Saturday, April 21, 2018

Rebecca Solnit's Article Is One Of The Few I'd Say Is A Must Read

It wouldn't be possible to give a high enough recommendation for the article of Rebecca Solnit published the other day,  Whose Story (and Country) Is This?   ON THE MYTH OF A  "REAL"AMERICA, about the huge push in the media and by so many institutions defining a mythical "real American."  Depending on the crudest of stereotypes, largely a result of the chosen models of those who do surveys and conduct polls, never taking into account that the presentation of such so-called science is dependent on the choices of such people and quite frequently a result of the desired results the "researchers" and those who hire them want.   Clearly what a lot of them want is to define a quite small and narrow range of white, lower-middle-class, conservative, rural(ish) men as that default "real American". 

There is so much in the article that an entire post or more could be drawn from that I can't deal with all of it.  Even single lines from the article serve as motivation to think hard on what she says, one of those is her point that more people work in museums than work in coal mines but that no one calls for support for the jobs of museum workers.   I'll start with one thing that touches on several of my interests, the roll of scientific racists with elite educations and how the media aids them in promoting racism and the kind of stereotypical right-wing "real American"

As an exercise I went to the PBS News Hour site to take the "bubble test" Rebecca Solnit mentioned in the article , a test for how much of an (elitist) "bubble" you were in.   The bubble defined would, certainly, include, by far, the large majority of Americans of all income levels.   The test  was designed by the think tank white supremacist Charles Murray. 

The major conclusion I got from taking wasn't the score (I'm rated at being about half-in "the bubble") it was that it was clearly designed to define life outside of "the bubble" as right-wing, White male, not only uneducated but hostile to education or anything outside of a distinctly minority cultural milieu .  I doubt that even many White male blue-collar NASCAR fans would qualify as being "outside the bubble" that Murray and, obviously, the News Hour defines.  It's clearly a test designed to get a specific result that Murray et al desired and that result isn't to find out if you have daily associations with low-income, White People. 

For example, the questions about being on a factory floor in the past year and as a worker would certainly exclude a lot of very low wage working people, most of whom don't work in factories, retail workers, workers in restaurants, people who work in agriculture or even the coal mining jobs that seem to be a particular obsession with the chatter among the News Hour staff and those who control the New York Times and Washington Post.   Virtually every question on the thing was designed in a way that excluded large numbers of working class people who would not fit into the desired stereotype being drawn up.  I suspect that the kind of people who design and present such tests wouldn't realize that because they, themselves, are not familiar with the real lives of such people, depending on the view of them from the media and sociological hacks.

Given the general aims of Murray's test which is to obviously define people outside of "the bubble" as male, the question as to whether or not you'd bought an Avon product was clearly a pathetic attempt to make it seem like he's talking about women.   And it is quite clueless.  Given this article in Fortune magazine, I think it's pretty clear that the assumptions Murray pushed in his test had problems, one which his Avon question highlights.

Avon CEO Sheri McCoy took the helm in 2012, convinced she could turn things around and adamant that the already faltering U.S. business was key to the company’s identity. She still thinks that. “I do believe it’s fixable,” McCoy told Fortune in an interview on Thursday.

But in her nearly four years on the job, Avon’s North American sales have continued to collapse, falling by more than half between 2007 and 2014 (see graphic below), and the number of sales representatives, commonly called “Avon Ladies,” have shrunk each quarter.

McCoy has done everything from try to improve the commission structure, to introducing new computer systems to improve order management and payment for the reps, to a late effort to tap the Hispanic community. And yet results continued to disappoint.

That last point was given as one of the "five reasons Avon's business faltered"

Late to the Hispanic market: Though Hispanics have long made up a sizable part of the U.S. population and are proportionally big spenders on beauty, Avon was late to discover that segment. It was only in 2014 that Avon created marketing materials made specifically for its Hispanic reps, who sold far more products than non-Hispanics on a per capita basis.

wonder how many of Murray's assumptions, if depended on by corporate executives in planning, would also lead to failing the financial test.  Solnit's assessment of the test and PBS's motives is excellent as are her points about just who is in a bubble, who chooses to be in a bubble.

The quiz is essentially about whether you are in touch with working-class small-town white Christian America, as though everyone who’s not Joe the Plumber is Maurice the Elitist. We should know them, the logic goes; they do not need to know us. Less than 20 percent of Americans are white evangelicals, only slightly more than are Latino. Most Americans are urban. The quiz delivers, yet again, the message that the 80 percent of us who live in urban areas are not America, treats non-Protestant (including the quarter of this country that is Catholic) and non-white people as not America, treats many kinds of underpaid working people (salespeople, service workers, farmworkers) who are not male industrial workers as not America. More Americans work in museums than work in coal, but coalminers are treated as sacred beings owed huge subsidies and the sacrifice of the climate, and museum workers—well, no one is talking about their jobs as a totem of our national identity.

PBS added a little note at the end of the bubble quiz, “The introduction has been edited to clarify Charles Murray’s expertise, which focuses on white American culture.” They don’t mention that he’s the author of the notorious Bell Curve or explain why someone widely considered racist was welcomed onto a publicly funded program. Perhaps the actual problem is that white Christian suburban, small-town, and rural America includes too many people who want to live in a bubble and think they’re entitled to, and that all of us who are not like them are menaces and intrusions who needs to be cleared out of the way.

There are so many points in just those two paragraphs that could be expanded into a post, with supporting evidence.   I recommend reading the article, at least twice.  I'll have more to say about it.

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