The Racism of “Forgotten in the Flyover States”

Forgotten isn’t the word

Lest anyone forget — the United States of America is still on stolen land built by the forced hands of enslaved Africans to put money in the hands of white people through all kinds of racism.

Since this country still hasn’t provided reparations, 400 years after Africans set foot on these shores in chains, it’s a racist misnomer to call any portion of white America forgotten.

The “forgotten person” moniker that white America reserves for itself needs to expire. It started in 1876 when the Yale professor William Sumner coined “the Forgotten Man and the Forgotten Woman” in an essay.

In his essay about American life, Sumner says person A and person B get together and they pass laws to help person X. But according to Sumner, person A and person B never think about person C who has to pay for person X. Obviously, Sumner shrugs his shoulders at the fact that persons A, B, and C got their privilege, power, and money at the expense of person X.

From the beginning to the end, Sumner wasted ink for white victimhood and a white meritocracy in his essay. There’s no doubt he’s talking about working-class white people. And there’s no doubt he’s writing during the Reconstruction Era when there were new reforms for person X — Black people.

In a time when he should’ve been talking about the freedmen and the freedwomen, whom white America forced into slavery by another name, Sumner had the racist nerve to conjure up forgotten men and women.

Has anything changed?

Since then, white America has used the “Forgotten Man” phrase as another way to privilege the pain of white people. Meanwhile, in the 1950s, Ralph Ellison wrote about the Invisible Man; then in the 1960s, Black men held up signs in protest that read, “I Am a Man,” and by that time Sojourner Truth had already given the message we know as “Ain’t I a Woman” in 1851.

Given the racist history of the country, only a white supremacist can call white people “the forgotten.” It’s hate speech that negates the war on Black people and people of color. And like the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, it’s a lie. Liberals and progressives are guilty liars too.

Recently, the actor Tim Daly, from Madam Secretary, was on Meet the Press to talk about the National Endowment for the Arts and what it does for the “forgotten people in the flyover states.” He’s scared white voters will vote for white politicians who will slash the arts. So, he racistly pandered with a term of gross endearment and gross entitlement.

Then also Bernie Sanders was on MSNBC with his same old lines. He said he can win in 2020 because Trump lied to Americans who were hurting, and the Democratic leadership ignored the pain in the Midwest and the flyover states. Bernie was talking about rural white America, but it’s disingenuous for Bernie not to mention white racism. Has Bernie forgotten the reports that say Trump voters voted because they felt racist, and not forgotten?

I turned off MSNBC, but I know as 2020 approaches the racist pandering about “the forgotten men and women of America” will increase. But forgotten isn’t the word.

White America hasn’t forgotten its rural and working-class self. The elites of white America deliberately use a shared white racism to maintain power, execute agendas, and get richer. The proof is in the polls and in the bank accounts. Manipulated is the word here, not forgotten. And if it happens time and time again, it’s a choice and a desire.

Some may argue white-owned corporations made choices that hurt the rural parts of white America. There’s no doubt capitalism can be brutal. But racism is a key pillar of capitalism. That’s why Malcolm X told white America, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

If it weren’t for white America’s racism at all levels, and across all aisles, its capitalism wouldn’t have the muscular legs to stand and stomp on people, white people included. So, if capitalism screws segments of white America, racism holds the screwdriver steady.

And if white America prioritized the pain from capitalism by its severity, the most severe pain is not white. Has white America forgotten that it only halfway apologized for slavery and Jim Crow in 2008!? White racism has stolen trillions of dollars from Black people alone.

As it is for everyone in America, any woes in parts of white America come from whiteness. The wretchedness of whiteness doesn’t fully exempt white people — especially white people who can’t afford to be GOP white.

The problem is whiteness. It’s not only whiteness as a mindset, but it’s also whiteness in the policies that shape the realities on the ground. Those are points the physician, scholar, and author Jonathan Metzl makes in his book Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland.

Here’s what I want to know — if white America has forgotten white people between the coasts, then what has white America done to Native people, Black people, Brown people, people of color, and our fellow Americans who live in Puerto Rico?

Those who insist white America has forgotten parts of itself, refuse to admit that white America has excluded parts of humanity. There’s a racist difference between forgotten and excluded.

E comes before F. That’s why it’s out of order and racist to fixate on F before E when no one has fully acknowledged and dealt with E. Those of us in that letter can never ever forget.