MSMsplaining Poor Whites.

There is a Vox video about the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) and Trump voters. The article that goes along with it was written by Sarah Kliff.

The author is an award winning journalist who has interviewed Obama about the ACA, although her education isn’t in journalism. She is now a senior editor at Vox and regularly reports on healthcare. Vox, owned by Vox Media, is a major news website founded in 2002 by Ezra Klein. It is serious journalism of the mainstream variety. Their model is what they call “explanatory journalism”, the above mentioned video and article being prime examples.

Vox has received both praise and criticism. There is plenty of negativity toward Vox from the political right, but that is mostly a disagreement about which ideological bias is preferable. More interesting is a statement made by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept. He writes about, in relation to the Democratic Party, the liberal media such as Vox “suppressing reporting that reflects negatively on them and instead confines itself to hagiography.”

I state all of that as a way to frame Sarah Kliff’s journalism. She has acted as a cheerleader for Obamacare. I’m not against people supporting what they believe in, but it isn’t what I’d prefer from journalism. The video ends up less interesting for this reason. Kliff is telling a story and it falls into a mainstream narrative framing that is somewhere between unhelpful and irritating.

This has to do with the mainstream media’s recent obsession with poor whites, especially poor rural whites. It isn’t limited to the liberal media. Everyone has been turning the spotlight on this minority population, as if their existence is supposed to explain everything. Charles Murray wrote about poor whites in Coming Apart and J.D. Vance did so in Hillbilly Elegy, both of which largely downplay economic realities and portray this population as a failure, having supposedly failed not just economically but also according to morality and culture, imagination and self-initiative. Going by Vance’s account, you’d think that if you look at poor whites wrong they might shoot you or beat you up, that is when they aren’t doing drugs and slutting around.

It’s been bugging me. Leave the poor whites alone. Or if you feel that understanding them is really going to help you understand the sorry state of America, at least look to authors worth reading such as Joe Bageant or Nancy Isenberg. To be honest, I don’t see anything particularly special about poor whites. They aren’t all that different from any other variety of poor people. Poverty sucks. I suppose it’s nice that the upper classes are noticing, for whatever that is worth.

It’s not that Kliff’s journalism is horrible nor what is seen on the political right. I actually did like Kliff’s video at first, but it bothered me the more I thought about it. I have no reason to think she wasn’t trying her best to be fair. The problem is that the upper classes (including the upper middle class) are so disconnected from reality on the ground that they bring so many biases to any attempt at understanding. This is why they fall back on stale narratives. The mainstream media view of race and class hasn’t fundamentally changed since the early 20th century. We keep being told the same basic stories over and over, as if the stories were all that meaningful in the first place and as if nothing has changed in all that time.

* * *

Let me give a detailed response to the video. But first I should explain what the video focuses on.

The setup is this. Sarah Kliff visited some white people in a particular area of Kentucky, Whitley County. The reason the county is relevant at all is because a woman living there, Kathy Oller, who has worked signing people up for Obamacare. This woman, horror of horrors, admitted that she voted for Trump in the hope that he would improve Obamacare. One unstated assumption is that the few people she interviews in that place can be generalized to all Trump voters. Another unstated assumption is that Obamacare was a primary reason or factor behind most people voting for Trump.

It would have been nice if she had talked to Whitley County residents who supported or voted for candidates other than Trump. What percentage of this population would have voted for Sanders, if he had been nominated? It would have been even better if she had talked to the majority who probably didn’t vote at all. I doubt most eligible voters voted for Trump because most poor eligible voters don’t vote. Why didn’t she talk to people who didn’t vote and ask them why they didn’t?

I’d also like to hear from those who aren’t eligible voters such as prisoners and ex-cons. Poor rural areas have high rates of incarceration. There is a detention center in Whitley County and a federal prison in adjacent McCreary County. Many people move to live near where their family members are incarcerated, to make visitation easier. I wonder what those people thought about the various candidates and about politics in general, specifically political reform. Why do we treat these people as if they are irrelevant? Are they not also citizens who will be effected by public policy?

Also, it would have been useful to hear from the 3% of blacks (and other minorities) living in Whitley county. It’s easy to forget that there are still large populations of rural blacks in the South. Besides maybe Hispanics, blacks were the last large racial/ethnic group to become majority urban. Whether rural or urban, with a population of 35,637, Whitley County includes over a thousand minorities. Plus, there are thousands of minorities in the surrounding counties, along with around 700,000 minorities in Kentucky (about half being black). Minorities are among the poor in Kentucky and they too have been hit hard by economic problems. Yet not a single minority was interviewed, as if minority Kentuckians don’t exist because they don’t fit mainstream stereotypes. The words ‘blacks’ and ‘minorities’ weren’t even mentioned. And the only non-white person shown in the video and discussed in the article was Barack Obama. There were minorities who voted for Trump. Who were these minorities? And what were the expecting from such a vote?

We’ll never know from this kind of “explanatory journalism”.

* * *

I always wonder about the background.

I know quite a bit about Kentucky from doing genealogical and historical research of the state. I had family there from the late 1700s to the late 1800s (some of my earliest Kentucky family came from Pulaski County which is adjacent to McCreary County and nearly touching the corner of Whitley County). Kentucky used to have a large number of blacks, about a quarter of the state’s population, and they were mostly rural. When I visited there a few years ago, I didn’t see a single black person in any rural area.

Most blacks either left the state or moved to the cities, as the early 1900s began a violent time in Kentucky. There was racial cleansing and the enforcement of sundown towns—see: James Loewen’s Sundown Towns, Elliot Jaspin’s Buried in the Bitter Waters, and George Wright’s Racial Violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940. All three of those books discuss a well documented Whitley County incident in Corbin, Kentucky that happened in the fall after the Red Summer (1919). Loewen notes that a least certain residents were still trying to maintain it as a sundown town into the 1990s and some suspect that it is still a sundown town.

On a positive note, I’d point out two things about the 1919 incident. The Corbin mob violence was immediately condemned by the then editor of the local newspaper. And the mob leader was prosecuted by the state. But less positive, the moral atrocity of this incident was wiped from the public memory in the local population and recent local officials have fought anyone attempting to bring it to public attention. Even so, the reputation of these places aren’t forgotten by blacks, as to this day many fear going near towns like Corbin.

In terms of demographics, Jaspin offers the details (Kindle Locations 2874-2877):

“In fact, census records show that the black population in Corbin, which had been sixty in 1910, was exactly three in 1920: Emma Woods and her sixty-five-year-old boarder Steve Stansbury and the affectionately nicknamed “Nigger” Dennis. Beyond the city limits, there was a lesser but still substantial drop. Laurel County saw its black population cut in half from 657 to 333 between 1910 and 1920. Whitley County’s black population went from 1,111 to 600. By 1930 it would be cut in half again, and after 1960 it would never again rise above 150.”

To put this in a larger context, Loewen writes (pp. 71-72):

“In the first two decades of the twentieth century, whites expelled African Americans from almost the entire Cumberland Plateau, a huge area extending from the Ohio River near Huntington, West Virginia, southwest through Corbin, Kentucky, crossing into Tennessee, where it marks the division between east and middle Tennessee, and finally ending in northern Alabama. In most parts of the plateau throughout most of the twentieth century, when night came to the Cumberlands, African Americans had better be absent.69 The twenty Cumberland counties in eastern Kentucky had 3,482 African Americans in 1890, or 2% of the region’s 175,631 people. By 1930, although their overall population had increased by more than 50%, these counties had only 1,387 black residents. The decline continued: by 1960 the African American population of these counties had declined to just 531, or 0.2%, one-tenth the 1890 proportion.”

This is far from ancient history, as Loewen explains (p. 381):

“Corbin, a sundown town in the Kentucky Cumberlands, had not relented as of 1990. In his 1991 movie on the community, Trouble Behind, Robby Heason asked a young white man if it would be a good thing for blacks to move into Corbin. “Black people should not live here,” he replied. “They never have, and they shouldn’t.” He did not know that African Americans had lived in Corbin until whites drove them out at gunpoint in 1919, and his attitude surely boded ill should a black family try to move in. As of 2000, almost none had; Corbin’s 7,742 people included just 6 African Americans; adjacent North Corbin had just 1 African American among 1,662 inhabitants. Around 1990, McDonald’s brought in an African American to manage a new restaurant, but he and his family left before it even opened, reportedly after a cross was burned in his yard.”

Apparently, since that time, one black man moved to Corbin and has remained. So, I guess it is possible for a black man to not entirely fear for his life now in that town. But few blacks want to press their luck. Still, maybe this signals a positive change, however slight.

I would put all of this in perspective. This kind of oppressive racism was as bad or worse all across the Northern and Western United States, including in Solid Blue states. Oregon is the only place that was officially a sundown state, excluding minorities entirely by law. Oregon also has high rates of white poverty and unemployment. How has Oregon voted in presidential elections for several decades? Democrats every time. Racial cleansing and sundown towns is how so many blacks ended up concentrated in inner cities. The point being that this doesn’t make Whitley County atypical in any way. It doesn’t seem to have made the residents any more strongly and consistently partisan, as I note further down. Besides, much of the exodus was at least partly for economic reasons, causing many whites to flee as well. It was often the economic stress that led to or fed into racial conflict.

I was looking at a map of the percentage of blacks in each Kentucky county. Whitley County is way down in the southeast part. It is mostly surrounded by counties that have relatively higher percentages of black population. McCreary County next door has 5.8% blacks and nearby Clay County has 4.4%. What is interesting is that, according to the 2000 census, McCreary only had 0.63% blacks. The video says there are 97% whites in Whitley and I assume that means the other 3% is mostly blacks, but in 2000 there were 0.34% black residents.

Maybe some of the harshest racial tensions are beginning to break down. The living memory of racial cleansing is gone with our only being a few years away from the hundred year anniversary of the Red Summer.

Anyway, the changing demographics seems to indicate some shifting of populations, since birth rates couldn’t have that kind of impact. There has been increasing numbers of Northerners, black and white, moving South. That has to do with cheap housing and employment. I’m sure there is cheap housing in the poorest counties. But obviously there is much unemployment, at least in Whitley. The question is why would there be population shifts, unless the changing racial percentages has as much or more to do with who is moving out than who is moving in.

There is something odd going on here. The unemployment rate now there is 5.7%. That isn’t particularly high compared to the national average at 4.9. It is about half of what it was in the years following the Great Recession and about the same as it was before. It was much higher back in the early-to-mid 1990s, almost to the levels following the Great Recession. Then it dropped below the present national average in the late 1990s.

Sure, the people living there are poor. But the vast majority of them are working and they live in an area that has cheap living costs. They may not have affordable healthcare now, but most of them never had affordable healthcare at any point in their lives. In objective terms, there is nothing obviously worse about their lives now than in the past. Yet these are the populations that for some reason are experiencing worsening mortality rates. It’s not loss the loss of good mining jobs that has changed recently, as good mining jobs have mostly been gone for decades.

So, what’s happened? Drug addiction and suicide rates are unsurprisingly high. And they are worsening for these poor rural populations. But these are results, not causes. They are indicative of something going on that is making many of these people’s lives seem intolerably bad.

* * *

It’s also interesting to look at voting patterns.

Whitley County is far from being a Solid Red county. In the last 20 presidential elections, the county has half the time gone to Republicans and the other half to Democrats. They voted for Bill Clinton twice and voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt four times, among other Democratic candidates. Of course, it was a way more Democratic state in the early 20th century. It was even more Democratic not that long ago. In the county, 15% are now registered as Democrats, but more than a third were back in 2000. It would have been even higher during the Clinton administration and earlier.

Whitley County is party of the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield. Coal mining is known for its history of militant labor organizing and labor unions are known for their support of the Democratic Party (along with radical left-wing politics): “During the Great Depression, New Deal programs and the organizing of the United Mine Workers of America made many of the eastern counties Democratic” (Wikipedia). Even as other regions turned toward the political right, the labor solidarity in coal country helped maintain for much longer that old school Progressivism. Maybe it is unsurprising that, as coal mining jobs disappeared and local labor power was broken, the longstanding Democratic alliance faded.

It’s not like these people are ignorant partisans. When a candidate speaks to their concerns, they’ll vote for either party. Once upon a time, that meant Democrats. It isn’t as if they didn’t vote for Obama just because he was a black guy. They also didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Al Gore. The Democrats have ignored them since Bill Clinton and even he only gave them lip service, which was still more than what most Democrats offered. According to inside sources, Hillary ignored Bill’s advice to focus on working class whites. Why exactly would these people vote for a party that treats them like they don’t exist or don’t matter?

It’s rather unsurprising that they voted for Trump, considering they’ve voted Republican in the last several presidential elections. It might have had nothing to do with Trump (nor with Obama and Clinton). That is what is wrong with the video. It portrays their voting for a Republican candidate this time as somehow different than when they voted for Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush. The better question is why did they entirely stop voting for Democrats after Bill Clinton left office.

Here is a major problem with this kind of news entertainment, as I mentioned earlier. It is falling into a mainstream narrative. It doesn’t really explain anything, focusing as it does on one single narrow issue, that of Obamacare in relation to the presidential election. It tells a story and tries to cram the lives of real people into the storyline. But the narrative framing doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Why is the mainstream media looking to rural whites to explain Trump? Most whites aren’t rural. And more specifically, most whites who voted for Trump aren’t rural. Actually, the earliest and strongest supporters of Trump during his campaign were economically above average, compared to the general population. How is looking at a poor county in a rural state supposed to explain Trump as somehow different when that county has voted for Republicans in the previous four elections?

The implication is that this is about poor rural people. But it isn’t even clear what percentage of whites in that county are rural. The unemployment rate is close to the national average and most of the population would work in whatever major cities are nearby.

More interesting to know would be to look at the places that voted for Obama in one or both of the last elections but then voted for Trump. Those places would be better indicators of what has changed. The problem is many of those places are urban, suburban, and exurban. They don’t fit into the mainstream narrative. Why did strongly Democratic states such as Wisconsin and Michigan go to Trump? Wisconsin isn’t known for its desperately poor white population and Michigan has a large population of minorities and union members. How would any mainstream narrative explain that?

Also, explain to me a rural state like Minnesota that is majority white. Why has Minnesota not gone to a Republican presidential candidate since 1972? And why is Minnesota the only state to not have voted for Ronald Reagan either time? Similarly, why did so many majority white states in the rural Midwest vote for Obama, even after Obamacare? And then why did some of those states then vote for Trump? Riddle me that, Batman.

* * *

Out of curiosity, I looked at the Whitley County data for rural versus urban. It is mostly rural, at 65% of the population. I’d first emphasize that this also means 35% are urban. And urbanites vote at higher rates, partly because they have easier access to polling stations.

A second thing is that rural can describe a diversity of residential situations. Barely outside of the city I live in are many ‘rural’ residents living in old farm houses and trailer parks (my parents’ house is in a fully urban upper middle class neighborhood within the city limits and it is just a few blocks from rural country roads among vast stretches of farmland). Most of those ‘rural’ folk work here in the city and often with decently paying jobs, only living outside of the city for cheap housing. With that in mind, what percentage of that rural population in Whitley County lives near an urban area or commutes to a job in a city? More importantly, what kind of jobs are they working? What is the pay and benefits? And what are the costs of living?

Here is another thought. I know there is a difference between the reported unemployment rate and the real unemployment rate. The data I was looking at probably was only the reported data. Around 95% of the population there isn’t reported as unemployed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are employed either. We’d need to differentiate between the percentage employed and the percentage permanently unemployed, both sets of data not shown in the standard unemployment data.

My guess is that the permanently unemployment rate is higher there. If so, how high? Even so, the real unemployment data has been kept hidden since the Reagan administration. It’s not anything new. The fact remains that unemployment was lower by the time Obama left office, unless there really has been an increase in the permanently unemployed in such counties.

It’s hard to find accurate data. And even harder to determine what it means. On what basis are we to conclude that Whitley County is representative of the average white person, the average poor white person, the average rural white person, and/or the average Trump voter? Also, how do we know the people interviewed in that video are representative of the average person in that county, in that state, or in that region? It would have been nice if they had used the interviews alongside public opinion data.

Some historical background would have been helpful as well, even simply for the sake of telling a good story. There were many angles that could have been taken that would have offered far more depth of analysis and insight. By Vox’s asserted standard of explanatory journalism, the video and article was rather miserly with the explanatory details. I’m left with more questions than answers. It fails as worthy news reporting. It certainly doesn’t meet the standards of investigative journalism. Instead, it ends up being yet another human interest story, eliciting from viewers some combination of sympathy, outrage, and perplexity. Whatever the viewer response, it sells advertising and makes profit.

These criticisms wouldn’t be so important if they weren’t so widely applicable to all of mainstream media. This is just one example among many and far from the worse. It stood out to me for the reasons that, by the standards of mainstream media, it is above average in quality. It is a well made video and interesting to watch. It does have some basic value, even if only in hearing a few ordinary Americans explain how they view the political situation, just as long as you keep in mind that they aren’t necessarily representative of anyone else.

* * *

As fun as it is to chastise MSM hacks for their lack of curiosity and vision (or whatever exactly they are lacking), I feel like ending on a different note. Let me bring in the personal, by offering some observations from my own experience. After that, I’ll add some concluding thoughts.

I find no difficulty or resistance to pointing out the problems of whites who are some combination of Southern, poor, and rural. I have some sense of who these people are. My paternal grandmother was from the Deep South. Much of my mother’s family spent a couple of centuries in Kentuckiana, an area I’ve often visited. My mother, a Hoosier by birth, had a Southern-sounding accent when she was younger. I was born right at the edge of Appalachia in Ohio where I spent my earliest years of childhood. I’ve lived in the Carolinas, South and North. I’ve been friends with rednecks, dated hillbillies, and fraternized with lower class whites of a diverse variety. I live in a majority white state in the Midwest where rural life is a common experience.

Since the video is about Kentucky, let me deal with that. A few years back, my parents and I took a trip down there and it gave me felt sense of a part of the South that I didn’t know as well, even though I already indirectly knew of it from visiting my Hoosier family over the decades. In doing genealogical research, we went to many rural counties, including in southern Kentucky. I did see in some places a kind of rural poverty I hadn’t often come across before, but overall it didn’t seem like a bad place to live. Despite how it gets portrayed, Kentucky isn’t a hellhole of hopeless poverty. There are thriving big cities there, even a metropolitan area that extends up into Indiana. The county seats seemed like nice towns like found anywhere else—with public schools and public libraries, along with civic organizations.

What stood out to me most of all was how friendly and helpful people were. Kentucky has some of the feeling of the Midwest. In many ways (geographically, historically, and culturally), it is as much part of the Lower Midwest as it is part of the South. It is the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and the state government never sought to secede during the Civil War (initially declaring neutrality and then joining the Union). I didn’t meet a single person who fit the stereotype of a mean redneck or threatening hillbilly, as J.D. Vance described his own family.

In doing genealogical research and traveling around back roads, my parents and I experienced nothing but kindness. Complete strangers went out of their way to help us, again and again and again. I’m not just talking about the staff at public libraries, genealogical centers, and county courthouses. Random people were simply nice.

While looking for an old family cemetery, we stopped to talk to people on a country road. I knocked on one rundown house and an entire family peeked out at me, but they didn’t have a snarling vicious dog nor did anyone point a gun at me. They politely answered my questions. Another guy I talked to was mowing his lawn and, after questioning him as well, he directed me to a nearby house. Once again, I knocked on a stranger’s door in this rural area and one of the nicest guys you could ever meet answered the door. He was so welcoming that he welcomed us onto another neighbor’s land by taking us to where the old family homestead was located. After that, he invited us back to his home.

When further down south in Kentucky, probably in Putnam County, we were looking for another family cemetery. It too was on private property. We drove down this lane where it opened up on someone’s yard. We parked and a guy came out to greet us. He didn’t act fearful or aggressive toward us. If anything, it was plain old Southern hospitality, more than I ever experienced when living in South Carolina. He didn’t mind us being on his property and showed us around and told us what he knew about the property.

These random people we met in rural Kentucky seemed like basic working class whites. I don’t know where they were in relation to the poverty line, but they were decent people. The guy who guided us around the neighbor’s property at one point spoke of someone as being a “good Christian”. That is different from the Midwest where, when praising someone, it is more typical to hear it said that the person is a “hard worker” or some such thing.

I must admit that I like the attitude of judging people by their moral worth, not their work status. Blaming people as lazy for being unemployed when jobs are scarce is neither fair nor compassionate. And then blaming their economic conditions for their voting patterns is plain pointless. People vote for the best option they see, but the sad state of affairs is that our political system rarely offers many good choices.

That was the one thing the Vox reporting got right, if it was only briefly acknowledged. The main person interviewed, Kathy Oller, explained her reasons:

“Oller likes the idea of universal coverage. She supported President Obama in 2008 and 2012 specifically because of his promises to expand affordable health insurance. But in 2016, she decided to vote for Trump. In part, she felt it was a bit of a toss-up. She kept describing voting as something akin to “Russian roulette” — you never really know what you’ll get with a candidate, she argued.”

That is what US elections are. They are a gamble where your life is on the line, as with “Russian roulette” (in the video, she describes it as pulling the lever on a slot machine; an election is a gamble where you don’t know whether you’re pulling a slot machine lever or a gun trigger, not until after it’s already too late). There is almost no way to rationally choose, under such conditions. It’s the attempt at blindly weighing of harms versus benefits and so deciding who is the lesser evil. It should be a wake up call for Democrats that so many Americans perceived Donald Trump as a lesser evil than Hillary Clinton.

This isn’t about poor rural white people, those who get called hillbillies, rednecks and white trash. It’s simply about ordinary people facing impossible decisions that can’t and will never lead to good results. Most people vote out of a desperate sense of hope, despite all the evidence that politicians of both major parties mostly ignore the public while doing the bidding of monied interests.

If journalists are going to attempt to explain something, then that might be a good place to start.

* * *

As for poor rural whites, specifically the Appalachian hillbillies, below are some more edifying pieces about who are these people and communities, what it all means or symbolizes, and why there is such obsessive concern by outsiders, specifically the moralizing paternalism among elites.

Appalachia this election year: So many stories, so little depth
by CD, The Homesick Appalachian

There is no neutral there: Appalachia as a mythic “Trump Country”
by Elizabeth Catte

Hillbilly Elitism: The American hillbilly isn’t suffering from a deficient culture. He’s just poor.
by Bob Hutton, Jacobin

J.D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America
by Sarah Jones, New Republic

Hillbilly Shuffle: Don’t Blame Appalachia For Trump
byJeff Biggers, Common Dreams

Author too removed from culture he criticizes
by Brandon Kiser, Lexington Herald-Leader

* * *

Some of my previous posts:

Presidential Candidates and Voter Demographics
Trump is not the White Savior
On Rural America: Understanding Is The Problem
WASP Elegy
On Welfare: Poverty, Unemployment, Health, Etc
American Class Bigotry
Whites Understanding Whites
Joe Bageant: On the White Underclass
On the White Trash Heap
What Is Kentucky?
Are White Appalachians A Special Case?
On Racialization of Crime and Violence
The Desperate Acting Desperately
Fearful Perceptions
Union Membership, Free Labor, and the Legacy of Slavery
Patchwork Nation: Evangelical Epicenters & Tractor Country

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Trump is not the White Savior

Any time a candidate or the media claim that some demographic was won, be extremely skeptical. With so many people not voting or else among those voting choosing third party, it is rare for a candidate to win any demographic. Let us consider an example getting much attention as of late, the white demographic.

There are over 245 million white people in the US (77.7% of the population). And the vast majority of those are non-Hispanic whites (62.6%). That is about 200 million more whites in the US than in 1900 and so not exactly a shrinking population in terms of raw numbers. In fact, among children born in the US in recent years, 50.4% are non-Hispanic whites. Even the foreign born fertility rate shows that non-Hispanic whites aren’t that far below Hispanics of any race (1.94% vs 2.46%).

About 183 million non-Hispanic whites are 20 years old or older. And about 156 million non-Hispanic whites are eligible voters. That is a large chunk of the population that is eligible to vote (69% of the electorate), but a larger part of the population doesn’t vote. A little over half of all eligible voters cast a ballot. So, maybe 90 million non-Hispanics voted. Just to be on the safe side, will round it up to an even 100 million.

So, how many white people voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election? Well, 58% of registered whites voted for Trump, although I’m not clear if that includes or excludes Hispanic whites. Assuming that is non-Hispanic whites, that means Trump won 58 million non-Hispanic white votes. That is only about a third of the eligible voters in that demographic.

The vast majority of non-Hispanic whites did not vote for Trump. He is not the candidate of white people. He does not have a white mandate. Most Americans, including most most whites despise Trump, the most unpopular candidate since data was kept and now the most unpopular president (even Nixon was more popular when he was first elected). Trump hasn’t come close to being seen as a white savior.

Let’s be clear. When Trump or the media states that Trump won the white demographic, know that such claims are total bullshit. This goes far beyond his not having won the popular vote. There are those on both the political left and political right who want to push various racial narratives, along with other forms of identity politics. But such framings are some combination of false, inaccurate, misleading, and unhelpful.

Trump’s victory doesn’t fundamentally indicate or change anything within the general population. White nationalists, white supremacists, and white bigots exist. Right-wing authoritarians, alt-right loonies, and ethnocentric nativists exist. Still, they remain a small part of the total white population. The mainstream media obsesses over them to a degree that forms an exaggerated portrayal of their numbers.

Most important of all, remember this. It was that same mainstream media that promoted Trump by giving him more coverage than all other candidates combined. And we now know that some of those within the mainstream media were working directly with the DNC and Clinton campaign. As revealed in some of the leaks, it was part of the strategy of the Democratic establishment to ensure Trump got the Republican nomination. Democrats did more to elect Trump than did racist white voters. That is the sad reality.

If we don’t understand any of this, how are we going to move forward? We need new ways of understanding that offer a vision of change, not yet more division and divisiveness. Don’t rely on what is said by any candidate or media source. Look at the data for yourself. Research topics and come to your own conclusions. Be careful when you find yourself mindlessly being drawn into a narrative. Ask yourself: What exactly is this narrative? And why is it being pushed?

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.

WASP Elegy

J. D. Vance is getting a lot of attention for his recent memoir, Hillbilly Elegy. It’s decent book for what it is, but it ends up being mostly fodder for conservative rationalization and praise for WASP culture. If you’re interested in poor whites of the Upper South, you’d be better off gaining useful insight from the likes of Joe Bageant.

I’m not motivated in doing a full review of the book. I only wanted to note something from the introduction and comment on it. Here is what stood out to me (Kindle Locations 215-224):

“One guy, I’ll call him Bob, joined the tile warehouse just a few months before I did. Bob was nineteen with a pregnant girlfriend. The manager kindly offered the girlfriend a clerical position answering phones. Both of them were terrible workers. The girlfriend missed about every third day of work and never gave advance notice. Though warned to change her habits repeatedly, the girlfriend lasted no more than a few months. Bob missed work about once a week, and he was chronically late. On top of that, he often took three or four daily bathroom breaks, each over half an hour. It became so bad that, by the end of my tenure, another employee and I made a game of it: We’d set a timer when he went to the bathroom and shout the major milestones through the warehouse—“ Thirty-five minutes!” “Forty-five minutes!” “One hour!”

“Eventually, Bob, too, was fired. When it happened, he lashed out at his manager: “How could you do this to me? Don’t you know I’ve got a pregnant girlfriend?” And he was not alone: At least two other people, including Bob’s cousin, lost their jobs or quit during my short time at the tile warehouse.

“You can’t ignore stories like this when you talk about equal opportunity.”

Damn straight! We can’t ignore stories like this. Nor so easily dismiss the real people behind the stories.

My initial response to this was that Vance sounds like a heartless asshole. He is quick to judge people he seems to know nothing about. These people were just stereotypes to him and so to be dismissed. He offers no insight about who these people were, what their lives were like, and what they struggled with.

The woman was pregnant, as Vance admits. She could have been dealing with serious morning sickness. There might have been complications with the pregnancy or other unrelated medical conditions involved. Maybe she was tired out from trying to work multiple jobs to save money for when the child came and was having a hard time balancing the work load. As far as the reader knows, she had other kids at home or maybe an elderly parent who needed regular caretaking.

Vance doesn’t inform the reader about any details. One must assume he didn’t know these people very well and apparently had no curiosity to get to know them. He could have, for example, asked her why she wasn’t feeling well during the pregnancy and whether there was anything he could do to help. That is what a compassionate person would have done.

The same goes for the guy, the prospective father. All we know is that he had to use the bathroom often. That could indicate a medical condition, from irritable bowel syndrome to some kind of lingering stomach flu. It could have been lots of things. And maybe with medical costs related to the pregnancy, the guy couldn’t afford to see a doctor about whatever might’ve been ailing him. We shall never know and neither shall Vance.

Instead, Vance mocked him openly and drew management’s attention to the poor guy. It sounds like Vance helped get him fired, in true asshole fashion. Not even an ounce of sympathy toward those who haven’t been as lucky as he has been, at least in this particular case.

Here is the conclusion he offers (Kindle Locations 224-233):

“Nobel-winning economists worry about the decline of the industrial Midwest and the hollowing out of the economic core of working whites. What they mean is that manufacturing jobs have gone overseas and middle-class jobs are harder to come by for people without college degrees. Fair enough— I worry about those things, too. But this book is about something else: what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It’s about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.

“The problems that I saw at the tile warehouse run far deeper than macroeconomic trends and policy. Too many young men immune to hard work. Good jobs impossible to fill for any length of time. And a young man with every reason to work— a wife-to-be to support and a baby on the way— carelessly tossing aside a good job with excellent health insurance. More troublingly, when it was all over, he thought something had been done to him. There is a lack of agency here— a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself. This is distinct from the larger economic landscape of modern America.”

The problem is that he never explores deeply, much less widely, “what goes on in the lives of real people”. It’s mostly just a memoir and primarily focuses on his immediate family. He doesn’t travel the region doing careful interviews. He certainly doesn’t look at any of the data showing what is effecting these people. He doesn’t bother to consider what others have previously written. It ends up being personal speculation based on extremely limited anecdotal evidence, which is to say he confirms his own biases.

As one person noted,

“It matters very much, because it ties into how the author of the book judges “hillbilly culture” as a character fault of the people who make it up. For instance, he criticizes man who takes a day off work while his girlfriend is pregnant. I’d like to know how much that job paid, whether it provided a living wage, whether it provided adequate health care, whether transportation was an issue, and how employees were treated by management, before I would be able to agree or disagree that the man was lazy or irresponsible. […] I’m saying that the issue is far more complicated than Vance makes out. Thiel, Brooks, Vance — they all believe that any individual can rise above the direst circumstances if only they have the right spirit. It’s the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” theory, and to believe that if you don’t succeed at this, if you remain in violence and poverty and despair, it’s your own fault… that’s neoconservatism.”

It is a cynical worldview. Obviously, it doesn’t explain why the lives of these people are worsening. Might there be a direct causal link to their lives worsening as the economy and other social conditions worsen for most Americans, just as in the past their lives were improving when the world around them was doing likewise. Why not go with the simplest and most common sense explanation?

* * *

As a side note, one thing that really irks me is the class narrative.

The mainstream media keeps falsely portraying Trump’s supporters as working class whites, poor whites, or simply white trash—as if it is a rising backlash of downtrodden whites. The fact of the matter is Trump’s supporters are on average middle class, above average in wealth compared to most Americans. Republicans in general get a disproportionate percentage of the wealthier vote, whereas Democrats have maintained their hold on working class whites.

Yet Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is being used as an explanation for Trump’s candidacy. It offers economically well off white conservatives a way rationalize away the fact that their party has been going batshit crazy long before Trump came along.

When all else fails, when poor minorities and undocumented immigrants can’t be scapegoated, blame the white trash and the unassimilated ethnic whites. The likes of J. D. Vance is simply following in the tradition of Charles Murray and previous generations of conservatives, such as the polemicists and eugenicists in the early 20th century. It’s the old American defense of WASP cultural dominance against all those who would threaten it.

Income Inequality and Partisan Voting in the United States
By Andrew Gelman, Lane Kenworthy, and Yu-Sung Su

Which Candidate Do the Poor Support?

Presidential Candidates and Voter Demographics

Class Breakdown of the Campaigns

* * *

Some reviews:

REVIEW: LAMENTING ‘HILLBILLY ELEGY’
By James Branscome, The Daily Yonder

Searching for the “White Working Class”
By Zoltan Zigedy, ZZ’s blog

FOR HONKY FOLK WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN DONALD TRUMP IS ENUF.
By Roy Edroso, alicublog

half touching personal memoir, half neoconservative political manifesto
By Mark bennett, Amazon

Hillbilly Elegy? Not Really
By LH, Amazon

On the White Trash Heap

The below passage caught my attention. It’s written by Nancy Isenberg, from White Trash. The book is a nice read, if you have some curiosity about poor whites. They make for an intriguing historical study. There are centuries of opinions written about them, a favorite topic of discussion for the upper class folk ever perplexed by this alien world of whiteness, often not far away.

Ah, poor whites! Those crackers, dirt poor and the filth to prove it, toothless and ignorant, the lowest of low in the American social hierarchy. They have been looked upon as worse than blacks and Indians. They had the audacity to not fit into the racial order and their whiteness was often questioned.

Blacks always were supposed to be poor and Indians are meant to be in the backcountry. But these white trash have been impoverished by sheer laziness, because of their moral failures and lowly nature, a poverty passed on as their rightful inheritance. And they lived in crappy shacks in rural bumfuck nowhere (or else in ramshackle trailer parks at the edge of town) because that is what they liked, proof that they were barely above being animals.

These pathetic losers, refuse on the trash heap of civilization. Heck, are they even really Americans like the rest of us? It’s as though they live in their own world, purposely cutting themselves off from respectable society and glorying in their backwards ways. They are a step beyond the status of redneck, closer to the category of hillbilly, but really they are in a class of their own. White trash.

We know this because those are the descriptions offered by more well off whites of the past when they traveled among the lower sort. It’s been well documented by astute observers for longer than this land has been its own country.

And ya know what makes these poor whites the worst? They are my people. Ha! It’s probably why I have such a bad attitude.

My mother’s family didn’t come from a respectable background. They were of the Hoosier persuasion, back when to be called a Hoosier was an insult. They were poor whites from Kentuckiana (the limestone region of Kentucky and Indiana). My great grandfather was born a squatter, quite literally. He began his life in an abandoned building that was part of an old abandoned village, at the outskirts of a small border town in a rural county of southern Indiana. It was typical Hoosier territory.

My people were among those first on frontier. They killed and died fighting Indians, when they weren’t fighting each other. There probably was even a bit of mixing with the native folk, not to mention some hanky panky with those of a darker shade (hence the term “Hoosieroon”). Always rumors in poor white rural families that their blood might have more than one color running through it. There is a challenge in determining exact ancestry, many genealogical lines of descent seem to emerge out of the backwoods, as if they had always been there, their natural habitat.

By the time my mother was born, the extended family was finally escaping the fate of dirt poverty. But not all the family escaped. From hearing about some of the family I’ve never met, I suspect there are those who others might look upon as ‘white trash’. Even in her childhood, my mother spoke with that Hoosier dialect that told everyone around her that she was poor white, no matter the fact her father had a factory job. Her father was an alcoholic and on the abusive side, the towering patriarch of his own home. He was born poor and had little education, but to his mind at least he escaped poverty and maybe more importantly wasn’t black.

My mother had two brothers and plenty of cousins about her, the infamous clannishness that poor whites are known for. She still has pride in her voice in telling how she could hold her own in a fight or in a race with the boys. And, of course, she spent her childhood barefoot, as only the poor did back then.

Do you know who else was a poor white Hoosier? Abraham Lincoln.

Abe’s family were small farmers and manual laborers, as was mine. And, like my family, they drifted along as the frontier spread west, from Kentucky where he was born to Indiana where he spent his childhood. His father never understood his love of books and would sometimes burn them. In some of those books, he read about the American founders and it inspired that dirty little backwoods boy to dream of becoming president. But still he was Hoosier through and through. He could scrap with the best of them and he gained some notoriety for his fighting skills, with the strength to pick up a full grown man and toss him.

He also had the grim fatalism of his poor white heritage. He never expected life to end well for him. To rise up out of one’s class was asking for trouble. It isn’t what white trash is suppose do. But along with grim fatalism, he had grim determination to do what he had set his mind to do.

In 1817, when little Hoosier Abe was about eight years old, over in Virginia Thomas Jefferson brought one of his granddaughters to some nearby property he owned where they met a family of low class scrub dwellers. She was shocked by what she perceived as their shamelessness and lack of deference. She would have been even more shocked if someone told her that in her lifetime a dirty little heathen, just like one of those barely clothed children, would hold the same high office as her well-honored grandfather. A few decades later, Abraham Lincoln was elected president, although he was preceded in 1829 by another president of poor white origins, Andrew Jackson.

That is always the failure of white trash. They don’t know their place. They have their own values and their own sense of pride, no matter what anyone else thinks of them. It might seem the arrogance of brute ignorance, but it’s well earned. They think of themselves as plain Americans, as they identify themselves on census records. Their continued existence despite the odds being against them is their only needed justification.

George Washington, that great aristocratic leader, had a vision for America. He dreamed of a disinterested aristocracy ruling with paternalistic concern. When the poor whites rebelled, he did what any stern father would do and put them back in their place. The problem is they wouldn’t stay in their place, even all these centuries later. Still, they remain useful as scapegoats and so maybe we should keep them around, to occasionally trot them out on the public stage as a lesson for us all.

* * *

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
By Nancy Isenberg
pp. 114-116

The distance between town and backwoods was measured in more than miles. It had an evolutionary character, forming what some at the time recognized as an impassable gulf between the classes. The educated routinely wrote in disbelief that such people shared their country. In 1817, for example, Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughter Cornelia Randolph wrote to her younger sister about a trip with their grandfather to the Natural Bridge, a property that Jefferson owned ninety miles west of Monticello. Here, she said, she encountered members of that “half civiliz’d race who lived beyond the ridge.” The children she met were barely covered by their scanty shifts and shirts, while one man strutted around before them with his “hairy breast exposed.” In this large, unruly family, she noted with disapproval, there were no more than “two or three pairs of shoes.” She was especially surprised by the crude familiarity of their speech. Oblivious to social forms, they conversed with the ex-president as though he was some lost family member. As a proud member of the Virginia gentry, Cornelia was convinced that she towered above the unwashed squatters. To her further chagrin, she was astounded that the poor family exhibited not the least sense of shame over their pathetic condition.

Class made its most transparent appearance by way of such contrasts. We can read volumes into the scorn expressed by the educated onlooker as he or she sized up the uncouth figures who roamed the backcountry. The need to make them into a new breed focused on more than crude living conditions, however. The backwoodsman and cracker had a telltale gait that accompanied his distinctive physiognomy. While traveling in the trans-Appalachian West in 1830, a city adventurer drolly observed of his bed companion for the night, “lantern-jawed, double-jointed backwoodsman, measuring some seven feet one in his stocking feet.” A typical alligator hunter in southern Illinois bore a similar physique: “gaunt, long-limbed, lanthorn-jawed, Jonathan.” (“ Jonathan” simply meant “fellow” here, being a common appellation for a generic American.) The cracker women had the same protruding jaw and swarthy complexion, and were as often as not toothless.

Women and children were important symbols of civilization— or the absence of it. Officers stationed in Florida in the 1830s identified “ye cracker girls” as brutes, with manners no better than sailors, and often seen smoking pipes, chewing and spitting tobacco, and cursing. Seeing their slipshod dress, dirty feet, ropy hair, and unwashed faces, one lieutenant from the Northeast dismissed them all as no better than prostitutes. In his words, everyone of the cracker class was a “swearing, lazy, idle slut!”

The backwoods personality could be found as far north as Maine, as far south as Florida, and across the Northwest and Southwest Territories. They acquired localized names, such as Mississippi screamers, for their cracker-style Indian war whoop or love of squealing; Kentucky corn crackers, for their poor diet of cracked corn; and Indiana Hoosiers, for the poor in that state. “Hoosier” is a word no linguistic scholar can define with any precision. Even so, the class descriptor was the same. A Hoosier man ran off at the mouth, lied, boasted, and remained ready to harm anyone who insulted his ugly wife. They were as prone to a down-and-dirty fight as any southern cracker. Hoosier gals were no more refined than their Florida sisters. A Hoosier gal’s courtship ritual, it was said, involved a lot of kicking and hair pulling.

Sexual behavior was another crucial marker of class status. In a well-known poem of the era, “The Hoosier’s Nest” (1833), the author harkened back to the vocabulary of the Scottish naturalist Wilson. Here again, the cabins were wild nests, a half-human, half-animal retreat perfect for indiscriminate breeding. Using a racially charged slur, the poet identified the children as “Hoosieroons”— a class variation of the mixed-race quadroons. Under their leaky roofs were none of the hearty pioneer stock. Instead, poor Indiana squatters produced a degenerate dozen of dirty yellow urchins.

Filthy cabins, a lack of manners, and rampant breeding combined to make crackers and squatters a distinct class, as verified by their patterns of speech. Backwoods patois constituted a rural American version of the lower-class English cockney. In 1830, there was even a “Cracker Dictionary,” preserving their vintage slang. One was “Jimber jawed,” whose mouth was constantly moving, who couldn’t stop talking. The cracker’s protruding lower jaw carried over into his style of talking. A “ring tailed roarer” was a violent type; the descriptive “chewed up” literally referred to having one’s ear, nose, or lip bitten off.

But one polysyllabic word may have best captured their identity. The verb “obsquatulate” was a cracker conjugation of “squat,” conveying the idea of moseying along or absconding. For a people who wouldn’t settle in one place, “obsquatulate” gave an activity of sorts to the American heirs of English vagrants. They might flee like an absconding servant or amble at a slow pace without a destination in mind, but in either case it was their dirty feet and slipshod ways that defined them.

From New World to New Worlds

The ‘discovery’ of the New World made it possible for Europeans to imagine new worlds. It also allowed Europeans to see themselves in new ways. They now were ‘Europeans’, in a way they weren’t before. This had diverse consequences, good and bad. It was the beginning of both utopianism and racism.

* * *

Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James W. Loewen
Kindle Locations 1390-1414

Columbus’s voyages caused almost as much change in Europe as in the Americas. Crops, animals, ideas, and diseases began to cross the oceans regularly. Perhaps the most far-reaching impact of Columbus’s findings was on European Christianity. In 1492 all of Europe was in the grip of the Catholic Church. As the Encyclopedia Larousse puts it, before America, “Europe was virtually incapable of self-criticism.” 80 After America, Europe’s religious uniformity was ruptured. For how were these new peoples to be explained? They were not mentioned in the Bible. American Indians simply did not fit within orthodox Christianity’s explanation of the moral universe. Moreover, unlike the Muslims, who might be written off as “damned infidels,” American Indians had not rejected Christianity, they had just never encountered it. Were they doomed to hell? Even the animals of America posed a religious challenge. According to the Bible, at the dawn of creation all animals lived in the Garden of Eden. Later, two of each species entered Noah’s ark and ended up on Mt. Ararat. Since Eden and Mt. Ararat were both in the Middle East, where could these new American species have come from? Such questions shook orthodox Catholicism and contributed to the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517.81

Politically, nations like the Arawaks— without monarchs, without much hierarchy— stunned Europeans. In 1516 Thomas More’s Utopia, probably based on an account of the Incan empire in Peru, challenged European social organization by suggesting a radically different and superior alternative. Other social philosophers seized upon American Indians as living examples of Europe’s primordial past, which is what John Locke meant by the phrase “In the beginning, all the world was America.” Depending upon their political persuasion, some Europeans glorified American Indian nations as examples of simpler, better societies from which European civilization had devolved, while others maligned them as primitive and underdeveloped. In either case, from Montaigne, Montesquieu, and Rousseau down to Marx and Engels, European philosophers’ concepts of the good society were transformed by ideas from America. 82

America fascinated the masses as well as the elite. In The Tempest, Shakespeare noted this universal curiosity: “They will not give a doit to relieve a lambe beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.” 83 Europe’s fascination with the Americas was directly responsible, in fact, for a rise in European self-consciousness. From the beginning America was perceived as an “opposite” to Europe in ways that even Africa never had been. In a sense, there was no “Europe” before 1492. People were simply Tuscan, French, and the like. Now Europeans began to see similarities among themselves, at least as contrasted with Native Americans. For that matter, there were no “white” people in Europe before 1492. With the transatlantic slave trade, first Indian, then African, Europeans increasingly saw “white” as a race and race as an important human characteristic. 84

Notes:

80 – Marcel Dunan, ed., Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern History (New York: Crescent, 1987), 40.
81 – Crosby, The Columbian Exchange, 11-12. See also Calder, Revolutionary Empire, 13-14; Dunan, ed., Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern History, 40, 67; Crone, Discovery of America, 184.
82 – Morgan, Nowhere Was Somewhere; Marble, Before Columbus, 73-75; Calder, Revolutionary Empire, 13. Lowes, Indian Giver, 82, regarding Montaigne. Also Sanders, Lost Tribes and Promised Lands, 208-9. The direct influence of the anthropologist L. H. Morgan on Marx and Engels is described by Bruce Johansen, Forgotten Founders: How the American Indian Helped Shape Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Common Press, 1982), 122-23. Sale, The Conquest of Paradise. See also Crone, Discovery of America, 184.
83 – Quoted by Peter Farb, Man’s Rise to Civilization (New York: Avon, 1969), 296. The Tempest shows Shakespeare’s own fascination: he modeled its Native character, Caliban, after the Carib Indians, who were cannibals, according to what the Arawaks had told Columbus.
84 – For that matter, Europe isn’t a continent, unless the word is defined Eurocentrically! Europe is a peninsula; the division between Europe and Asia is arbitrary, unlike the divisions between other continents.

 

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.

* * *

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.

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?