The Election was three weeks ago. Though I can’t really say the shock has worn off, life has continued. There was a fundraising dinner, Thanksgiving, a stomach bug. Deadlines loom at work, Christmas shopping hangs over us, and there are always bills to pay. Life keeps marching.
It is so hard to keep up momentum. It is so hard to process all the news stories. I am still living in a state of hyper-vigilance, made more acute by being trapped under a vomiting baby with nothing to do but scroll Facebook. And I. Am. Tired.
But this is the hump time. This is when I have to push really hard to get over inertia. Because my standard has been existence for a while now. Work, care for children, enrich as able, care for dwelling, nurture family relationships, sleep, repeat. And that’s just not enough. There is so much that needs to be done.
In the battle against inertia, I offer the following:
Hillbilly Ethnography by John Thomason
Thomason offers a review of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, which has been getting a lot of press lately because it offers a glimpse into the demographic that is being blamed for Trump’s election.
According to The New York Times’s review of the book (I have not yet read the book, but I am leaving it on my to-read list), Vance offers a glimpse into the “white underclass” that he rose out of, and ultimately decides that, while they have the deck stacked against them, their misfortune is largely their own doing. He is a conservative, and as such, believes that hard work and determination are the answer. After all, he got out and went to Yale, so anyone can do it.
The book is so appealing to the so-called liberal elite who were blind-sided by Trump because it explains the pain of the white working poor. Many are calling for more understanding of this group, for the rest of the nation to listen harder to their troubles.
And then there are those who, like Thomason, point out that this group is, in fact, deeply racist, whether they intend to be or not, and that needs to be named and dealt with.
Aside: Calling a large group of people racist is always problematic, but in America, it needs to be placed within the context of our racist society. An individual who is also white and working poor may not intentionally discriminate against a person of a different race, but still plays a role in supporting the racist institutions in our country. One example of that is voting for a candidate who claims he will “Make America Great Again” by invoking images of the past when whites ruled the country and minorities were rarely acknowledged. The white Trump voter has the ability to ignore the very real racial divisions that vision of America endorses.
The major problem with Vance’s book, Thomason argues, is that the role of race and of the white nationalistic theories that support the world view of the hillbillies he is depicting, goes largely unexamined:
Vance’s view of Appalachian culture feels more opportunistic than sincerely white nationalistic. It allows him to portray Appalachian and Rust Belt poverty as an exceptional phenomenon, rather than a symptom of broader trends that could not be so easily ascribed to culture. As such, it conveniently justifies the existence of his book. This opportunism makes the book’s racial determinism all the more insidious: it makes it more palatable to audiences that might normally be on guard against explicit white nationalism.
I am still really struggling with these two opposing viewpoints. On the one hand, we’re never going to make any headway with the “white underclass” if we just keep telling them how racist and privileged they are. On the other hand, we’re never going to make any progress against racism if we don’t name it and talk about it.
I am still trying to figure out what the right approach is and what my responsibility to reach my fellow white Americans is.
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