Standing in Line for the American Dream, Wednesday, January 19, 2017

Well, after the very positive report on my physical situation yesterday, I am now in the process of absorbing yet another injury. Not serious, I hope, and the rain predicted over the next day or so may help me to limit my activities enough for healing.


Oh, what happened, you ask? Getting older does have a certain suckage factor! I have been experiencing a lot of tightness and tenderness in my left butt area due to my new foot work. I tried running for a bus yesterday and pulled up lame (sad face emoji here). A bummer, but it is better today which is a good sign, and I am also refraining from hurting it more, another good sign!

I am currently reading Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Professor Hochschild left the familiar confines of her emeritus professorship at UC Berkeley and moved down to rural southwest Louisiana and spent several years hanging out with, listening to, and talking with Tea Party supporters. 2014 indicators had Louisiana with a poverty rate of 20.6%, ranking 49th out of 51 (states plus DC).  In 2012 Louisiana received 44% of its revenue from the Federal government, yet to say that Tea Party (TP) supporters have an antipathy towards the Federal Government would be a gross understatement.


Unemployed men in soup kitchen line

Ms. Hochschild was exploring the sociology behind this disconnect. I am about a third of the way through, and have come across a very powerful metaphor. She was searching for an image of their current economic situation that would resonate most strongly with them, and this is what she found…

You are patiently standing in a long line leading up a hill, as in a pilgrimage. You are situated in the middle of this line, along with others who are also white, older, Christian, and predominantly male, some with college degrees, some not.
Just over the brow of the hill is the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line. Many in the back of the line are people of color— poor, young and old, mainly without college degrees. It’s scary to look back; there are so many behind you, and in principle you wish them well. Still, you’ve waited a long time, worked hard, and the line is barely moving. You deserve to move forward a little faster. You’re patient but weary. You focus ahead, especially on those at the very top of the hill. (Hochschild, p. 136)

They are patient, but the line isn’t moving very much at all, and worse, they see people cutting ahead of them in line! Immigrants, Muslims, blacks, women… When she started exploring the images of those line cutters she noticed a curious phenomenon…

Curiously, the people of the right I came to know spoke freely about Mexicans (4 percent of Louisianans were Hispanic in 2011) and Muslims (who accounted for 1 percent) but were generally silent about blacks, who, at 26 percent, were the state’s largest minority. (Hochschild, p.146)

On further examination and reflection she finds that …

Among the older right-wing whites I came to know, blacks entered their lives, not as neighbors and colleagues, but through the television screen and newspaper where they appeared in disparate images. In one image, blacks were rich mega-stars… In a second image, blacks were a disproportionate part of the criminal class…And in a third image, blacks were living on welfare. (Hochschild, p. 147)


Now here comes the punch line, and a hint of hope for the future…

Missing from the image of blacks in most of the minds of those I came to know was a man or woman standing patiently in line next to them waiting for a well-deserved reward. (Hochschild, p. 147)


Numerous articles analyzing the election results at the county level have made note of a very sharp urban/rural divide, and I believe that this missing image is the key to that divide. There is a lot more space and much less population mobility in rural areas, and folks living there are much less likely to be encountering individuals with disparate backgrounds, beliefs, and ethnicity than folks in urban areas.


Those of us living cheek-by-jowl with people not like us come to realize that Mexicans are not rapists and are really hard workers (most of whom, by the way, are able to get along in AT LEAST two languages\, one more than I can), that immigrants work really hard to achieve that American dream through their 7-11’s and other small businesses, and that blacks are co-workers, neighbors, parents, and all too often victims. We come to realize that all of us are sharing the same dream, and all of us have been living our whole lives waiting for that dream. There is an old proverb that says “Familiarity breeds contempt”, but I don’t buy that.  I believe that in this arena we need to change that to “Familiarity breeds coexistence”.

Why can’t we all just get along?


Hochschild, Arlie Russell. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. The New Press. Kindle Edition

Most pictures courtesy of Google Photos



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