Wordcraft: Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

strangers in their own land, book, review

BK’s NOTE: With only two exceptions, I read all the books shortlisted as 2016 National Book Award Finalists prior to the November 16 ceremony, but I never posted my thoughts about them. I intend to do that with a series of posts in the coming days.

Listening to the replay of Tanya Free’s recent radio show reminded me that I should share my thoughts about Arlie Russell Hochschild’s National Book Award-Nominated work, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.

(Ahem) I did commit to posting about each NBA shortlisted finalist entry …

During the latter part of Free’s show (around the 92:10 mark), one of her call-in comments came from Steve, a financially-distressed man “saved and washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.”

I couldn’t determine Steve’s skin color, but his words smacked of the White working-class Louisiana residents Hochschild wrote about in her book.

“I am amongst the working poor.”

“I had family members who voted for Trump.”

“I don’t have money to buy health insurance.”

“I will not lie. I will not take something that is not mine” was Steve’s response when a member of Tanya’s panel advised him to look at tax exemptions as a way to get financial relief.

“I don’t trust the government anymore. The government is out to get people who are trying.”

Steve said that he did not vote for Donald Trump.

But many people who think like Steve actively support the Tea Party and GOP, or disengage from politics out of a feeling that they’re Strangers in Their Own Land.

Hochschild, A UC-Berkeley sociologist, documented her visits to Lake Charles, Louisiana and surrounding areas over a five-year period as she observed the residents’ views about the economy, environment, faith, family, money, life, politics, recreation and their government. She often participated in the residents’ activities.

The state where only 11 percent of its residents voted for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election — compared to 28% among Southern US states — Louisiana provided one of the most intriguing geographies for Hochschild’s study, which she calls the Great Paradox.

If Louisiana were a separate nation, its United Nations Human Development Index would likely label it as a developing country, and some would declare an urgent need for emergency economic development packages.

Louisiana receives among the most dismal scores in America for educational achievement, poverty, health and food insecurity.

In the face of these low quality of life measures in what’s supposed to be the greatest democracy on Earth, Louisiana’s White poor and working class shun the help of “Big Government” to help solve their problems. In fact, many of them believe that government is the enemy and should only exist in the most minute form, if at all.

And the state’s previous Governor, Bobby Jindal, complied with the people’s will. Hochschild notes that during Jindal’s eight-year gubernatorial leadership, he spent $1.6 billion in incentives to attract companies to Louisiana, including 10-year tax exemptions. The one-sided deals created a negative budget gap just as high as the incentive expenditures. Jindal also fired 30,000 state employees while doling out temporary layoffs to others. He cut higher education funding by 44%.

The painful outcome of these cuts are easily seen and felt among Louisianans, making them resent government even more.

This paradox becomes even more pronounced when you consider that Louisiana receives the most federal aid among all US states, save for one.

Ironically, the businesses that benefitted from Jindal’s incentives but haven’t helped the state demonstrably turn its bad fortunes around are viewed by Louisianans — relatively speaking — as heroes of this social tragedy.

It also appears these businesses can do no wrong in Louisiana, regardless of the transgression.

“I wasn’t aware of the extent of a problem until I looked out the window of the helicopter that took me to New Orleans after Katrina,” [US Army General Russel Honoré] says. “The landscape was littered for miles with debris. I remember commenting to the pilot ‘The storm must’ve caused that mess,’ and hearing back, ‘No, those are abandoned oil derricks from years back.’”

In excruciating detail that would make most non-Louisianans angry, Hochschild describes decades of toxic environmental dumping and industry-caused accidents that hurt the state’s seafood and tourism Industries, as well as destroy the lives of many citizens. A stretch of road along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is known as Cancer Alley, the home of about 150 production plants and suspected to be a key driver behind the high rate of cancer among men in the area.

But Louisianans save their ire for the government.

You have to admit their anger is justified when you consider how several of Louisiana’s high-profile disasters can be traced to lax government oversight, either driven by the desire to appease industry, or sheer neglect for public safety.

“It’s not in the company’s own interest you have a spill or an accident. They try hard,” one woman told me. “So if there’s [an oil spill], it’s probably the best the company could do.”

Hochschild tries to unpack the anger of the White poverty and working classes through two major approaches: [1] the deep story, or a literary device for capturing a story constructed only by emotions and sensory data; [2] the history of the South’s relationship to the federal government — consider the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement as examples — which effectively feeds the deep story.

For the deep story, Hochschild envisions the American Dream as a destination just over a steep hill with a slow and long line of people waiting for their turn to reach the hilltop. The line sometimes looks as if it’s moving backward.

You’ve suffered long hours, layoffs, and exposure to dangerous chemicals at work, and received reduced pensions. You have shown moral character through trial by fire, and the American Dream of prosperity and security is a reward for all of this, showing who you have been and are — a badge of honor.

But it then appears that immigrants, people of color and even women are unfairly cutting the line.

I won’t describe the Deep story any further. Read the book.

Sure racism is deeply embedded within American society — but so has social and economic inequality which stokes more racial resentment among the White poor and working class.

Hochschild’s conclusion is straightforward: this working class cocktail of oil rig blowouts, chemical-related illnesses, declining wages, environmental disasters, poverty and perceived line-cutters became a fertile environment for the rise of President Donald Trump — or someone like him.

And if these conditions remain unaddressed, we could see a more dangerous President move into the White House someday …

song currently stuck in my head: “the sick rose” – david axelrod

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Charles M. Blow to Trump Cheerleader I’m Not Your Petting Zoo Animal

Charles Blow Kayleigh McEnany "don't touch me"


I love Charles M. Blow. I may not always agree with him, but he’s on point most of the time and is a fiery writing reflects a constant synchronization of signals with the African diasporic struggle.

If you have no idea of what I just said, watch how the NY Times columnist regulated President Trump supporter and Conservative CNN commentator Kayleigh McEnany last night, who thought she could touch Blow during a CNN panel discussion after calling his journalistic intentions sinister:

McEnany then equated Blow’s objection to being touched with Rep. Maxine Water’s refusal to meet with the President — and then labeled both as not being American.

Let me touch on one thing before I Blacksplain what just happened: Rep. Waters SHOULD meet with Trump, even though nothing legally mandates her to do it. Why the hell should she draw from a taxpayer-funded paycheck if she won’t at least TRY to build some consensus with this madman. An attempt at conversation will at least create a record of sorts to say that she tried to exchange viewpoints and work out policies to a point of failure.

But back to Blacksplaining. From the slave auction block to sideshows — and points in-between like sexual assault in slave masters’ cabin — African descendants have been touched by their oppressors. “Petted” is the word I prefer to use.

I’ll head-off anyone who wants to argue about whether or not McEnany’s petting was racist by saying that I’m sure the men who pinched Saartjie Baartman’s nipples for the first time didn’t think they were racists either.

Therefore, don’t touch a Black person you don’t know. It invokes stuff — plus, many of you don’t really want to know what that “stuff” really is.

And for those of you with “stuff curiosities,” I recommend you find a different setting for exploration. Petting is out.

Don’t touch the hair of the only African descendant woman in the office.

Not the Black guy’s bald head. No petting.

But forget about skin color — why would you touch anyone you don’t know?

People never petted Walter Cronkite Bill O’Reilly on-air — even if the latter may not mind at all

McEnany was better off buying the blackest blow-up doll she can find online.

But not Mr. Blow …

song currently stuck in my head: “black, brown and beige, part iv (a.k.a. come Sunday)” – duke ellington and his orchestra featuring mahalia jackson

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Goodbye, Al Jarreau

al jarreau dead jazz

You would think years of false alarms about the death of seven-time grammy-winning singer Al Jarreau would prepare me for hearing about his actual departure today.

But they didn’t.

Jarreau belongs to a very small circle of vocalists who won over Jazz, Pop and R&B audiences during their careers.

But what makes Jarreau a unique performer is the way his vocals easily traverse rhythmic, poetic, and chordal planes — and seamlessly merges them at will. Hearing him sing reminds me of watching a gymnast move — incredible strength but with grace, dexterity and elite athleticism.

With no controversies or testimonials of foul behavior, he leaves this planet as a beautiful human being with a rare aesthetic, and loved by many.

I embedded Jarreau’s 1976 We Got By album below, which I think is trans-genre brilliance.

Rest in Love, Al …

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Sunday Smack: Can Your Personal Medical Data Put You in Jail?

ross compton arrested for arson

Ross Compton — busted for arson with his own heart monitor data.

We could simply praise the brilliant police work that led to the arrest of Middletown resident Ross Compton for allegedly setting his home on fire.

Or we can be alarmed by what appears to be a pillar stripped away from Americans’ Fifth Amendment rights.

The case involves Compton dialing 911 last September to report waking up to a fire in his home. He also told the emergency dispatcher that he has an artificial heart.

According to Cincinnati’s WLWT, Compton told police “he was able to pack his suitcases and throw them out his bedroom window after he broke out the glass with a walking stick” as the fire raged.

Given Compton’s medical condition and evidence that the fire started from multiple areas of the home, investigators found inconsistencies with Compton’s story.

Police busted Compton in a massive lie when they obtained his heart monitor data and found that he was physically active prior to the fire — a time period where he claimed to be asleep.

This week’s Sunday Smack asks:

Can your private, medical data be used against you in a court of law?

song currently stuck in my head: “music is my desire” – pablo moses

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Coons, Trump and Saving Chicago

mental unrest trump chicago crime
I’m going to break an editorial rule for this blog and cover more than one main idea — namely cooning and lowering the City of Chicago’s crime rate

You place the blame Donald Trump’s debut Black History Month event as President of the United States for my exception.

I don’t instantly think every African descendant who meets with #45 is competing for the Stepin Fetchit “Grin Harder” award.

Kwame Toure taught us long ago to pay less attention to the liaisons someone creates and focus on their consciousness.

A woke state of mind will ultimately do what’s right for humanity.

Key operating terms: “woke” and “mind.” 

Should you be reminded that Moses was raised in the Pharoah’s palace … ?

Booker T. Washington appeared to publicly chastise his race to improve their social standing through personal initiative and avoid political action — while happily collecting donations from charmed wealthy folks for Tuskegee University and then quietly channeling support to political action groups.

This is not to say that all Black attendees at Trump’s Black History talk have any respectable level of awareness and compassion for their race. Time will tell. In some cases, it already did.

While the President — who perversely seemed to share his take on African American History more than any of his handpicked Black conference table audience — continued his Chicago fascination by once again hinting at a federal overrun of the city’s Black parts, and Rev. Darrell Scott tearing his backside trying to please #45 by attempting to leap the wall of a tale he concocted from his imaginary “gang thugs” rolodex, we’ve received confirmation of how no one wants to discuss a solution to Chicago’s murder problem that’s less expensive than SWAT teams, fed occupations and Homan Square.

How about professional skills training, jobs and financial literacy?

wrote about this idea before.

The University of Chicago tracked the activities of three teenaged groups from high-risk neighborhoods in 2012, where 20 percent of the youths in the study had prior arrests. Two of the groups were given eight-week summer jobs.

The results were predictable — well, to most of you. The two “jobs groups” experienced a 43 percent reduction in crime up to one year later.

Take a good guess at what happened to the jobless group.

We’re talking about a six-week investment of USD 124-206 per child, per week during one summer to avoid the high cost of year-long police raids and incarceration.

The City of Chicago and the federal government would still see lower social costs if they threw professional skills training, longer term employment opportunities and financial literacy in the blend.

But … Chicago would then see a new kind of dangerous Black person …

song currently stuck in my head: “lalo” – Lalo Schifrin

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Sunday Smack: What Will Trump’s “Deal” for Black Colleges Look Like?

Donald trump hbcus

The President with Omarosa Manigault.

Black college lovers who suffer from Trumpxiety may have plenty to say about this week’s Sunday SmackBuzzFeed News reported that the White House — through its public liaison leader Omarosa Manigault — is drafting an executive order concerning historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

During the same meeting where much of the media talked about how the President reanimated Frederick Douglass to kick off Black History Month, Trump supporter and Thurgood Marshall College Fund communications lead Paris Dennard told #45 about the need to support these institutions, “especially given how HBCUs fared under the [Obama] administration.”

Trump reportedly expressed genuine concern about the state of HBCUs:

“He was shocked and upset to learn what happened under the previous administration,” Dennard said.

Attendees told Trump that while Howard was receiving federal funds and doing fairly well, many others were struggling, with someone in the room linking the state of HBCUs to President Obama.

Trump asked what he needed to do, according to a source in the room. That’s when Manigault said she was working on getting an executive order on HBCUs on Trump’s desk.

The lack of executive order details in this instance didn’t stop me from musing about how the President constantly reminds us that he’s a Master of the Deal.

Deals seem to be his obsession. As if every problem in his lens has negotiable potential to become a better deal.

This may explain why Trump has applied his focused deal hammer to a wide range of nails including NAFTA, TPP, corporate outsourcing, that wall, energy and even Iran’s legal nuclear program.

Do the current challenges facing HBCUs qualify them for a Trump deal?

Debating the Obama approach to HBCUs — which, for example, placed more emphasis on winning federal government grant proposals as opposed to aid packages, but provided relatively limited preparations for HBCUs to compete with institutions like Harvard for these grants — makes for a worthwhile debate.

I’m also sure some of you would want to debate about Obama’s initial funding cuts to HBCUs as well as the observations of other Black politicians about Obama’s apparent failure to understand the value HBCUs deliver to society.

But we’re now living in the Age of Trump, so my Sunday Smack will be different:

What in the world would be in a Trump Executive order for HBCUs?

Yes, referencing Obama’s relationship with HBCUs is fair game as long as you answer the original question …

song currently stuck in my head: “it’s your life” – brigette mcwilliams

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Trump’s Alternative Black History: Endorsement of White Terrorism

Trump white extremism

After watching President Donald Trump get his talking point wrong about Frederick Douglass’ current status on earth, I percolated the idea of creating daily posts of the humorous sort about Trump’s Alternative Black History — but ultimately decided against this route.

First — mentalunrest’s (deliberate lowercase M here) editorial policy tells me to cover topics not explored by most, and I think social media is doing a fine job of spinning creative nonfiction about how much Trump really understands the contributions of African descendants.

Second — I’m looking beyond the Frederick Douglass gaffe to observe the way Trump is rewriting Black history in more dangerous ways.

But let’s quickly deal with Douglass, and then cover something more urgent.

For various reasons, I write tons of copy for a broad range of of web, print and media channels. I also proof the work of others on occasion.

During my engagements with the writings of others, I’ve found that people will mix up “has [verb]” and “[past tense verb]” in their sentences.

So, is Trump truly ignorant of Black history when he said Douglass “has done an amazing job,” or is the President simply Hooked on Phonics?

I don’t know. Either can be possible.

A friend of mine made an on-point observation a few weeks ago: how much reading, history and grammar did an immensely-privileged Trump have to study as a kid? It’s not like he didn’t have a guaranteed job waiting for him when school ended.

But while we make jokes about Trump’s grasp of history, something more dangerous is brewing: the President may remove White extremist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan from the federal government’s domestic terrorism focus.

This is almost like watching a slow-motion remix of The Birth of a Nation.

According to Reuters, the Trump administration plans to change the scope of the federal government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program from battling all extremist ideologies in favor of a narrower focus: “radical Islam.”

Reuters also reports that the program’s name will change to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.”

Allow me to emphasize that Team Trump has not yet confirmed the Reuters piece.

Assuming this report is true, defocusing the KKK, et al, from the DVE program means Trump has taken a step towards effectively legitimizing the same brand of domestic White extremism that has championed America’s “Killing Fields” since the early days of African descendants’ fragile post-emancipation progress.

In favor of ditching “political correctness,” Trump’s move would also legitimize current White extremists who are responsible for most of the current-day acts of domestic terrorism.

This means future Dylan Roofs will receive more than hamburger dinners for shooting innocent Black church worshippers.

These people and their deadly legacies have now received the gift of deliberate revisionist ignorance. And this will lead to more acts of White extremist violence without proactive tools to prevent them.

What’s left to observe is whether or not the scope of additional anti-terror programs will change.

Welcome to the real world of Trump’s Alternative Black History

song currently stuck in my head: “Where are you this morning jazz” – the rongetz foundation feat. gary bartz and sonia sanchez

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Sure, Protest the Muslim Ban. Then Protest This.

Funkadelic war

The Fourth Book of Funkadelic, chapter two, verse three saw the hollow howls against totalitarianism years ago:

You say you don’t like what your country’s about (yeah)
Ain’t you deep
In your semi-first class seat
You picket this and protest that
And eat yourself fat
Ain’t you deep
In your semi-first class seat.

The chapter goes on to say “If you don’t like the effects, don’t produce the cause.”

America continues to eat its young in 2017 while the masses take to the streets or airports, and also participate in feel-good smartphone app activism.

Hundreds of thousands don’t seem to like what Tampon L. Rudd is doing to the world, but haven’t yet taken a moment to ask “How did we get here?”

I wrote a while back that America created the road leading to the modern refugee crisis you see today.

El Jeffe Rudd — as bone-headed and hateful as he is in dealing with the effects by creating additional causes — easily becomes the emotional talking point for how leaders of modern democratic superpowers should never roll.

As if our problems started on the eighth day of November last year.

Nope. This arc of crisis has enjoyed a longer life than that.

Our political leaders are playing a game of bipolar Boogie Men — chasing us into the arms of another savior until that savior shows signs of evil. And then we run again. The game ends and replays.

Many of the same political leaders who condemn the way Tampon L. Rudd is dealing with the effects have either actively or quietly supported the kind of American adventurism in Africa and the Middle East that continues to spawn global terrorists and humanitarian crises.

Rudd deserves picket signs. Lots of them. For miles. And for many offenses. But while you’re deleting that Uber app, get in touch with your lawmakers and demand a stop to the bipartisan causes behind our troubles …

song currently stuck in my head: “show you the way” thundercat feat. michael mcdonald and kenny loggins

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How Obama Helped Trump Create the Muslim Ban List


trump executive order

My Trump piece from yesterday about his Muslim nation immigration ban followed mentalunrest’s editorial policy — one major idea at a time, with few exceptions.


But it’s time to give you the other part of this story.


With the exception of Syria, Trump’s executive order never identified the specific countries subjected to the immigration ban. Read the order here and tell me if you see any other country listed.


So, where did the seven countries come from? Y’know, besides the turn of the century think tank wet dream I talked about yesterday …


The Obama administration.


It all started when the 114th Congress passed the H.R. 158 — the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 — where visa waiver restrictions were placed on anyone who traveled to Iraq and Syria since March 1, 2011. The two countries were identified as sources of international terrorists. The Obama administration signed the bill into law.


H.R. 158 also directed the US Secretary of Homeland Security to identify and add additional “countries of concern” to the visa waiver restrictions list within 60 days of the bill’s passage.


As a result, the Department Homeland Security expanded that list to seven (emphasis mine):


Under the [Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act], travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the [Visa Waiver Program]:


  • Nationals of VWP countries who have been present in Iraq, Syria, or countries listed under specified designation lists (currently including Iran and Sudan) at any time on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited government/military exceptions).
  • Nationals of VWP countries who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, at any time on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited government/military exceptions).


These restrictions do not apply to VWP travelers whose presence in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen was to perform military service in the armed forces of a program country, or in order to carry out official duties as a full-time employee of the government of a program country. We recommend those who have traveled to the seven countries listed above for military/official purposes bring with them appropriate documentation when traveling through a U.S. port of entry.



In other words, Team Obama dug a hole in America’s hallowed mountain of a promise that welcomed other countries’ “tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free… ” and Trump’s crew is currently operating from precedent.


Given how information can become scarce without warning, I attached a screen shot of DHS’s February 18, 2016 announcement.


Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015


Like I mentioned yesterday, it doesn’t seem to matter which party controls Washington. The geopolitical marching orders are set. The only difference here is that Trump makes more noise about what he’s doing.


Any thoughts?


Song currently stuck in my head: “nodding off” – apollo brown & skyzoo

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Download: Rare Classic Soul Podcast from Roger Williams

roger williams soulsorts classic soul music
An unexpected benefit of being connected to the social layers of the Web is that you sometimes get to know a few supremely cool people — like the kind of people where you would be completely okay with the idea of hanging out and swapping stories over a couple of beers.

Roger Williams (Soulsorts) is one of those cats by my measure. He’s also a broadcast DJ with perfect taste in music, old and new.

Roger dug deep into the breaches of Classic Soul music last week to deliver a nearly two-hour set of bliss for Solar Radio. Plus, you can download it.

This isn’t your neighborhood Soul broadcast — unless your local station regularly plays 1619 Bad Ass Band or Beverly and Duane.

Tap to play and be sure to follow Roger on Twitter to find out when and where he’ll play next …


Update: Roger released another show tonight:


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