More Minorities, Less Crime

The conservative obsession with the ‘other’ always amazes me. It seems to be endless.

The same fears and arguments are repeated for generations, even as the ‘other’ changes over time. The specific population in question is mostly irrelevant, just as long as they are perceived as somehow foreign or different. In the present, those on the political right obsess about Blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims (sometimes Asians get attention, especially on the West Coast). But in the past, the same obsessiveness was often directed elsewhere: poor whites, Southern whites migrating to Northern cities, unassimilated ethnics (Scots-Irish, Italians, Germans, Irish, etc), various religious minorities (Catholics, Jews, Quakers, Mormons, Pietists, etc), and on and on.

Even as such people obsess over those others, they typically claim to not be racist and prejudiced. It just so happens that they have disproportionate interest in those people different from them immigrating from another country or moving from another city, state, or wherever. And, of course, they just so happen to like to look at the data on crime, education, IQ… any and all data, as long as it is cherrypicked and put into the proper culture war narrative and dog whistle rhetoric.

Unsurprisingly, the conclusion is always that those others are somehow a threat to the social fabric, to our way of life, and to our children. This kind of conclusion is always there in the background, even when only implied by the framing of public discussion. But outwardly, these conservatives are simply concerned in a respectable manner. They aren’t bigots, after all. Just interested and concerned.

It is a complete random situation that they so happen to focus on some data while ignoring other data, interpret the data in one way while ignoring the larger context. They are curious about the data, that is all.

Having a straight discussion is near impossible. What these people actually believe is rarely stated. They know their beliefs are politically incorrect and so they’ve learned to hide them. They may even have learned to deceive themselves. I suspect many of them genuinely believe they aren’t biased or prejudiced in any way, even as it is obvious that they are. Only bad people are bigots and they know they aren’t bad people — therefore, how could they be bigots? Many of them have internalized political correct rhetoric because that is what they were told to do. Almost everyone wants to be thought of as a good person, according to the prevailing social norms.

The problem is that, whether or not they are good people, some of what they promote is clearly not good. It’s also often not rational, sometimes even outright absurd. But interestingly, those on the political left rarely make the equivalent argument in the opposite direction. As conservatives argue that more racial and religious minorities leads to increased problems, liberals rarely argue that more racial and religious minorities leads to decreased problems. This is because liberals simply don’t make those kinds of arguments, not typically, as they tend to see this kind of focus as irrelevant and unhelpful.

Whatever the reason, this creates an imbalance. Maybe the political left should make equally strong counter-arguments, even if absurd, just for the sake of evening out the extremism on the other end. That way, the perceived ‘middle’ of mainstream public debate wouldn’t be shifted so far right.

In recent decades, there has been a steady increase in the total number and per capita of foreign-b0rns, racial/ethnic minorities, religious minorities, religious nones, and other similar demographics. Over the same time period, many of the problems conservatives focus on have been improving. Crime, violence, and drug use has decreased among the population in general, across the country, even among minorities and especially among the young. Average IQ has increased for the general population and nearly all demographics, and the racial IQ gap has shrunk. College attendance has grown. Teen sex, STDs, and abortions are down. These days, teens in general are so well behaved as to be boring prudes, just as conservatives claim they’re supposed to be.

These seemingly positive trends have been happening across the country. And, in many cases, it’s even going on across the world. Some consider this to be a Moral Flynn Effect, lending much evidence against racism, racialism and race realism. The same trends are seen in most cities, at least some of it related to environmental regulations that have decreased lead toxicity.

I hear conservatives in the town I live in. They have reasons to complain, as it is a liberal town. But if they don’t like this liberal town, they can’t blame it on the blacks, from Chicago or elsewhere.

Yes, there has been an increase in the minority population, including but not limited to blacks. The University of Iowa has also increasingly attracted a foreign-born population. The town is growing in diversity, which is magnified in the local public schools with minority students increasing from 29% to 36% over the past decade. That is probably at least in part having to do with white flight, as many white families have moved out to the bedroom communities in nearby small towns. Still, it is true that within the entire county the minority population has been continuously growing, even if not any drastic jump at any given point in time.

But none of this fits into the conservative narrative. While the racial and religious minority population has been growing (i.e., the WASP population shrinking), specifically within the city itself, the violent crime rate has been steadily dropping like a rock. If we were forced to make an argument based on this data, we’d have to conclude that whites were causing the higher crime rate in the past and now minorities are bringing moral order back, saving the whites from themselves.

So, why does no one make this argument? Not even many liberals here in town and around the country would think of such an argument, much less take it seriously and speak it out loud. You won’t see this argument made in liberal news media or by liberal politicians. Yet conservatives will make the opposite argument all the time, no matter what the data does or does not show. Why is that? Why is there this imbalance in public debate where conservatives can make the most extreme nonsense arguments while liberals try to be rational and moderate? I can tell you this much. Rational and moderate does not consistently win debates, elections, or public opinion.

Some conservatives might point to Chicago. There has been a recent uptick in crime, even if it still is lower than it used to be. Ignoring the larger trend, that uptick doesn’t support the conservative worldview. What people in towns like this near Chicago have been complaining about is that all those blacks are leaving Chicago to come here, ruining our good cities. Yet as they leave Chicago to come here, crime there in Chicago went up and the crime in many of the cities where the blacks moved to has gone down.

Why doesn’t anyone point this out? It’s not hard to see, just by looking at the data. People are constantly looking for causation in correlation. Why does this particular correlation get ignored? Anyway, in terms of per capita, much of rural America is far more dangerous to your life than Chicago. Few people talk about the crime wave of poor rural white people and how that crime is trickling into the cities, such as all that meth that gets made out in rural America. Data shows that most drugs (both in total numbers and per capita) are used, carried, and sold by white people. Why has the War On Drugs targeted mostly minorities? Why don’t we have a War On Whites, as we presently have a War On Minorities?

If conservatives genuinely cared about any of these issues, why don’t they focus on all the data that would help us deal with the real problems we are facing? And if liberals cared as well, why won’t they hit conservatives with the best arguments available? Why are the culture war debates so one-sided? It seems like few Americans on either side want to deal with any of this, as it touches too many raw nerves. I can’t blame it all on conservatives. In this liberal town, it was the local liberal media that has been shown to have a strong racial bias and it is the local police force that has one of the largest racial disparities in drug arrests in the country.

Obviously, liberals are part of the problem, sometimes in a more direct way but often through apathy and complicity. It makes one wonder that the reason liberals don’t argue strongly back against conservatives is because many of them on some level agree with the conservative claims, even if they wouldn’t admit it or maybe aren’t even conscious of it. Conservatives will stop making these worthless arguments when liberals finally get the moral courage to stop being part of the problem.

The Old WASP Dream Falters

Over at Steve Wiggin’s blog, I was commenting on a recent post of his, Majority Report. He brought up the WASP myth and put it in context, although his focus was mostly on the Protestant part. In my comments, I mentioned the pluralist background of American society. WASPs have made up a large chunk of the ruling elite, but they’ve never been the majority of the population, contrary to the belief of many.

His post stood out to me partly just because that kind of thing is always of interest to me. But it was already on my mind because of an article I read recently from a local newspaper, The Daily Iowan — the article being Is this heaven? No, it’s beer by Clair Dietz. It appears to be in response to an exhibit being put on by the University of Iowa, German Iowa and the Global Midwest. I live near where the old breweries used to be located, along with the beer caves. My landlord, Doug Alberhasky, was quoted often in the piece, as his family’s business is a well known local distributor of alcohol, John’s Grocery.

There once was much clashing, sometimes violent, between WASPs and so-called hyphenated Americans. Many ethnic immigrant groups, especially German-Americans, loved their beer and liquor. The WASPs here in Iowa were seeking prohibition before the rest of the country, as Iowa became a major destination for German immigrants. Entire communities spoke German and carried on their German traditions, including the making of alcohol. There is a great book I’ve written about before, Gentlemen Bootleggers by Bryce Bauer, about one such community during Prohibition and how they became famous for their bootlegged Templeton Rye.

Another article on the topic comes from the other local newspaper, Press-Citizen: Iowa has deep German Roots by H. Glenn Penny. That article interested me even more. The author points out that there used to be three German-language newspapers here in Iowa City, an impressive number considering there are only two newspapers left in town at present: “In fact, the German language was so widespread that many German-Iowans lived here for decades without ever learning English.” Much of the Midwest was like this, especially this part of the Midwest such as the neighboring states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. This was German-American territory where German culture and language was the norm, not the exception.

This all came to a halt with the beginning of World War I, such as with the Babel Proclamation that outlawed any language besides English. And German-American independence and self-determination was further decimated with World War II. The cultural genocide was so complete that collective memory of this past was lost to the following generations. German-Americans were always the largest immigrant group and the largest ancestry, far beyond the meager numbers of WASPs, but they suffered for not having sufficient political power among the ruling elite. German-American culture was almost entirely lost, as if it never existed, until recent interest in ethnic ancestry was revived.

Still, this kind of political reaction seems to go in cycles. Every time there is a movement of populations, fear and bigotry inevitably follows. As with Germans of the past, the same thing has happened with immigrants of Arab, Persian, or similar looking ethnicities. This is true even within the country, as when Southerners migrated to the North and West. More recently, it has been true of blacks moving almost anywhere, but especially when it involves supposed inner city blacks. The Press-Citizen article made me think about this, when Penny wrote about how initially German immigrants were welcomed and even sought out:

“Iowa: The Home for Immigrants.” That was the title of the 1870 volume published by the Iowa Board for Immigration in Des Moines. It was translated it into multiple languages and distributed it across Northern Europe. The goal was to spur Europeans to abandon their homes and move to the state.

And it worked. Germans were the most numerous group to arrive. In fact, German immigrants consistently accounted for the largest number of foreign-born people in Iowa from the 1850s through the 1970s.

That instantly struck my mind. That sounded like a “workforce recruitment” campaign the Iowa government has had to attract people from other states. There has been a pattern of young Iowans leaving the state and so, in order to counter the demographic loss and brain drain, a need to attract young professionals and young families. Starting in the 1980s, the Iowa Department of Economic Development has advertised in Chicago by putting up billboards — here is an example (from About those Chicago billboards by Adam Belz):

This advertisement ran on billboards along interstates in Chicago in 2007.

Belz points out that, “It’s really a far cry from the local myth that Iowa has been running Section 8 ads in south Chicago for years, but as Steve Rackis, the guy who oversees Section 8 in Iowa City, points out, everyone drives on the interstate, and everyone likes the idea of a safe, quiet place with good schools and no traffic. So certainly, some low-income black people have seen these ads and responded by moving to Iowa.”

Most of the people who respond to such billboards aren’t poor, unemployed inner city blacks, aren’t stereotyped welfare queens, thugs, and gangbangers. The fact of the matter is most people coming from Chicago to Iowa are middle class white people. That is what happened to my family back in the 1980s, when my family left the Chicago suburbs in order to move to Iowa City where my father returned to school for a PhD program. My parents were young middle class professionals with young kids, the demographic targeted by the billboards. I’m sure my father saw such signs, as he headed into Chicago for work, whether or not they were part of the reason for his decision to move his family to Iowa.

Besides, most of those on housing assistance in Iowa City, according to data kept, are whites and long-term Iowa residents. Among these, the majority are elderly or disabled (many elderly and disabled move here because of the multiple hospitals, including a world class university medical center and a major Veterans Affairs facility). The rest are young families and most of these are employed, as unemployment rates are low here. There probably aren’t many “welfare queens” in the area, considering all the local opportunities for jobs, education, and training. Plus, the worst off poor people in Iowa are rural whites living in dying farm towns and trailer parks, not blacks from Chicago.

Considering the proven racial targeting of blacks by the police in Johnson County, it isn’t exactly a welcoming place to blacks and so isn’t a place most blacks are going to choose to move to. In interviews, many blacks living here explained that they saw their situation as temporary simply for the sake of finding work and saving money, and as soon as they were able they planned on leaving.

Sure, all kinds of people end up in a town like Iowa City. It’s a diverse community with people from all over the world. There is a growing population of non-whites here, although it is mostly Asians and Hispanics, not blacks. Even among blacks, they come from many other places besides Chicago, including a fair number of African immigrants. Of five blacks I’ve worked with in my present job with the city, two were from families that had been in Iowa for generations, two were from Africa, one might have been from Chicago or somewhere like that, and another I never knew long enough to learn of his background; three of those people I know were married with young kids and three had degrees from the local university.

Since I was a kid in the 1980s, violent crime has vastly decreased across the country. Iowa has always had low crime rates, violence and otherwise, and that is still the case. For more than a decade, the violent crime in Johnson County, where Iowa City is located, has continued to drop. This is the time period during which there has been an increase in the minority population. There is actually less crime now in Iowa with more minorities than there were back when there were fewer minorities. Yet there is this public perception, largely based on mainstream news reporting, that everything is getting worse, despite the fact that Iowa has been doing well even during the recession.

The real fear is that German-Americans, Hispanics, blacks, or whatever group is most reviled at the moment is a danger to the American way of life. They are bringing bad things with them. And they are taking our country away from us. States like Iowa have always depended on immigration from other countries or simply other states, but this dependence has led to resentment. When WWI came around, it didn’t matter that German immigrants had settled Iowa and cleared the land, had helped make America the country it is, and shaped the entire cultural experience of the Heartland. Suddenly, they were threatening strange foreigners.

The experience of blacks has been different, of course. They were considered a threat right from the start, even though most early blacks didn’t come to America by choice. Interestingly, before Anglo-Americans settled Iowa, there were already free blacks, likely escaped slaves, living right here in Iowa City. Blacks were the first Iowa Citians and yet today, after the era of sundown towns driving blacks out of states like Iowa, blacks are considered as foreign as were those WWI era German-Americans.

Donald Trump rides white outrage in gaining support as a presidential candidate. A century ago, his German-Scottish ancestry would have made him an untrustworthy outsider. But today he stands as the defender of American whiteness and promises to make America great again. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton represents the last vestiges of the WASP rightful ruling elite and disinterested aristocracy of professional politicians who for centuries have defended the status quo from uncouth ethnics like the Drumpf family and their crude business wealth being used to usurp political power (not to mention having to deal with meddling Jews such as Bernie Sanders). The uppity WASPs make their last stand to maintain the respectable political order.

WASPs never were the majority of American population. But they have maintained most of the political power and social influence for centuries. As the non-WASP and non-white population grows, WASPs are slowly losing even their position and privilege. There are challengers on all sides, as the old WASP dream falters.

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Previous blog posts:

America’s Heartland: Middle Colonies, Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest

Centerville, IA: Meeting Point of Diversity & Conflict

The Cultural Amnesia of German-Americans

Equal Opportunity Oppression in America

The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence

Substance Control is Social Control

The Shame of Iowa and the Midwest

Paranoia of a Guilty Conscience

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Online Articles:

The Great Chicago Migration Myth
by Mikel Livingston and Steven Porter, JConline

It was during the early 2000s when Curbelo, then a program coordinator at Iowa State University in Ames, first encountered the belief that an influx of former Chicago residents was wreaking havoc on local crime rates.

“That caused the police to start targeting minorities around town,” Curbelo said. “It led to harassing the minority population in a town that didn’t have a lot of diversity.”

A public forum in 2008 helped the community confront and move past the issue. When Curbelo moved to Lafayette earlier this year, he was surprised to be confronted with the notion yet again.

” ‘All people from Chicago are criminals, they’re black, they’re on welfare,’ ” Curbelo said, reciting the misconceptions. “No. They’re hard-working people looking for better opportunities. That’s part of the American dream and nobody can judge you for moving to a place to better your family by the color you are.”

The black ‘Pleasantville’ migration myth: moving from a city isn’t pleasant
by Robert Gutsche Jr

Ironically, Iowa City’s downtown – on the doorstep of the University of Iowa – continues to be more violent than the Southeast Side. Every weekend, white college students vandalize buildings, vomit on sidewalks, and assault each other, though it’s the Southeast Side – and its presumed Chicago migrants – who bear the brunt of the responsibility for the city’s crime.

How the Media Stokes Racism in Iowa City – and Everywhere
by Eleanor J. Bader, Truthout

Central to this discourse, of course, is the belief that low-income women, aka “welfare queens,” are taking advantage of government programs and feeding at the trough of public generosity. “Chicago has come to mean more than just another city,” Gutsche concludes. “It signals the ghetto, danger, blackness – and most directly, of not being from here.” That two-thirds of the low-income households registered with the Iowa City Housing Authority were elderly and disabled – not poor, black or from Chicago – went unacknowledged by reporters. Similarly, the drunken escapades of mostly white University of Iowa students have been depicted by reporters as essentially benign and developmentally appropriate. “Just as news coverage explained downtown violence as a natural college experience, news coverage normalized southeast side violence as being the effect of urban black culture,” Gutsche writes. “News stories indicated that drunken packs of college students were isolated to the downtown, whereas southeast side violence was described as infiltrating the city’s schools, social services and public safety.”

 

 

A community divided: Racial segregation on the rise in Iowa City
by Matthew Byrd, Little Village

Some renters felt the underlying presence of racial bias when discussing public assistance with Iowa City landlords […] There are other plausible explanations as well. A 2013 report issued by the Iowa City Coalition for Racial Justice found a high degree of overlap between race and class within Johnson County, with 40 percent of black residents living below the poverty line compared to 16 percent of whites. The fact that Iowa City is the fourteenth most segregated metropolitan area by income in the country, according to the Martin Prosperity Institute, means that, in a county where you are more likely to be poor if you’re black rather than white, segregation by income can also mean de facto segregation by race.

On a similar note, black residents in Iowa City are much more significantly limited in their ability to take out mortgages than whites. The Public Policy center study found that, while blacks comprise nearly 6 percent of the city’s overall population, they only account for 1 percent of housing loans and are much more likely than their white counterparts to be denied loans (the study’s authors do concede, however, that without access to credit scores they “cannot conclusively assert that the higher denial rates … is due to race”).

Whatever the case may be, the rate of racial segregation Iowa City experiences is disturbingly high.

Does Section 8 housing hurt a neighborhood?
The Gazette

In Iowa City, nine of 10 voucher holders is either elderly, disabled or working. More than 85 percent of vouchers in the Corridor are issued locally, not to out of towners. Voucher holders who get in trouble with the law, who shelter people with criminal backgrounds, or who don’t return letters and phone calls are kicked out of the program.

“We review the police dockets and the newspapers on a daily basis,” said Steve Rackis, who heads up the program in Iowa City.

Within the past two years, 230 vouchers have been terminated in Cedar Rapids. Iowa City terminates about 10 people each month. […]

Myth: Most Section 8 vouchers are held by people from Chicago.

Fact: 93 percent of vouchers in Cedar Rapids were issued locally. The program requires one year of residency and has a three- to five-year waiting list. 4.8 percent of voucher holders come from Illinois, representing about 50 households. In Iowa City, 9 percent of vouchers come from Illinois, representing about 114 households. […]

Myth: The cities of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City have billboards in Chicago encouraging Section 8 voucherholders to move to Eastern Iowa.

Fact: The Iowa Department of Economic Development occasionally runs billboards in Chicago encouraging people to move to Iowa, but they are geared toward professionals, extolling Iowa’s hassle-free commutes, for example. […]

Myth: Section 8 is mostly for people who don’t work but survive on welfare.

Fact: In Iowa City, 1,149 households in the program — 91 percent — are elderly, disabled or working. The same is true of 879 households in Cedar Rapids, or 82 percent of those in the program.

Leaving Chicago for Iowa’s “Fields of Opportunity”: Community Dispossession, Rootlessness, and the Quest for Somewhere to “Be OK”
by Danya E. Keene, Mark B. Padilla, & Arline T. Geronimus, NCBI

Iowa City and the surrounding Johnson County, located 200 miles west of Chicago, have received small but significant numbers of low-income African Americans from Chicago. The Iowa City Housing Authority (ICHA), which serves all of Johnson County, reported in 2007 that 14 percent (184) of the families that it assists through vouchers and public housing were from Illinois, and according to housing authority staff, virtually all of these families are from the Chicago area (Iowa City Housing Authority 2007). Additionally, the ICHA estimates that about one-third of the approximately 1,500 families on its rental-assistance waiting list are Chicago area families. Little is known about why families choose eastern Iowa as a destination, but speculation among ICHA officials is that the moves are motivated by shorter waiting lists for subsidized housing and the fact that Johnson County has a reputation for good schools, safe communities, and ample job opportunities.

From the perspective of a growing emphasis on poverty deconcentration in both academic and policy circles (Imbroscio 2008), leaving Chicago’s high poverty neighborhoods for Iowa’s white middle and working-class communities represents an idealized escape from urban poverty. However, the experiences of participants in this study speak to the challenges as well as the benefits of long distance moves to what are often referred to as “opportunity areas” (Venkatesh et al. 2004).

Little is known about the experience of Chicago families in Iowa, but preliminary evidence suggests that Chicago migrants may face many barriers to acceptance. Despite their relatively small numbers, African Americans from Chicago are visible outsiders in Iowa’s predominantly white communities. In Johnson County, blacks made up only 3.9 percent of the population in 2008, an increase from 2.9 percent in 2000 and higher than the 2008 state average of 2.9 percent (United States Census Bureau). Iowa City, a college town that is home to the University of Iowa, contains considerably more ethnic diversity than many Iowa communities and is home to a small number of African-American professionals, students, and faculty. However, the arrival of low-income African Americans from Chicago is a highly contentious issue and has given rise to a divisive local discourse that is often imbued with racialized and class-based stereotypes of urban areas.

The recent migration of urban African Americans to Iowa has also occurred in a climate of uncertainty about the state’s economic future (Wilson n.d.). Over the past few decades, Iowa has lost numerous sources of well-paying employment. The state has also experienced significant population losses, particularly among the college educated (Carr and Kefalas 2009). While college towns such as Iowa City have been somewhat protected from these demographic and economic shifts, in Johnson County, dramatic increases in free lunch program participation and growing demands for subsidized housing over the last decade indicate increasing local need (Wilson n.d.). According to documentary filmmaker Carla Wilson (n.d.), many Iowans feel that in the last few years, poor blacks from Chicago descended on the state, placing a tremendous burden on social service resources at a time when budgets are already stretched. As stated in one concerned letter from Don Sanders (personal communication, [February 3], 2004) to Iowa City’s City Council, “We’re turning into a mecca for out-of-state, high maintenance, welfare recipients. These often dysfunctional families are causing serious problems for our schools and police.” […]

Iowa is not only a place where the social terrain is unfamiliar, but a place where Chicago migrants experience a vulnerable status as stigmatized outsiders. As Danielle says, “It’s someone else’s city,” a place where, according to Marlene, “we are only here because they are letting us be here.” The stigmatization of Chicago migrants plays a profound role in shaping social relationships, both among fellow migrants and between Chicago migrants and Iowans. Several participants describe how Chicago is often blamed for “everything that goes wrong in Iowa City,” particularly in relation to drugs and crime. According to 53-year-old Diane Field, “It’s just, Chicago, Chicago, Chicago. I mean, everywhere you go they talk about us. There were drugs in Iowa long before anyone came from Chicago.” This association between drugs, crime, and Chicago is also prevalent in the local media. For example, one newspaper article about a fight in southeast Iowa City drew numerous racially charged on-line comments about the problems caused by Chicago migrants, despite the fact that “Chicago” was not even referenced in the article.

While participants describe the “helpfulness” of many Iowans, they also note that some oppose their presence. Carol, for example, says she was told by a fellow bus passenger, “I’m tired of all these black folks coming and messing up our small town. I don’t know why the hell y’all up in here, but y’all need to go back where you came from.” While Carol explains that encounters such as these are rare, Jonathan considers this attitude to be more pervasive. He says, “They don’t want us black people down here. Even though it’s some black people down here like me and my family that want something better for our life. They don’t understand that.”

Several participants describe facing discrimination specifically because of where they are from. In this context, 33-year-old Tanya Neeld says that she has begun telling people that she is from Indiana, Michigan, or “somewhere else, not Chicago.” Participants also describe attempts to differentiate themselves from those individuals who “bring Chicago to Iowa” (by getting involved with drugs, for example), by emphasizing their own desire to find a “better life” and to escape discursively condemned Chicago neighborhoods. Additionally, in order to resist the label of, “just another one from Chicago,” many participants also describe keeping to themselves and avoiding relationships with other Chicagoans. For example, Michelle, says, “They act like they really don’t want us here. They try to make like we keep up so much trouble. I don’t know what the rest of these people are doing. That’s why I stay to myself.”

Other participants describe avoiding, in particular, people in their immediate neighborhood who were often fellow Chicagoans. A large portion of Chicago movers live in a few housing complexes on the southeast side of Iowa City, and several participants explain that it is difficult to find landlords elsewhere who will rent to them. Michelle says, “A lot of places here don’t accept Section 8 [rental assistance]. I figure it’s because they don’t want that type of thing in their neighborhood.” These sentiments were echoed by 25-year-old Christine Frazier who says, “It sort of looks likes they section us off.”ii

In the context of residential segregation and stigmatization, many participants also describe the challenges of forming ties with Iowans. A few explain that they actively avoid interactions with white Iowans as a form of self-protection. For example, Christine describes how when she first started working in Iowa, her coworkers, who were all white, left her out of their conversations and talked about her behind her back. She says that from this early experience, she learned to stay to herself at work. She says, “I still have my guards up. You know, it affected me when I got other jobs because I don’t want to interact.” Michelle describes how she has adapted to frequent encounters with racism in Iowa. She says, “I’m basically a friendly person, but I can be not friendly as well. So, that’s the way I cope with it. I just act like they don’t exist. I just stay in my own little world.”

Separation from social ties in Chicago and barriers to the formation of new ties in Iowa leave many former Chicagoans socially isolated and reliant on highly individualized strategies of survival. The desire to be self-sufficient is a common theme throughout the interviews, and in the context of social isolation, some participants may be left with no alternative to relying on themselves. As Tara says, “I don’t count on these people in this neighborhood. I count on myself because myself would not let my own self down.”

Without social rootedness, for many participants, Iowa is not a place to call home, just somewhere to be for a while in order to “do what you have to do.” Or, as Lakia says, “Living in Iowa is like doing a beat,” (a reference, she explains, to a prison sentence). Without social ties, and in the context of stigma and economic vulnerability, the nature of this “beat” is also extremely fragile and many participants have stories of friends and family who eventually returned to Chicago or moved on in search of somewhere else to “be OK.”

Are White Appalachians A Special Case?

I’ve had poverty on my mind. I was thinking about it in terms of violent crime and social problems more broadly. I will be writing more about this topic, but Appalachia seems like a good starting point. I’d been meaning to write about this for a long time, and I finally felt I had to do some more thorough research, despite my desire to focus on other things.

It has been bugging me. It’s a nagging set of thoughts at the back of my mind. Some time ago, I had a debate in the comments section of one of my posts. It was about white violence in specific areas of the South with a long history of violence. I made some claims based on data I’d seen, but once challenged to prove my claims I realized how complex the data was and too often lacking. I temporarily retracted my claims and promised myself I’d eventually get to the bottom of the issue.

I’ll explore this further in coming posts. For now, I wanted to share a few comments I made in response to a blog post that wasn’t particularly worthy of responses. I can be a glutton for punishment sometimes. Here is the post by someone who calls himself bharford:

Poverty Causes Crime? Meet White Appalachia

His basic argument is that white Appalachians are a model poor group, maybe similar to how Asians are a model minority. They’re poor, but still “good people.” Ya know, honest and hardworking folk who go to church on Sunday. Not like those other poor people.

There isn’t much point in reading the post itself. He only shares a bit of data. The only reason I cared at all was because these past weeks I’ve come across a lot of info that I’d never seen before, neither in the blogosphere nor in the mainstream media. Heck, much of it I haven’t even seen in the alternative media either. Some of this stuff gets lost and forgotten, hidden away in musty academic books that few people, besides other academics, read.

Apparently, bharford wasn’t all that interested in what I had to share. He didn’t approve most of my comments, specifically the ones that included data that disproved or challenged the claims he was making, but unlike me he probably isn’t going to retract claims just because the issue is more complicated than he realized. So, I’ll just have to post some of the comments here instead, as seen below. I’ll also include the one comment he directed toward me and my response.

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Data does show that poor whites are more likely to own a house than poor blacks. Those houses in many cases are inherited along with land. People forget that many blacks used to own houses. A lot of their inherited wealth was loss. When blacks were driven out of communities and entire areas, there homes and property was either stolen or destroyed. This happened over many generations.

Whites, on the other hand, experienced generations of white affirmative action. Read Ira Katznelson’s book for the details.

Because of this history, poor whites are less likely to be highly concentrated in poverty and more likely to live near wealthier whites. Economic mobility is easier for whites, because that don’t have the added burden of racial biases in housing, employment, and incarceration. White privilege has been immense over this past century.

It’s easy to forget that Jim Crow, sundown towns, redlining, etc all happened within living memory. It wasn’t that long ago. Some blacks who voted for Obama spent the first part of their life not even having the right to vote.

Even worse, poor minority areas are more heavily polluted because bypasses and toxic dumps are more likely to be located there. This is called environmental racism and it has massive consequences.

Poor blacks have higher rates of lead toxicity than even poor whites, and the damage is hard to imagine on the level of entire communities. Lead toxicity increases rates of violent crime, aggressive behavior, impaired impulse control, ADHD, stunted brain development, cognitive impairment, lowered IQ, etc. That doesn’t even include all the other diseases caused or contributed to by heavy metal exposure. Entire populations of poor minorities are systematically poisoned.

In so many ways, black poverty is far worse than white poverty. Most poor whites have no idea how bad poverty can be.

* * *

http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/when-exceptions-prove-the-rule-poverty-whiteness-and-privilege/

“So, in the case of Appalachians, the proper test of their racial privilege (or lack thereof) would be to compare whites in the region with blacks in the same region and to then ask, do whites have an advantage or privileges relative to their regional counterparts of color? That most people aren’t even aware of the existence of blacks in Appalachia (though they comprise about 6 percent of the region’s population, and are among some of the poorest) seems a pretty good answer to that question. That whites are the ones we instantly think of when we think of Appalachian poverty, and the ones for whom we typically then express such great sympathy, seems to indicate a very substantial kind of privileging; a kind that erases from our consciousness altogether, the problem of rural black poverty as though it were a non-factor.

“And indeed there is far more sympathy expressed for the white poor, historically and today, than for the black and brown poor: another form of implicit preference for, and privileging of, whiteness. Now that the economy is imploding, one can hear concern expressed about the poor (especially the once middle-class poor, mostly constructed as white), and how terrible it is that they are now facing such hardships. Yet when those same hardships were being experienced by the urban black and brown (whose communities have been in a recession or even depression state for entire generations in some cases) little sympathy attached. Indeed, as Martin Gilens explained in his book Why Americans Hate Welfare, as the media imagery of the poor began to shift in the early 1970s, from mostly white and rural to mostly black and urban, public animosity towards the impoverished rose in lockstep. As contrasted with the mostly sympathy-filled portrayals of the Dust Bowl poor in the 30s, or the white families that were losing their farms in the 80s, black families suffering under the combined forces of the decline in city-based manufacturing employment, as well as racism, redlining by banks and neglect of urban school infrastructure, were viewed as responsible for their own plight.

“The simple truth is, working people are not all in the same boat, and white working class folks have real advantages. Black and Latino workers are typically the first fired in an economic downturn, and remain twice as likely to be unemployed and 3-4 times as likely to be poor, in good times or bad; and white high school dropouts are twice as likely to find work as similarly uneducated African Americans.

“Furthermore, according to Thomas Shapiro’s groundbreaking work on the racial wealth divide, whites in the bottom fifth of all white households (in terms of income) have, on average seven times the net worth of similar blacks. In large part this is due to a major advantage in home ownership and thus equity, due to passed down property from parents. Indeed, whites with incomes below $13,000 are more likely to own their own homes than blacks with incomes that are three times higher, largely due to these intergenerational transfers of wealth.”

bharford:

Blacks have a Net LOSS when it comes to bank savings.
So for the poorest whites to have 7xs that saved, is not that far fetched. Owning a trailer may not be sexy but it beomces an asset and a place to call home.
The J EW author Thomas Shapiro glosses over that fact. If we cant trust J EWs to be honest reporters about race and racial matters, who can we trust? Oy vey.

The only advantages poor whites have is common sense and resiliency, as well as a certain country resourcefulness.
They get interest laden student loans for life- like the rest of the whites, while minorities get free paid for grants, they have no quota they can fill to see their admittance into college, though black colleges are still wide open and accepting students, and whites will get passed over at job employment time by less qualified minorities via Affirmative Action in the working world-corporate or municipal.

It’s unsurprising that blacks have a net loss of bank savings when they also have a net loss of earnings. Blacks with a college degree on average earn less than whites with a high school diploma.

Research shows that equally or less qualified whites are more likely to get both an interview and get hired than blacks. This kind of racial bias exists even when comparing just white-sounding names and black-sounding names, before an interview or any personal meeting has occurred. This is also true when the white has a criminal record and the black has no criminal record.

Just imagine what the chances are for a black with a criminal record. Also, consider the fact that blacks are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and hence have a criminal record for many crimes that whites commit at higher rates.

Studies have shown these kind of racial biases are found in diverse areas all across our society. This isn’t just something from the past. It continues to this day.

For these reasons, the average poor black person is far more poor than the average poor white person. Also, poor blacks are more likely to be economically segregated in poor communities and neighborhoods, because of a history of sundown towns, redlining, racially biased housing loans, etc. Poor whites, on the other hand, are more likely to live in wealthier communities. Unsurprisingly, poor blacks have lower economic mobility than poor whites, which means they are more likely to be trapped in poverty across generations.

My family is white and they came from poverty. But because of their whiteness it was much easier for my family to move up in the world. My grandparents didn’t have much education at all and yet were able to get good jobs with life-long job security, high pay, and benefits. My mother then went to college and graduated owing no money. This was common for white people, even poor white people, in the past. Ira Katznelson explains why this was so in her book, When Affirmative Action Was White.

The ability to move out of poverty or at least to move out of poor areas makes a major difference in life outcomes, including health outcomes. The stress of poverty, especially concentrated poverty, takes a large toll on people. This is true for whites as well as blacks, but of course blacks experience poverty too a disproportinate degree.

An example of this is lead toxitiy. Bypasses and toxic dumps have mostly been located in poor minority areas. This caused these areas to have more lead and other heavy metal pollution. Data shows that the poor have higher rates of lead toxicity than the wealthier, minorities higher rates than whites, and poor minorities higher rates than poor whites. Blacks even have higher rates of lead toxicity than Hispanics. This is largely to do with blacks being disproportionately urbanized, in particular during the era when lead pollution skyrocketed, an era also when whites fled the big cities for the suburbs and so avoided the worst lead exposure. Poor whites are more rural and so didn’t have to deal as much with such problems. However, back when lead pollution was initially a rural problem, whites did have high rates of violent crime.

Lead toxicity is nothing to dismiss. It impacts different populations to varying degrees, but few populations escape its negative effects entirely because pollution has become so widespread. Heavy metal toxicty is known to cause and contribute to all kinds of health, neurological, behavioral, and social problems. If you are a bigot who hates all non-whites, you should still care about this issue.

As history has proven again and again, these aren’t just non-white problems. All populations that have experienced these kinds of conditions have shown the similar or even worst rates for these kinds of issues. Violent crime among blacks today, for example, is small compared to violent rates for whites in the past. Similar changes have been seen with IQ rates, as the average black today is far higher IQ than the average white was when the first tests were done.

To my mind, these improvements found in all populations are to be praised. We should try to understand the causes so as to create further improvements. Even white supremacists should be excited to know that poor whites are doing so much better today than was seen in the 1800s and early 1900s. The violent crime rates of whites in the past, not just the poor, were mind-blowingly high. That proves the power of changing environmental conditions. No population, no matter how bad off, is forever fated to suffering and struggle.

Everyone should be able to agree that is a good thing.

* * *

Since your focus is on poor white Appalachia, there is no way that McDowell County, West Virginia should be ignored. According to the 2010 census, the population was barely above 22,000, about 89% non-Hispanic white. It is the southernmost county in state, one of the core counties of Appalachia, and one of the main focuses of the national War On Poverty,

West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country (listed at the bottom with largely black states like Arkansas and Mississippi). And McDowell is one of the poorest counties in the country. McDowell County is so severely poor that it doesn’t even need to worry about economic inequality. The vast majority of people with any money or prospects of making money moved away. All those who remain are mostly the poorest of the poor. Also problematic, the state has one of the highest economic inequalities in the country, an economic inequality that is at a historic high and still growing. The former residents with money may be now living in nearby counties not far away. It’s economic segregation by default.

http://www.newgeography.com/content/003912-the-emerging-geography-inequality

http://www.movoto.com/blog/opinions/income-inequality-map/

http://www.wvpolicy.org/income-inequality-at-historic-high-in-wv

http://www.wvpolicy.org/income-inequality-continues-to-grow-in-west-virginia

The violence and crime numbers are surprisingly high for such a small town and they’ve been rising. It’s even worse when put in context of per capita rates. West Virginia overall has higher violence and crime rates than the national average, and McDowell has higher rates than both the national and state averages. The rates are higher for murder, suicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, etc. That barely scratches the surface of the social problems involved.

http://www.wvnstv.com/story/26594861/mcdowell-county-tops-wv-truancy-rate

“State figures show that nearly a third of West Virginia’s public school students were truant during the 2013-2014 academic year.

“According to Department of Education data, 58 percent of McDowell County’s students were marked as truant. That was the highest rate in the state. Jefferson County had the lowest rate, 7 percent. The statewide rate was about 31 percent.”

http://www.clrsearch.com/McDowell-County-Demographics/WV/Crime-Rate

http://recordspedia.com/West-Virginia/Mcdowell-County/Crime-Statistics

“Between 2001 and 2007 there were 1,442 total crimes reported in Mcdowell County, West Virginia (174 of them violent). Of the 206 crimes that transpire each year in Mcdowell County, just about one half take place less than a mile from home. On average, someone is a victim of a crime in Mcdowell County, West Virginia 206 times a year. This includes 4 murders, 1 rape, and close to nine hundred thefts (including 99 automobile thefts).

“Throughout the last 10 years, crime data were available in Mcdowell County, West Virginia for 7 years. Over that period of time, reported crime in Mcdowell County has climbed by 37 per-cent. In the course of that same period, violent crime rose by 52 per-cent. Taken as a whole, the crime rates are a sign of a rapid worsening in crime over these years in Mcdowell County.”

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/west-virginia-sheriff-shot-dead-outside-county-courthouse

“Williamson, a town of about 3,200, sits along the Tug Fork River in a part of the state long associated with violence. Mingo and neighboring McDowell County are home to the legendary blood feud between the Hatfield family of West Virginia and the McCoy family of Kentucky, a conflict dating to the Civil War.

“Crum’s county was dubbed “Bloody Mingo” during the early 20th century mine wars, when unionizing miners battled Baldwin-Felts security agents hired by the coal operators.

“In May 1920, after evicting striking miners in Red Jacket, some of the Baldwin-Felts men tried to board a train in nearby Matewan but were confronted by the mayor and the chief of police, Sid Hatfield, a former miner, who had family ties to the Hatfields in the feud.

“After a gun battle recreated in the 1987 John Sayles film “Matewan,” the mayor, two miners, a bystander and three agents lay dead. Hatfield became a hero but was gunned down on the courthouse steps a year later in Matewan.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDowell_County,_West_Virginia

“In the 1980s the central Appalachian region lost more than 70,000 coal mining jobs. Between 1981 and 1992, according to the U.S. Department of Energy and the United Mine Workers union, coal mining employment in the state of West Virginia decreased by more than 53%. No county in the Appalachian region was more severely distressed by these losses than McDowell County. According to the United States Census Bureau, in 1980, the rate of poverty in McDowell County was 23.5%.

“By 1990, the poverty rate in McDowell County had climbed to 37.7%, the highest rate of poverty for any county in West Virginia. 50.3% of all children in McDowell County were living in families below the poverty level, up from 31.2% in 1980. The major losses in McDowell County during this period were the result of the closing of all mines and facilities operated by the United States Steel Corporation, terminating more than 1,200 jobs.

“The economic impact of U.S. Steel’s departure was particularly dramatic: personal income in the county decreased by 66% in one year. Housing values in even the most prosperous parts of the county plunged to devastatingly low values. Individuals and families who wanted to relocate outside the county were left with little or no equity in their property. Many walked away from their mortgages and simply abandoned their homes to the lenders.

“Marijuana crops, drug traffic, fraud, arson, and in one spectacular case at the Bank of Keystone—major white collar crime and embezzlement became factors in the unofficial economy of McDowell. County officials also reported significant increases in the rates of domestic abuse, suicide, and OxyContin abuse.

“By 2001 suffering major losses of tax revenue, McDowell County public schools had fallen into physical decay and high rates of academic failure. Enrollments declined, more than half of the children lived in poverty. […]

“The median income for a household in the county was $21,574, and the median income for a family was $27,605. Men had a median income of $25,994 versus $18,685 for Women. The per capita income for the county was $12,004. About 29.1% of families and 34.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 43.4% of those under age 18 and 23.3% of those age 65 or over.[15]

“In 2013, press reports indicated that the average lifespan of a man in McDowell County was 63.9 years, compared to a national average of 76.3. This was the shortest lifespan for men in the country. Women in the county could expect to live 72.9 years; the national figure is 80.9. This was the second-worst number in the United States, with only Perry County, Kentucky doing worse.[16]”

http://www.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/mcdowell-county-usa-has-close-haitis-life-expectancy-welcome

“Those WHO figures for the U.S. take into account the country as a whole, and overall, Americans clearly aren’t living as long as Europeans. But the news becomes even more troubling when one examines a report that the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington released in July 2013. That study broke down life expectancy for men and women in different parts of the U.S., showing a strong correlation between income levels and longevity. The report found that life expectancy is 81.6 for males and 84.5 for females in Fairfax County, Virginia (a very affluent area) and 81.4 for males and 85.0 for females in Marin County, California (another upscale area) compared to only 63.9 for males and 72.9 for females in McDowell County, West Virginia or 66.7 for males and 73.3 for females in Tunica County, Mississippi.

“The fact that males in McDowell County are, on average, dying 18 years younger than males in Fairfax County or Marin County speaks volumes about inequality in the U.S. That type of disparity is more typical of a developing country than a developed country. Yet when one compares life expectancy in McDowell County to life expectancy in Guatemala, one of Latin America’s poorest countries, Guatemalans come out slightly ahead. WHO has reported an overall life expectancy of 69 for Guatemala (66 for men, 73 for women).

“So in other words, the poor in Guatemala are outliving the poor in McDowell County. In fact, McDowell County is only slightly ahead of Haiti, Ghana and Papua New Guinea when it comes to life expectancy for males: according to WHO, life expectancy for males is 62 in those three countries.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-hedges/west-virginia-oxycontin-abuse_b_1820493.html

“About half of those living in McDowell County depend on some kind of relief check such as Social Security, Disability, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, retirement benefits, and unemployment to survive. They live on the margins, check to check, expecting no improvement in their lives and seeing none. The most common billboards along the roads are for law firms that file disability claims and seek state and federal payments. “Disability and Injury Lawyers,” reads one. It promises to handle “Social Security. Car Wrecks. Veterans. Workers’ Comp.” The 800 number ends in COMP.

“Harry M. Caudill, in his monumental 1963 book Night Comes to the Cumberlands, describes how relief checks became a kind of bribe for the rural poor in Appalachia. The decimated region was the pilot project for outside government assistance, which had issued the first food stamps in 1961 to a household of fifteen in Paynesville, West Virginia. “Welfarism” began to be practiced, as Caudill wrote, “on a scale unequalled elsewhere in America and scarcely surpassed anywhere in the world.” Government “handouts,” he observed, were “speedily recognized as a lode from which dollars could be mined more easily than from any coal seam.”

“Obtaining the monthly “handout” became an art form. People were reduced to what Caudill called “the tragic status of ‘symptom hunters.’ If they could find enough symptoms of illness, they might convince the physicians they were ‘sick enough to draw’… to indicate such a disability as incapacitating the men from working. Then his children, as public charges, could draw enough money to feed the family.””

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/21/us/50-years-into-the-war-on-poverty-hardship-hits-back.html

“McDowell County, the poorest in West Virginia, has been emblematic of entrenched American poverty for more than a half-century. John F. Kennedy campaigned here in 1960 and was so appalled that he promised to send help if elected president. His first executive order created the modern food stamp program, whose first recipients were McDowell County residents. When President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty” in 1964, it was the squalor of Appalachia he had in mind. The federal programs that followed — Medicare, Medicaid, free school lunches and others — lifted tens of thousands above a subsistence standard of living.

“But a half-century later, with the poverty rate again on the rise, hardship seems merely to have taken on a new face in McDowell County. The economy is declining along with the coal industry, towns are hollowed out as people flee, and communities are scarred by family dissolution, prescription drug abuse and a high rate of imprisonment. […]

“Much of McDowell County looks like a rural Detroit, with broken windows on shuttered businesses and homes crumbling from neglect. In many places, little seems to have been built or maintained in decades.

“Numbers tell the tale as vividly as the scarred landscape. Forty-six percent of children in the county do not live with a biological parent, according to the school district. Their mothers and fathers are in jail, are dead or have left them to be raised by relatives, said Gordon Lambert, president of the McDowell County Commission.

“Beginning in the 19th century, the rugged region produced more coal than any other county in West Virginia, but it got almost none of the wealth back as local investment. Of West Virginia’s 55 counties, McDowell has the lowest median household income, $22,000; the worst childhood obesity rate; and the highest teenage birthrate.

“It is also reeling from prescription drug abuse. The death rate from overdoses is more than eight times the national average. Of the 115 babies born in 2011 at Welch Community Hospital, over 40 had been exposed to drugs.

“Largely as a consequence of the drug scourge, a problem widespread in rural America, the incarceration rate in West Virginia is one of the highest in the country.

““Whole families have been wiped out in this county: mother, father, children,” said Sheriff Martin B. West.

““These are good people, good families,” Sheriff West, an evangelical pastor, said of his lifelong neighbors. “But they get involved with drugs, and the next thing you know they’re getting arrested.” […]

“Many in McDowell County acknowledge that depending on government benefits has become a way of life, passed from generation to generation. Nearly 47 percent of personal income in the county is from Social Security, disability insurance, food stamps and other federal programs.

“But residents also identify a more insidious cause of the current social unraveling: the disappearance of the only good jobs they ever knew, in coal mining. The county was always poor. Yet family breakup did not become a calamity until the 1990s, after southern West Virginia lost its major mines in the downturn of the American steel industry. The poverty rate, 50 percent in 1960, declined — partly as a result of federal benefits — to 36 percent in 1970 and to 23.5 percent in 1980. But it soared to nearly 38 percent in 1990. For families with children, it now nears 41 percent.

“Today, fewer than one in three McDowell County residents are in the labor force. The chief effort to diversify the economy has been building prisons. The most impressive structure on Route 52, the twisting highway into Welch, is a state prison that occupies a former hospital. There is also a new federal prison on a mountaintop. But many residents have been skipped over for the well-paying jobs in corrections: They can’t pass a drug test.”

http://www.wealthandpoverty.net/2014/04/the-reign-of-poverty-in-mcdowell-county084741.php

“The details are harrowing. Fourty-six percent of children in the county don’t live with a biological parent. The death rate from drug overdose is over eight times the national average. The incarceration rate is among the highest in the U.S.

“In the 1950’s, 100,000 people called McDowell County home. In 2014, that number has plummeted to 21,300, and the county is populated only by those who can’t leave due to lack of education or skills, or have family connections that keep them rooted in the area.

“With the disappearance of coal mining jobs, many families now rely on Social Security, food stamps, and disability payments. Dependence on government money has become “a way of life, passed from generation to generation.” Fewer than one out of three participates in the labor force (works, or is looking for work)–a figure that compares poorly to the national labor participation rate of 63.2% (as of March 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

“McDowell County is aware of their detachment from the rest of the country, and places a large importance on staying loyal to “us,” as opposed to “them.” Fifteen-year-old Emalee sees the possibility of pursuing a college education in her future, but her family doesn’t want her to go. Says Florisha McGuire of leaving her small West Virginian town to attend college: “you’d think I’d committed a crime.”

“There are so many factors that we could blame for the destitution of McDowell County. There’s the extensive dependence on welfare that disincentives productive work. There’s the economic shift that caused the disappearance of coal mining jobs. There’s pervasive drug use that puts otherwise good people in jail, separating parents from children and citizens from society. There’s the lack of hope for betterment in the future that discourages seeking out opportunity elsewhere.

“The truth is, all of these variables interact with and feed upon each other. Perhaps the one sure lesson that we can take away is that poverty, at its core, is not just a money issue–it’s a community issue.”

* * *

Why didn’t you approve my comments? In multiple unapproved comments, I offered quotes, data, and analysis from different perspectives. Don’t you want to have a discussion about what all this means? Aren’t you at least curious and hopefully concerned about what causes social problems, no matter what race or ethnicity is involved?

I’m sympathetic to poor whites. My mother came from lower working class people from what some call Kentuckiana, and it just occurred to me that several generations before her the family actually was living in Appalachia. She spoke with a Southern Hoosier dialect when she was younger, and when I visit her family I can still hear some of them speak that way. I don’t have to go back very far in my family history to find severe poverty. I’ve lived below the poverty line myself at one point in my life. The people you describe are what I consider my people.

If you really cared about these people, you’d dig much deeper in trying to understand and you wouldn’t create a stereotyped caricature that dismisses the harsh reality of poverty. And as a professed Christian (going by your About page), you should care. A good place to start is by getting an insider’s perspective. I’d suggest Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus (or you could check out his memoir, Rainbow Pie). Bageant doesn’t pull his punches and he most certainly cares as he writes about the people he grew up with. He was born and raised as a dirt poor Appalachian among the too often forgotten white underclass.

There is a lot more going on in this region and in these communities. The history alone is fascinating and times heartbreaking. Appalachia and the larger region isn’t even just about whites. Many areas that are majority white today had large black populations in the past, prior to Jim Crow, the KKK, and redlining. Even so, many blacks remain in these rural areas, especially in the South, but also in Appalachia.

Poverty is not a race issue. Rural blacks are basically the same as rural whites in rates of social problems, although rural blacks are less likely to commit suicide. The same goes for comparing inner city blacks and inner city whites. Back when most blacks were rural, they had strong communities and high marriage rates; and at least in some places (e.g., rural Louisiana) blacks committed less violent crime than did whites, both intraracial and interracial. Inner cities are a very different kind of place, but it’s been hard for blacks to escape those conditions. It’s similar to why poor Appalachians get stuck in poor communities, long after the employment dried up. Inner cities also at one time had high employment rates for blacks. Loss of factories in inner cities had the same basic impact as loss of mining in Appalachia.

That said, I agree with you that Appalachia is an interesting case to consider. It has poverty, no doubt about that. But I’d love to know more details. How severe is that poverty compared to the poorest communities and neighborhoods in the US? How concentrated is the poverty there? Research has found that concentrated severe poverty is, of course, far worse than sparse moderate poverty. Hence, the social problems vary greatly according to the specific type and conditions of poverty.

I know Appalachia and the Upper South. It’s a different kind of place. Kentucky has had great decreases in violent crime, but Tennessee for some reason hasn’t seen as much improvement. Both states have histories of violent populations. Tennessee remains one of the most violent states in the country, even to the extent of sometimes making it to the top of the list. Kentucky diverged from its sister state, Tennessee. I don’t know why that is. I’ve traveled around Kentucky and it truly seems like a border state, with similarities both to the Midwest and to the South. The Midwestern states also tend to have lower violent crime rates.

But there was something I noticed in Kentucky that I haven’t seen too many other places. If you drive down rural back roads, you’ll find shacks and old houses that are nearly falling down and yet sometimes nearby will be a well-kept mansion. It’s the strangest thing, especially from my Midwestern perspective. The extremes of poverty and wealth are often right next to one another, at least in rural areas.

I saw a similar phenomenon in South Carolina. My family lived in Columbia. There was a main road that headed into downtown. On one side of the road, there was a poor mostly black neighborhood (along with some Projects) and on the other side of the road was a wealthy mostly white neighborhood. There was no massive wall dividing the two worlds, just the road.

That kind of thing simply does not exist in Iowa. Ignoring the contrast to Iowa, I wanted to note some differences between the two examples above.

The South Carolina example was of concentrated poverty and concentrated wealth, even though they were right next to each other. If you looked at the county level data, you wouldn’t be able to see this concentration, but it was obvious just by driving down that road.

That kind of concentrated urban poverty, whether or not next to concentrated wealth, tends to lead to all kinds of social problems. This has been demonstrated in numerous examples throughout American history, in terms of diverse races and ethnicities. When Italians, Irish, and Jews lived in urban neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, they saw similar social problems as seen today: violent crime, family breakdown, low education achievement, job insecurity, alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, etc.

Rural poverty may be less of a problem in some ways. It is spread out more, but that just means the problems are spread out more. Are the social problems less worse or less obvious?

I bet that interesting patterns would be seen in Appalachia if you were to break down the different areas. I’m specifically thinking of urban vs rural and concentrated poverty vs mixed class residences, but also other distinctions as well. The results might not fit what many would expect.

I’ll give some examples that shows how complicated it can be.

How the data is divided determines the conclusion that is made. According to how the data is normally divided, US rural areas on average are safer than US urban areas on average. But this is mixing up a whole lot of factors and averaging out across great diversity. Some urban areas are extremely safe. Many of the biggest cities, for example, have below average violence and crime rates, maybe because of more police presence or other reasons. Also, both inner cities and suburbs both share the trait of not being rural, but otherwise they are quite distinct.

The data can be divided up in other ways. By rural, what most researchers have meant is all small and/or sparsely populated areas. This has most often included small towns, even though one would think of a small town being an urban area, albeit a small urban area.

There was one study I came across that didn’t include small towns as part of rural areas and so entirely separated out sparsely populated rural areas, which is what many people think of when rural is mentioned. This study made three categories for analysis: rural areas, small towns, and big cities. The results showed the small towns were the safest of all for violent crime, although they had high rates of other crimes such as vandalism and larceny. Most interesting of all, is that divided up this way rural areas proved to have higher violent crime rates than even big cities. When people say rural areas are safer, what they really mean is that small towns are safer.

You also see differences according to regions. Compare the Midwest and the South. Both have high rates of gun ownership. Yet the Midwest has lower rates of gun violence and and the South has higher rates of gun violence. I know, for example, in the rural South that you are more likely to be killed by someone you know. There was a recent study that showed increasing gun ownership rates doesn’t correlate to increasing stranger gun homicides but it does correlate to increasing non-stranger gun homicides. That correlation, however, might also show great disparity between regions.

By the way, I don’t know if Appalachia is on average more similar to the Midwest or the South. Even though the Southern section of Appalachia is in the South, the northern part is in the Midwest. There might be great differences when looking at different areas of Appalachia.

It does make me wonder. I know that the South in general has higher rates of a wide variety of social problems, such as rates of teen pregnancy and high school drop outs. These social problems are mostly found among poor Southerners, both black and white. The South also has high rates of poverty and economic inequality which is always found anywhere there are social problems. Maybe Appalachia needs to be considered separately. The conditions of Appalachia might be different than other areas.

After writing the above, I came across a list of the top 50 most dangerous counties in America, based on 2012 data:

http://www.movoto.com/blog/top-ten/most-dangerous-counties/

It’s an imperfect list because the data is limited, but it still is interesting. A significant number of counties on this list are in or near Appalachia. I didn’t compare this list to that of the poorest counties in America. I bet some of the same counties would be found on both lists. For certain, I doubt many, if any, of the most dangerous counties are places of low poverty rates.

I was looking back through your post. I realized that you didn’t actually offer much in the way of data. You mostly just shared photographs and made many unsubstantiated claims. One piece of data you did share caught my attention:

http://cnsnews.com/news/article/america-s-10-poorest-counties-are-gulf-coast-states-kentucky-and-indian-reservations

“Yet, The violent crime rate for Appalachia in 2010 was lower than the national violent crime rate average by 56.76%”

You followed that with a map that showed economic by county in Appalachia. It made me realize that you weren’t clear in what point you were making. Appalachia includes many prosperous counties as well as poor. The poorest counties also probably are the least populated and so probably have the least amount of concentrated poverty, which makes a massive difference as research shows. Most Appalachians probably live in the prosperous counties because that is where most of the work is located. Nothing you said offers clear insight about the average Appalachian.

In Appalachia, the poverty rates and average income levels differ greatly. depending on the state:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Appalachian_Regional_Commission_counties

Talking about Appalachia is somewhat arbitrary. It not only crosses several state boundaries but also stretches between three different regions: Deep South, Upper South, and Midwest. Those states and those regions are very different kinds of places with different demographics, different economies, and different governments.

A similar problem exists in talking about the Midwest, something I’m more familiar with. The Lower South and Upper South might as well be considered separately. The lower edge of the Lower Midwest is culturally more Southern. The same difficult goes for the Eastern Midwest and Western Midwest. I live in Iowa, which is on the other side of the Mississippi and has no big cities. Iowa is quite different from the Midwestern Rust Belt.

I don’t mean to say that it is pointless to discuss generalizations about vast regions, whether Appalachia or Midwest. It’s just that one should be very careful and pay close attention to the details.

I’d say the same thing about even larger generalized categories such as all poor whites. Some poor whites are more severely poor than others. Some are only temporarily poor while some populations are intergenerationally poor. Some exhibit higher rates of social problems, but not all do. Many demographics considered as white today weren’t in the past. The crime data used to keep the numbers separate for not just races but all major ethnicities. A century or so ago, Italians, Irish, and Jews had high rates of crimes that went along with high rates of concentrated poverty.

Even some of the same whites show diverse rates of problems over time. Appalachia still does have plenty of violence, but it is worth noting that is far lower than it used to be. As far as that goes, all violent crime is lower in the US than it used to be and it is dropping the most quickly among minorities, for whatever reason. It likely has to do with changing environmental conditions, such as decreased heavy metal pollution.

Also, what about people who move. Many Appalachians in the past have since moved to other places. Where did they go? Did they simply assimilate into other populations? Even limiting ourselves to Appalachia, how has the population shifted around and which counties have the most population now? What are the poverty and violent crime rates like in the most populous Appalachian counties where most Appalachians live?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. You didn’t even think to ask them. If you really want to understand any of this, your post and the discussion in the comments has barely scratched the surface. Don’t these unanswered questions make you curious?

* * *

Crime and Policing in Rural and Small-Town America: Third Edition
by Ralph A. Weisheit, David N. Falcone, L. Edward Well
p. 48

“Informal social control, keeping things in, and showing a greater suspicion of government may also help account for rural-urban differences in the willingness of local communities to cooperate fully with reporting to the FBI’s UCR. Reporting to the CR program in 2003 differed by population density, with reports covering 95% of citizens living in metropolitan statistical areas but only 83% of those living in rural areas (FBI, 2003). Similarly, Laub (1981) has found that while the overall likelihood of reporting crime to the police is similar for rural and urban citizens, those in urban areas fail to report because they think nothing can be done, while those in rural areas fail to report because they consider the crime a private concern, even when the offender is a stranger. As a New Mexico state police officer observed: “In a lot of these [rural] areas, there’s really no law enforcement—no police, no sheriff, no state police station. People prefer to handle their own affairs and disputes themselves” (Applebombe, 1987, p. 11). The officer’s comment should be taken as more figurative than literal, although there are remote areas of Alaska where the statement could be taken literally. The statement does reflect two dimensions of the issue that are distinct but tend to reinforce each other. First, rural citizens may less often to choose to deal with a problem formally because they see it as a local problem. Second, in some rural areas formal police authority is in fact physically distant and is not an immediate option.”

p. 55

“Kenneth Wilkinson (1984) also used county-level data but came to a very different conclusion. In contrast to other data, he found that homicide rates were higher in rural areas. He accounted for this by noting that in a geographically dispersed population, social interactions occur more frequently among family members and close acquaintances; both are groups at a relatively higher risk for homicide. Wilkinson also observed that when compared with large cities, homicide rates were higher in rural areas but lower in small cities. Taken together, these findings highlight the importance of crime-specific analyses and of using care in defining the term rural. Simply treating everything outside of major metropolitan areas as rural can mask important patterns.”

p. 59

“Finally, official police data provided in the UCR also reveal some offenses for which the rates are higher in small towns and rural areas than for large cities… [R]ural counties are much higher than large cities in the arrest rate for DUI and for crimes against family members and children. This last finding conflicts with field research and some survey research that suggests that family violence rates are similar across rural and urban areas and that police in rural areas are more hesitant to respond to family violence… [S]mall towns are higher than either large cities or the most rural areas in arrest rates for fraud and vandalism. In small towns and rural areas arrest rates for fraud are about four times greater than in the largest cities. Curiously, arrest rates for vandalism are lowest in the most rural areas and highest in small towns, with city rates falling in between.”

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/red-barns-and-white-barns-why-rural-crime-skyrocketed-late-1800s

“In short, lead paint simply wasn’t available in most rural areas before the 1880s except in very narrow corridors with good transportation. You can see this in the prevalence of white barns along the National Road. Then, starting in the 1880s, revolutions in both rail transport and mail order distribution made economical lead paint available almost everywhere—including rural areas. A couple of decades later, homicide rates had skyrocketed in rural areas and had nearly caught up to urban murder rates.

“By itself, of course, this would be merely speculative. What makes it more than this is that it adds to the wealth of other evidence that lead exposure in childhood leads to increased violence in adulthood. In the post-World War II era, lead exposure came mainly from automobile exhausts, but in the post-Civil War era it came mainly from the growth in the use of lead paint. And when lead paint became available in rural areas, farmers found it just as useful as everyone else. Given what we now know about the effects of lead, it should come as no surprise that a couple of decades later the murder rate in rural areas went up substantially.”

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/before-the-1890s/

American Homicide
by Randolph Roth
Kindle Locations 222-225

“Race and slavery are connected to America’s homicide problem, but not in a straightforward way. Before the 1890s, for example, African Americans were far less likely to kill than whites were, and especially unlikely to kill one another. Why, for the past century, has the opposite been the case? Why were Virginia and Maryland no more homicidal than Pennsylvania in the 1720s and 1730s, when they had more slaves and free blacks? Why did slave states become more homicidal after the Revolution, when free states became less homicidal?”

* * *

Here are two bonus articles:

The Violence Bred By Poverty Whether In Poorest Appalachia Or Poorest Philadelphia, Joblessness And Desperation Can Bring A Whole New Way Of Living – And Dying.
by Jeffrey Fleishman and Karl Stark, phily.com

Ferguson, like Appalachia, suffers from social and economic inequality
by Kieren Weisert

“Before the 1890s…”

I was reading from many books lately. My curious mind was flitting about, sampling various authors.

One thing that was on my mind was shame and honor, specifically as related to culture and social problems. That led me to look at a book I’ve had for a while, American Homicide by Randolph Roth, because it came up while doing web searches. The author, near the beginning of the book (Kindle Locations 222-225), encapsulates the difficulty of understanding violence. He writes that,

“Race and slavery are connected to America’s homicide problem, but not in a straightforward way. Before the 1890s, for example, African Americans were far less likely to kill than whites were, and especially unlikely to kill one another. Why, for the past century, has the opposite been the case? Why were Virginia and Maryland no more homicidal than Pennsylvania in the 1720s and 1730s, when they had more slaves and free blacks? Why did slave states become more homicidal after the Revolution, when free states became less homicidal?”

He simultaneously disproves the plausibility of the conservative argument that blames culture for everything and the neoreactionary argument that blames genetics for everything. These were changes happening within populations. The basic cultures and genetics of these populations didn’t likely change much over such short periods of times. Some other social dynamic was behind the increase of violence in some places and the decrease elsewhere.

Even I’m fond of some of the more interesting cultural hypotheses, but I’m always wary about the implications of taking them too much at face value. They can potentially offer insight. The danger is that they make for convenient just-so stories. They have a way of ending inquiry, instead of inspiring further questioning.

As for genetics, Roth doesn’t specifically discuss that in this book. He does, however, speak of specific populations. So, specific population genetics are indirectly involved. This book severely undermines the type of arguments one hears from human biodiversity advocates.

Also, the above passage would seem to even challenge the simpler accounts of social problems that come from the political left. The black population more than a century ago was more impoverished than the black population is today. On the other hand, those on the political left could rightly point out that economic inequality has increased as economic mobility has decreased. Blacks in the post-Civil War era had many reasons for feeling more hopeful than desperate. It seemed like their world was improving dramatically and quickly.

The full backlash was yet to come. Industrialization and urbanization was bringing benefits for most Americans, even poor minorities. De-industrialization and offshoring, suburbanization and ghettoization (followed by gentrification) was not even on the horizon. Blacks, immediately following Emancipation, acted like a people with a sense of realistic hope. The shame of centuries of enslavement had fallen away and for the first time a generation of free blacks were becoming a force in American society.

The 1890s, however, began a new era of racial oppression. It was the beginning of Jim Crow. Is it surprising that increased oppression led to increased desperation and hence violence? The entire society got more violent during that time. In fact, it was the most violent period in our country’s history.

It is interesting that the black population has yet to fully recover from what happened during Jim Crow. Before that time, blacks were becoming increasingly independent. They had formed their own communities and towns. They opened their own businesses, ran their own newspapers, and had their own schools. They elected their own local political officials.

Then the wrath of violence came down upon them. It wasn’t just lynchings. It included the theft of land and property, or else its destruction. Entire neighborhoods were burnt down. Entire populations were driven out of towns. Blacks were herded into inner cities.

In the relatively good times before the backlash, blacks showed that they were perfectly capable of having well functioning communities. Their violence rates were low. Their economic mobility was increasing. I’m willing to bet about everything was improving, from crime rates to marriage rates.

The twentieth century was a slow destruction of black communities. It was a slow destruction of their families and social capital. The early twentieth century began the rise of mass incarceration and the drug wars, and of course all of this was mostly directed at poor minorities.

Why do people act surprised that when communities, families, and lives are destroyed that people will become desperate and act in less than optimal ways? Neither culture nor genetics is needed to explain the increase of violence, and it indeed was an increase. It didn’t begin that way.

Examining Our Racialized Lives

There are no races. There is just racism. Races and racism can’t be separated. However, when you identify a person as African-American, you are referring to ethnicity, not race.

Ethnicities do exist and are meaningful categories of human ancestry, culture, traditions, and communities. Speaking of races serves no purpose other than promoting racism, even if inadvertently. There is nothing that race indicates that can’t be better described by ethnicity.

According to a New Study, Blacks Are Losing Out to—Wait for It—African Americans
by Jason Johnson, The Root

“In the case of a job applicant, when asked to speculate about education, ability and income, whites believed that the “black” applicant was less educated and estimated his income as about $29,000 a year. But the candidate labeled “African American” was thought to be more educated by white respondents, and making about $37,000 a year.

“In another experiment, a suspect in a crime was labeled “black” or “African American,” and whites consistently had more negative emotions and were more likely to label the “black” suspect as guilty. In fact, throughout the experiment, “black” always lost out to “African American” among white respondents—but lest you get the impression that they thought better of African Americans, let us be clear: Whites simply liked blacks less. In the study, they didn’t necessarily hold more positive feelings toward African Americans compared with other groups—just compared with blacks. [ . . . ]

“Ultimately, the Emory study speaks to a more important and pressing issue, which is the depth to which overt and even subconscious racial bias in the white majority impacts the lives of African Americans. If a loan application or a college admission form uses the term “black” instead of “African American,” it may play into a larger discrimination cycle already in motion.

“Granted, more often than not, being hired for a job isn’t going to turn on whether you describe yourself as black or as African American. But given the results of this study, and the impact on jobs and lives, one has to wonder if the black unemployment rate is just a little bit higher than the African-American unemployment rate.”

White Privilege, Quantified
by Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic

“Once biases have been catalogued objectively, there remains the problem of what to do about them. A side experiment that Mujcic and Frijters describe in their paper hints at one possible solution. They approached several bus drivers on break, showing them a picture of a subject from the original experiment and asking the driver if that rider would be allowed to stay on. In that survey, 86 percent of drivers said they’d let a black passenger stay onboard—a rate far higher than what happened out on the streets. Perhaps drivers know that they shouldn’t discriminate, but only act on that knowledge when they think their actions are being recorded. Putting policies in place that force people to step outside of their everyday rhythms and evaluate their own fairness might be a useful strategy. Or maybe it comes down to devising something that makes them feel the pressure of that ultimate motivator, social pressure.”

On a related note, here is a clear example of why race is total bullshit. This is a picture of twins:

Lucy and Maria Aylmer

 

No, The Poor Aren’t Undeserving Moral Reprobates

What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients
by Bryce Covert and Josh Israel, Think Progress

“According to state data gathered by ThinkProgress, the seven states with existing programs — Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out very few drug users. The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent. Meanwhile, they’ve collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort, and millions more may have to be spent in coming years.”

This goes back to my thoughts on the scapegoating of the poor, most especially poor minorities. It is minorities who are used as the symbol of and proxy for poverty, even as most poor people are white. It is poor minorities that get called welfare queens, even as most people on welfare are white. Besides, most people only go on welfare temporarily and most public assistance goes to people with employment.

The poor, of all races, are supposedly lazy. The more well off think that, if they just worked harder, all of their problems would be solved. That is obvious bullshit. As I’ve noted, the poor are the hardest working Americans around. The problem is that they are working too hard for too little.

The other trope is that the poor, especially those on welfare, are stuck in their situation because of low moral behavior. They are criminals, drug addicts, etc. We could argue about correlation versus causation. It is unsurprising that impoverished, unemployed, and sometimes homeless people turn to crime and even drugs. But what we should be careful about the assumptions we make. Why would we assume poor people are doing more drugs when drugs are an expensive habit?

Similarly, we find in reality that it isn’t poor minorities who use most of the drugs in our society. White people do as much or more drugs than minorities in general, although of course minorities get targeted, profiled, and arrested more for drug crimes. The wealthier demographics of our society have high rates of drug use, because of the simple reason that they can afford it and can avoid the legal consequences.

I’d like to see us do random drug testing of wealthy people. I bet the rates would be off the charts. Why the double standard?

When we consider other data, we find an interesting pattern. The poor are better at identifying the emotional experience of others, which is to say they are better at empathizing. Related to this, the poor give a higher percentage of their money to charity. If we are looking for undeserving moral reprobates, maybe conservatives are looking in the wrong place.

The Privilege of Even Poor Whites

I just don’t get the belief in genetic and cultural determinism. It doesn’t really explain anything.

As an example, “whites” used to have much lower IQs on average than do “non-white” minorities now. The first IQ tests were done in the early 20th century. It was a time of many social problems, not unlike these past decades. It was a time when ethnic Americans of European ancestry were targeted and scapegoated by WASPs not unlike how minorities are still treated.

Along with testing as low IQ, those ethnic Americans had higher rates of violence than have been seen since, much of it related to substance abuse, youth gangs, and organized crime. It was the highest rates of violent crime ever recorded in US history and, because of mass immigration from Europe, probably was the largest “white” majority in US history (or rather perceived “white” majority as those included and excluded is always changing).

That was the largest influx of “white” genetics and culture ever to happen on American soil. If “whites” are inherently superior, why didn’t that even larger “white” majority immediately drive down the violence and push up the IQ? It took decades before those early 20th century social problems improved with the help of public education, Progressive policies, the GI Bill, etc… not to mention oppressive Cold War tactics of cultural genocide and forced assimilation of hyphenated Americans into proper “white” mainstream culture, a part of the original purpose of such things as public education which is why the KKK supported it.

So, if even lower IQ and more violent “whites” were able to see vast improvements over such a short period of time, why is it assumed that “non-white” minorities today are different? Why wouldn’t the same improved environmental condtions that improved the lives of ethnic “whites”, if implemented universally, also improve the lives of all other Americans? Why is genetic and cultural determinism only applied to rationalize the social problems impacting some groups and not others?

This is a personal issue for me, as a descendant of ethnic immigrants, some who likely identified as hyphenated Americans.

My non-English ancestors experienced oppression and prejudice. They worked hard, and through generations of struggle they were allowed to move up in society.

My mother’s family a few generations ago were poor whites: distillers, farmers, clam diggers, manual laborers, etc; when they were lucky enough to find work. They definitely knew poverty and unemployment during the early 20th century. They were under-educated and uneducated, often illiterate and unable to write until recent generations. They wouldn’t have tested as high IQ. They also had many of the problems associated with ethnic Americans, such as alcoholism and bootlegging during Prohibition. They were simple people, just getting by in life, whatever that took.

It was only with my mother’s generation that most of her family began graduating from high school and, in some cases, getting college degrees. Within a single generation, many members of my mom’s family went from poor to middle class. Their perceived “whiteness” gave them privileges and advantages of social and economic mobility.

It wasn’t genetic and cultural determinism that had kept them poor and disadvantaged for centuries upon centuries. It was the social conditions that initially kept them at the bottom of society and that then allowed them to rise. Their perceived “whiteness”, after they had been either willingly or forcefully assimilated, doesn’t explain this change. Rather, their perceived “whiteness” was the change or an expression of that change. Before being “white” or fully “white”, they were treated as second class citizens and so they suffered the fate of second class citizens. The twentieth century, however, gave them new opportunities with a new racial and social identity. They were now “white” and hence “real Americans”.

Many whites take this kind of cross-generational upward mobility as a point of pride. Their family did it. So, it is no one else’s fault for those who are seen as failures. But this ignores the reality of our society, the remaining forms of classism and racism. It was also only a brief respite for many families, as new generations find themselves falling back down into poverty once again, no better off than the rest of the poor who have been stuck there. The American Dream has been a mirage because it never was built on a strong foundation, never was integrated into a functioning democracy.

The racial myth of superiority has been shown to be the lie it always was. Poor whites have always been the majority of the poor and those on welfare. A temporary respite from poverty for some white Americans didn’t change this fact.

Why do we want to use social categories to choose who will be allowed to succeed and who will continue to be punished with prejudice and oppression? Instead, why not treat all Americans equally and give them all equal opportunities and assistance? Making excuses of determinism helps no one and harms everyone as it undermines the very values and ideals that justify our country’s existence. If American isn’t about an actual American Dream accessible to all Americans, then what is it about? Do we really want to cynically embrace Apartheid? Why not live up to the hopes and aspirations our country was founded upon?

Black Families: “Broken” and “Weak”

“I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.”
 ~ Steven Steinberg, quoting a black friend

Many of my unconscious assumptions have been challenged over the years. One example of this are the mental habits I’ve had when hearing the frame of “broken families”. Part of me has always known that there are many kinds of family structures and social networks, but that part of my mind was unintentionally divided from the part of my mind that normally deals with ideas such as “broken families”.

I hadn’t previously been forced to become aware of this bias I had, partly because of a lack of knowledge. Books I’ve read in recent years have both given me new information and new contexts in which to think. In the past, I took the idea of “broken families” at face value without fully interrogating the assumptions behind it. I was just being a typical American in thinking this way.

As my views have shifted, I’ve become more self-questioning. I don’t just want to understand others. This is personal to me. This is about the society I’m a part of. My family ties to America go back to that first Virginia colony and that particular family line began with a slave owner. That puts my identity as an American in perspective. It also puts my views on the American family in perspective.

I am who I am because of who my ancestors were. There is a continuous link between their lives and my own. Unlike the descendants of the slaves owned by that ancestor of mine, my genealogy on that family line is well established. My ancestor, all those centuries ago, brought his own family to the New World and along with them he tore away Africans from their families. In that, the seed of American culture was planted.

My parents, white of course, both came from families where there was much fighting and in my mother’s family also abuse. My paternal grandparents divorced when my father was in high school. Neither of my parents’ families were ideal nuclear families and my father’s family ended up as a “broken family”. Interestingly, my maternal grandmother had an absentee father (her maiden name was Peebles, the same as that early Virginia plantation owner). Her father disappeared one day, never to be heard from again.

But I’m not sure how my parents’ would label their families. They both are conservatives with strong family values and both would criticize blacks for their supposed weak and broken families. They have remained married, my dad having avoided his own family’s curse of single parenthood. They take this as proof that no one can blame previous generations for their own ‘failures’.

However, the difference is that my parents grew up white in relatively well off communities at a time when this country offered immense opportunities, especially for white people. The family problems they grew up with were less problematic because they weren’t compounded by endless social problems and racism. That makes a big difference. As Khalil Gibran Muhammad explained in The Condemnation of Blackness (pp. 6-7):

“One of the strongest claims this book makes is that statistical comparisons between the Foreign-born and the Negro were foundational to the emergence of distinctive modern discourses on race and crime. For all the ways in which poor Irish immigrants of the mid-nineteenth century were labeled members of the dangerous classes, criminalized by Anglo -Saxon police, and over-incarcerated in the nation’s failing prisons, Progressive era social scientists used statistics and sociology to create a pathway for their redemption and rehabilitation. 27 A generation before the Chicago School of Sociology systematically destroyed the immigrant house of pathology built by social Darwinists and eugenicists, Progressive era social scientists were innovating environmental theories of crime and delinquency while using crime statistics to demonstrate the assimilability of the Irish, the Italian, and the Jew by explicit contrast to the Negro. 28 White progressives often discounted crime statistics or disregarded them altogether in favor of humanizing European immigrants, as in much of Jane Addams’s writings. 29 In one of the first academic textbooks on crime, Charles R. Henderson, a pioneering University of Chicago social scientist, declared that “the evil [of immigrant crime] is not so great as statistics carelessly interpreted might prove.” He explained that age and sex ratios— too many young males— skewed the data. But where the “Negro factor” is concerned, Henderson continued, “racial inheritance, physical and mental inferiority , barbarian and slave ancestry and culture ,” were among the “most serious factors in crime statistics.””

As this shows, there are deeper issue of cultural assumptions. It isn’t just about failure of some ideal family standard, but how that ideal came about and is used as a basis of judgment. We should think much more carefully, with greater self-awareness and less self-righteousness. Conservatives are partly right in pointing out the importance of family. Where conservatives fail is in their lack of understanding about what family, in all its forms, signifies. It is never just about families.

* * * *

Reading Africa into American Literature: Epics, Fables, and Gothic Tales
by Keith Cartwright
p. 70

Adding racist insult to the nation’s pathological history of racist injury, the Moynihan Report (1965) labeled the black family “a pathological `matriarchy”‘ that had fallen into a “deterioration” explainable by “the rampant sexual debauchery among the black population, by the instability and violence of black men, and by the pathological dominance of black women” (Hirsch 142-43). Issued at a time when heroes like Fred Shuttlesworth, John Lewis, and Martin Luther King Jr. (along with women like Selma’s Marie Foster and Amelia Boynton), were taking to Southern streets and spilling their blood there, the Moynihan Report’s maligning of the black family avoided America’s core pathologies. As might be expected, its critical focus upon an alleged “black matriarchy” energized black nationalist efforts to restore the father to his “proper” familial location.

* * * *

Poor Reason: Culture Still Doesn’t Explain Poverty
by Stephen Steinberg
Kindle Locations 59-74

Far from having a chilling effect on researching and thinking about culture in relationship to poverty, the debate over the Moynihan report spawned a canon of critical scholarship. For the first time, scholars came to terms with the economic underpinnings of the nuclear family, which tends to unravel whenever male breadwinners are unemployed for long periods of time, as was true of white families during the Depression.

No longer was the nuclear family, with its patriarchal foundations, the unquestioned societal norm. The blatantly tendentious language that pervaded the Moynihan report — “broken homes” and “illegitimate births ” — was purged from the professional lexicon. More important, feminist scholars forced us to reassess single parenting. In her 1973 study All Our Kin, Carol Stack showed how poor single mothers develop a domestic network consisting of that indispensable grandmother, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a patchwork of neighbors and friends who provide mutual assistance with childrearing and the other exigencies of life. By comparison , the prototypical nuclear family, sequestered in a suburban house, surrounded by hedges and cut off from neighbors, removed from the pulsating vitality of poor urban neighborhoods, looks rather bleak. As a black friend once commented , “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.”

Yet even Moynihan’s harshest critics did not deny the manifest troubles in black families. Nor did they deny that the culture of poor people is often markedly at variance with the cultural norms and practices in more privileged sectors of society. How could it be otherwise? The key point of contention was whether, under conditions of prolonged poverty, those cultural adaptations “assume a life of their own” and are passed down from parents to children through normal processes of cultural transmission. In other words, the imbroglio over the Moynihan report was never about whether culture matters, but about whether culture is or ever could be an independent and self-sustaining factor in the production and reproduction of poverty.

* * * *

When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
by Ira Katznelson
Kindle Locations 409-439

Lyndon B. Johnson gave a famous speech at Howard University where he discussed the Negro problem. It was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who helped write that speech and provided the information that was cited. In that speech, Johnson asked about the widening gulf between whites and blacks. He put this in context of the also widening gulf between minority of middle class blacks and the majority in the black working class who were becoming a permanent underclass (or rather had never stopped being a permanent underclass, despite the mid-century economic growth of most Americans).

Why were so many blacks unable to escape the permanent underclass that had been sustained by systemic and institutional racism for centuries? Of course, Johnson didn’t phrase the question that way, because then the question would have answered itself. Instead, he assumed the old racial order had ended and therefore something else must be sustaining the continued inequality. One of the explainations he gave is as follows:

With the identification of this growing gap between black and white Americans, the president advanced an uncommonly analytical explanation for a political address. “We are not completely sure,” he confessed, “why this is.” But among the “complex and subtle” causes, he singled out two for special mention. “First, Negroes are trapped —as many whites are trapped— in inherited, gateless poverty.” Such poverty is deeper and more distinctive. “Negro poverty is not white poverty.” The differences, he hastened to explain, “are not racial differences. They are solely and simply the consequence of ancient brutality, past injustice , and present prejudice.” Unlike blacks, the white poor, many of whom had escaped its shackles, “did not have the heritage of centuries to overcome , and they did not have a cultural tradition which had been twisted and battered by endless years of hatred and hopelessness, nor were they excluded—these others —because of race or color— a feeling whose dark intensity is matched by no other prejudice in our society.”

The second cause, embedded in the first, he identified as “the breakdown of the Negro family structure,” which he attributed to “centuries of oppression and persecution of the Negro man.” Here, of course, the president echoed the findings and arguments published just two months earlier in Moynihan’s controversial Department of Labor report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. A self-perpetuat ing “tangle of pathology ,” marked by “the deterioration of the Negro family” and produced by “three centuries of injustice,” it had argued, blocked black mobility. For this reason, Moynihan advocated that “a national effort towards the problems of Negro Americans must be directed towards the question of family structure.” 26

Neither of these arguments can be dismissed . The barriers to black advancement indeed were more pervasive and deep as a result of the country’s long history of racial oppression. No doubt, too, families with one adult tended to be more poor than those with two. Still, these explanations were insufficient. Other possibilities were ignored. A radical decline in agricultural employment in the South and the start of deindustrialization in the North combined to limit opportunities at the bottom of the economic structure. Lags in skill training, more limited access to higher education, and persistent private discrimination by employers, banks, landlords, and other suppliers of economic opportunity also blocked black mobility. 27 Even the most successful fraction of black America—professionals, small business people, white-collar workers in public life, and industrialized workers in union jobs— faced new stresses. The end of Jim Crow, migration northward, and the start of desegregation in education wore away their insulated niches, and left them with fewer assets and greater insecurities than their white counterparts. 28

Yet even more important , and entirely absent from the president’s account, was the set of causes that will be highlighted in more detail in the chapters below: how the wide array of significant and far -reaching public policies that were shaped and administered during the New Deal and Fair Deal era of the 1930s and 1940s were crafted and administered in a deeply discriminatory manner. This was no accident. Still an era of legal segregation in seventeen American states and Washington, D.C., the southern wing of the Democratic Party was in a position to dictate the contours of Social Security, key labor legislation , the GI Bill, and other landmark laws that helped create a modern white middle class in a manner that also protected what these legislators routinely called “the southern way of life.”

If You Think Democracy Is Bad, You Should See Libertarianism

I differ from mainstream liberals in having some libertarian inclinations. I don’t think I’m extraordinarily unusual in this. I live in a liberal town and know other liberals that think more like me.

The reason I’m so inclined is simple. I like democracy. It appears that democracy has failed on the large-scale. The only successful examples of democracy are on the small-scale. Hence, libertarianism of a leftist variety.

That said, I wouldn’t identify as a libertarian. Not because I don’t like the label. I couldn’t care less about the label. The real point for me is the principles I hold. In principle, I’m indifferent to the argument of big versus small government. I suspect big government might be a necessary evil.

For example, there is good reason few minorities are libertarians. Colonial African slaves had to choose between Britain and America. It was no easy choice. Few of them were thinking about grand changes. They were simply seeking the best hope available to them. If they chose to fight on one side or the other, it was a very personal decision. They were more fighting for their individual freedom than they were fighting for some ideal of a free society.

It was very concrete and direct. They just wanted to be able to live their own lives and be left alone. That is freedom in the most basic sense.

Since that era, their descendents have continuouslly fought for ever greater freedoms. Yet most of the battles continued to be for very basic freedoms. And most of the battles have been fought at the local level. But almost every victory they had at the local level was reversed by local whites, almost everything they built at the local level was destroyed by local whites.

Conservatives complain about what they see as minorities love of big government. It’s not that they love big government. It’s just that they’ve learned from hard-fought experience that the only lasting change for the good they’ve gained has come from forcing change at the level of big governmment and so forcing local small governments to comply.

Black history demonstrates the failure of libertarianism. An even greater failure than democracy.

Libertarian rhetoric is a white privilege and also a class privilege. There is a reason most libertarians are wealthier whites. They already have their basic rights and freedoms protected, more than anyone else in society.

Minorities aren’t stupid. They see this privilege for what it is.

White Violence, White Data

Here is my response to those who like to argue that blacks commit a higher percentage of violent crime. Such data simply shows the how many blacks were convicted, and not the actual racial rates of criminal activity. Besides, we know many other things as well.

We know that blacks are disproportionately targeted and profiled, stopped and frisked by the police. We know that blacks are more likely to be arrested more often and convicted more harshly than whites for the exact same crimes. We know blacks are more likely to be charged, convicted, and incarcerated for gun-related crimes and drug-related crimes, despite the fact that whites are more likely to carry illegal guns, to carry illegal drugs, and to use illegal drugs. We know that, when convicted, blacks are sent to prison for longer sentences, even for the exact same crimes. We know this was even institutionalized with drug laws which made the sentencing longer for drugs commonly used by blacks than drugs commonly used by whites.

The police focus most of their time in poor minority communities. It is unsurprising that they find more poor minority criminals. We tend to find what we look for. The data makes it obvious that many whites disproportionately get away with crimes because the police are mostly concentrated in the poor minority communities. A white person can shoplift and walk out of a store at the same time as a black person, and yet the black person will more likely get stopped when the alarm goes off. Whites have the privilege to more often get away with crimes.

Whites commit most of the white collar crimes. These crimes cost untold millions of dollars of damage every year.  They destroy lives and sometimes entire communities when untold numbers of people lose their life savings. Yet these crimes are the least likely to go to court or to lead to conviction and incarceration.

Whites also have a long history of mass violence that dwarfs all the individual violence of blacks combined. Most large-scale wars, wars of aggression, and world wars are started by majority white countries with white-dominated governments. The largest genocides were committed by whites. Most school shooters and serial killers are whites. Most of these acts of violence by whites rarely lead to trial, much less conviction, for the simple reason that much of this is state-sanctioned violence. The government doesn’t even keep good data about police corruption and police brutality. When police kill innocent people who were a threat to no one, typically the officer gets paid leave. Even when whites commit war crimes, there are rarely any consequences, except in the most extreme cases such as the Nazis. As long as they were on the winning side, they get accolades, parades, and medals.

Nonetheless, even ignoring the racial prejudice, in terms of raw numbers most homicides and other violent crimes are committed by white Americans. So, numerically speaking, an American is on average far more likely to be harmed by a white than by a black. This is even more true for anyone living in a white majority community for most crime against whites is committed by whites, and most communities in this country are white majority. Of course, most whites live in white majority communities. This is the very reason most crime in this country, violent and otherwise, is committed by whites. If racial prejudice in policing and the courts were ever to end, if we were to ever know the real number of white crime, it would be even higher still.

Racists have no response to all of this overwhelming proof of widespread racism. There can be no response to such political evil except to either demand justice or remain in silent shame.

* * * *

This has been on my mind for a long time. I want to write a detailed post about this one day. The data used by racists (or racialists or race realists or whatever, same difference) is frustrating because it isn’t honest data being used to make an honest argument.

There is one telling detail that I decided to leave out of the above summary.

White Southerners show the strongest support, of any demographic, for illegal wars of aggression and illegal torture. White Southerners, especially in the poor rural South, are among the most violent and crime-ridden in the country. They also are the most supportive of state violence used in policing, in the War on Drugs, and through mass incarceration. Whites in general and white Southerners in particular are strongly supportive of the harsh racial prejudice used against minorities by police and the courts. Most of the police, judges, and jurors convicting minorities harshly are white.

None of this gets included in rates of violence. Support of state violence is considered normal and acceptable, at least by whites who are disproportionately less likely to be the victims of it. When the victimizers keep the data, it is unsurprising what kind of official data is kept and shown to the public. And it is unsurprising what gets ignored and whitewashed. Most of the data is kept by whites for the purposes of a white majority society.

We need to be more careful and more honest about what data we use and for what purpose we use it. Data never speaks for itself. Instead, data speaks for those who control how the data is gathered, measured, and used. We need to keep that in mind, if we care about morality and justice, if we hope to ever create a free and fair society.