A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Race v. Class?

Russ Douthaut has a column that every NYTimes reader should read if only to remind us of the "outer boroughs" and west of the Hudson. On the other hand, he pins his case on one study of elite institutions to explain why white, Christian America is so angry. That's, of course, if "we" really are, "The roots of white anxiety". Take a look. Paul Krugman has a few telling observations on the state of political discourse, "the pundit delusion".

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

"Consciously or unconsciously, the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or 'Red America.'"________Odd to pretend to know what "the gatekeepers" are doing "unconsciously".

That admission to the 'elite' universities like Harvard is big on the agenda for poor mid-west whites is Douthart's fantasy [with no stats]. But It is big on neo-con talking points. White unemployment last week 8.6; Hispanic 12.7; Black 14.9; black men 16.8..

What impacts of bigotry are felt by white consevative Christians vis a vis poor minorities or evn gays or other disavantaged groups? Of course it's hard to get anyone to say they're prejudiced even though most if not all of us have some baggage.But on the conservative right, there was a sourthern strategy that now is much into rthe "no amnesty" mantra on imigration and current Administration failures they perceive in the gulf deep South area.The mix of race into politiciztional ideology does grow apace again and we are more impoverished for it.

Part of the unasked statistical question here is the breakdown of applicants to the "elite" universities. They can't admit someone who didn't apply, and you can't apply if you don't have the hefty application fee and the coterie of guidance counselors that help.

Bob: Did you see the story this morning about Evangelical pastors support for immigration reform. Interesting:

Nice piece in today's Times -thanks.But the dep political divide on immigration wil be colored not only by values for some but also bigotry for others.

". . . the coterie of guidance counselors that help."-------Guidance counselors are very helpful. But kids not fortunate enough to be in private schools with experienced and ethical counselors should be careful. This story about a counselor who nearly cost a girl her swim scholarship shocked me:

This story feeds my suspicion that the doings of Ivy League schools are more interesting to Ivy Leaguers than they are to the rest of us.Here in the Upper Midwest, we have land grant universities that, on the face of things, seem pretty good, are a lot cheaper, and seem to be relatively egalitarian in their admissions programs.Arguments about whether Michigan is better than Penn or Purude as good as Brown for a given discipline, again in my observation, tend to generate more heat than light.To cite a couple of well-known Ivy League grads: I have no reason to doubt that Presidents GW Bush and Obama would have ended up in the White House and done as well as they did/are, had the former gone to Texas and the latter to ... the state school of wherever he lived at the time (where did he live then?)

Wish I could remember where I read this recently, but what frightens me is that an administrator from one of the Ivies said that the Ivies have as their mission to educate the American ruling class. That the U. S. might end up with only one entrance to American positions of leadership is scary. As I understand it, that is the French system, and their politics has been notoriously unstable historically. True, even very poor but brilliant kids in France get to the Sorbonne at times, but has the system really worked?I also think it's false that money is mainly what those with big ambition seek.. As I see it, money is for the super-rich a marker of power, and it's the power that is most attractive. There is great power in government policy-making positions, and with or without money, Democrats often succeed to it. I think the Tea Partiers know this very well, and this is the basis of their complaint against the elite-education issue.

Ann - was it to educate or to produce the American ruling class? Maybe not an important distinction, but one smacks of aristocratic entitlement, whereas the other bespeaks only the caliber and ambitions of the graduates they hope to send into the world, wheresoever they may have originated.

Thomas --I do wish I had that citation. As I remember, he was talking about *producing* a ruling class of the smartest, regardless of origin.

From both the articles referenced and the replies on Commonweal, it seems our future might be tribal.I hope not, but it seems like that sometimes.

"Ann, to be clear, I was referring to people who are mistaken. How exactly does one become a great philosopher if one lies from the beginning?"Nancy --I don't understand most of your answer. True, it won't do to lie in philosophical conversations. But I thought we've been talking about ethical *mistakes*, not lies. A mistake is not the same thing as a lie, and one is not justified in calling someone a liar just because he or she has made a mistake. That would be a sin. When did great philosophers or lying become the subject of our discussion? Why are you bringing up these topics? As your reply stands, it looks like an instance of the fallacy of changing the subject.

Ken, I think our past was based on ethnic/socio-economic "tribes" and our future will continue to be tribal.Few people go directly from farm or projects and to Harvard.Increases in education tend to happen incrementally by generation, often as finances improve and the "tribe" is willing to accept those with more education.My "tribe" of blue-collar white Democrats, largely Irish and mostly Catholic, was pretty skeptical of college per se unless it led to a job certificate of some type. Parents would encourage college to a point--but usually not to the point of financing it.Most friends and family viewed an English major as something, at best useless, and, at worst, a kind of finishing school where you learned to look down on everybody. An advanced degree was viewed with utter scorn.On the other hand, everybody in academe figured that if you were blue collar, you were constantly fighting down the urge to say "we seen" and "crick" instead of "creek."It's uncomfortable being between "tribes" sometimes, but I don't see anything particularly wrong with the tribal system. It's when you're forced to stay in your tribe that problems begin.

This is interesting. My grandfather was a trolly car conductor in Boston. He was born at Cork, Ireland. My grandmother was a farm girl for a very tiny crossroads near Lisdoonvarna, Ireland. Historical Ivy League schools excluded Catholics, particularly the Irish kind, as the New York side of my family who were early arrivals in this country continually pointed out. But in the 1930s Harvard started admiting youngsters like my uncle who played baseball and went on to a career as a test pilot and senior officer, one to the guys with the right stuff that Tom Wolfe wrote about ("If Joe Kennedy can make it as an naval aviator so can I"). My brother-in-law played baseball for Harvard, too. His grandparents lived down the street from mine in Cambridge. They were the Portuguese people who kept goats in the front yard. It would be nice if my boy could go to Harvard and play baseball, too. But Cambridge is a long way from Arizona where we live, so our anxiety about Harvard, or the lack thereof isn't that great. The new Ivy League diversity might appear to be a case of turning back the clock on Catholics. On the other hand you can now go to Santa Clara, Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Fordham, or Georgetown and get a pretty good Harvard education, if you get my drift. My Baptist friends from Hawaii are thinking ASU or maybe Baylor. Maybe if Ross's family had worked in the cane fields in Hawaii or kept goats in the front yard in Cambridge he'd have something relevant to say to Americans who read Commonweal.

I am not comfortable with characterizing our nation as tribal. Perhaps it is the negative connotation from Indians tribes and all the troubles they have had (endured) over these past two and a quarter American centuries. The tribal way just does not seem like a recipe for success.On the other hand Jean - I am sad to see the Iroquois (tribe) team for Lacrosse did not get to play this year. I guess I do like some tribes!:)

I mean of course, the Iroquois were allowed to play in this year's Lacrosse world cup -

I think many of us retain more tribal qualities than we generally recognize. Reading in recent years about the tribal cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan, I have been struck by similarities in cultural and political practices. I will grant that in the U.S. many of these are more attenuated than in the Middle East, but.... if you have been reading the viral tale of Shirely Sharrod, Andrew Breitbart, Tom Viliseck, and others, there are certainly tribal qualities present. Still, I don't think tribal qualities are always so deadly, sometimes family solidarity depends on them.

"Perhaps it is the negative connotation from Indians tribes and all the troubles they have had (endured) over these past two and a quarter American centuries. The tribal way just does not seem like a recipe for success.Ken --You raise an interesting question here. What is "success" in the USA? What *should* (if any one thing) be considered "success"? I think we need a thread on it sometime.

Ken, I lived in the Michigan U.P. and had a chance to know many Native Americans and see how a modern tribe works. The only problem with the system is that white people won't leave it alone. There is still this itch to make them assimilate, which is interesting because nobody makes the Amish assimilate. And I'd say the German-Czech village where I live still hasn't assimilated. They're talking German on the Polka Palace show right now as I type this, and these people have lived here for three generations. Ann raises the right question: What is "success"? During one of the umpteen thousand fishing treaty wrangles, the state of Michigan sent in an African-American lawyer to try to negotiate with the tribe, thinking maybe the tribe could relate better to another "minority person." At one point, the lawyer asked the Chippewas something like, "Don't you want to have a nice suit, a hot car and a piece of the pie like the white man?" The tribal members gave a pretty long pause and looked at each other sideways, which was their equivalent of collapsing in laughter, and said patiently, "No. We want to fish."

Great story, Jean :-)

Sorry for the digression but the issue of tribalism touched a nerve for me.I envy those of you who have roots in such tightly knit, stable communities, tribal or otherwise. The loss of jobs in the northern Ohio area I'm familiar with (Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, etc) when the steel and auto businesses collapsed sent many people packing and destroyed local institutions, All they've seen of Schumpeter's creative-destruction paradigm is the destruction part.Anybody remember "Meet John Doe" or "It's a Wonderful Life" -- The "John Doe" societities were all about forming communities by reaching out to the stranger who lived in your neighborhood. Here's the Gary Cooper character speaking about overcoming anomie and alientation:[W]e've all got to get in there and pitch. We can't win the old ball game unless we have teamwork. And that's where every John Doe comes in. It's up to him to get together with his teammate, and your teammate, my friends, is the guy next door to ya. Your neighbor - he's a terribly important guy, that guy next door. You're gonna need him and he's gonna need you, so look him up. If he's sick, call on him. If he's hungry, feed him. If he's out of a job, find him one. To most of you, your neighbor is a stranger, a guy with a barkin' dog and a high fence around him. Now you can't be a stranger to any guy that's on your own team. So tear down the fence that separates you. Tear down the fence and you'll tear down a lot of hates and prejudices. Tear down all the fences in the country and you'll really have teamwork.You don't hear any of this from the Tea Partiers or anyone else. As for "It's a Wonderful Life", the Pottersville in the nightmare sequence has become a reality in a lot of places. Let's face it, Potter and all he stood for really has prevailed.

Antonio, you've articulated something I've been thinking for a while.That spirit of solidarity is pretty much evaporated. There was a time when a union supporter could talk about the "brotherhood of man" (apparently, this was pre-inclusive-lahnguage sensitiveity :-)) without a hint of irony.

In "Predictably Irrational" Dan Ariely divides our behavior patterns vis-a-vis our fellow humans into social norms versus market norms. Social norms govern behaviors such as sharing and gift-giving among frriends, family and community. Such norms are what makes us human and humane. Market norms rule our behavior as individual buyers and sellers in the cutthroat mileu of the marketplace. The problem is that we've come to believe that the only values that count are those of the marketplace.

Those movies Antonio mentioned were mostly from the 1930s, when times were tough, and people had to pull together. Not like now ...

"Those movies Antonio mentioned were mostly from the 1930s, when times were tough, and people had to pull together. Not like now "At least not yet -

Those movies Antonio mentioned were mostly from the 1930s, when times were tough, and people had to pull together. Not like now Yeah, not like now. See Matthew 25:36-40.

Sorry, sarcasm doesn't translate very well, I guess. I laugh when our prez says we've pulled back from the brink of a depression. Apparently he doesn't come to Michigan very often.

Minor digression:Re Conveying irony and sarcasm. I hate emoticons.Perhaps some grad student of linguistics will write a thesis on the semiotics of emoticons (if they haven't already).Back to the program in progress.

I wish people thought a bit more about what tribalism really entails -- the tendency to allocate various goods based on inclusion in a defined social group. Sharing leisurely pursuits is a cultural norm -- e.g., the German speaking bingo night -- that is unlikely to cause any great social upheaval. I don't consider it to be tribal in a fundamental sense, if the speakers get up and go to a job where they encounter non-German speaking co-workers and customers agreeably enough. Depriving others of food and water, on the other hand, or killing and robbing them or raping them and selling them into the sex trade because they aren't members of your tribe that you feel any compunction to protect -- all quite common in truly "tribal" places like Somalia -- that's a different thing altogether. In my very humble view, one of the truly good things that the West has a reason to be proud of has been a gradual, maybe too gradual, widening of who should be considered to be in the tribe for purposes of important goods, like education, health care, food, etc., culminating in an idea of "universal" human rights. Tribal is different from oligarchical. Tribal can rarely be transcended by achievement or even marriage, not without great social cost. And even in Somalia, as a Somali put it to me, the importance of tribe is a fluid thing that depends in no small part on the availability of resources and the willingness of tribes to work together. Indeed, even the definition of tribe is fluid and malleable. We don't have to be tribal.

Community would have been a better term. In that regard, based on Douthat's mention of Christorpher Lasch's "Revolt of the Elites", I bought the book. I guess you'd call Lasch a communitarian or a populist of the New Deal sort. While I don't agree with a lot of what he has to say (neither did Douthat), the ills resulting from the loss of community and the stratified, semi-nomadic life many now live resonated with me.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment