It is astounding that 66% of white respondents can be so willfully ignorant and/or cruelly antipathetic that they would agree with that statement.
For 66 percent of white Americans to agree with this statement—"Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors"—there needs to be either large scale amnesia or willful ignorance about what happened in the previous 150 years of this country's history.Or don't fucking care. Bouie's got another chart showing 51% of white respondents agreeing with the statement: "It's really just a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites."
In case you don't know, it's straightforward. After the Civil War, when African Americans were freed after more than two hundred years of bondage and chattel slavery, whites in the South—with, eventually, the complicity of whites nationwide—engaged in a brutal campaign of violence and economic deprivation against the descendants of said slaves, the result of which was to keep most blacks in a state of near-peonage, where their opportunities for social and economic advancement were extremely limited.
Not to discount the prejudice faced by many immigrant groups, but I'm reasonably sure that this wasn't the case for anyone other than African Americans. Which, I should add, is the reason why we have affirmative action and other such programs—the effects of this state-sanctioned mistreatment were so strong and so pervasive, that they continue to have an enduring effect on the lives and livelihoods of black Americans (in the aggregate).
But, it seems, most white Americans don't know that.
"The problem is that black people don't know how to use their bootstraps!"—A majority of white USians, in the year two thousand and fucking twelve.
And while this attitude is indeed racist, is it not a singular result of racism: White USians (particularly, though not exclusively and not universally) subscribe fully and uncritically to the narrative of bootstraps and the promise of the American Dream and the myth of opportunity. Anyone (except oneself, naturally) who fails to achieve, including other whites who had the terrible sense to be born poor, with disabilities, to abusive parents, and/or in some other potentially success trajectory-fucking circumstance, is personally blamed for their lot and—even in spite of obvious innate incompatibilities with the unjust, inflexible, kyriarchal, privilege-rewarding system by which we're meant to achieve "success" as if it's a level playing field—is suspected, and frequently openly accused, of simply failing to work hard enough.
If there is one person born to poverty, one person with disabilities, one person who has survived profound abuse, who can be held up as an example of achievement, then everyone else is failing to thrive. Even as we devour barfinating narratives of triumph over tragic circumstances, we pretend that terrible beginnings don't really matter, except insomuch as they make great first acts for Sandra Bullock Oscar vehicles.
This intractable belief in bootstraps manifests the racism starkly represented above because it encourages the lie that history doesn't matter. And neither does present bias. It encourages the lie that every life happens in a fucking void.
Except, of course, when it suits us to judge an individual by our prejudices about an entire class to which they belong.
When you're a non-privileged person, you're as bad as the worst conceivable member of a shared demographic, and only as good as your own personal achievement.
That is the gross underbelly of American Individualism. Its story only really works for privileged people, among whose privileges include being seen as an individual, whether they fail or succeed.
And that is why the American Dream, and all its narratives of bootstraps and hard work and equal opportunity, is conservative horseshit: The American Dream is not, and has never been, that we collectively eradicate poverty, achieve meaningful and lasting social justice, and celebrate our shared success, but that each of us as individuals would achieve some sort of perfect destiny of wealth, health, and security.
And fuck everyone who doesn't. They're just lazy.