Last weekend I attended the Berkeley YWCA Women Authors Luncheon, which is a annual fundraiser. As usual, there were four thought-provoking women authors, who spoke about their work. One of them was Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist I greatly admired in the past, for books like The Second Shift and The Managed Heart. Unfortunately, the best I can say about her current project, Strangers in their Own Land is that it is tone-deaf about race. It's been hailed as "the book that explains the election" because she went to Louisiana to interview working class white people (the analogy would be going to South Africa and interviewing only the Afrikaners) and came away with the "Deep Story" that they feel that they have been waiting patiently in line for the American Dream and that "blacks, immigrants and ambitious women " have cut in line in front of them. Never mind that educational attainment and income for blacks in Louisiana still lags far behind that of whites. Ms Hochschild wants us to focus on feelings, not facts. I asked her why she didn't ask her subjects about race directly, since they spent their formative years under segregation, a lifelong Head Start for whites. First she said that she knew that they were afraid that she would call them racist (now why would they be afraid of that? but good to know she realized that she was protecting them ) and then she referred me to the appendix of the new paperback edition. I felt like I was back in my childhood, where no one ever talked about race and it was impolite to bring it up. I wonder if Ms Hochschild ever anticipated how asking for empathy for white Southerners would feel to a black reader whose parents left the South to find opportunity? Especially when she does not ask them for empathy for us?
Here is a quotation from W.E.B. DuBois writing about reconstruction, that helps put the suffering of working class white people in the South in perspective. "When a right and just cause loses, men suffer. But men also suffer when a wrong cause loses. Suffering thus in itself does not prove the justice or injustice of a cause. It always, however, points a grave moral. Certainly. after the war, no one could restrain his sorrow at the destruction and havoc brought upon the whites; least of all were the Negroes unsympathetic. Perhaps never in the history of the world have victims given so much of help and sympathy to their former oppressors. Yet the most pitiable victims of the war were not the rich planters, but the poor workers; not the white race, but the black."