We know who you’re talking about, Barack Obama, when you talk about Pennsylvania and the Midwest, about small towns where the jobs have left. We know who you’re talking about when you talk about those who “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion.”
You’re talking about “those people.”
You’re talking about white people who have neither the family connections nor the racial credentials to gain entrance to the world that you inhabit. Many of the people you’re talking about are those whose parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe who came to these places to work in steel mills, coal mines, and factories. We know the code words.
You’re talking about people whose culture is little known. We have been pretty quiet. We never tried to impose our culture on everyone. We never insisted on putting pictures of ourselves in our native dress into schoolbooks or mandating that our stories and songs be part of the curriculums.
We tried to maintain our culture without government aid, by forming our own churches and groups, and building Polish, Ukrainian, and Slovenian halls.
We never wore buttons declaring “Slav Power” or grouped together for purposes of intimidation or violence.
The power we asked for was the power of the paycheck which we earned in factories, steel mills, coal mines, or by cleaning houses. Yet, we were taken aside and told that because of affirmative action it was no use trying to advance off the assembly line; we were told in “diversity workshops” that people of color had to be promoted over more qualified white people. I know this, Barack, because I have family members and friends who worked in factories.
We used to trudge in to work and change into work clothes, like my father did. He began by knowing only one word of English, “Okay,” which he found to be the most useful one in the language. When the boss man handed him a broom or pointed to a piece to be welded, he fairly leapt to the task. My uncles were injured in construction and mining accidents, and went back to work.
But what did we get for that, Barack? We paid cash for our houses and kept impeccable yards, yet saw the value of our homes plummet after marauding hoodlums came into our neighborhoods in riots that were celebrated by the intelligentsia in Manhattan penthouses, who saw such violence as justified expressions of outrage over past discrimination.