It’s another round in the losing fight

6 01 2017

Yet again.

John Mellencamp might have seemed the go-to guy for the title of this post, but there’s something about Emmylou’s weariness that seemed more appropriate.

Anyway. Native Iowan and newsman Robert Leonard writes (in the Times, natch) about how the hard-working, conservative, Christian folk of rural Iowa view those of us beyond the cornfields:

They are part of a growing movement in rural America that immerses many young people in a culture — not just conservative news outlets but also home and church environments — that emphasizes contemporary conservative values. It views liberals as loathsome, misinformed and weak, even dangerous.

He goes on to note that these rural folk may be alienated not just from the fabled coasts, but the cities in their own states.

Overwhelmingly the blue counties are along waterways, where early river transportation encouraged the formation of cities, and surround state capitals. This is also where most investment in infrastructure and services is made. Rural Americans recognize that this is how it must be, as the cities are where most of the people are, yet it’s a sore spot.

Rural roads are crumbling, he notes, while lawmakers spend money to shave “a few seconds off a city dweller’s commute to his office”, where firefighters and EMTs are volunteers, and local police go begging.

Do note he offers no stats to back up these assertions, no graphs on spending patterns, nothing on relative need. He sees the potholes in the two-lane no-shoulder highways cutting through the fields, but not, apparently, in the on-ramps to the cities. “In this view, blue counties are where most of our tax dollars are spent, and that’s where all of our laws are written and passed.”

Note that he prefaces this with “In this view,” which suggests that the view and the reality may not match up, where, in fact, it’s likely that the view and the reality don’t match up. More money overall may be spent in cities, yes, but it is also the case generally (with some exceptions) that more money per capita is spent in low- versus  high-population areas.

That said, that perception that rural folks are getting jobbed is not uncommon. Hell, I remember as a kid watching the news out of Milwaukee and wondering Why don’t they say anything about what’s happening in Sheboygan Falls? We matter, too!

Of course, little newsworthy happened in Falls, then or now. Again, there are exceptions, usually when something terrible happens, as when a child died in a house fire trying to rescue her younger siblings (two of whom also died), but most of what happens in Falls is like most of what happens in Milwaukee: not newsworthy. It’s just that if the newsworthy only happens to 1 of 20,000 people, well, you’ll have more to talk about in places of 200,000 than in 8,000.

I knew that, even then, but resentment does not always welcome reason.

And it is true that services are more scattershot in rural areas (and I should note that Sheb Falls is not super-rural: Sheboygan is only a few miles away, and Milwaukee, less than an hour). There is no hospital in Falls, no paramedics, and the fire department is, indeed, staffed by volunteers—one of whom is my brother (who has also trained as a first responder). When I was in high school, a kid in my brother’s class, who lived out in the country, was slammed in the chest by a piece of farm equipment; the ambulance took, I dunno, half hour? 45 minutes? to get there. Too late, and Rocky died.

In New York City, a fire call that takes more than 10 minutes to answer is a scandal.

So , yes, low-population areas are less blanketed by visible services than high-pop areas, and in ways that do harm those in the low-pop areas. Leonard isn’t wrong when he notes “If I have a serious heart attack at home, I’ll be cold to the touch by the time the volunteer ambulance crew from a town 22 miles away gets here.”

But it is also true that low-pop areas are nonetheless serviced. Farmers are subsidized, as are roads and bridges, by urbanites in both the home states and elsewhere. And, of course, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, along with mortgage tax deductions flow to people everywhere—although this is not always noticed. And those few who do still farm rely on those of us in the cities, or other parts of the world, to buy their products.

This country is highly politically polarized right now (although not, perhaps, for the reasons pointed out by JC Watts), but we are also tied together in all kinds of ways. The farmers need someone to buy their food, and the land-grant universities across the nation have performed research which has greatly increased agricultural productivity. And New York and LA and Chicago and Houston and DC are crowded with residents who moved there from those small towns.

Leonard notes that this movement into the cities contributes to the resentment by rural of urban folk, but doesn’t consider how this complicates the simply rural/urban narrative he outlines. I don’t live in Falls, will never again live in Falls, but I talk regularly to family and friends who still live in the area, and I plan on going back for visits for as long as I’m alive.

And, it should be admitted, hard feelings also run outward from city centers. I couldn’t wait to leave Falls, and for years and years I resented “having” to return. Yes, there were other things going on, but I flat-out disparaged my childhood town long after I left it. I’m now long over that, and enjoy my visits home—it’s still home, even decades after it’s been home—but I’d bet that not a few of my fellow Brooklynites have been happy to leave their small towns behind.

What does this all mean? I don’t know. I think that at least some of us should pay attention to the perceptions of those in rural areas, if only to figure out how to deal with it. But if I as a city-dweller am asked to consider the complexities of life in the outer boroughs (jk!) of America, then it seems only fair to ask for a similar consideration.

Folks in the boonies don’t want to be dismissed. That’s understandable. Neither do folks in the cities.


They’ll think that white hood’s all they need

6 01 2017

So, waaaay back in 2013 I wrote this:

So I’ve been turning over this thought in my head about the whiteness of the GOP and arguments (click here for a Crooked Timber post that has the various relevant links) that Republicans don’t have to worry about being the party of the pasty.

I think they do.

I don’t have this all worked out, but it seems that in order for the GOP to be the White Party they’re going to have to entice voters based on their whiteness, and I don’t know how many folks think of themselves primarily as white.

This is the crumbling underside of the default standard of white: regular [i.e., non-academic, non-race-politicized] white folks haven’t had to think about their whiteness. To bring them to you, you first have to bring them to their whiteness, convince them that their whiteness ought to be their primary concern, then further convince them that their candidates will do the most to preserve their white privilege.

Yes, whitey-first appeals have worked and will continue to work in a number of districts, but I don’t see how this appeal can be expanded, largely because I don’t know how much white folks who aren’t already racialists really want to be racialists. I think white-first appeals would turn them off, maybe make them less likely to vote Republican.

Most Americans don’t want to think of themselves as racists—even the racists don’t want to be seen as racists—and aren’t in a hurry to separate themselves (in their imaginations, at least, if not always in practice) from their fellow Americans. We’re not always large, but an awful lot of us aspire to be.

I don’t know, I’m probably talking out of my nose. It just seems like  focus-on-the-whites is a losing proposition with many of those very same whites.

Boy o boy, was that wrong. Mostly.

I was clearly wrong about the appeal of whitey-first (and what was up with my use of “racialist”?)—horribly, painfully wrong. Whatever votes Republicans may have lost prior to 2016 may be traced less to their appeals to whiteness than the covertness of those appeals: make it explicit, and you win.


But at the risk of being wrong yet again, I do think I got one thing right back then: I still don’t believe most white people want to think of themselves as racist.

Are many of them (us) racist? You bet! Do we want to be called racist? HELL NO.

As has been pointed out by just about every black and brown (and a few white) political commentators, calling a white person “racist” is about the worst thing you can do. Even people who post pictures of a Klan member and caption it with I’m dreaming of a white Christmas don’t want to be called racist.

Not that this is much a wedge between the enthusiastic racist and those tolerant of the enthusiasts (the racist-adjacent?), nor even a slender reed. More like an onion skin, and about as strong.

But there is a gap, however thin. And that unwillingness to claim racism gives those of us committed to anti-racism something to grab on to, to try to peel those people away from a tolerance of racism.

It’ll be damnably difficult. Many people think racism is bad, think of themselves as good, and in so doing, deny that they themselves are racist. They—we—take the accusation of racism personally, which creates both the incentive for denial and the chance to say I get it, you think of yourself as a decent person, so how about acting like it?

Trying to reverse an upside-down virtue ethics is not enough, of course: it won’t wipe out systemic racism or uproot the white supremacy entangled in the history of this nation, but I do think if you give people an out, if you tell them, You don’t have to be racist, and give them ways to fight against it—to act decently—then maybe, maybe, some of them will say, Huh, that might be worth doing.

I am not, of course, optimistic, and I don’t much hope, but nothing happens on its own. Tolerance for racism will not disappear on its own.

This is a task for anti-racist whites. As I noted on Twitter, people of color have had to carry the burden of racism for far too long, and for far too long, (thinking-of-themourselves-as-) non-racist white people have considered it enough not actively to have added to that burden. We thought non-racism enough. For too many us—and you betcha I include myself in this group—the fight has been optional.

No more: to be truly anti-racist, the fight must be seen as necessary. And this piece of the fight, confronting whites who are comfortable enough with racism, is our (white) burden, my burden.

I’m sorry it took a kick in the head, i.e., Trump’s election, to see this.