David L. Martin

in praise of science and technology

Archive for the month “August, 2018”

The urban/rural divide, revisited

A number of commentators have noted that Americans have been sorting ideologically in recent years.  Liberals seem to want to live alongside liberals, conservatives alongside conservatives.  Increasingly, the cities are occupied by liberals, the small towns and rural areas conservatives.  The urban/rural divide is not just a matter of preference about who your neighbors are.  It has to do with very basic notions of what a community should look like.

urbanrural

In a 2014 poll, Pew asked Americans which of these 2 options they would prefer:

  • The houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores, and restaurants are several miles away.
  • The houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores, and restaurants are within walking distance.

A whopping 77% of those identified as “consistently liberal” chose option 2.  By contrast, 75% of those identified as “consistently conservative” chose option 1.  46% of consistent liberals would choose to live in a city, and another 21% would choose suburbs.  Only 20% would choose a small town, and a mere 11% a rural area.  Conversely, only 4% of consistent conservatives would choose to live in a city.  There is a stereotype of conservatives as living in suburbs and exurbs, going to megachurches.  But in fact, only 20% of consistent conservatives reported that they would choose to live in a suburb.  35% would choose a small town – and whopping 41% would choose a rural area.  In other words, 76 PERCENT OF CONSISTENT CONSERVATIVES WOULD CHOOSE TO LIVE EITHER IN A SMALL TOWN OR THE COUNTRY.

W Spear Ranch, Meeker, Colorado

Think about that.  Almost half of consistent liberals would choose to live in a city – not the suburbs of a city, but the urban core.  3 out of 4 consistent conservatives would choose to live in either a small town or the country, and 4 out of 10 would choose the country over the small town.  That is a huge difference in how people view their preferred surroundings.  The whole idea of community is very different at different points on the ideological spectrum.  It seems that conservatives want very few neighbors.

I grew up in a small town, in a rural state.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that town when I graduated from high school – away from small-minded people who thought their little world was the whole universe.  Ironically, I love the country, and I could easily see myself living on a farm.  BUT – I could never see myself restricting my concerns to that farm.  There’s a universe out there to explore, a universe of places, people, and ideas.  Before the internet came along, I spent hours and hours at libraries, soaking up knowledge and new perspectives.  Now of course I have the internet, and I use it.  A lot.

immgrantpopulation

As I have previously discussed, America is becoming more urbanized over time.  Recent immigrants, who are overwhelmingly non-white, are heavily concentrated in places like Los Angeles, Miami, and New York.  Most rural areas are slowly hollowing out.  This is actually the continuation of a trend that has been going on for decades, as America has moved from an agricultural to an industrial and finally a service/information economy.  All along there have been those who grew up in rural areas, but migrated to the cities, either because that’s where the jobs were or because rural life was just too limited for them.

Visiting rural America is often a bit like going back in time.  Many small towns look little different than they did 50 years ago.  This is even more true of many rural areas.  And like the landscapes, the people often seem frozen in time – often overwhelmingly white, poorly educated…and resistant to change.

bigcityideology

In 2014, researchers from MIT and UCLA published a paper on the ideological leanings of major cities in America – cities with populations larger than 250,000.  They were interested not just in how liberal or conservative city leaders were, but how well they matched their constituents ideologically.  So they polled city residents to get a clear idea of where they stood, asking them questions about taxation, government pensions, mass transit, subsidies for renewable energy, rent controls, health benefits for same-sex couples, and so on.  From these questions they developed an ideological score for the residents of each city.

Of 67 large American cities, the researchers found that only 17 skewed conservative.  48 skewed liberal, and 2 had no skew either way.  Furthermore, even the 17 cities that skewed conservative did not skew STRONGLY conservative.  The most conservative city, Mesa, Arizona, had a score of 0.41.  (The more conservative a city, the higher the score.)  No city scored higher than 0.5.  The most liberal city, San Francisco, had a score of -1.0, and 17 cities had scores of less than -0.5.  The average score of the 67 cities was -0.28.

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These researchers found, not surprisingly, that the policies of city leaders tend to track the political leanings of residents.  And in fact, if we look at the mayors of these 67 cities, we find that 46 of them are Democrats, 3 are Independents, and 18 are Republican.  Many large cities in red states have Democratic mayors – Phoenix, Arizona, Houston, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee, for example.

There is not a single Republican mayor in a large city in the Northeast.  Even in the South, almost half of the mayors of big cities are Democrats – if we count Missouri and Kentucky as southern states, it’s well over half (13 out of 23).  It is clear that big cities in red states tend to be more conservative than big cities in blue states.  Big cities in Texas tend to be more conservative than big cities in California.  Big cities in Pennsylvania tend to be more liberal than big cities in Oklahoma.  Of the top 20 most conservative big cities, 9 are in the South.  None are in the Northeast, and only 2 on the West Coast.  Of the top 20 most liberal big cities, 7 are in the Northeast and 5 on the West Coast.  Only 2 are in the South.

Nevertheless, the overall pattern is clear.  Big cities tend to be blue.  Here is a map showing the party identification of big city mayors.  The Democrats are blue, the Republicans red, and the Independents white:

bigcitymayors

The ideological map of big cities is becoming less and less red over time.  Formerly red states like Arizona and Florida are increasingly battlegrounds.  Fast-growing large cities such as Austin and Atlanta are overwhelmingly Democratic.

If you’re wondering, dear reader, why so many state governments are dominated by Republicans, while their largest cities skew liberal, the reason is that rural and small town America leans strongly Republican, and rural areas have a strong electoral advantage at the state and federal levels.  And the fact is, a huge number of Americans remain in small towns and rural areas.  But this is slowly changing.  As I said, rural America is slowly hollowing out.

percapitaenergyconsumptionhistorical

Over the last 50 years, America has become much more efficient in its use of natural resources.  The result is that the demand for basic energy and materials has relaxed, and it is rural areas that have satisfied that demand.  Coal, oil, iron, timber – the 20th century saw enormous surges in demand for these things.  But in the 21st century, we’re doing more with less – and extractive industries are often the main employers in rural areas.  On top of that, all of these industries have become more automated.  This is likely to accelerate in the future, leading to an even faster depopulation of rural America.

The partisan divide in America is, to a great extent, an ethnic divide.  This has been true for decades, ever since the Democratic party abandoned segregation.  But more recently, it has also become a urban/rural divide, with a corresponding educational attainment divide.  America as a whole is becoming increasingly non-white.  But this trend is much less pronounced in rural America.  However, rural America is aging, is already in a state of population decline, and is relatively poorly educated.

agedistributionurbanrural

The median age for urban Americans is 36 years.  For rural Americans – 43 years.  But even this does not adequately describe the difference.  The single most prevalent age class among rural Americans is 50-60 years of age.  There are currently about 10 million rural Americans aged 50-60 – and only about 6 million aged 20-30.  By contrast, the single most prevalent age class among urban Americans is 20-30 years of age.  There are currently about 27 million urban Americans in this age class.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where these numbers lead.

Between 2010 and 2016, 2/3 of all non-metropolitan counties lost population, and almost ¾ experienced net out-migration.  Meanwhile, metropolitan areas gained population and saw net in-migration.  The entire white population under the age of 55 declined in non-metropolitan America during this time.  Rural America as a whole is slowly depopulating.

popchangerural

Only 20% of rural Americans have Bachelor’s degrees, compared to 29% of urbanites.  And whereas in 1992 49% of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents had at least a Bachelor’s degree, today that figure is down to 41%.  The corresponding figure for Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents is now 53%.  Meanwhile, poorly-educated Americans are becoming increasingly conservative.  In 1992, 55% of Americans with high school or less identified as Democratic or Democratic-leaning Independents.  Today that number is down to 46%.  And since non-whites are identifying as Democratic or Democratic-leaning Independents as much as ever, the conclusion is inevitable – it is poorly educated whites that are becoming more conservative.  These poorly educated whites are concentrated in rural America.

Even among big cities, there is a relationship between educational attainment and ideology.  Although there is a great deal of spread, big cities with the most highly educated populations tend to be the most liberal.  Many of these are in the Northeast.  In the graph below, northeastern cities are blue, southern cities red.  Washington, D.C. is the most highly educated big city in America.  It is also one of the most liberal.  Boston, Massachusetts also ranks highly on education.  It is also very liberal.  Oklahoma City and Jacksonville rate much more poorly on education – and are among the most conservative large cities.

educationversusideologybigcities

This relationship between education and ideology is relatively new.  In the past, more highly educated Americans tended to vote Republican.  But in the past, more highly educated Americans were overwhelmingly white.  As I have previously discussed, college campuses in America are increasingly non-white and non-male.  White college graduates still tend to vote Republican.  In the 2016 presidential election, a whopping 71% of non-white college graduates voted for Clinton.  But only 45% of white college graduates voted for her.  Even so, this is a much higher percentage than that for whites without college – only 28%.

collegestudents

There is also the fact that American colleges were once dominated by males.  No longer.  In 1970, about 52% of American college students were white males.  Today, only about 24% of college students are white males.  Today almost 40% of young American women have Bachelor’s degrees.  Only about 32% of young men have them.  For rural men the percentage is only 14% – and strikingly, a smaller percentage of young rural men have degrees than older rural men!  Women tend to be more liberal than men, educated women particularly so.  In the 2016 presidential election, only 39% of white males with college degrees voted for Clinton.  But 51% of white FEMALES with college degrees voted for her.

Americans are increasingly registering as Independents, and a higher percentage of white Independents today lean Republican (54%) than 25 years ago (46%).    As rural whites slowly disappear, the country’s ideology increasingly skews liberal.  Only the inherent electoral advantage of rural America clouds this trend.

cycleofruraldecline

With each new census, rural states will lose ground.  Iowa has gone from 10 electors in 1960 to 6 today.  Mississippi has gone from 8 to 6 in that time.  West Virginia from 8 to 5.  Meanwhile, Florida has gone from 10 to 29, and California from 32 to 55.  The Republican party loses ground, year by year, as America becomes more urbanized and more diverse.  The Republican party as we have known it has no future.  It will either change dramatically or be replaced by a new party.

The Dangerous Caricature of Macho

The word masculine comes from the Latin masculinus.  It simply meant male, as opposed to female.  Another Latin word, hominem, meant simply “human.”  Yet there is another word in Latin that means human, humanus.  One of the descendants of Latin, Spanish, took humanus and turned it into humano, retaining its meaning – “human.”  The Latin word hominem, however, became hombre – not just human, but specifically a male human.  And the Latin word masculinus, in Spanish became macho.  The word macho is used to refer to male animals.  But it also has a very specific meaning when applied to human beings.  That meaning has carried over into English.

macho

Macho is a caricature of masculinity.  Sometimes people refer to it as hypermasculinity, but this is misleading.  It’s like saying that sexual assault is just an extreme form of ordinary sex.  Macho is an emphasis on very particular traits – traits that are no more masculine than loving fried chicken and watermelon is African-American, or getting drunk is Irish.

emotionalmen

This is easily illustrated by looking at emotional control.  Macho emphasizes emotional callousness, especially toward women.  How is this masculine, especially?  Are men less inherently emotional than women?  There is zero evidence for this.  In the proper context, men are very emotional – at sporting events, in expressions of patriotism, in defense of home.  It is not emotion per se that is undervalued by macho culture – it is SELF-EXAMINATION.  Macho culture glorifies a human being who is out of touch with his own humanity – including his masculinity.  A macho man is not really human at all.  He’s neither masculine nor feminine.  Instead he is a caricature, a stereotype.

3 traits exemplify the macho man:

  • Emotional callousness, along with an emphasis on self-reliance
  • Male supremacy in breadwinning and defense of home, tribe, and country
  • Aggressiveness with a strong emphasis on physical strength

It might be argued that courage is a big part of macho culture.  But a close examination shows that this is not really true.  Macho culture is about bravado, not genuine courage.  Thrill-seeking and extreme risk-taking is very much a part of macho culture.  This is often done in the service of creating emotional callousness.  But more often it is done in a social setting – as a display to other macho males.  This social aspect is crucial to understanding macho culture.

cookingandcleaning

Most macho men are not self-reliant at all.  They depend on the support of women and the admiration of other men.  But it’s important that they never ACKNOWLEDGE dependence.  Macho is a value system that, at its core, is all about pathological competitiveness.  It expects women to be excluded from the competition.  And it expects men to display callousness, aggressiveness, and a desire for domination – all the hallmarks of pathological competitiveness.

The consequences of this pathology are by no means limited to violence and the subjugation of women.  Macho men themselves are known to suffer.  Last year, a large study was published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology that found negative psychological outcomes more prevalent among those who conformed to certain “masculine norms.”  These include:

  • Winning
  • Emotional control
  • Risk-taking
  • Violence
  • Dominance
  • Playboy
  • Self-reliance
  • Primacy of work
  • Power over women
  • Distain for homosexuals
  • Pursuit of status

Virtually all of these were found to be associated with negative mental health outcomes, including depression, psychological stress, substance abuse, body image problems, and negative social functioning.  Some people call macho culture “toxic masculinity.”  It’s toxic, all right, to its adherents as well as those around them.  But as I have said, it isn’t masculinity, toxic or otherwise, any more than Mickey Mouse is a species of mouse.  It’s a caricature of masculinity.

manwoman

Where does that leave us with psychological distinctions between men and women?  Well, men tend to be more exploratory, women more home-oriented.  Men tend to be more spatial, women more verbal.  Men tend to be more rebellious, women more unifying.  But these are merely averages, subject to lots of social conditioning, not to mention individual variation.  Each of us has a masculine side and a feminine side.  We can draw strength and emotional health from both.

The more important distinction is between the mature and the immature.  Children are immature, by definition.  They are insecure and often selfish.  Maturity brings self-assurance and genuine courage.  It brings compassion for the vulnerable and the desire to be of service.  Of course, it could be argued that these traits are not especially male.  Right.  They are traits of maturity.  Traits of men rather than boys, women rather than girls.

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Humanity as a whole must go through a maturation process as well.  You have barbarism on the one hand, characterized by the desire for supremacy, ethnic violence, and warfare, and you have civilization on the other hand, characterized by values of justice, equality, and tolerance.  Civilized human beings have compassion and a desire to be of service to others.  Civilized human beings do not think in terms of us and them.  Only us.

violencemuststop

One can almost feel the pull of civilization, the process of maturation, and the corresponding resistance from those who would prefer to wallow in the immaturity of barbarism.  Growing up is always painful, for individuals and societies.  But I firmly believe it will happen.  At some point humanity will discover that it has only 2 options – self destruction or maturity.

Whose Story Gets Told

In America today, about 23% of voters are registered as Republican.  About 33% are registered as Democrats, and 39% are Independents.  The President’s approval rating among Republicans stands at about 87%.  But again, Republicans are only about 23% of the electorate.  What about the other 77%?

partyaffiliationovertime

Among Democrats, his approval rating is about 8%.  Among Independents, about 34%.  Since the electorate contains about equal numbers of Democrats and Independents, this puts his approval rating among non-Republicans at about 21%.  Amongst the 77% of the electorate who are not Republicans, only 1 out of 5 approve of his performance.

Every week we hear pronouncements from the media, often tinged with astonishment, that the President enjoys “strong support.”  Right.  FROM REPUBLICANS.  WHO ARE LESS THAN A QUARTER OF VOTERS.  One could be forgiven for getting the impression that Republicans are just about the only voters that matter.

whitevotersgop

White America has become increasingly Republican over time.  The Republican party is now about 90% white.  In the last several months there have been media reports, citing studies, about how white Americans who are made aware of the browning of the country tend to respond by becoming more conservative.  A good example is an article in Vox published several weeks ago, in which the author cites a couple of different studies showing that white racism fuels conservative politics, and even increasing awareness of demographic change among whites tends to make them less likely to support liberal policies.

The conclusion reached by the author is that the very thing that fuels conservative politics, racism, must be left unchallenged, because challenging it will only lead more white Americans to move in a conservative direction.  And the author makes an astonishing statement.  “Perhaps one day social scientists will figure out how to get people of different backgrounds to live among one another and not be afraid.”  WHAT????!!!!!  I thought that was the whole point of American democracy.  Justice, equality, tolerance.  A society built on common values, not blood and soil.  If everyone went to the same church, why would we need freedom of religion?  Religious distinctions were once VERY important in America.  Catholics, Jews, and Mormons were discriminated against, and worse.  Now we have to start back from square one, wondering if people from different backgrounds can just manage to NOT TO BE AFRAID of one another?  I don’t think so.

demographicfuture

Another article, also published in Vox, cites some of the same research, with one of the researchers arguing that “it would be wise for demographers to stop using terms like ‘majority-minority America’ — after all, whites will still be a plurality, and what good can come of framing America’s trajectory in a way that leaves the single largest group feeling maximally threatened?”  Yet this researcher is quoted as saying, “we can’t say, ‘Don’t worry, white people, you’ll be okay and you’ll get to run everything forever!’”

None of these articles deny that racial injustice is a problem.  None of them deny that the browning of the country is inevitable, and that America will move forward on social and economic justice.  None of them are arguing that white America will not have to come to terms with all of these things.  They are merely arguing that somehow all of this inevitable change must be downplayed – that white America should be distracted from these changes, lest it “feels threatened.”  Increasingly, the implicit argument is that white people react in a specific way to efforts toward social justice like dogs to a piece of red meat, that they just can’t help it – and we must do everything possible not to rile them up.

obama

What makes all of this hand-wringing all the more remarkable is that the country had 8 years of Barack Obama, a non-white president who played down racial issues.  What was the result?  Did this slow the movement of white America toward the Republican party?  Did white people feel “less threatened” by Obama’s conciliatory language and constant calls for unity?  Which party captured the lion’s share of seats in Congress and in state legislatures during those 8 years?

When I look at the history of race in America I have to ask, did we ever move forward on issues of racial or economic justice by avoiding talking about them?  Slavery was an issue that festered for the first 80 years of America’s history.  Naturally southern slavemasters responded to abolitionism by becoming increasingly entrenched.  Does this mean the abolitionists should have kept their mouths shut?  Would that have sped the destruction of slavery?  I don’t think so.

segregationists

Then there were 90 years of Jim Crow and segregation in the American South.  Again, naturally when it was challenged, southern whites became entrenched in their racism.  Does this mean the civil rights movement should have kept quiet?  Would that have sped the downfall of segregation?

OF COURSE when you challenge racism, rascists become more entrenched.  I am forced to wonder why the media focuses so much attention on white Republicans in America.  As I said, Republicans are about 23% of the electorate, and about 90% of them are white.  Therefore, white Republicans are about 21% of the voters.  Why so much concern about how this 21% will react to the browning of the country?

realamerica

Last year, writer Rebecca Solnit published an article in Literary Hub entitled “Whose Story (and Country) Is This?”  She provides several examples of media narratives that provide us with “a set of assumptions about who matters, whose story it is, who deserves the pity and the treats and the presumptions of innocence, the kid gloves and the red carpet, and ultimately the kingdom, the power, and the glory. You already know who. It’s white people in general and white men in particular, and especially white Protestant men, some of whom are apparently dismayed to find out that there is going to be, as your mom might have put it, sharing.”  More Americans work in museums than in coal mines, but somehow coal miners deserve special attention and sympathy.  The subtle (and occasionally not-so-subtle) message that is constantly reinforced is that there is a “real” America consisting of badly misunderstood and forgotten people who must be given the lion’s share of attention and empathy.  That America is white, rural, and male.  It is the failure of “elites” to understand and empathize with this “real” America that is the source of our country’s current problems.

I grew up in that predominantly white, rural America.  I understand that so-called “real” America very, very well.  In some ways it is more sophisticated than media caricatures would have us believe.  In other ways it is in fact worse – more racist, more misogynistic, more ignorant.  And above all, very, very resistant to change.  It does NOT solve its problems of its own accord.  It wallows in them.  The only way it moves forward is by being challenged.

realamerica2

In her closing paragraph, Solnit writes, “We are as a culture moving on to a future with more people and more voices and more possibilities. Some people are being left behind, not because the future is intolerant of them but because they are intolerant of this future.”  America WILL move forward as a country.  Trying to slip demographic change past a vocal minority, because you don’t want to make them feel threatened, accomplishes nothing.  The problem is not that they are misunderstood.  The problem is that they simply don’t believe in power-sharing.  They don’t believe in win-win.  They believe in supremacy.  They believe there’s an us and a them.  If “they” are doing well, “we” must not be.  Those beliefs will not die quietly.  They must be challenged.

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/1/26/14340542/white-fear-trump-psychology-minority-majority

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/7/30/17505406/trump-obama-race-politics-immigration

https://lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-the-myth-of-real-america-just-wont-go-away/

Tolerance and Intolerance – Why some things and not others?

Cultural identity is very important to many people, whether they realize it or not.  For most of human history, nations as we know them today did not exist.  The concept of race did not exist.  What did exist was the tribe.  Group identity was tribal.  And what defined the tribe was culture.

gardenofeden

Within a specific tribe, myths and origin stories were often created that had little connection with history.  In many cases, there WAS no history – no written account of what happened.  Native American tribes often created origin myths about themselves, with specific connections to prominent features on the landscape.  The stories of the Garden of Eden, Noah, and the Exodus were created for very specific religious and political purposes.  Religion has often been used as a wedge to distinguish “us” from “them.”  But religion is always merely one part of something bigger and much more important – culture.

When African slaves were brought to America, the slavemasters did everything in their power to obliterate their culture.  A big part of this was Christianization.  Since most slavemasters were Baptists, many slaves were indoctrinated into the Baptist church.  To this day, enormous numbers of slave descendants are southern Baptists – just as large numbers of white southerners are.  Martin Luther King himself was ordained by a Baptist church in Georgia.  But this commonality does not translate into a common culture – far from it.

indoeuropean

Language has always been one of the most important ways people distinguish their tribe from others.  This is quite ironic, because language is highly fluid.  The English language didn’t exist 2000 years ago, and its modern form didn’t exist when Columbus landed in the Americas.  Languages constantly borrow from other languages, and migrations move languages around over the centuries.  As new dialects and distinct languages diverge from old ones, new tribes spring into existence.  A single tribe often splits to become 2 or more distinct tribes, sometimes bitter enemies.

The average American has little idea of the distinction between a Norwegian and a Finn.  But the Norwegian and Finnish languages are quite distinct.  Norwegian is a Germanic language, while Finnish is part of the Uralic language family, more closely related to Hungarian than Norwegian.  For example, ”I am building a house” in Norwegian is ”Jeg bygger et hus.”  In Finnish it’s “Rakennan taloa.”  Mother in Norwegian is ”mor.”  In Finnish it’s ”äiti,” more like the Hungarian ”anya.”  Ultimately, of course, all of these languages can trace their ancestry back to a single mother tongue – just as English, German, Spanish, and Italian derive from a common mother language.  But for those to whom ethnic identity is critically important, this is quite irrelevant.  There’s an “us,” and we speak OUR language, and there’s a “them.”  These ethnic distinctions often persist even when nations enclose them and try to create larger unities.

semiticlanguages

2 of the largest language families are Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic.  Afro-Asiatic is the mother language of, among others, the Semitic languages, which include ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and the various forms of Arabic.  The Indo-European language family includes, among others, Hindustani, Persian, and many (though not all) present-day European languages.  Americans tend to caricature Egyptians, Saudis, and Iranians as “Arab” – but Iranians largely speak Persian, an Indo-European language, while “Arabs” speak languages derived from the same mother language as Hebrew.  In terms of language, Israeli Jews have much in common with Palestinian Arabs.  But that history is lost on the average Israeli or Palestinian.

As languages evolve and, a new languages diverge from older ones, groups of people often use this to distinguish themselves from one another.  Even when they are speaking the same language, people using different dialects will very much notice the differences, and use them to make a distinction between “us” and “them.”  In America, the most distinct dialect of English is African-American slang.  It isn’t just a matter of pronunciation and word usage.  Many words and phrases appear in African-American slang, such as cup cakin’, frontin’, and rolla, that almost never show up in conversation among whites.  African-American slang remains distinct, and that very distinctiveness is seized upon by the intolerant to marginalize and denigrate – to identify “them,” who will never be part of “us.”

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By contrast, cuisine with African-American origins is more or less freely incorporated into white American society, along with other cuisines.  A good example is so-called “soul food,” which has become virtually synonymous with southern cuisine – fried chicken, fried fish, fried okra, hush puppies, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and so on.  And then there is gumbo, the ultimate blend, both literally and culturally.  The word itself may derive from West African names for okra.  White southerners, even those who consider themselves culturally conservative, have no qualms about enjoying fried chicken, cornbread, and seafood gumbo.  They do not think of these things as coming from outside their own culture – on the contrary, they often embrace them and take ownership of them as part of their heritage.

The same is true of music.  Musical genres such as jazz, rock and roll, and hip hop, despite their origins in African-American culture, are quite integrated into white American society.  Again, whites who consider themselves culturally conservative usually have no problem with rock and roll.  This kind of “reverse assimilation” goes on all the time.  There is no great outcry that America is losing its “sovereignty” because it likes jazz or hip hop.

africanhairstyle

Why?  Why do things like food and music get a pass, while other things, like dialect and dress, are seized upon as markers of “them”?  I think it has to do with the fact that food and music can be detached from physical human beings.  Other cultural markers, such as language and dress cannot be.  The way a person uses language, the way they wear their hair, the way they dress, these are all taken as messages, whether they are intended that way or not.  For this reason they are seized upon by the intolerant as markers, followed by demands, often explicit, that those who insist on displaying them be assimilated.

Dress codes are one of the most important ways that everyone is encouraged to assimilate into white American culture.  They send a strong message that one particular culture is favored, and deviation from its norms has negative consequences.  Many businesses explicitly forbid hair styles and clothing associated with non-white ethnicities, in the name of “professional” dress.  Since the professional class in America has been historically white and male, this is the standard that everyone is measured against.

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In the past, religion was another important marker for the intolerant.  Again, a person’s religion is not something that can be detached from their person.  Not so long ago it was widely considered inappropriate to marry outside of your particular religion.  But partly because of the Holocaust, and partly because religious tolerance is so thoroughly baked into American democracy, religious bigotry has become very marginalized in this country.

To the extent that individual Americans resist the pressure to assimilate into white American culture, to the extent that they insist on cultural distinctiveness, they are marginalized and discriminated against.  To a great extent, these people are African-American.  It’s a vicious cycle, feeding on itself.  African-Americans who refuse to assimilate are marginalized and denigrated.  In response they resist even further, retreating into even more distinctiveness.  Intolerant whites respond by marginalizing them further.  And so on.

nativeamericanassimilation

There was a time that assimilation into white Protestant culture was official government policy and widely accepted, even demanded, by white society in America.  Native American culture suffered greatly.  But today, the intolerant in America seem willing to give Native Americans a special pass on their distinctiveness, a pass not granted to other cultural groups.  I think this is because Native Americans are seen by the intolerant as a kind of permanent “other.”  They are not expected to assimilate, because in this view they are not “real” Americans, and never will be.

Everyone else, however, is expected to walk the walk and talk the talk.  Those who make economic progress but refuse to assimilate into white Protestant culture are especially despised, because they are seen as a threatening “other.”  Laws against discrimination do not address the more fundamental issue of tolerance.  Diversity initiatives largely serve merely to entrench intolerant whites, especially when their fear is being reinforced by powerful manipulators.  As the browning of America continues, and intolerant whites can no longer rely on cultural favoritism, the danger is that this entrenchment will turn into outright civil unrest.  We already see a mythos of victimized and emasculated white males developing, encouraged by those in the media who rely on intolerant whites for their revenue.

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The motto of the United States of America is “E Pluribus Unum.”  It means “one out of many.”  The very foundation of the country is built on respect for diversity, tolerance of differences.  But fear, justified or not, is a powerful motivator.  Tribalism is an ancient drive that is easy for manipulators to exploit.  Passively hoping that it will go away on its own will not suffice.  Active countermeasures must be taken to nip tribalism in the bud, to promote justice and tolerance.  The alternative is more division and ethnic tension, leading to very bad outcomes for everyone.

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