Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Six Days On The Road

I've taken the longest hiatus in awhile from this blog. I just got back from taking a group of students on a road trip through the South visiting historical sites, most of them connected to the histories of slavery, civil rights, and the Civil War. I will talk more deeply about this experience later, but today I just have one main observation.

I have lived in the NYC area for the past eight years, and when I leave to travel in many other parts of the country I am reminded of how much more generally prosperous this region is compared to others. Some of this is general prosperity deriving from the area's economic base, but a lot of it comes from a society that is willing to build a safety net.

There is horrific inequality in this part of the country, but what I saw on this trip was a much bigger bottom much deeper in the hole. The crumbling shotgun shacks in Montgomery, homeless encampments in Atlanta, blighted neighborhoods in Chattanooga, and rusty trailers along countless rural roads all seemed to signal the false promises of the Sun Belt. All the fancy coffeeshops and craft beer bars can't hide that.

This is the region that attracts so many corporations with promises of low taxation. In Chattanooga auto workers voted against a UAW union this month. They are being fed a myth that the race to the bottom somehow means a better life for all. In actuality it's just a continuation of the South's old history of cheap labor being used to keep a group of reactionary grandees at the top. That Southern style of labor relations has been exported to the rest of the country over the past forty years.

This trip prompted a lot of thoughts from me, but the most depressing was that our current worsening inequality is not the precursor to a rebellion of the oppressed, but to a permanent state of brutal hierarchy. White racial resentment is currently the most powerful political force in America, the same force that kept Jim Crow in place for almost a century. I more and more believe that the period from 1965 to 2016, as messed up as it was, constitutes a mere blip in a larger history. I wish that wasn't the case, but it's best to see the world realistically.

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