Sunday, February 03, 2008

Leftist University of Wisconsin Professor: If You Live in a Suburb, You are a Racist

Via Patrick McIlheran, a comment from a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Sociology professor (it figures) named Bill Washabaugh about how anybody who lives in the suburbs does so because of racism.
Michael Murphy is right to raise tough questions about Menominee Falls and water. If, indeed, the dissatisfactions of the citizens of Menominee Falls have led them into residential self-isolation, then they should accept their thirst as a logical consequence of their dissatisfactions.

The term self-isolation is not too strong here. The evidence for it is overwhelming (http://www.uwm.edu/~wash/Milwaukee.htm). As recently as five years ago, the percentage of African Americans (1.5%) and Hispanic Americans (1.2%) living in Menominee Falls contrasted sharply with percentages in Milwaukee (37.3% Africans Americans, and 12% Hispanic Americans).

Patrick McIlheran presents this self-isolation as something far more benign than it is. He suggested that suburban folks are simply “dissatisfied with the city” (Journal Sentinel 1/27/08, 3J). He makes it sound as if choosing to move to Menominee Falls is like choosing clothing for the cold weather. If one is dissatisfied with cold feet, one puts on warmer socks.

Living in the burbs, he suggests, is a simple preference, that there is nothing very complicated about it, and certainly nothing conspiratorial or malign. Instead, it is a matter of following a simple preference, perhaps, as David Brooks argued a couple years ago (The Atlantic Monthly), a matter of flocking together like birds of a feather.

But I don’t buy that argument. There are few preferences that deserve to be called simple and natural. Most human choices are driven by unseen forces. Scholars in a number of relevant fields (neuroscience, psychology, aesthetics) concur. Barbara Stafford, for example, has offered a powerful argument about visual preferences -- why one likes one painting more than another. She contends that the conscious activity of determining likes and dislikes really amounts to little more 10% of brain’s functioning. She further argues that, when it comes to understanding such preferences, it would be naive to ignore the larger 90% of the brain’s silent operations.

Her point bears on the burbs. It reveals the stunning simplism of one who explains his or her suburban residence as a result of being “dissatisfied with the city.” Such a one would be well advised to dig into the submerged iceberg of forces that have driven such dissatisfaction.

Studies of such submerged forces are numerous and helpful (see works by Pierre Bourdieu). They provide the ground for supposing that much suburban “dissatisfaction” has been shaped by longstanding social practices and institutional constraints, and especially by racism (see Paul Gilroy) and classism (see Walter Benn Michaels).

The way I see it, racism and classism lurk behind and beneath the issue of selling water. And so, Michael Murphy’s questions about this sale challenge us all to dig deeper into the roots of suburban residential preferences. I applaud his efforts.
This sort of thinking is not unusual in academia. Indeed, it’s perfectly standard to yell “racist” at any political opinion that leftist professors disagree with.

One has to ask: who are the bigots, those who move to the suburbs, or those who claim that everybody who does so are racists?

We wonder what Bill Washabaugh would say about blacks who choose to live in the suburbs. They are 12% of the population in Brown Deer, and a majority of the population in many of the close-in suburbs around Washington, DC., being 66% of the population of Prince George’s County, Maryland.

And, of course, a lot of blacks who can’t afford to buy houses in the suburbs choose to send their kids to school there. As Bruce Murphy has observed:
. . . Brown Deer’s [school] system, is 41 percent black, 4 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian and 1 percent American Indian. . . sane observers might describe it as a melting pot of diversity.

Beyond Brown Deer, there has been a fairly impressive increase in the percentage of minorities in most of the suburban school systems of Milwaukee County. Back in 1996, those systems ranged from 75 to 91 percent white; by 2006, that had dropped to 46 to 88 percent white. Back in 1996, 12 of 17 systems were more than 80 percent white; today just five systems are that white.
If white suburbanites are so racist, who are they so receptive to having minority students enroll in their schools?

And we might wonder whether very liberal-voting suburbs like Shorewood are populated by racists.

Very subjective biases may determine what kinds of paintings and music people like, but very objective things like crime rates, the quality of schools and the quality of the housing stock make suburban living better (for many and maybe most Americans) than city living. Especially when the city is as dysfunctional as Milwaukee.

Washabaugh is hardly atypical. Is he really different from some of the faculty at Marquette? How is he different, for example, from Sharon M. Chubbuck of Marquette’s Education School. When students disagree with her leftist political opinions, she derides and demeans them as follows:
Given the blinders of their common white, middle- to upper-middle class experiences, a small group of our students, when challenged to consider teaching for social justice, becomes recalcitrant, burrowing deeper into their mono-cultural understanding of life. . . . As seen in the student journals quoted above, some resist what seems like an imposition of political views, failing to realize that not raising issues of injustice can also be considered an imposition of political views by virtue of what is left unsaid.
And how is Washabaugh different from Philosophy Department Chair James South, who tore down a quotation from Dave Barry from the door of a Graduate student, claiming it was “patently offensive.”

We might ask the same question about faculty who recently spoke at a campus program on rape. Male students were told they are part of a “rape culture.” Feminist professor Theresa Tobin explained that all men are part of a “protection racket.” Because of the threat of rape, a woman “needs to be protected by men against other men.” Tobin, according to one sympathetic student, teaches that capitalism and Catholicism are “among the most guilty parties” in oppressing women.

Let’s be blunt. Academics inhabit a very narrow, parochial and intolerant culture. It’s deeply ironic — and indeed utterly absurd — that they should talk about intolerance elsewhere.

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr McAdams, please stop tearing down Marquette faculty for attempting to make students aware of opinions different such as yours. I don't understand what last semester's presentation on violence against women and how men can be proactive in ending it has to do with a Madison professor's comments on racism. I think it's just your continual attempt to tear down your straw-man creation of feminism wherever possible by excluding real information about the arguments made therein and linking it to other things you disagree with. You do a huge disservice to everyone in this world fighting against sexual violence by dismissing everything surrounding women's rights as crazed feminism.

For those interested in actually understanding the arguments McAdams complains about every time he brings up feminism, please check out Claudia Card's piece "Rape as a Weapon of War" from the journal Hypatia (11.4), which covers many of the concepts from Dr Tobin's excellent talk on rape culture.

12:52 AM  
Anonymous Ambie G. said...

You're so afraid of the word "racist" and rightly so maybe, as it is used in the mainstream world. But really, from a more philosophical standpoint, perhaps we are all "racists." We do live in a racist society, don't we? (Of course you might say that we don't, but whatever, we do, and there's plenty of evidence for that and no, I'm not gonna dig it up on the internets for you.) We have all internalized one way or the other the idea of racism, perhaps to the extent that some may argue it will make us "racist" just by the simple way race infultrates our society. Exhibit A, we live in a racist society, by simply being a part of it, we sustain it, thus we are all racists.

There are ways to say systemically and with a careful definition of "racist" that yes, those that live in the suburbs act in racist ways, because of the system and the way or racist world works. This professor seems to be challenging us to think deeper about this issue and question ourselves as to why we as individuals make certain decisions. There's nothing wrong with that, whether you agree with his conclusion or not. I for one, find it quite noteworthy that he has put forth this challenge in the theoretical sense.

1:19 AM  
Anonymous joe stalin said...

Washabaugh's wife is a career MPS teacher and one time principle.
They live on the east-side and both work on the government(taxpayer) dime, on the east side.
MPS has a residency requirement.
Mr. Washabaugh is a hypocrite. Unless Catherine Washabaugh gave up her MPS salary and benefits, Bill Washabaugh HAS TO live in Milwaukee.
Typical leftist hypocrisy.
Oh, and if thirst is the natural result for Menomonee Falls, why shouldn't paying for their own schools be the natural result for Milwaukee. Last time I checked the state pays 2/3 so Billy and Catherine can live well and retire young.

12:38 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Anonymous said...
Dr McAdams, please stop tearing down Marquette faculty for attempting to make students aware of opinions different such as yours.

Please stop attacking me for trying to make my blog readers aware of opinions different from standard feminist doctrine.

If feminists have a right to preach tripe like this, I have a right to disagree.

please check out Claudia Card's piece "Rape as a Weapon of War" from the journal Hypatia (11.4), which covers many of the concepts from Dr Tobin's excellent talk on rape culture.

So, anonymous, you actually agree that rape is a strategy that men collectively use to control women.

That's typical of feminist thinking, and it's why even most women don't consider themselves feminists.

11:42 AM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Stalin,

We do live in a racist society, don't we? (Of course you might say that we don't, but whatever, we do, and there's plenty of evidence for that and no, I'm not gonna dig it up on the internets for you.)

If you are intellectually honest, you would have to admit that most of the evidence of "racism" is simply bogus.

Consider, for example, the idea that the criminal justice system is racist and locks up too many blacks.

http://www.wpri.org/WIInterest/Vol16No3/McAdams.16.3/McAdams16.3.html

We have all internalized one way or the other the idea of racism, perhaps to the extent that some may argue it will make us "racist" just by the simple way race infultrates our society.

And you know that how?

Become some politically correct professors (or politically correct high school teachers) told you that, and it makes you feel very moral to believe it?

The most racist segment of American society is academia, and the most racist parts of academia are the most politically correct parts -- the victim studies department, the humanities departments and the schools of education and social work.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Joe said...

"Mr. Washabaugh is a hypocrite. Unless Catherine Washabaugh gave up her MPS salary and benefits, Bill Washabaugh HAS TO live in Milwaukee.
Typical leftist hypocrisy."

More like typical lack of rightwing reasoning skills. This is not evidence of hypocrisy. In fact, it would not be hypocrisy if he chose to live in the suburbs since he is not telling us we should not live in the suburbs but that we should think about the deeper reasons we make that choice.

Your comment is what is called an "ad hominem attack". You do not engage with the argument at all but rather simply attack the person making it. And it is type of FALLACIOUS reasoning.

And Anonymous, I am sorry to say that you need to look elsewhere if you are hoping for anything other than strawman versions of positions or arguments that McAdams thinks are "tripe".

12:31 PM  
Anonymous joe stalin said...

I don't know what you've spiked your kool aid with Joe, but Washabaugh's wife is required to live in Milwaukee. To pretend that the Washabaughs' have chosen the city for any other reason is absurd. Furthermore, they live on a very well healed tony east-side street. Washabaugh is a hypocrite.
Mr. McAdams is completely correct, most liberals and specifically academics are far more racist than those they wag their fingers at.
I'm sorry but your race card has expired. Your transaction has been cancelled.
The Washabaughs are limosine liberals. They suck at the taxpayer teat and pull down a couple hundred thousand dollars a year and the pretend to be down for the struggle. They live in an insulated world where their health care is paid for by the taxpayer, and their retirement is golden. Then they lecture others on righteousness, race and social graces, as they sip their chardonnay and eat French cheese.
They are liberal fools and hypocrites. The Perrier they sip doesn't come from Lake Michigan.
But they love black people more than the rest of us do. Just ask them.
Joe, you aren't real bright are you? I'd say that a Mr Washabaugh is the one making ad hominem attacks. If you don't live like him you are racist. Choke on the at Joe.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Ambie G. said...

Dr. McAdams,

What's your definition of racism anyways? I think one of your major faults is never defining what the hell you are talking about. Okay, so you don't believe in institutional racism maybe, but you have to admit that individual racism does exist or will you claim to know exactly what goes on in every person’s psyche?


"If you are intellectually honest, you would have to admit that most of the evidence of "racism" is simply bogus."

So I gather that you disregard any of the influence the past can have on the present. So when a law is changed, like ‘oh now black people can drink from the same water fountain as whites’ poof! The problem is solved and there will be no more residual institutional effects. How ignorant. Also, can we please understand how our collective individual acts shape a system? “Individuals” and “the system” are not too distinct things, just informative lenses.


"And you know that how? 

Become some politically correct professors (or politically correct high school teachers) told you that, and it makes you feel very moral to believe it?

"

Blah blah blah politically correct blah blah blah. I think you just repeat yourself so much you don’t even know what you are saying anymore. If being politically correct means careful and critical consideration of the problems that exist in our nation, then thank you for complimenting my teachers and me. Sure do wish we could return the compliment, though. AND let me go on record saying, NO, no teachers ever told me that, I came to that strain of thought myself and have actually discussed it with my ‘politically correct’ professors and they have refuted my ideas through an exchange of open and critical dialogue. I never said I firmly believe that position, only that it is one way to understand things, so no, It doesn’t allow me to feel ‘very moral.’ But thank you for asking.


"So, anonymous, you actually agree that rape is a strategy that men collectively use to control women.

That's typical of feminist thinking, and it's why even most women don't consider themselves feminists."

Riddle me this-- okay, so can you at least concede the fact that in general, men stand to ‘protect’ women—i.e. walking them home at night (which would imply protecting them from other men, right?) Well, the irony here is that 2/3 of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, NOT that one psychopath off the street. We live in a violent and rape prone country because of our current popular cultural constructions of masculinity that stress dominance and the threat of violence. And no, the thesis here isn’t that all men consciously use rape as a strategy to control women, however if you look at the big picture and the way things work out, using the theoretical idea of a ‘protection racket’ is helpful in deconstructing the ideas that uphold hypermasculinity, sexism and heterosexism.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evil Knievel couldn't make that long of a jump Ambie.

9:13 AM  
Anonymous sleestak said...

So because I live in Menomonee Falls, I am by definition a racist?

I choose to live there for a variety of reasons, one being lower taxes (though still very high) than the city of Milwaukee, the lower crime rate, and the fact that I don't have to have my house sitting right on top of my next door neighbor's.

If that makes me a racist, then so be it.

10:01 AM  
Blogger pst314 said...

"Most human choices are driven by unseen forces"

Thank goodness we have seers like that professor, who can see the unseen. /sarcasm

1:52 PM  
Blogger pst314 said...

So moving away from the crime and strife of Milwaukee is racist? The cartoonist Alexis Gilliland once did a cartoon on that subject: A white mugger is hitting his white victim while saying "Fear of crime is racist, so I'm doing you a favor."

1:56 PM  

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