Down to their level

Some forty years after my first face-to-face encounter with black America, I still don’t grasp it but this from a novel by Kurt Vonnegut throws some light on the problem:

Source: Down to their level – The Zimbabwean 17.6.2016

America is the wealthiest nation on earth, but people are mainly poor and poor Americans are taught to hate themselves. To quote the American humourist Kim Hubbard “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions about men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous and therefore more estimable than anybody with power or gold. No such tales are told by the American poor.

They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand, glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.
Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things which are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for an American to make money. They will not acknowledge that, in fact, money is very hard to come by and therefore those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been an advantage for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.
Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one other because they do not love themselves.
Notice he doesn’t mention colour. It isn’t a question of colour, but of poverty. Of course, it is easier for those who profit by the system if they can use colour, gender or religion or anything else to divide the underclass. When it isn’t safe for a white man to walk in a black neighbourhood, or a black man in a white one, the big villain, white or black, drives through in his big car laughing at the black lumpenproletariat justifying their crimes by moaning “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen” and blaming Whitey while the white lumpenproletariat act out the hate speech of a Donald Trump and blame the blacks.
No people are totally hopeless and there are exceptions, but our State media or their “private” radio stations don’t say much about Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali or the real story of Malcolm X, men who preferred combating present evils to dwell long on old ones. The American pattern is repeated, however much our leaders may revile America, often for the wrong reasons, in public.
Their radio stations are too busy churning out music that that would have been banned in the early years of independence as likely to corrupt youth.
At independence most of us still believed beauty contests were against our tradition and degraded women. Now we have government-owned tabloids that specialise in stories and pictures of things so degrading that you’d wonder what anyone ever saw wrong in a beauty contest. And those papers continue looking for murkier depths. They’ve gone a long way toward making us a people who do not respect anyone or anything, least of all ourselves. A people who can inflict the most diabolical tortures on each other, as we see especially at election times.
We’ll see worse if we let them go on, until they drag us all down to their level. Now is the time to act, unless you have sunk so deep that you’ve given up completely.