There is no doubt that since the novel coronavirus has sent the American economy into a terrifying tailspin that you have heard the phrase dozens of times. “Through no fault of their own” has become a media rallying cry and public distress signal. It means that white people need help usually attached to the untouchable blacks and browns of America; They are not supposed to need this help so go ahead and give it to them and don’t hold it against them. Another derivative phrase that is bandied about quite a bit these days is “people who have never needed help before.” You would have to be dead inside not to pick up the desperate cry for judgment-free empathy, sympathy and charity in the messaging.
At bottom, it comes down to the need for mass media outlets to protect the false pride and foolish presumptions of white privilege. It is easy to tell what they are up to because when the time comes to feature a “hard working family” that is on the brink of financial disaster because of some national crisis (or policy failure) they invariably look like Rosanne and Dan Conner and never like Florida and James Evans.
Why? Because Florida and James are not worthy of the level of empathy and intervention that Roseanne and Dan are BUT they might actually get some help too. From a policy standpoint it can be tricky to help one of these couples without helping the other as well. No matter how attractive the prospect of a “Whites Only” welfare system might be to some, it is not just a hard political sell, its also a hard policy design when it comes to a crisis like the one America is facing now.
Major media outlets are under pressure and obligation to acknowledge the devastating crisis at hand as well as the central role the government must play in helping everyday people get through it. That can be an off-putting message for a country and a culture that is doggedly committed to the mythology of rugged individualism and the subconscious promotion of white primacy. Note for the record that I did not dub this as “white supremacy” because the fine distinction matters here.
White Americans have simply been socialized to expect entitlement to the best and the first of any benefits that ever flow from the government. And there are lots of them. From federally funded housing, to education, to healthcare, to public parks and anything else that has ever explicitly excluded other people. So white folks EXPECT to be bailed out and made whole when they need it without sacrificing any social status as a result. That does not make them racist- although some of them are. It makes them American. So if they find themselves lining up at food banks, and cameras are all around, with eager reporters asking sympathetic but probing questions, those jive-ass “through no fault of their own” and “never needed any help before” narratives pop up like a magical sheild. They need protection from the judgment and condemnation that is typically reserved for those lazy blacks and browns who got themselves into this mess and want the government to give them handouts. You know how those people are, right?
Some of my favorite media figures are as guilty of this game as those I struggle mightily not to hate. I love Tamron Hall and I hate Tucker Carlson.
But they both have employed these convenient catch phrases a lot lately. Now THAT is an entrenched narrative. It is the ultimate expression of virtue signalling to the viewing public and the government officials charged with serving the public. It is pervasive and unfortunately it is also probably permanent. The reason is simple- it is necessary to keep the wheels of American politics turning. White Americans who may be just two missed paychecks away from financial ruin can only tolerate this system of predatory capitalism and punitive competition if they can feel special- or just better than the other people who are in the same economic boat. In short, if all the Roseannes and Dans ever thought they were being regarded the same as the Floridas and Jameses by the government all hell would break loose. Nobody needs that. White folks who feel they have not been coddled enough wind up marching around Confederate monuments with tiki torches screaming about Jews and driving cars into crowds of innocent people.
So if “through no fault of their own” gets them through emotinally and helps the rest of us get through economically, then have it. As long as they all know the rest of us see through your jive ass like glass. Moreover, we’ll see you on the food bank line the NEXT time our system crashes and burns.