Monday, August 14, 2017

Lack of Rural Whites' Economic Self-Confidence as a Source of Ethnic Tensions

The continuing protests in Charlottesville, where two groups of opposing protesters slug it out over issues on race, should concern all minorities in America on exactly what their places are in America.  If sometimes violent protests by white supremacists become political norms backed by supposed freedoms of assembly and political expression, minorities in the country will face more and more legitimate political opposition from such fringe groups when fighting for equal rights.  There is no doubt that political rights of white extremist groups must be restricted in order to secure peace among minorities in the country.

However, just by limiting the political rights of extremists do not address the underlying reasons for their opposition to a more multiracial society in the first place.  Simply banning active political participation and expression of white supremacists risk pushing their movements underground, turning them more radical and violence-prone over time as their disgruntlement remain unreconciled and society move in the opposite direction on matters of race as they hope for.  The continued radicalization of white supremacists may eventually lead to sudden explosion as they find a politically mainstream spokesperson to provide real power.

So what is the underlying disgruntlement of white supremacists?  It is likely the long-held view among rural and small-town America that continued influx of talented and skilled immigrants (often of color) tend to control the economic engines of modern-day America.  For them, the decline of white-dominated manufacturing and agricultural industries along with the rise of immigrant-powered tech and finance industries is a visual illustration of how whites are quickly being economically sidelined by immigrants holding high-paying jobs in innovative, economically productive sectors.

Ultimately, the anger of small-town white America is no so much per se, but what race represents: the changing economic fortunes in the US where small-town whites happen to be the victims and many non-white immigrants happen to be the winners.  Their anger toward non-whites is inherently caused by the US government's failure to rejuvenate the industrial Rust Belt and the agricultural Bible Belt regions, causing millions of whites whose ancestors powered the nation to its present prosperity, to be without high-paying jobs and without venues for proper job training to get high-paying jobs in other industries.

To put in another way, the anger of white supremacists come from a general decline in their self-confidence, stemming from a belief that the economic prominence of their ancestors have been lost in their own generations, spurred by immigrants that disrupted the traditional economic structure of the country.  The feeling that they no longer belong in the current economic structure drive them to oppose immigration, for the sake of preserving their long-lost sense of economic primacy and a collective social identity stretching back generations based on that economic primacy.

In a sense, the whole race issue just emerged because many skilled and talented immigrants today happen to be people of color.  Had today's immigrants been predominantly white, small-town white America would still find a way to attack the immigrants.  The topic may no longer be their race, but can be different religion, questionable political reliability, or lack of understanding of Anglo-Saxon culture.  If rural white America's self-confidence issue can be alleviated, then it does not really matter what color, race, and background immigrants happen to be, they will be used as scapegoats for rural whites' own economic failures.

Of course, the overgeneralized caricature of immigrants as "economic vultures" of dying rural white America is simply untrue.  Looking at both the tech and finance industries, the wealthiest company owners and capital holders remain white, native-born Americans, with immigrants rarely breaking through the "glass ceiling" to become more than just hired hands.  And many people of color have nothing to do with these productive portions of American economy, with many remaining much poorer than whites living in small-town America.  The race issue is nothing but a proxy for rural whites' own economic concerns.

The key to resolving the ongoing racial tensions a la Charlotteville, then, is to create robust systems of job training and economic mobility that provide underproductive small-town whites with concrete, visible opportunities to achieve economic parity with skilled immigrant labor.  Germany's structured apprenticeship system is perhaps the most comprehensive, easily understandable one out there that can be imported to the US.  However, importing such a system will take years of efforts and investments to overhaul just how corporate America works.  It would be a worthwhile cause, if more Charlotteville-like violence is the alternative. 

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