together.