Yep. I’m still having fun with Coming Apart, Charles Murray’s new and soon-to-be-forgotten book on how the liberal elites, having ruined the lives of generations of African-Americans, are now busy corrupting working class white people, once upon a time the heart and soul of mainstream America, and the silly quiz that went with it.
As I’ve been saying, the book and the quiz don’t mean much to me. It’s the assumptions behind the questions on the quiz that have gotten me riled up, mainly because they’re based on a conventional image of a “Real America” that’s of course pushed by Republicans, because it’s their base or how their base like to think of themselves. But it’s also pretty widely accepted without thought among reporters and pundits who cover national politics and so it drives all our discussions of what Americans think and want. For that reason, I think it’s helpful to look at those assumptions and try to see through them to the real Real America.
So, let’s consider this. Today’s the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Which makes today what?
The conventional image of Real America is that it is a Protestant place.
Mardi Gras is not a Protestant holiday.
Or it wasn’t, originally.
In fact, it was the kind of holiday Protestants, especially Protestants of the sort Real America is supposed to be mostly made up of, Southern and Midwestern evangelicals and fundamentalists, despise---lots of Papists dressing up (mostly by undressing) and getting all sexy.
Mardi Gras is now celebrated all over the place, mainly in bars, but in the U.S. of A. it’s associated with one city in particular. That city is in a Southern state, and Southern states are presumed to be more Real-ly American than Northern states. But New Orleans isn’t exactly a typical Southern city.
It’s not a Protestant city, that’s for sure.
And it’s not a white city.
It’s whiter since Katrina, but that’s another sin of the Bush Administration we still need to atone for and repair.
And yet I defy anyone to argue that the Mardi Gras parade is not as American as baseball, apple pie, or Chevrolet.
Same for St Patrick’s Day Parades, Columbus Day Parades, Chinese New Year Parades, Cinco de Mayo Parades, Easter Parades, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. None of which seem to figure in the thinking behind this question:
12. Have you ever participated in a parade that did not involve global warning, gay rights, or a war protest?
I got a kick out of answering yes to this one, because the last parade I marched in was at Occupy Wall Street.
You know who else could answer yes to the question as phrased though?
Of course, like me, some Illinois Nazis have probably marched in many parades in their lifetimes.
I’ve marched in Little League Parades, St Patrick’s Day Parades, Christmas Parades, Cub Scout Parades, Fourth of July Parades---when I was little my grandmother organized an Independence Day Parade at the trailer park up the lake where she and my grandfather spent their summers and I got to lead it!
Every spring back in grade school, I marched in a May Day Parade. Not the commie sort of May Day parade. Crown the statue of the Blessed Virgin with flowers May Day parades. I went to Catholic school.
And note that the question doesn’t ask if you’ve marched in a parade. It asks if you participated in one. As far as I’m concerned, and I think the refs will back me up on this, it counts as participating if you’ve stood on the sidewalk along the parade route and cheered the bands and waved to the kids on the floats.
Our little town holds three big parades every year, a Memorial Day Parade, a Halloween parade, and a St Patrick’s Day Parade. I’m out there clapping and cheering every time. The St Paddy’s Day Parade is the major one and everybody turns out, although our town isn’t all that Irish. We don’t even have a corner bar, unless you count the one in the Chinese restaurant. But then on St Patrick’s Day, everybody’s Irish.
So, I’d have thought everybody’s answer to the question would be, “Yes, who hasn’t?” Which would have made this one of the questions put on the quiz so that nobody scores a 0.
But I forgot that the point isn’t primarily to let some of us flatter ourselves that we’re in touch with Real America. It’s mainly to force some of us to identify ourselves as being hopelessly out of touch, which is to say to out ourselves as liberal elitists of the kind that are ruining Real America for Real Americans.
The assumption is that liberal elitists disdain parades because they’re hokey and vulgar and celebrate All-American virtues and values liberal elitists hold in contempt, like patriotism and the music of John Philip Sousa and fat old men in fezzes driving miniature Indy cars in circles around each other. (A highlight of Fort Wayne’s Three Rivers Festival Parade. You haven’t seen life until you’ve seen a Shriner diving from his miniature Indy car as it flames out.) Liberal elitists don’t participate in parades unless they make good liberally elitist political points. All other parades they boycott for politically correct reasons.
As objects of boycotts is the only way St Patrick’s Day and Columbus Day parades figure in the assumptions behind that question. But here’s the thing. Parades are regular events in two kinds of places. Small towns and cities. There aren’t many parades in the suburbs because suburbs tend not to have roads that can be turned into parade routes or, just as important to holding a parade, sidewalks where people can safely stand and cheer and wave.
Americans love a parade.
Lots of parades take place in American cities.
Therefore the people who live in cities must be Americans.
What’s missing from the conventional idea of the Real America is that most Americans live in cities or in metropolitan areas. What’s also missing is that many of the parades we love celebrate our collective ethnicity. We are all descended from people who came from somewhere else. Even Native Americans. The American Experience is a lot of different things, but one of the things it is is an Immigrant Experience.
New Orleans is a French invention. The reason there are so many St Patrick’s Day parades is that the Irish took over and built so many cities. And not just towns like New York and Boston and Chicago, me boyos. Kansas City and Charleston, South Carolina and Butte, Montana are more Irish than Dublin too. Irish Channel doesn’t make New Orleans an Irish city, but it didn’t get named Irish Channel for the hell of it.
Murray’s book is subtitled “The Decline of White America.” Implicit is the the notion that Regular America---Real America---is White America. And I think a lot of people---white people---accept that without even knowing they accept it. Hard-core racists know they accept it. But lots of racists don’t know they’re racist and lots of people who aren’t racist accept ideas that are racist---and I know, the case can be made that that makes them racist, but for the sake of argument…---and lots of those people are journalists and pundits who cover politics blithely unaware that they treat African-American and Latino voters as if they don’t count.
We’re on the verge of becoming a tan country, but the reason we’ve remained a white majority country for so long is that we’ve kept revising the definition of white. When we started out, white was short for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Germans and Irish Catholics didn’t count. Then the Italians began to arrive and they didn’t count. Then Eastern Europeans didn’t count. At the moment, most Latinos don’t count but some are beginning to qualify. (Cf. Marco Rubio.) Asian-Americans and East Indian Americans have achieved a kind of honorary whiteness.
The reason the definition has been so flexible is that white-ness is an arbitrary and stupid distinction that really doesn’t describe anybody, not even white people who want their white-ness to matter the way they think black people’s blackness and brown people’s brown-ness matter. What they’re missing is that they possess a something-ness that already matters that way. It’s their cultural heritage. White Southerners are Southerners before they are white, although unfortunately for too many their cultural heritage tells them that their whiteness matters first. We are an ethnically and culturally diverse country, and we all share in each other’s diversity. Regular Americans---Real Americans---are mutts.
It should be noted that once upon a time most of the population of New Orleans did not count as white, even the citizens who were decidedly pale. One drop of “colored” blood colored you, and folks were generous with their bloodlines. New Orleans was founded by the French but it is a Creole city. On St Patrick’s Day, every Real American is Irish. Tonight every Real American is French, Creole, black, whIrish, Catholic, and a sinner.
Enjoy your pancakes, and take it way, Louis!