Category Archives: Racial Equality

Investigating Rural Rage

Over the past several years, it has become impossible to ignore America’s urban/rural divide. The causes of that divide are subject to debate, and the focus of a good deal of research. Back in 2018, Robert Wuthnow–a noted scholar– published a book based upon eight years of interviews with rural folks across the country. It was titled The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America, and Wuthnow was interviewed about his findings by Sean Illing of Vox.

it made for fascinating, albeit depressing, reading.

The interviews were conducted between 2006 and 2014, and included people in every state in the country. The research team limited its focus to small towns with fewer than 25,000 people and excluded those close to suburbs or cities in recognition of data showing that suburban and exurban cultures differ from those of more isolated small towns.

Approximately 90 percent of small-town America is White, a demographic factor that explains a great deal (although Wuthnow notes that diversity is growing even in these precincts, as Latinos increasingly settle in them).

Wuthnow argues that the anger being expressed in rural America is less about economic concerns and more about the “perception that Washington is threatening the way of life in small towns.”

And just how, Illing asks him, is Washington accomplishing that?

I’m not sure that Washington is doing anything to harm these communities. To be honest, a lot of it is just scapegoating. And that’s why you see more xenophobia and racism in these communities. There’s a sense that things are going badly, and the impulse is to blame “others.

They believe that Washington really does have power over their lives. They recognize that the federal government controls vast resources, and they feel threatened if they perceive Washington’s interest being directed more toward urban areas than rural areas, or toward immigrants more than non-immigrants, or toward minority populations instead of the traditional white Anglo population.

These attitudes have hardened as small-town America has continued to empty out. These smaller communities have lost population steadily over the last few decades, and Wuthnow’s interviews and the book’s title reflected that reality. As he points out,

It’s not as though these people are desperate to leave but can’t. They value their local community. They understand its problems, but they like knowing their neighbors and they like the slow pace of life and they like living in a community that feels small and closed. Maybe they’re making the best of a bad situation, but they choose to stay.

They recognize themselves as being left behind because, in fact, they are the ones in their family and in their social networks who did stay where they were. Most of the people I spoke to grew up in the small town they currently live in, or some other small town nearby. Often their children have already left, either to college or in search of a better job somewhere else.

In that sense, they believe, quite correctly, that they’re the ones who stayed in these small towns while young people — and really the country as a whole — moved on.

That feeling of being left behind generates resentment–and that resentment is directed toward politicians they don’t like and especially toward people who don’t look or pray the way they do.

Wuthnow also found significant fear of change– expressed as a fear that traditional moral rules were “being wiped out by a government and a culture that doesn’t understand the people who still believe in these things.”

I think the concerns about moral decline often miss the mark. I think a lot of white Americans in these small towns are simply reacting against a country that is becoming more diverse — racially, religiously, and culturally. They just don’t how to deal with it. And that’s why you’re seeing this spike in white nationalism.

Wuthnow cautions against painting rural America with too broad a brush, and of course he’s right. Not all small towns are filled with seething reactionaries, just as not all urban neighborhoods are enclaves of brotherly love. Still, the data about opioid addiction and suicide rates should give pause to the notion that every small town is Mayberry or Green Acres or even Schitt’s Creek.

I missed Wuthnow’s book when it came out. I need to find it, because in the three years since its publication, the anger he studied has gotten more delusional and considerably more dangerous. It’s as if the people Wuthnow interviewed were fireplace tinder, and Trump and his sycophants were the arsonists who lit the match…

 

Systemic Racism

I have been very critical of the Indianapolis Star since its acquisition by Gannett. (In all fairness, it wasn’t a particularly distinguished publication before that.) And while I remain unimpressed overall–and positively livid over its neglect of adequate reporting on state and local government– I must compliment the paper on recent reporting that not only highlights an unfair situation, but provides readers with an excellent illustration of what is meant by systemic racism.

Much of the pushback that accompanies accusations of systemic racism can be attributed to a widespread misunderstanding of what the term means. It doesn’t imply intentional animus–instead, it refers to widespread systems that may well have been intentional at one time, but have since simply been accepted as “the way things are.” (Redlining, for example, was long justified as simply a reflection of the differences between “good’ and “bad” neighborhoods, despite the fact that those designations often simply reflected the racial makeup of the inhabitants of those neighborhoods.)

The lede to the Star report tells the story:

Carlette Duffy felt both vindicated and excited. Both relieved and angry. For months, she suspected she had been low-balled on two home appraisals because she’s Black. She decided to put that suspicion to the test and asked a white family friend to stand in for her during an appraisal. h Her home’s value suddenly shot up. A lot. h During the early months of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the first two appraisers who visited her home in the historic Flanner House Homes neighborhood, just west of downtown, valued it at $125,000 and $110,000, respectively.

 But that third appraisal went differently.

To get that one, Duffy, who is African American, communicated with the appraiser strictly via email, stripped her home of all signs of her racial and cultural identity and had the white husband of a friend stand in for her during the appraiser’s visit.

The home’s new value: $259,000.

This particular situation isn’t a one-off, and it isn’t unique to Indiana. Media outlets have reported several similar situations around the country. As one expert noted, it is almost reflexive–what we might call “implicit bias.”  When appraisers see Black neighborhoods, they make unwarranted assumptions about the prevalence of crime and the quality of the schools, and devalue the property accordingly.

It isn’t just the appraisal process. Duffy qualified for a lower interest rate when her application omitted any indication of her race, even though her credit report didn’t change.

Toward the end of the article, there was a good explanation of the difference between systemic and individual racism.

Andre Perry, of Brookings, has conducted research on how racial bias distorts the housing market. He compared home prices in neighborhoods where the share of the Black population is greater than 50% to homes in areas where the share of the Black population is less than 50%.

They controlled for crime, walkability and other factors that could effect home prices. After those factors were controlled for, homes in Black neighborhoods were underpriced by 23% or about $48,000 per home. Cumulatively, there was a loss of $160 billion in lost equity.

Perry’s research preceded the crafting of the Real Estate Valuation Fairness and Improvement Act of 2021, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April. The bill addresses racial disparities in residential and commercial real estate appraisals.

Discrimination in appraisals can be both systemic and individualistic.

“Systemic is the price comparison model,” he said. “When you only compare homes to like peers in neighborhoods that have been discriminated against, you essentially just recycled discrimination over and over again … You have individual acts of racism and you have more systemic reasons why. Both are robbing people of individual and community wealth.”

When individual bigotry raises its ugly head, most other people can see it for what it is. Systems that incorporate assumptions that were originally bigoted, however, are much harder to see and to root out.

That said, it’s a task we need to attend to.

Context And Clarity

One of the great virtues of Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters from an American” is her ability as a historian to “connect the dots” and provide context to the news of the day. That context often strips away the non-essentials that can confuse us, and provides the clarity so often missing from the reporting that follows our daily headlines.

A recent letter was triggered by Rick Scott’s angry op-ed excoriating the reaction of what he sneeringly called “woke” corporations to the Georgia election bill. Here’s where the history operates to clarify the moment in which we find ourselves:

The ideological faction that is currently in control of the Republican Party grew out of opposition to the active government both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War II. But since Americans actually liked business regulation, a social safety net, and infrastructure projects, those Movement Conservatives who wanted to take the government back to the 1920s got little traction until 1954, when the Brown v. Board of Education decision enabled them to harness racism to their cause. With federal government efforts to end segregation in the public schools, businessmen who hated government regulation warned voters that their tax dollars were being used to give Black Americans extra benefits. It was socialism, they said, and it would encourage Black people to step out of their place.

This formula worked. Businessmen determined to cut the government bankrolled Movement Conservative candidates, and people determined not to let their tax dollars go to Black or Brown people voted for them. In 1986, Grover Norquist, a former economist for the Chamber of Commerce, brought together business people, evangelicals, and social conservatives. “Traditional Republican business groups can provide the resources,” Norquist explained, “but these groups can provide the votes.”

Richardson points out that the racist and sexist language was initially understated. That allowed supporters–including corporations concerned about their images– to wink at it.  But that was before Trump and his attack on “political correctness”–i.e., civility–brought the racism and sexism out into the open.

In the wake of Georgia’s effort to suppress minority votes and the corporate response, several observers have suggested that we are on the cusp of a realignment that would sever the longstanding relationship between  the GOP and the corporations that have previously supported and funded it. After all, they reason, Republicans may deny the reality of demographic change, but businesses cannot and will not. Corporate America has increasing numbers of minority employees–even in management–and vastly increasing numbers of minority customers. Unlike the GOP, they don’t live in an alternate reality.

It would be very satisfying if Corporate America deserted the Republican Party, but as both Paul Ogden and Richardson point out, small donors are increasingly able to replace any monies that corporations might withhold from GOP candidates.

There is a truism in politics to the effect that voters are more motivated by what they are against than by what they are for. Stirring up anger and bias are, unfortunately, timeless tactics for getting out the vote. With the niceties of “political correctness” stripped away, the departure of most moderates from the party, and the dwindling need to placate corporate and business supporters, today’s GOP is putting all of its electoral eggs in the racism basket.

And as we saw in 2020, there’s a depressingly substantial portion of the electorate responsive to that appeal.

 

 

 

Today’s GOP Even Frightens David Brooks

David Brooks frustrates me. Sometimes, I disagree strongly with his “take” on the American condition (usually offered from what seems a self-consciously “elevated” vantage point), but sometimes, he hits the nail squarely on the head. I continue to read his columns in the New York Times for those latter instances, of which last Friday’s was one.

Titled “The GOP is Getting Even Worse,” Brooks commented on the cultural hysteria that has clearly gripped the Republicans’ (declining) base.

There are increasing signs that the Trumpian base is radicalizing. My Republican friends report vicious divisions in their churches and families. Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

Survey research provides support for that observation. Brooks points to a poll taken in late January, in which respondents were asked whether politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or more about “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it. ” Fifty-one percent of Trump Republicans said survival; a mere 19 percent chose policy.

Another poll asked Americans which of two statements came closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Those who read this blog can guess what’s coming: More than 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

Brooks is absolutely right when he writes that

Liberal democracy is based on a level of optimism, faith and a sense of security. It’s based on confidence in the humanistic project: that through conversation and encounter, we can deeply know each other across differences; that most people are seeking the good with different opinions about how to get there; that society is not a zero-sum war, but a conversation and a negotiation.

He is also right when he observes that the Republican response to Biden and his agenda has largely been anemic “because the base doesn’t care about mere legislation, just their own cultural standing.”

For years, the refrain from what Americans call “the Left” (and what is globally considered pretty middle-of-the-road) has been “why do so many people vote against their own best interests?” That question, however, rests on a faulty premise. Moderate and leftwing folks define “best interests” in largely economic terms. Voters would be “better off” financially or more likely to find employment if they voted differently. But today’s Republicans see their “best interests” in cultural and racial terms, not economic promises.

The overwhelmingly White Christian supporters of today’s GOP see a demographic shift that will eventually rob them of what is clearly most important to them–far more important than a good job or a fairer tax system or the rate of inflation. Their “interest” is in continued cultural and racial dominance–and as the research shows, many of them are willing to engage in violence, a la January 6th, to protect that dominance.

It’s scary.

Uniquely Anglo-Saxon…

The dictionary definition of “Anglo-Saxon” is “relating to or denoting the Germanic inhabitants of England from their arrival in the 5th century up to the Norman Conquest.”

The term evidently means something rather different to White nationalist Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar. As Talking Points Memo explains their recent “policy proposal,”

A new “policy platform” document sprinkled with nativist and white supremacist language emerged Friday from a newly launched far-right caucus linked to Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ). The group is, according to the document, pushing for “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and new infrastructure that “befits the progeny of European architecture.”

The new caucus they are forming, called the “America First Caucus,” is intended “to follow in President Trump’s footsteps,” which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about it. But just in case following Trump isn’t explicit enough, the so-called “policies” advocated by the document leave little room for doubt.

It begins by describing the United States as a country “strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions.” Historically, Anglo-Saxon traditions were the result of interactions between incoming Germanic tribes with indigenous British groups. Over time, the two populations melded, creating a primarily Anglo-Saxon culture and language. Use of the term Anglo-Saxon today is associated with the establishment of England and the early adoption of Christianity.

The caucus supports a “pause” in immigration and decries immigrants who– the statement says– are “imported en-masse” and then “fail to contribute positively to the country.” (Evidently, only White Christians can “contribute positively.”)

In case there is any confusion over the identity of the immigrants being targeted by this language, the platform makes its White nationalism crystal clear. It opposes birthright citizenship and claims that immigrants who came to the United States before 1965 “were more educated, earned higher wages, and did not have an expansive welfare state to fall back on when they could not make it in America and thus did not stay in the country at the expense of the native-born.”

The caucus calls for roads, bridges and buildings that uphold “the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture, whereby public infrastructure must be utilitarian as well as stunningly, classically beautiful, befitting a world power and source of freedom.”

Pardon me while I upchuck…

Tellingly, the caucus also says it will fight against an education system that “has worked to actively undermine pride in America’s great history and is actively hostile to the civic and cultural assimilation necessary for a strong nation.” In other words, they will fight to retain mythology over accuracy.

Congressional supporters of this exercise belong in Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables.” In addition to Greene and Gosar, Louis Gohmert has signed on, which should signal the intellectual integrity of this effort–as I’ve previously noted, my favorite description of Gohmert is “the dumbest animal to enter a legislative chamber since Caligula’s horse.” Another sterling character who has indicated support for the Caucus is Matt Gaetz, who  evidently took time away from defending himself against charges of  sexual and other improprieties by tweeting Friday that he was “proud” to join the caucus.

In a nod to Trump’s election conspiracies, the seven-page document also promotes false claims about election fraud, citing rigged voting machines and manipulated election results.

The caucus pointed at mail-in voting as a prime target — making clear its intentions to advance restrictive voting laws that are already underway in a number of states.

“We will work towards an end to mail-in voting, implementation of national voter ID and substantive investigations into mass voter fraud perpetrated during the 2020 election,” it says.

A report by CBS News connects the none-too-obscure dots.

The focus on “Anglo-Saxon” and European terminology could be read as a veiled analogy for “White.” The term “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant,” or WASP, has traditionally been used in American culture to denote wealthy White families, typically with British ancestries. The Anglo-Saxons were a group who inhabited England prior to the Norman invasion of 1066.

American white nationalists have also relied heavily on medieval, viking and Anglo-Saxon imagery to justify their prejudice. During the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, some marchers carried banners with Anglo-Saxon runes, iconography that was also used by the Nazis.

They don’t even try to hide what they are…..The people who voted for them must be so proud…