He’s a joker not a philosopher, a film-maker not a statesman, but Michael Moore has diagnosed the source of the world’s ills. It’s Stupid White Men – from the Thief in Chief who stole the presidential election, to the company chairman who pollutes the planet, to the car salesman who sells you the dud car. Here, he sorts out the villains and the fall guys
Saturday March 30, 2002
I don’t know what it is, but every time I see a white guy walking towards me, I tense up. My heart starts racing, and I immediately begin to look for an escape route and a means to defend myself. I kick myself for even being in this part of town after dark. Didn’t I notice the suspicious gangs of white people lurking on every street corner, drinking Starbucks and wearing their gang colours of Gap turquoise or J Crew mauve? What an idiot! Now the white person is coming closer, closer – and then – whew! He walks by without harming me, and I breathe a sigh of relief.
White people scare the crap out of me. This may be hard for you to understand – considering that I am white – but then again, my colour gives me a certain insight. For instance, I find myself pretty scary a lot of the time, so I know what I’m talking about. You can take my word for it: if you find yourself suddenly surrounded by white people, you better watch out. Anything can happen. As white people, we’ve been lulled into thinking it’s safe to be around other white people. We’ve been taught since birth that it’s the people of that other colour we need to fear. They’re the ones who’ll slit your throat!
Yet as I look back on my life, a strange but unmistakable pattern seems to emerge. Every person who has ever harmed me in my lifetime – the boss who fired me, the teacher who flunked me, the principal who punished me, the kid who hit me in the eye with a rock, the executive who didn’t renew TV Nation, the guy who was stalking me for three years, the accountant who double-paid my taxes, the drunk who smashed into me, the burglar who stole my stereo, the contractor who overcharged me, the girlfriend who left me, the next girlfriend who left even sooner, the person in the office who stole cheques from my chequebook and wrote them out to himself for a total of $16,000 – every one of these individuals has been a white person. Coincidence? I think not.
I have never been attacked by a black person, never been evicted by a black person, never had my security deposit ripped off by a black landlord, never had a black landlord, never had a meeting at a Hollywood studio with a black executive in charge, never had a black person deny my child the college of her choice, never been puked on by a black teenager at a Mötley Crüe concert, never been pulled over by a black cop, never been sold a lemon by a black car salesman, never seen a black car salesman, never had a black person deny me a bank loan, and I’ve never heard a black person say, “We’re going to eliminate 10,000 jobs here – have a nice day!”
I don’t think that I’m the only white guy who can make these claims. Every mean word, every cruel act, every bit of pain and suffering in my life has had a Caucasian face attached to it.
So, um, why is it exactly that I should be afraid of black people?
I look around at the world I live in – and, I hate to tell tales out of school, but it’s not the African-Americans who have made this planet such a pitiful, scary place. Recently, a headline on the front of the Science section of the New York Times asked Who Built The H-Bomb? The article went on to discuss a dispute between the men who claim credit for making the first bomb. Frankly, I could have cared less – because I already know the only pertinent answer: “It was a white guy!” No black guy ever built or used a bomb designed to wipe out hordes of innocent people, whether in Oklahoma City, Columbine or Hiroshima. No, friends, it’s always the white guy. Let’s go to the tote board:
· Who gave us the black plague? A white guy.
· Who invented PBC, PVC, PBB, and a host of chemicals that are killing us? White guys.
· Who has started every war America has been in? White men.
· Who invented the punchcard ballot? A white man.
· Whose idea was it to pollute the world with the internal combustion engine? Whitey, that’s who.
· The Holocaust? That guy really gave white people a bad name.
· The genocide of Native Americans? White man.
· Slavery? Whitey!
· US companies laid off more than 700,000 people in 2001. Who ordered the lay-offs? White CEOs.
You name the problem, the disease, the human suffering, or the abject misery visited upon millions, and I’ll bet you 10 bucks I can put a white face on it faster than you can name the members of ‘NSync.
And yet, when I turn on the news each night, what do I see again and again? Black men alleged to be killing, raping, mugging, stabbing, gangbanging, looting, rioting, selling drugs, pimping, ho-ing, having too many babies, fatherless, motherless, Godless, penniless. “The suspect is described as a black male… the suspect is described as a black male… THE SUSPECT IS DESCRIBED AS A BLACK MALE…” No matter what city I’m in, the news is always the same, the suspect always the same unidentified black male. I’m in Atlanta tonight, and I swear the police sketch of the black male suspect on TV looks just like the black male suspect I saw on the news last night in Denver and the night before in LA. In every sketch he’s frowning, he’s menacing – and he’s wearing the same knit cap! Is it possible that it’s the same black guy committing every crime in America?
I believe we’ve become so used to this image of the black man as predator that we are forever ruined by this brainwashing. In my first film, Roger & Me, a white woman on social security clubs a rabbit to death so that she can sell him as “meat” instead of as a pet. I wish I had a nickel for every time in the past 10 years that someone has come up to me and told me how “horrified” they were when they saw that “poor little cute bunny” bonked on the head. The scene, they say, made them physically sick. The Motion Picture Association of America gave Roger & Me an R  rating in response to that rabbit killing. Teachers write to me and say they have to edit that part out of the film, if they want to show it to their students.
But less than two minutes after the bunny lady does her deed, I included footage of a scene in which police in Flint, Michigan, shot a black man who was wearing a Superman cape and holding a plastic toy gun. Not once – not ever – has anyone said to me, “I can’t believe you showed a black man being shot in your movie! How horrible! How disgusting! I couldn’t sleep for weeks.” After all, he was just a black man, not a cute, cuddly bunny. The ratings board saw absolutely nothing wrong with that scene. Why? Because it’s normal, natural. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing black men killed – in the movies and on the evening news – that we now accept it as standard operating procedure. No big deal! That’s what blacks do – kill and die. Ho-hum. Pass the butter.
It’s odd that, despite the fact that most crimes are committed by whites, black faces are usually attached to what we think of as “crime”. Ask any white person who they fear might break into their home or harm them on the street and, if they’re honest, they’ll admit that the person they have in mind doesn’t look much like them. The imaginary criminal in their heads looks like Mookie or Hakim or Kareem, not little freckle-faced Jimmy.
No matter how many times their fellow whites make it clear that the white man is the one to fear, it simply fails to register. Every time you turn on the TV to news of another school shooting, it’s always a white kid who’s conducting the massacre. Every time they catch a serial killer, it’s a crazy white guy. Every time a terrorist blows up a federal building, or a madman gets 400 people to drink Kool-Aid, or a Beach Boys songwriter casts a spell causing half a dozen nymphets to murder “all the piggies” in the Hollywood Hills, you know it’s a member of the white race up to his old tricks.
So why don’t we run like hell when we see whitey coming toward us? Why don’t we ever greet the Caucasian job applicant with, “Gee, uh, I’m sorry, there aren’t any positions available right now”? Why aren’t we worried sick about our daughters marrying white guys? And why isn’t Congress trying to ban the scary and offensive lyrics of Johnny Cash (“I shot a man in Reno/just to watch him die”), the Dixie Chicks (“Earl had to die”), or Bruce Springsteen (“I killed everything in my path/I can’t say that I’m sorry for the things that we done”).
Why the focus on rap lyrics? Why doesn’t the media print lyrics such as the following, and tell the truth? “I sold bottles of sorrow, then chose poems and novels” (Wu-Tang Clan); “People use yo’ brain to gain” (Ice Cube); “A poor single mother on welfare… tell me how ya did it” (Tupac Shakur); “I’m trying to change my life, see I don’t wanna die a sinner” (Master P).
African-Americans have been on the lowest rung of the economic ladder since the day they were dragged here in chains. Every other immigrant group has been able to advance from the bottom to the higher levels of our society. Even Native Americans, who are among the poorest of the poor, have fewer children living in poverty than African-Americans.
You probably thought things had got better for blacks in this country. After all, considering the advances we’ve made eliminating racism in our society, one would think our black citizens might have seen their standard of living rise. A survey published in the Washington Post in July 2001 showed that 40%-60% of white people thought the average black person had it as good or better than the average white person.
Think again. According to a study conducted by the economists Richard Vedder, Lowell Gallaway and David C Clingaman, the average income for a black American is 61% less per year than the average white income. That is the same percentage difference as it was in 1880. Not a damned thing has changed in more than 120 years.
Want more proof? Consider the following:
· Black heart attack patients are far less likely than whites to undergo cardiac catheterisation, regardless of the race of their doctors.
· Whites are five times more likely than blacks to receive emergency clot-busting treatment after suffering a stroke.
· Black women are four times more likely than white women to die while giving birth.
· Black levels of unemployment have been roughly twice those of whites since 1954.
So how have we white people been able to get away with this? Caucasian ingenuity! You see, we used to be real dumb. Like idiots, we wore our racism on our sleeve. We did really obvious things, like putting up signs on rest-room doors that said WHITES ONLY. We made black people sit at the back of the bus. We prevented them from attending our schools or living in our neighbourhoods. They got the crappiest jobs (those advertised for NEGROES ONLY), and we made it clear that, if you weren’t white, you were going to be paid a lower wage.
Well, this overt, over-the-top segregation got us into a heap of trouble. A bunch of uppity lawyers went to court. They pointed out that the 14th Amendment doesn’t allow for anyone to be treated differently because of their race. Eventually, after a long procession of court losses, demonstrations and riots, we got the message: if you’re going to be a successful racist, better find a way to do it with a smile on your face.
We even got magnanimous enough to say, “Sure, you can live here in our neighbourhood; your kids can go to our kids’ school. Why the hell not? We were just leaving, anyway.” We smiled, gave black America a pat on the back – and then ran like the devil to the suburbs.
At work, we whites still get the plum jobs, double the pay, and a seat in the front of the bus to happiness and success. We’ve rigged the system from birth, guaranteeing that black people will go to the worst schools, thus preventing them from admission to the best colleges, and paving their way to a fulfilling life making our caffe lattes, servicing our BMWs, and picking up our trash. Oh, sure, a few slip by – but they pay an extra tariff for the privilege: the black doctor driving his BMW gets pulled over continually by the cops; the black Broadway actress can’t get a cab after the standing ovation; the black broker is the first to be laid off because of “seniority”.
We whites really deserve some kind of genius award for this. We talk the talk of inclusion, we celebrate the birthday of Dr King, we frown upon racist jokes. We never fail to drop a mention of “my friend – he’s black…” We make sure we put our lone black employee up at the front reception desk so we can say, “See – we don’t discriminate. We hire black people.”
Yes, we are a very crafty, cagey race – and damn if we haven’t got away with it!
I wonder how long we will have to live with the legacy of slavery. That’s right. I brought it up. SLAVERY. You can almost hear the groans of white America whenever you bring up the fact that we still suffer from the impact of the slave system. Well, I’m sorry, but the roots of most of our social ills can be traced straight back to this sick chapter of our history. African-Americans never got a chance to have the same fair start that the rest of us got. Their families were wilfully destroyed, their language and culture and religion stripped from them. Their poverty was institutionalised so that our cotton could get picked, our wars could be fought, our convenience stores could remain open all night. The America we’ve come to know would never have come to pass if not for the millions of slaves who built it and created its booming economy – and for the millions of their descendants who do the same dirty work for whites today.
It’s not as if we’re talking ancient Rome here. My grandfather was born just three years after the Civil War. That’s right, my grandfather. My great-uncle was born before the Civil War. And I’m only in my 40s. Sure, people in my family seem to marry late, but the truth remains: I’m just two generations from slave times. That, my friends, is not a “long time ago”. In the vast breadth of human history, it was only yesterday. Until we realise that, and accept that we do have a responsibility to correct an immoral act that still has repercussions today, we will never remove the single greatest stain on the soul of our country
© Michael Moore, 2002.
These are edited extracts from Stupid White Men, by Michael Moore, published by HarperCollins World at £18.99. To order a copy for the special price of £16.99 (plus p&p), call the Guardian book service on 0870 066 7979.