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.

* * *

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

* * *

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.”

Opportunity Precedes Achievement, Good Timing Also Helps

None of the Above:
What I.Q. doesn’t tell you about race.

by Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker

Flynn brings a similar precision to the question of whether Asians have a genetic advantage in I.Q., a possibility that has led to great excitement among I.Q. fundamentalists in recent years. Data showing that the Japanese had higher I.Q.s than people of European descent, for example, prompted the British psychometrician and eugenicist Richard Lynn to concoct an elaborate evolutionary explanation involving the Himalayas, really cold weather, premodern hunting practices, brain size, and specialized vowel sounds. The fact that the I.Q.s of Chinese-Americans also seemed to be elevated has led I.Q. fundamentalists to posit the existence of an international I.Q. pyramid, with Asians at the top, European whites next, and Hispanics and blacks at the bottom.

Here was a question tailor-made for James Flynn’s accounting skills. He looked first at Lynn’s data, and realized that the comparison was skewed. Lynn was comparing American I.Q. estimates based on a representative sample of schoolchildren with Japanese estimates based on an upper-income, heavily urban sample. Recalculated, the Japanese average came in not at 106.6 but at 99.2. Then Flynn turned his attention to the Chinese-American estimates. They turned out to be based on a 1975 study in San Francisco’s Chinatown using something called the Lorge-Thorndike Intelligence Test. But the Lorge-Thorndike test was normed in the nineteen-fifties. For children in the nineteen-seventies, it would have been a piece of cake. When the Chinese-American scores were reassessed using up-to-date intelligence metrics, Flynn found, they came in at 97 verbal and 100 nonverbal. Chinese-Americans had slightly lower I.Q.s than white Americans.

The Asian-American success story had suddenly been turned on its head. The numbers now suggested, Flynn said, that they had succeeded not because of their higher I.Q.s. but despite their lower I.Q.s. Asians were overachievers. In a nifty piece of statistical analysis, Flynn then worked out just how great that overachievement was. Among whites, virtually everyone who joins the ranks of the managerial, professional, and technical occupations has an I.Q. of 97 or above. Among Chinese-Americans, that threshold is 90. A Chinese-American with an I.Q. of 90, it would appear, does as much with it as a white American with an I.Q. of 97.

There should be no great mystery about Asian achievement. It has to do with hard work and dedication to higher education, and belonging to a culture that stresses professional success. But Flynn makes one more observation. The children of that first successful wave of Asian-Americans really did have I.Q.s that were higher than everyone else’s—coming in somewhere around 103. Having worked their way into the upper reaches of the occupational scale, and taken note of how much the professions value abstract thinking, Asian-American parents have evidently made sure that their own children wore scientific spectacles. “Chinese Americans are an ethnic group for whom high achievement preceded high I.Q. rather than the reverse,” Flynn concludes, reminding us that in our discussions of the relationship between I.Q. and success we often confuse causes and effects. “It is not easy to view the history of their achievements without emotion,” he writes. That is exactly right. To ascribe Asian success to some abstract number is to trivialize it.

The Ethnic Myth
by Stephen Steinberg
pp. 125 -7

At least superficially, the streetcorner men exhibited many of the characteristics of a culture of poverty. They unquestionably had a present-time orientation, in that immediate pleasures were pursued without regard to long-range implications. Their aspirations were low, at least as gauged by the fact that they worked irregularly and did not look for better jobs. Their absence from their families meant households were headed by women. And the feelings of inferiority, helplessness, and fatalism that Lewis saw as endemic to a culture of poverty were in plain evidence. Yet Liebow forcefully rejects the view that these are “traits” that add up to a culture of poverty. He insists that the fundamental values of the streetcorner men are the same as those of the middle-class society, and that their behavior, though in apparent contradiction to those values, is only a response to external circumstances that prevent them from living according to conventional values.

Of paramount importance is the fact that these men are unable to find jobs that pay a living wage. As Liebow points out, the way a man makes a living and the kind of living he makes defines a man’s worth, both to himself and his neighbors, friends, lovers, and family. This operates with the same force as in the rest of society, but inversely, since the streetcorner men do not have jobs that are worth very much, either in status or pay. For Liebow, this is the controlling factor in their lives, distorting their values, their family relationships and their concept of themselves.

Thus if they do not plan for the future, it is not because they are observing a different cultural norm that emphasizes the pleasure of the moment but because their futures are bleak and they lack the resources and opportunities for doing much about it. Similarly their low aspirations are an inevitable response to restricted opportunity, particularly the improbability of finding a decent job. This is not a self-fulfilling prophecy, but a resignation born out of bitter personal experience. All the men in Liebow’s study had tested themselves repeatedly on the job market, and had come to realize that the only jobs available were menial, low-paying, dead-end jobs that would not allow them to support their families. […]

Thus, Liebow presents a strong case that the streetcorner men have the same concept of work and family as does the middle class. Indeed, it is precisely because they share these conventional values that they experience such a profound sense of personal failure. The attraction of the street corner, with its “shadow system of values,” is that it compensates for an impaired sense of manhood. In all these respects Liebow’s intepretation of the street corner is in direct opposition to the culture-of-poverty thesis. […]

Thus, similarities between parents and children are not the product of cultural transmission, but of the fact that “the son goes out and independently experiences the same failures, in the same areas, and for much the same reasons as his father.”

For Liebow, then, the poor do not neeed instruction in the Protestant ethic or other values, but jobs that would allow them to incorporate these values into their everyday lives. It is not their culture that needs to be changed, but an economic system that fails to provide jobs that pay a living wage to millions of the nation’s poor.

Conclusion

There is intellectual perversity in the tendency to use the cultural responses of the poor as “explanations” of why they are poor. Generally speaking, groups do not get ahead or lag behind on the basis of their cultural values. Rather, they are born into a given station in life and adopt values that are consonant with their circumstances and their life chances. To the extent that the lower-class ethnics seem to live according to a different set of values, this is primarily a cultural manifestation of their being trapped in poverty. In the final analysis, the culture-of-poverty thesis—at least as it has been used by Banfield, Moynihan, and others—is nothing more than an intellectual smoke screen for our society’s unwillingness or inability to wipe out unemployment and poverty.

pp. 134-5

Berrol’s inventory of educational facilities in New York City at the turn of the century shows that the schools could not possibly have functioned as a significant channel of mobility. Still in an early stage of development, the public school system was unable to cope with the enormous influx of foreigners, most of whom were in their childbearing ages. Primary grade schools were so over-crowded that tens of thousands of students were turned away, and as late as 1914 there were only five high schools in Manhattan and the Bronx. If only for this reason, few children of Jewish immigrants received more than a rudimentary education.”

Berrol furnishes other data showing that large numbers of Jewish students ended their schooling by the eighth grade. For example, in New York City in 1908 there were 25,534 Jewish students in the first grade, 11,527 in the seventh, 2,549 in their first year of high school, and only 488 in their last year. Evidently, most immigrant Jewish children of this period dropped out of school to enter the job market.

Nor could City College have been a major channel of Jewish mobility during the early decades of the twenntieth century. Until the expansion of City College in the 1930s and 1940s, enrollments were not large enough to have a significant impact on Jewish mobility. Furthermore, Jewish representation at the college was predominantly German; Berrol estimates that in 1923 only 11 percent of CCNY students had Russian or Polish names.

In short, prior to the 1930s and 1940s, the public schools, and City College in particular, were not a channel of mobility for more than a privileged few. It was not until the expansion of higher education following the Second World War that City College provided educational opportunities for significant numbers of Jewish youth. However, by the time New York’s Jewish population had already emerged from the deep poverty of the immigrant generation, and had experienced extensive economic mobility.

It was the children of these upwardly mobile Jews who enrolled in City college during the 1930s and 1940s. For them, education was clearly a channel of mobility, but it accelerated a process of intergenerational mobility that was already in motion, since their parents typically had incomes, and often occupations as well, that were a notch or two above those of the working class in general. As Berrol concluded:

. . . most New York City Jews did not make the leap from poverty into the middle class by going to college. Rather, widespread utilization of secondary and higher education followed improvements in economic status and was as much a result as a cause of upward mobility.

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?

Substance Control is Social Control

Substance control is social control. And social control always targets minorities first. The minorities targeted sometimes change. The methods remain the same.

Many Americans say, “But I’m not a minority”. What short memories we have. Those minorities of the recent past, just a few generations ago, were the grandparents and great-grandparents of most Americans today. They were ethnic Americans, what the likes of the KKK disparaged as “Hyphenated Americans”. They were German-Americans and Irish-Americans and many other ethnic ancestries as well.

Besides, it never is just about minorities. That is simply where it begins. The tactics of oppression used against minorities, in time, are used against the entire population. Social control is about controlling all of society, not just keeping those minorities in line. Other people’s problems are our problems, that is what history demonstrates, and yet we never learn from history.

Many Americans in the past supported Prohibition because it was sold as targeting those other people, the ethnic Americans, immigrants, and Catholics. In the generations following, the War On Drugs was sold as targeting blacks and Hispanics (at an earlier time, Chinese were targeted with the early prohibitions on opiates; also, interestingly, the Scots-Irish in places like Appalachia who in the past were targeted by the Whiskey Tax and Prohibition also now are targeted by the War On Drugs, as Appalachia has become a major center for the growing of marijuana and the production of meth). It is true that these were the primary targets, but in the end all citizens became targets. It is the same as with the Cold War and the War On Terror. When the government gains that much power, it never ends with the original justification. This is how police states are always formed.

Ignoring that, everyone knows Prohibition was a failure. It wasn’t a secret. It was one of the worst public policies in all of American history. Yet the War On Drugs was started several decades later, as if this time substance control would be different. Actually, it was an extension of the same substance control policies for the earliest drug prohibition began in 1914, five years before alcohol prohibition began. As the minorities targeted change, so do the substances prohibited. Nonetheless, the fundamental pattern is the same, repeating the same tactics and problems, and in the end failing the same basic way.

Repeal always happens when it is found too many white people, especially middle class white people, are getting harmed by the policies intended to only harm the minorities and ethnics. When these policies are formulated, those in power try to protect those of their perceived group, their demographic, their class, race, and ethnicity. During Prohibition, for example, the ban wasn’t on consuming alcohol in one’s home but rather the making and purchasing of alcohol. An important distinction. The wealthy had or built large cellars prior to Prohibition and filled them with alcohol. All alcohol bought before Prohibition began was legal to drink in one’s home. Besides, it would have been near impossible to prove when some rich guy bought the alcohol in his cellar and certainly he was given the benefit (i.e., the privilege) of the doubt. Rich white people weren’t the target.

Anyway, few revenuers would have been stupid enough to target the politically well connected. If they did attempt that, their careers would have been short. The same is true now with the War On Drugs. The police target poor minority communities, even though the wealthy do plenty of illegal drugs and even though whites use and carry drugs more than blacks (not to mention more likely to carry illegal guns). There wasn’t much attention given to the police confiscation of property in relation to drug crimes, until they attempted this on some wealthy and well connected people.

There is another interesting angle. I’m not an anti-tax libertarian or anarchist. Still, I can’t help but notice that there is a connection between tax laws and social control. Taxation isn’t just about procuring the funding for government and its activities. This also relates to why there are so many tax lawyers and tax loopholes that help the rich. Almost any category of law mostly targets those least able to avoid and defend against government oppression. Social control is the greatest tool of the privileged and wealthy, a tool that they use mostly against the most undreprivileged and disenfranchised (and, in the case of jury duty, targeting of underprivileged minorities just disenfranchises them further which is the entire point).

When the government couldn’t get bootleggers on their bootlegging, they implemented tax evasion laws. That is reminiscent of why the government went after the Whiskey bootleggers after the American Revolution. And it comes back to the War On Drugs, when tax evasion charges are often added on top of charges of possessing and dealing drugs. Of course, these tax evasion laws in their use toward substance control have disproportionately impacted minorities, yet more social control for non-WASP Americans.

That is also one of the weaknesses of substance control. Once the government makes the tax evasion argument, the public might start wondering why we don’t legalize the substance and just tax it (even many local government officials start asking that as well, when their tax revenue is negatively impacted). Economic hard times brings home this realization in the minds of Americans. Government oppression often becomes less tolerable when the general public is also experiencing economic oppressiveness.

On a positive note, I was considering some past thoughts I’ve had on minority communities. The focus of mainstream media, a majority white perspective (and a professional upper class perspective at that), reports on such issues with particular frames and interpretations. Even mainstream academia often fails on this account. There is a social capital that exists in the most poor minority communities that people not living there can’t see or even comprehend. It is entirely outside of their sense of reality.

I have two examples in mind that I’ve recently made note of: family structure and socioeconomic class, often portrayed in terms of “broken families” and “welfare queens”. On the issue of marriage and family, here is some commentary I made in my post Black Feminism and Epistemology of Ignorance:

Blacks and women, most especially black women, are among the poorest people in America and in the world. Being poor, in some ways, makes them more likely to act in ways that are considered caring and humane. To be on the bottom of society, an individual is more dependent on and interdependent with others.

This could explain why middle and upper class people, both black and white, don’t understand the family structures and support systems of the poor. All they see are marriages under stressful conditions, calling the families weak or broken, but they don’t see the strength of communities surviving under almost impossible conditions.. The ignorance of this judgment from privilege hit home for me when I read the following passage from Stephen Steinberg’s “Poor Culture”:

“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.””

Those rich in wealth are poor in so many other ways. And those poor in wealth are rich in so many ways. It depends on what you value. People can’t value what they don’t see and understand.

And on the issue of poverty and unemployment, I explained an insight I had in my post Working Hard, But For What?:

These people believe in the American Dream and try to live it best they can, under almost impossible conditions. They aren’t asking for handouts. They are solving their own problems, even when those problems are forced on them by the larger society.

Take gangs, for example. Most gangs are what white people would call militias. When the police fail in their job, gangs do the job for them. If you are a black who is targeted by the police and everyone you know is targeted by the police, you’ll organize in order to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighborhood.

That is how community forms when all of the outside world is against you, when life is difficult and desperate, where daily living is a fight for survival. When there are no jobs available, poor minorities make their own jobs. When there are no police to protect them, poor minorities police themselves. When the larger society is against them, they make their own communities.

There is a strength that comes from adversity. This was demonstrated by ethnic immigrants in the past, such as the close-knit bootlegging community of German-Americans in Templeton, Iowa. People who have had histories of disadvantage and/or oppression sometimes learn amazing skills of social adaptation and survival. They develop forms of social capital that those more privileged lack. If the economy really tanked or our society fell into disorder, the present American underclass would handle the challenges a lot better than the more well off whites would.

This directly relates to why the American Dream has always had life breathed into it primarily by immigrants. They actually believe in the ideals of our country, whereas most native-born Americans are too cynical to take it seriously. When the Templetonians illegally sold alcohol or now when the poor black guy illegally sells weed, they are working harder than most upper class white people. Those upper class white people have no fucking idea what hard work really means. It means doing whatever it takes to make a living, to pay the bills, to support one’s family. Sometimes that means working in the black market (not just selling drugs, but also taking cash for doing yard work or car repair), and at other times it means working two or three legal jobs (when such jobs are available).

Social control ultimately fails because it makes those at the top lazy and weak, while forcing those on the bottom to become ever more innovative and persevering. Some people become so dependent on racial and class privilege that it becomes both a personal weakness and a moral hazard. They see their position in society as a strength when in actuality it is their Achille’s Heel. If we are to look for positive change in our society, we need to look further down from the top.

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

“Europeans immigrated to British North America to gain religious, economic , and political independence during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and they built their freedom on the labor of slaves and on the land of Indians whose independence they stole. In London, meanwhile, kings and queens, imperial ministries, and members of Parliament believed that the colonists harbored treasonous ambitions for independence from the very founding of the colonies, and they described them pejoratively as “independent,” by which they meant chronically rebellious.”
~Thomas P. Slaughter, Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution, Kindle Locations 72-75

Independence, that is the central theme of American society, according to Slaughter. I tend to agree. As he explains, independence is a theme not simply because it is a cherished value, but also because it has been a regularly betrayed value. It is the frame by which we understand and judge our society, including our failures.

Unlike most other societies, liberty is our ideological watchword. It is a ambiguous term, no doubt; but it obviously means something very different than, for example, fairness. David Hackett Fischer associates this difference, in Fairness and Freedom, with the era of the founding of the United States. Freedom and liberty was in the air and it left a permanent imprint.

This wasn’t just about the English colonists declaring their independence from England. Early on, “as the colonies ’ domestic economies and population grew, as they geographically expanded and became ethnically heterogeneous , the colonists developed identities independent of the one that tethered them to the British Empire” (Independence, Kindle Locations 83-84). It was probably a two-way response to changing demographics, as I’ve speculated. America has always been ethnically diverse. This was noted centuries ago by the likes of Thomas Paine, about which I wrote:

Most interesting to me is his focus on the diversity of the colonies. What did it mean to speak of attachment to England as a mother country when colonies like New Netherlands weren’t originally English (with laws and a population that remained largely Dutch) and when colonies like Pennsylvania and New Jersey consisted only of a minority of Englishmen. This kind of thinking seems radical to many conservatives today as it did to conservatives back then. The only difference is that the conservatives back then were British Tories.

What ever returns to my thinking is how often the arguments against Britain would now apply to our federal government. The argument against both, respectively by the Revolutionaries and the Anti-Federalists, was an argument for freedom, for democratic self-governance. The American Revolution wasn’t fought for patriotic conformity and ethnocentric nationalism, for authoritarian subservience and centralized statism; but the complete opposite. The Revolution never ended and we continue to fight for those Revolutionary ideals.

It is hard to believe that the British aristocracy back in England didn’t take note of this obvious fact about the colonial population. This probably would have been alarming to their English identity, for they had not yet come to terms with what being an empire entailed. Their politics were firmly grounded in being English and the same was true for most of the ruling elites in the colonies, as I’ve explained in another post:

One of the conflicts colonists had with the British government was over the rights of Englishmen. I wonder if the reason the British government was so uncertain about the colonies was the fact that there were so many colonists who weren’t Englishmen. I could understand as the ethnocentric ruling elite of an empire that they were wary of equally offering the rights of Englishmen to people who weren’t Englishmen. Those are the kinds of problems that come from empire-building. Nonetheless, the ruling elite in the colonies were also mostly Englishmen. So, they took quite seriously their supposed rights as Englishmen and took offense at their being denied.

American colonists weren’t just seeking political independence, but cultural and religious independence as well. Many of these early Americans were less concerned about assimilation than we are, for assimilation was at that time identified with the British Empire and its attendant oppression. Most colonists didn’t have the understanding of toleration for all, but that idea had taken root early on with the likes of Thomas MortonRoger Williams, and William Penn.

Immigrants such as the Irish, German, and French understood the need for freedom from oppression to a greater degree than most English immigrants. The violence and persecution they were escaping was at times genocidal. Their choice to immigrate was in the context that, if they had remained in their homelands, they might have been mass murdered or forced to assimilate. They escaped for the very reason they valued their independence and understood all too well what it meant to lose that independence.

These non-English typically didn’t find independence in the urban coastal communities that tended to be majority English in population or else majority English in ruling elite. What they found was xenophobia and new forms of oppression. So, many of them went West, which at the time meant the frontier territory of Pennsylvania and Virgiania. For example, “The 1790 federal census” for Virginia, “provides some information on the size and ethnic background of the region’s populace. About 37 percent were of English origin or descent, 7 percent had Welsh names, 17 percent were Scottish, 19 percent Irish, and 12 percent were German. The ethnic heritage of the remaining 8 percent cannot be determined. The various immigrant groups were not evenly distributed among the western counties. Germans, for example, were the largest single nationality to settle in Bedford County. Non-English settlers predominated in all the western counties, but most strongly in Westmoreland and Bedford. Those of English origin or ancestry comprised 47 percent of Fayette and 43 percent in Allegheny” (Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion, Kindle Locations 1340-1344).

Independence for European-Americans was culturally linked to alcohol, the freedom to make it and the freedom to drink it. It was as much a part of their ethnic identity as was the religious practices they brought with them. Germans, French, and the Alsace-Lorraine border people had traditions of beer and wine, in particular. This link existed just as strongly for the non-English British people. Whiskey originated with the Scottish and Irish and later was popularized in America by way of the Scots-Irish. Other ethnic groups such as the Dutch also favored making whiskey.

Their reasons for heading to the frontier even included their love of alcohol. In the 1700s, this mostly meant the Scots-Irish. In her article When Whiskey Was the King of Drink, Mary Miley Theobald explains that,

About a quarter of a million Scotch-Irish came to the American colonies in the fifty years before independence, making them the largest immigrant group of that century. They brought with them a fiercely independent spirit, abhorrence for government regulation, and an affinity for whiskey.

Interestingly, it was the British government that unintentionally helped make Whiskey so popular beyond the non-English British settlers. “The Revolution,” Theobold writes, “meant the decline of rum and the ascendancy of whiskey in America. When the British blockade of American ports cut off the molasses trade, most New England rum distillers converted to whiskey. Whiskey had a patriotic flavor. It was an all-American drink, made in America by Americans from American grain, unlike rum, wine, gin, Madeira, brandy, coffee, chocolate, or tea, which had to be imported and were taxed.”

The independence of American alcohol and the protest against taxation has always gone hand in hand. This continued with the new American government creating yet another tax, this time on whiskey. Small producers were taxed at a higher rate than larger producers, at a time when economic inequality was growing and the power of the wealthy was growing. The small producers were so poor that they barely had enough money to live on, much less pay taxes on the whiskey they were producing to make a living. The response was the same as when the British tried the same tactic. This led to the Whiskey Rebellion (similar to Fries’s Rebellion, it involved many ethnic Americans). The wide protest movement was put down, but resistance continued for it was difficult to enforce. The government was forced to repeal it.

One of the effects of the Whiskey Rebellion was to push many ethnic Americans further West. Kathy Warnes points out (George Washington’s Whiskey Legacy from the Whiskey Rebellion to NASCAR) that, “After the Whiskey Rebellion, many of the rebellious Dutch and Scots-Irish farmer and distillers moved farther west to escape the tax collectors. Many found the right kind of water for whiskey distilling in Southern Indiana and Kentucky.”

During the Civil War, a tax on whiskey was put back in place. Like with the British and with the early US government, taxation on luxury goods such as alcohol was used to pay for the war. This caused a decrease in whiskey consumption, although it remained popular in the South. In its place, beer became the new alcoholic drink of choice for most Americans. With new waves of immigrants, especially Germans, beer consumption really took off around 1900. This coincided with a new wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. The KKK in the North was mostly concerned with the menace of immigrants and Catholics. Because of this, the Klan was a big proponent of Prohibition, for the same reasons marijuana was made illegal because of its association with African-Americans and Jazz.

It wasn’t just groups like the KKK, though. The KKK at that time was fully mainstream and fully in line with mainstream opinion. Even though most Americans had non-English ancestry, those in positions of power tended to be largely of English descent or if they weren’t they wouldn’t admit it publicly. Being a White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant became the very ideal of a true American, according to those with the power to make such declarations (Bryce T. Bauer, Gentlemen Bootleggers, Kindle Locations 550-563).

Like many celebrities across America, preacher Billy Sunday took up the charge against Germany when the First World War erupted— but he did it, as he did all things, with more vim and vitriol than anyone else. He began promoting Liberty Bonds at the pulpit— demanding that his congregants either purchase them or stay away from his tabernacle. And he decided that if America was God’s chosen country— and to Sunday, America was God’s chosen country— then Germany must be the domain of the devil. The Kaiser and the Huns became Satan incarnate, and he spared them no consideration , even going so far as to state, in a prayer before the United States House of Representatives, “Thou knowest, O Lord, that we are in a life-and-death struggle with one of the most infamous, vile, greedy, avaricious, bloodthirsty, sensual, and vicious nations that has ever disgraced the pages of history. We pray Thee will beat back that great pack of hungry, wolfish Huns, whose fangs drip with blood and gore.”

It’s surprising he didn’t add alcohol to the list. For years Sunday had also been linking alcohol with anti-Americanism. In his Famous Booze Sermon, he declared that he was drawing his sword “in defense of native land,” and that he held alcohol responsible for “every plot that was ever hatched against our flag and every anarchist plot against the government and law.” But now temperance leaders throughout the country were using anti-German hysteria to take down booze as well. And they were assisted by the indelible connection in popular minds (as well as in reality) between Germans and the liquor trade.

“We have German enemies in this country too,” one dry Wisconsin politician stated in early 1918. “And the worst of all our German enemies, the most treacherous, the most menacing are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller.”

The real purpose of Prohibition, as with the anti-immigrant movement overall, was to destroy the independence of ethnic Americans, to eliminate their culture (language, religion, traditions, customs, etc), and to force them to assimilate. This is why public education and child labor laws were implemented in the same era as Prohibition. All of these were intended to target the non-English and to finally end the independent ethnic communities that had existed in America since before the Revolution. People forget or never learn the fact that the ideal of the Melting Pot is modern and hadn’t previously been so dominant in American society.

It is unsurprising that those who fought back the hardest during Prohibition were the non-English. This was true of the Irish mafia in the Northern big cities, the Scots-Irish that had been illegally making moonshine for centuries, and the Germans across the Midwest. Not all of these were gangsters. Most were just people trying to make ends meet during one of the hardest of economic times.

There was a farm crisis at the time. Small family farmers weren’t able to make enough money from crops. The only way they could avoid losing their farmland was by finding new sources of income. There weren’t many opportunities, besides bootlegging.

This is my family story as well. My mother’s family were ethnic immigrants (mostly German ancestry) who went west to Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Some of the earliest work they did was distilling. During Prohibition, they returned to this family tradition and skill by trying their  hand at the bootlegging business when no other work was available. This included the running moonshine across state lines.

Farming was hard work and it was far from dependable. The Populist Movement was largely built on the struggles of farmers. In the end, many rural people were forced to head to urban areas. Ethnic Americans, in particular, became concentrated in the big cities (and African-Americans as well). My mother’s family likewise headed toward the industrial North. This is how anti-immigrant sentiments became associated with anti-urban sentiments (and why to this day the rhetoric about inner cities is so powerful in the American psyche). There was a movement getting Americans back to nature and making men of boys by promoting hunting and fishing, which is why the Boy Scouts formed and the federal park system promoted. Because so many immigrants were Catholic, this is how cities became associated with Catholicism and so did labor unions, high rates of both existing in the same regions of the industrial Midwest.

Even so, pockets of ethnic Americans remained in rural areas. An example of this is Templeton, Iowa. You might know of it for its famed Templeton Rye, made famous of course during Prohibition. It was a unique place right from the beginning. As Bryce notes (Kindle Locations 146-148),

Templeton was founded in a township known as Eden, in southern Carroll County , which was named after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence . In their own ways both names, Eden and Carroll, were apt, providential.

It was no accident that it was named after a Catholic of such distinction. Catholic churches are found all across rural Iowa. The difference was that these were a very specific ethnic group concentrated in one place. “Templeton wasn’t united just by its religion, as the author explains (Kindle Locations 168-171) for, “It attracted a specific kind of Catholic: immigrants from Germany, especially the western and southern provinces of Bavaria and Westphalia, who sought the opportunity of cheap land. Only a few places in the country could claim a higher percentage of residents of German heritage than could Carroll County and, specifically, Templeton.”

This town had one of the highest numbers of Germans per capita in the country, and they were almost entirely Catholics from the same region of Germany. They had a lot of common culture and a lot of what would be called social capital. These people weren’t just pioneer individualists. No, like other Germans, they believed in taking care of their own. They were a tight-knit community and they were determined to stick together during hard times.

They would be tested during Prohibition, as this town became one of the most famous bootlegging communities in the country. They weren’t big city gangsters. They were just Germans who liked to drink (Kindle Locations 179-182):

And as the paper also indicated, the German settlers brought with them their traditions, such as a fondness for beer in celebrating family and community. It was just one of many customs associated with people who attached with a hyphen their old identity to their new American one. The German-Americans were hardly alone in their fondness for booze. They’d arrived in a country that already had, by the late-nineteenth century, a well-developed and, at times, fraught relationship to alcohol.

The law came down hard on this town. The only snitch in the community was, of course, a non-German. Otherwise, no one would turn on anyone else. The last safeguard of democracy is a jury of one’s peers. In this county, no jury would convict any of its citizens of bootlegging. Gangsters like Al Capone had plenty people turn on them, but Templetonians were a different breed. They practically flaunted their bootlegging and they couldn’t be touched, within their county. Prohibition was hard to enforce, especially in the big cities, but Templeton was unusual for a dry state like Iowa.

I take their example as an inspiration. “We must, indeed, all hang together or,” as Benjamin Franklin warned, “most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” A jury of peers is a precious thing that we should defend at all costs.

This lesson is more important than ever during this era of the drug wars that target otherwise defenseless poor minority communities. If minorities don’t create close-knit communities that take care of their own, no one else can be depended upon to do it for them. Justice is never given easily by those who benefit from injustice. Indpendence has always required interdependence.

The most powerful weapon against oppression is community. This is attested to by the separate fates of a Templetonian like Joe Irlbeck and big city mobster like Al Capone. “Just as Al Capone had Eliot Ness, Templeton’s bootleggers had as their own enemy a respected Prohibition agent from the adjacent county named Benjamin Franklin Wilson. Wilson was ardent in his fight against alcohol, and he chased Irlbeck for over a decade. But Irlbeck was not Capone, and Templeton would not be ruled by violence like Chicago” (Kindle Locations 7-9). What ruled Templeton was most definitely not violence. Instead, it was a culture of trust. That is a weapon more powerful than all of Al Capone’s hired guns.

What the mob forgot was that the Mafia began as a civic organization, the Black Hand. It was at times violent, as was the KKK, but most of what these civic organizations did was community work. They defended their communities and cultures, their traditions and customs. The Germans had their Bund, which served a similar purpose. Hispanics also have a history of forming tight-knit communities that will defend themselves.

African-Americans, however, have a tougher road to travel. Their unique African ethnic culture, language, and religion was annihalated by slavery. Even Native Americans fared better on this account. The social capital of African-Americans was intentionally destroyed. It has been an uphill battle for them to rebuild it, against all odds. They don’t even have the privilege of a jury of their peers, for the police targeting of blacks and the racial bias in the courts has disenfranchized so many of them from the opportunity of jury service. Many blacks find themselves before a jury of white people and, unlike the Templetonians, they have little hope of being saved from the jaws of injustice.

The War on Drugs will fail as Prohibition failed and as the Whiskey Tax failed. But many lives will be destroyed in the meanwhile. This War on Drugs is in reality a war on specific groups of people. The only way to fight back is to fight for independence as have so many generations before. Independence is what this country is about and that is what the oppressed today must demand. And they should accept nothing short of that demand. It is a war that can only be won by fighting together, communities across the country making their stand together.