Michael J. Yochim, Protecting Yellowstone: Details a series of conflicts about park management over the past few decades, including the reintroduction of wolves, the continued use of snowmobiles, gold mining, and allowing bison to roam beyond park boundaries. The bottom line is simple: politics always wins. But political coalitions can be built depending on the strength of the relevant science, as well as on the framing of issues as being about protecting nature, preserving access to the park, or promoting the economy of the surrounding areas.

Joan C. Williams, White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in AmericaWealthy whites, Williams argues, act like jerks and think like jerks about the middle-class/non-college educated (but largely not poor) whites who support/ed Trump, which makes it harder to understand and deal fairly with them. For many, she argues, racism etc. is just a side effect of their anger at the elites that have disrespected them for so long and who haven’t included non-college-educated whites in the groups that need equality. (Two-thirds of Americans don’t have college degrees.) I’m not really sure how that’s supposed to make me think differently about them, though, and I don’t think she proves that their real anger is directed at “more-privileged whites,” as opposed to “more-privileged whites and nonwhites in general.” They see poor people, especially nonwhites, getting subsidies for child care, when they get or got no help with child care themselves, and are livid, not knowing or not caring about how small those subsidies are. Avoiding the traps of addiction, hopelessness and dependence is hard, so the people who do pride themselves on self-sufficiency, self-control, and rigorous judgment of immorality. Working-class women see poor women staying at home, and they don’t know or care about the reasons.

Professional elites value a different kind of hard work—not the hard work of “the rigid self-discipline to do a menial job you hate for 40 years, and reining yourself in so you don’t ‘have an attitude’ (i.e., so that you can submit to authority).” Hard work isn’t self-actualization or disruption, as it is for elites; working-class kids don’t have access to the second chances that you need if you’re going to take a lot of risks. Being learned or inquisitive is dangerous, and religion provides the “mental exercise, stability, hopefulness, future orientation, impulse control, and social safety net many in the professional elite get from their families, their career potential, their therapists, and their bank accounts.” Of course, Williams pauses to point out, working-class African-Americans often see the world differently despite a lot of these similarities, with more felt solidarity with the poor.

In the white working class, professionals are distrusted, including doctors and teachers, who risk being deemed condescending and unhelpful. By contrast, rich people are not distrusted or resented. Monetary success proves merit; owning a business is ideal because it means not having to take orders. I’m reminded of the idea of the “little republic,” the patriarchal family in which male rulers of the household would supposedly learn the skills necessary to participate in running a country. The ideal of being a business owner is therefore an expression of class consciousness, not a rejection of it. In daily life, working-class people have plenty of chances to resent professionals while retaining admiration for the rich, with whom they have little contact.

These days, supermarkets are divided by class; what you serve at dinner parties and who you invite is divided by class (familiar foods v. exotic, family v. business contacts); how much you talk to your kids is divided by class; etc. Williams argues that elites “typically have a narrow intimate circle but also have a broad network of acquaintances” that can help them succeed around the country or even the world; relatedly, elite socializing “cultivates the ability to get along smoothly with a broad range of people and impress them with your sophistication.” But combining personal and strategic interactions “strikes the working class as insincere” and narcissistic. Because “what you do” doesn’t define them—and focusing on that can even be insulting—“the dignity work affords is from what it allows you to buy and whom it allows you to support,” and “who you are” is more important than “what you do,” thus justifying a focus on support for “traditional values” as a matter of aspiration, if not actual behavior. “The focus on character, morality, and family values is a key expression of class disadvantage; we all choose baskets we can fill.”

Williams also discusses the question “why don’t they just move from depressed areas?” (being known, having responsibilities). Education is a lot riskier for a working-class kid—it’s expensive and it might not help, given the kid’s ignorance of the codes of elite behavior. And the “concerted cultivation” of elite kids gives them a vastly different experience that can produce very different college outcomes—while also encouraging elite women to “drop out” of the workforce so they’ll have the time to supervise homework, etc., that middle-class working women don’t have.

Elite whites displace the blame for racism onto other whites, who are deemed the stupid/racist ones as compared to our enlightenment. Williams also suggests that elite racism is different from nonelite—elite racism revolves around merit/lack thereof, whereas white working-class people focus on morality and deem people of color lacking.

In terms of solutions, Williams suggests that we should “create a national discourse that acknowledges and respects traditionalism and hard work, values shared by both immigrants and working-class whites.” Sounds pretty nice, except that “traditionalism” seems to mean “some of my friends should not exist”—Williams seems unwilling to grapple with the question of whether trans rights, marriage equality, and abortion rights, among other things, should be condemned to support “traditionalism.” And it’s hard to reconcile her demand to “[a]cknowledge that their folkways work as well for working-class lives as professional-class folkways work for elite ones” with her acknowledgement that many working-class people do indeed have sex and kids outside marriage (not to mention how working-class LGBTQ people might feel about this). Yes, she says, white working-class people’s “sense of entitlement to decent jobs” reflects white privilege, but our message should be that all Americans are entitled to such jobs, regardless of race. Did … did Hillary Clinton not mention that? Because I remember a campaign that was about equal entitlement, and it wasn’t Trump’s.

But Williams notes that Clinton’s attempt to shatter the glass ceiling wasn’t particularly significant to white working-class people because they wouldn’t get near the C-suite, man or woman. (And here’s where gendered racial identity matters, I think—the people she’s describing could imagine that Trump’s victories were their own, but not Clinton’s; the idea that they’d never break the glass ceiling is inconsistent with the idea that the ultimate dream is to own one’s own business and be the one giving the orders, not taking them—but the contradictions can be papered over with a sufficient identification with the successful rich guy.) A white working-class woman who seeks a job dominated by white working-class men is likely to face vicious harassment, refusal to train, and sabotage, without necessarily making a lot more money, so, Williams says, it’s not surprising that most such women don’t aspire to “men’s work,” and instead invest in a gendered, family-first identity. Of course, Williams concedes, sexism mattered in 2016, because likeability is mandatory for women in charge but optional for men, and neither candidate was likeable. But she defends working-class white men against pure stereotypes, pointing out that “elite men tend to talk the talk but don’t walk the walk; working-class men walk the walk [in terms of spending time on childcare] but do not talk the talk.”

I get Williams’ point that elite men shouldn’t tell working-class white men to give up the masculine ideal of being the breadwinner while they still have that breadwinner privilege themselves, and that they will only have the moral standing to do so once they start “flooding into traditionally feminine jobs,” but (a) I’m not a man, and (b) as we’ve seen with computer programmers, that switch isn’t going to work, because the problem is the devaluation of women and our work, not that we do work that is devalued.

Perhaps more convincing is Williams’ challenge to apply structural disadvantage analysis to the white working class, though how this will insulate us from charges of smug elitism I’m at a loss to explain. Still, “[w]e bend over backward to understand why many poor women have children very early, attentive to the structural factors that make that a logical choice,” and we elites don’t “fault inner-city black people, and say they deserve to remain in poverty, because of their refusal to move where the jobs are,” while we ask that about rural working-class whites.

Williams is hopeful that working-class whites will be less racist once we stop insulting them by calling them racist and uneducated. We (again, white elites) don’t have to “abandon[]” people of color but we shouldn’t assume a zero-sum game (notably, she fails to identify the white elites who are doing so). We need, she says, “a bipartisan campaign to educate the American public about the positive roles that government plays in their lives,” especially in protecting their families via police, firefighters, the military, environmental agencies, the FDA, the FTC, etc. (Some of these things are not like the others, though, and celebrating the protections given by the police is difficult for me when I know that my protection is others’ violation.) We also need revitalized civic education, turning from focuses on social movements and oppressed groups to celebrating our democracy. (To which I respond with Langston Hughes’ Let America Be America Again, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/let-america-be-america-again.) I agree that it’s terribly troubling that Trump’s call to jail Clinton didn’t sound un-American to his voters, but I’m not sure that “teaching American values” will work until we have a better consensus on what those values are.

Unsurprisingly, Williams pushes solutions that don’t require us to confront thorny racial issues—job retraining for displaced workers, tax code changes to discourage companies from moving overseas. Sounds fine to me, but it’s pretty weak tea. There are also some lefty policies she thinks aren’t good issues. Paid sick leave isn’t enough to support a family, she argues, so it’s not as good an issue as Democrats think it is; likewise with raising the minimum wage to $15, which still won’t allow a man to be a breadwinner. Trump at least gave the impression that he understood what these whites meant when they said they wanted a good job. (Although again I don’t see how you get there without a bunch of raced presuppositions—it’s not as if he laid out what he meant by “good jobs” or anything else. And I’m pretty sure African-American working-class voters also want good jobs; they just knew he wasn’t promising any for them.)

We have to be flexible on abortion, she suggests, because abortion is about individualistic selfishness according to white working-class views (not that they don’t have their share of abortions, of course, but we’re talking about public morality). Again, she avoids the hard questions about the extent of such flexibility by claiming that “Pro-Child, Pro-Choice, Pro-Family” is a great slogan because it emphasizes the importance of a good, wanted family. What is the next step in this reconciliation on abortion? Maybe the underpants gnomes know. Likewise, we should be pushing the message that “immigrants typically do jobs whites don’t want,” and that small businesses will be hurt by criminalizing “the hardworking bussers and dishwashers who keep their restaurants open.” A Muslim registry is a waste of money and a significant government intrusion—surely if we present it that way, white working-class voters will understand the problems with it. Climate change: well, we have to accept that these voters hate know-it-alls, so forget science and talk about how farmers are seeing changes on the ground and argue that it doesn’t matter why, but we have to address those changes. Here Williams forgets her own data: very few working-class whites are farmers, because very few Americans are farmers. And addressing the problems requires us to accept the “why,” because the solutions aren’t simple. (Exactly how do you bring the rain back, or know where the productive lands will be, without science?)

As for that whole Black Lives Matter thing—and I’m being flippant because Williams is clearly sincere—Williams notes that a culture of anti-black policing, requiring black men to be “immediately and consistently submissive” to increase their chances of survival, does exist. Still, she says, being a police officer is a dangerous job (though not as dangerous as some others we don’t pander to), and so we should adopt the message that “Police work is hard and dangerous work most of us aren’t qualified to do. Having the courage, the composure, and the self-discipline to defuse potentially violent situations rather than escalating them—that’s rare. Most people don’t have what it takes.” I’m all for changing the narrative about use of force to frame it as a failure rather than as the point of policing. But I’m not sure that message can solve the problem of juries acquitting police officers for killing African-Americans without additional change in the racial understanding of what counts as “potentially violent” or actively threatening.

In the end, Williams tells us, the white working class is important for strategic reasons (pesky Electoral College) and ethical ones: no politician should ignore big segments of the country. The left has a class problem, for all its talk of diversity and equality. And that’s a fair point. If we need family therapy for the country, then it’s not just about fixing the “troublemaker,” but about changing the dynamic that “cast the ‘troublemaker’ in that unhappy role.” I do see the point, but I just keep having a ‘yes, but” reaction: Yes, that’s true of family therapy and assigning rights and wrongs can prevent further progress—but when one family member has become a Nazi, or even is drifting in that direction, you need to start looking away from conventional family therapy and towards some kind of anti-hate reintegration campaign. What that looks like on the social level I don’t know, but Germany might have some ideas. Sure, part of what’s going on is that “[d]eriding ‘political correctness’ [has become] a way for less-privileged whites to express their fury at the snobbery of more-privileged whites,” but, as I’ve seen said various ways in recent days, the word for Germans who joined the Nazi Party out of economic aspiration, frustration with conventional politics, and other non-genocidal reasons is “Nazi.”
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)

From: [personal profile] saraht

I'm really sick of these books, 90% of which would never be written if the author had to live in community with her subjects, especially in the skin of one of their target groups.

I don't think romanticization from the outside is much better than condescension from the outside. And I wish these people would explain to me why my mom, a gently leftist white lady who has worked hard all her life, first as a mom of several and then as a nurse, lived a life of conventional virtue that most of her subjects could only dream of (I genuinely believe the only person she's ever slept with is my dad, and they've been divorced nearly 15 years now!), and yet doesn't feel the need to hassle trans people or think of BLM as terrorists, isn't the "true" white working class, whereas my walking-garbage-fire, racist, and significantly better off uncle is.
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)

From: [personal profile] saraht

My mom values hard work, but she is also very sensitive to the circumstances that interfere with people's ability to do it, or to get ahead through doing it, so I'm not sure she's Williams's convert. She believes in the fallen world, not the just world.
litalex: Jefferson from John Adams, lounging around (LOL!Jefferson)

From: [personal profile] litalex

sounds like Williams is pretty clueless herself in many aspects...?
amypond45: (Default)

From: [personal profile] amypond45

I feel completely out of my league here, but I can't help appreciating any serious engagement with that segment of the country that clearly feels disenfranchised by the last administration. So much rhetoric lately is so full of hatred and condemnation and name-calling, which can't be fruitful in the long run. I have this theory (probably wrong?) that most people who voted for Trump were lodging anti-Hilary votes, which means. as Williams suggests, there are a lot of white people in this country who don't identify with the liberal elite. I don't think that makes them sympathetic with the alt-right or Nazi-sympathizers, but I'm guessing again. I think most people want to think of themselves as "good" people, moral people, people who try to do the right thing by their families and their choices. They see Nazis as evil, the way the rest of us do. I don't know exactly where they're coming from in terms of politics, but I'd guess they don't like to be thought of as deplorables or Nazis. Anyway, even though Williams' arguments seem to be lacking a lot of depth, at least she's not resorting to name--calling. I feel like more of us need to try to understand these folks who voted for Trump, even if it's an uncomfortable thing to do (I have a tenddency to think of them as "Yahoos" and Bozos, so I'm as much at fault as anyone!)


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