Gary Younge does not lack guts. The British journalist has reported from the US for 12 years and has “never seen it this bad”, with one community in particular suffering from existential despair, a drug crisis, radical lack of self-esteem and a loss of identity. “It’s time to talk about white people,” he asserts grimly. In Angry, White and American (Thursday, C4, 10pm), he takes to the road to understand Trump’s America.
Whatever the facts of racial inequality — and Younge is much more accustomed to looking at the issue from the other side — almost half of Americans feel that whites are under attack while a third apparently believe that steps should be taken to preserve white European heritage. Younge’s first port of call is a rally headed by smooth white supremacist Richard Spencer, coiner of the term “alt-right”. Polite and unruffled, Spencer nevertheless quickly shows his cloven hoof. Babbling about safe spaces and the “genius” of the white race, he simply can’t accept Younge’s birth nationality. “That’s not really your home . . . Your ancestors didn’t build it.” Oh, they built it, Younge retorts, they just didn’t get paid for it.
He travels to apparently idyllic Portland, Maine, a state which is 95 per cent white, to learn about the opioid crisis disproportionately affecting white communities. And he talks to a paramedic who once attended 14 overdoses in one shift, and who fears the next one might be her own drug-dependent sister.
In wrecked and desolate Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Younge hangs out in a diner and speaks to Ted, who plumped for Trump on the promise of jobs. “So far he hasn’t done anything,” he says, but despite the programme’s title, like the rest of Younge’s interviewees he seems more worn down and baffled than angry. A local Democrat party activist has “smart, good” friends who voted for Trump. A clip of Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” speech now looks smug and obnoxious, a woeful mis-step in a clumsy campaign.
In the South, Younge maintains, everyone feels some kind of pain; the horror of slavery for black people, but no less indelible for whites, the knowledge that “we were wrong, we were the bad guys,” as Trae Crowder, a comedian who calls himself “the liberal redneck” puts it. Some still retain a fondness for the Confederate flag. For Trae, Dylann Roof changed all that: “There’s no redeeming the flag — it’s dead.” “That flag stands for the denial of my freedom,” Younge concludes. After all, with an American wife and children, “I have skin in this game — and it’s black skin.”
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