Leftist University of Wisconsin Professor: If You Live in a Suburb, You are a Racist
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.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.
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.
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.If white suburbanites are so racist, who are they so receptive to having minority students enroll in their schools?
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.
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.