August 3, 2006

REAL REALITY:

At Sea With Middle America (JOHN McWHORTER, August 3, 2006, NY Sun)

In a way, I don't live in America. My world is the minority one of NPR and kalamata olives. This week, however, I'm writing from a cruise ship, and America this is. This is the America of USA Today, sausage links and "Rumor Has It." [...]

Take the couple I will call Fred and Barbara, who I had breakfast with one morning. Fred and Barbara are white Nebraskans in late middle age, very "About Schmidt" sorts of people.When immigration came up, they immediately said that the problem with Latinos in their community was that they "don't learn English."

This is the kind of thing that "worries" Blue Americans — here, apparently, is racism, xenophobia, and so on. But I'm not so sure. Barbara remembered how German immigrants of her grandfather's generation only spoke English in public, proud of being new Americans. Now, to be sure, Barbara is not aware of the subtle differences in social dynamics between immigration then and now, such as that Latino immigrants can visit home frequently, stay in close touch via the phone, and often do not intend to stay in America forever. And there is likely some nostalgia at play. In "Main Street," Sinclair Lewis depicted German farmer immigrants in the pre-World War I Midwest who never got beyond basic English — and Lewis was writing from his own experience.

But Fred and Barbara also spontaneously brought up how well Latinos brought up their children, and when I noted that the immigrants' children did speak good English, they agreed. Fred and Barbara probably do not listen to NPR or read books like "Guns, Germs and Steel." Nor, however, do they see the world strictly in blacks and whites.


Of course, Fred and Barbara likewise terrify the nativists--too tolerant of "others."

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 3, 2006 9:09 AM
Comments

Whoa!

Let's try that in reverse, and see if the condescension shines thru like a cop's torchlight during a blackout - as it does in the original:

"This is the kind of thing that "worries" Red Americans — here, apparently, is secular hubris, overreliance on government, and so on."

"Now,to be sure, John is not aware of the Biblical injunction to love his neighbor as himself."

"John probably doesn't read Harry Potter novels or watch FOX News".

It still doesn't sound as arrogant as the original.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at August 3, 2006 10:13 AM

... who I had breakfast with one morning.

Perhaps the author's obvious unfamiliarity with the English language led him to infer intolerance where there was none.

Posted by: erp at August 3, 2006 10:44 AM

immigrants can visit home frequently, stay in close touch via the phone, and often do not intend to stay in America forever.

The problem with immigration IMO is when we allow those who do not intend to commit to this society to have the privileges won and paid for by citizens.

Posted by: too true at August 3, 2006 11:01 AM

Actually, the author is NOT inferring intolerance. He is, instead, claiming that his Blue State neighbors would automatically infer intolerance in such a situation-- but that they would be wrong.

"Obvious unfamiliarity with the English language" indeed. Heh; a particularly amusing jibe when aimed at a linguist.

Posted by: John Thacker at August 3, 2006 11:09 AM

Immigrants are not the problem most of "Wworking Americans" worry about, it is the blatant "illegal" immigrants that our government insists on giving preferential treatment. The refusal of our government and courts to enforce our laws on "illegal" immigrants and the employers who hire them.

Posted by: ijricha at August 3, 2006 11:13 AM

It is "illegal" immigrants that the majority of working Americans are concerned. It is the blatant refusal of our government and courts to enforce our laws against "illegal" immigrants and the employers who hire them.

Posted by: ijricha at August 3, 2006 11:17 AM

He is right. He does not live in America. He lives in that rarefied sector of the world that looks down on all who are not blessed enough or enlightened enough to believe that we are all citizens of the world, not citizens of the US.

I have no problem with immigrants who come and make an attempt to bond with the country. I do have a problem with immigrants who come just to take and then go back home. If you are not willing to commit to the country, then don't bother coming to the country. If your only reason is to take the money and run, then just do the running bit and forget the money.

Posted by: dick at August 3, 2006 11:48 AM

They don't worry about illegals either--just want them to learn English and become citizens.

Posted by: oj at August 3, 2006 11:59 AM

Evidently the Senate wasn't on that cruise.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 3, 2006 1:07 PM

dick: Those who come here simply to make enough money to fund their families and perhaps build a house " back home", also fill a need. If they immigrate legally, bring em on.

Posted by: ed at August 3, 2006 2:08 PM

OJ has it right and had the author of the piece not been such a bigot he might have gotten it right as well. The inability (and occasional unwillingness) of immigrants to speak English is the only real complaint Americans have against them. If every immigrant spoke understandable English in all aspects of their public life there simply wouldn't be an "immigration issue" in American politics.

Posted by: Shelton at August 3, 2006 2:34 PM

Personally, I'm rather astonished at a lot of the comments. I don't think people are really reading what he wrote, or perhaps they're taking it in a completely different way than I would.

If anything, he's tweaking and insulting the condescending people in Blue America. The "apparently" in the one sentence that people seem to object to is a ironic reference to what so many of those who surround him think-- assumptions which he makes clear he thinks are wrong.

"This is the kind of thing that "worries" Red Americans — here, apparently, is secular hubris, overreliance on government, and so on."

If someone wrote this, I would think that they were being arrogant and condescending towards "Red Americans," especially with that "apparently" and "worries." Since it's the opposite of what he did write, does that mean he was being arrogant and condescending towards "Blue Americans?"

I think people are reading what they want to, though.

Posted by: John Thacker at August 3, 2006 5:05 PM

McWhorter is a leading black conservative who happens to teach at Berkeley and is in the habit of speaking to liberals. Things like "NPR and kalamata olives" are there to make his coastal liberal elite audience feel comfortable, before he teaches them a little conservatism.

Now, maybe catering to liberal sensibilities makes one sound condescending (because those liberals are condescending), but that's not his intent.

Posted by: pj at August 3, 2006 8:51 PM

I agree with PJ - McWhorter's point is that 'Red' Americans' surface discomfort with the current crop of immigrants is not, ipso facto, a sign of racism or xenophobia.

I think we can agree that Mr. McWhorter may be guilty of some clumsy writing.

(which is a respectful way of saying that Bruce C. may have missed the point)

Posted by: JonofAtlanta at August 3, 2006 10:09 PM
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