What happens when a Black Marxist scholar wants to talk about race?

Reed and WestThe killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests have brought to light some serious differences on the American left. Take, for example, the case of Adolph Reed, a Black Marxist scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who was invited to speak to the Democratic Socialists of America’s New York City chapter. Michael Powell covers it all in a fascinating story at The New York Times.

Reed wanted to argue that the left’s focus on COVID-19’s impact on Black people “undermined multiracial organizing, which he sees as key to health and economic justice.” When the topic of his talk was released, the organization’s Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus said that Reed’s topic was “reactionary, class reductionist and at best, tone deaf.” The ZOOM lecture was canceled.

My favorite response to all of this comes from Cornel West: “God have mercy, Adolph is the greatest democratic theorist of his generation…he has taken some very unpopular stands on identity politics, but he has a track record of a half-century. If you give up discussion, your movement moves toward narrowness.”

Here is a taste of Powell’s piece:

The decision to silence Professor Reed came as Americans debate the role of race and racism in policing, health care, media and corporations. Often pushed aside in that discourse are those leftists and liberals who have argued there is too much focus on race and not enough on class in a deeply unequal society. Professor Reed is part of the class of historians, political scientists and intellectuals who argue that race as a construct is overstated.

This debate is particularly potent as activists sense a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make progress on issues ranging from police violence to mass incarceration to health and inequality. And it comes as Socialism in America — long a predominantly white movement — attracts younger and more diverse adherents.

Many leftist and liberal scholars argue that current disparities in health, police brutality and wealth inequality are due primarily to the nation’s history of racism and white supremacy. Race is America’s primal wound, they say, and Black people, after centuries of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, should take the lead in a multiracial fight to dismantle it. To set that battle aside in pursuit of ephemeral class solidarity is preposterous, they argue.

“Adolph Reed and his ilk believe that if we talk about race too much we will alienate too many, and that will keep us from building a movement,” said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a Princeton professor of African-American studies and a D.S.A. member. “We don’t want that — we want to win white people to an understanding of how their racism has fundamentally distorted the lives of Black people.”

A contrary view is offered by Professor Reed and some prominent scholars and activists, many of whom are Black. They see the current emphasis in the culture on race-based politics as a dead-end. They include Dr. West; the historians Barbara Fields of Columbia University and Toure Reed — Adolph’s son — of Illinois State; and Bhaskar Sunkara, founder of Jacobin, a Socialist magazine.

Read the entire piece here.

“Blue Collar” as a Sports Marketing Gimmick

blue collarIn a just-released Episode 62 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, I reminisce with our founding producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling about the time we may have offended ESPN’s Paul Lukas, a historian of sports uniforms and founder of Uni-Watch.  Listen to our interview with Lukas in Episode 7.

Lukas has a great piece at The New Republic on the way sports teams use the label “blue-collar” as an “attitude, a lifestyle, a brand, a hashtag.”  Here is a taste:

Earlier this month, the New York Giants held a press conference to introduce their new head coach, Joe Judge. In between the usual football clichés about how the Giants will “play aggressive” and have a “physical attitude” under his leadership, Judge dipped his toe into the pool of class consciousness. “I want this team to reflect this area. That is blue-collar. It’s hard work,” he said. “We’re gonna come to work every day and grind it out the way they do in their jobs every day.” That same day, Mississippi State University announced that it had hired Mike Leach as its new head football coach. The school’s athletic director, John Cohen, issued a statement praising Leach for, among other things, his “blue-collar approach” to football.

These were just the latest examples of a phenomenon that the sports world shares with politics: a strong desire to be associated with the working class, often in ways that strain logic and credulity.

The sports world’s blue-collar roots are real enough. The Green Bay Packers got their name from a meatpacking company that originally sponsored the team. The Detroit Pistons got theirs because their first owner ran a piston foundry. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ logo is based on the “Steelmark” originally used by U.S. Steel. And before the days of multimillion-dollar contracts, pro athletes routinely worked regular jobs during the off-season—often in blue-collar trades—to make ends meet.

Those days are long gone, but that hasn’t stopped teams from trying to establish their working-class bona fides. While the trope isn’t new, it has become unavoidable in recent years, especially in the realm of team marketing and branding.

Read the rest here.

Indeed, this idea of playing sports in a “blue-collar” fashion has been around for a long time.  This phrase seems to be always associated with a team that makes up for its lack of talent with a heavy dose of grit, determination, and hard work.

My public high school lacrosse coach often described our team as “blue collar” as a way of motivating us whenever we played an expensive prep school.  Football teams that run the ball (“3 yards and a cloud of dust”) are often described as playing “old school” or “blue-collar” ball. (Are the 2020 San Fransisco 49ers a blue collar team?).  In basketball, athletes committed to playing defense, rebounding, and diving for loose balls in the open court are often called “blue collar.” Blue collar baseball players–like Pete Rose–are known for their “hustle” on the base-paths and hear-first dives.  Some have made the case that ice-hockey is a blue-collar sport.

I’ll close this post by linking to an article in The Guardian announcing that “every single US sports team is blue collar.”

The Class War Within the Class War

It was going to happen sooner or later. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party appears to have split.  Some support Bernie Sanders.  Some support Elizabeth Warren.  Their non-aggression pact has apparently dissolved.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Clare Malone argues that Sanders and Warren appeal to two  different progressive constituencies.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren played to a friendly crowd when she visited Brooklyn last week. The rally at King’s Theatre on Flatbush Avenue — an ornate people’s palace kind of joint with fleur de lis in the molding and vaudeville ghosts in the rafters — was a 4,800-person shot in the arm for her campaign, which had been flatlining of late. Julián Castro, young, Latino and recently out of the presidential race, had just endorsed Warren and there seemed to be a sense in the air — with a heavy hint from the mass-produced “We ❤ Julián” signs circulating — that the campaign was looking for a little good news out of the evening. The crowd scanned as largely young and professional, and a little girl sitting just in front of me waved another sign: “I’m running for president because that’s what girls do.”

Just under a week later, the Warren campaign would be at war with Sen. Bernie Sanders over Warren’s claim that Sanders told her in a private 2018 meeting that he didn’t think a woman could win the 2020 presidential election. This salvo from Warren’s camp was seen as a response to reports that talking points for Sanders volunteers characterized Warren as the choice of “highly educated, more affluent people,” a demographic both key to Democratic electoral success and associated with Hillary Clinton’s supposed out-of-touch elitism. Within a few hours, what had been a cold-war battle to define the left wing of the Democratic Party had gone hot. The handshake-that-wasn’t between Sanders and Warren at Tuesday night’s debate seemed to inflame tensions even more.

What’s curious, though, is that the rift isn’t over policy particulars. The Warren vs. Sanders progressivism fight seems to be more stylistic, an unexpectedly tense class war of sorts within the broader progressive class war. Should progressive populism be wonky and detail-oriented and appeal to college-educated former Clinton voters? Or a more contentious outsider assault on the powers-that-be from the overlooked millions of the middle and lower-middle class?

Read the rest here.

Some More Thoughts on the Populist Critique of “Elite Evangelicals”

Trump iN Dallas

For most evangelical Christians, the message of the Gospel transcends the identity categories we place on human beings.  All men and women are sinners in need of redemption.  Citizenship in the Kingdom of God, made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection, is available to all human beings regardless of their race, class, or gender.

I also think that most evangelicals believe that good Christians strive to live Holy Spirit-filled lives that conform to the moral teachings of the Bible. In other words, evangelical Christians follow the 10 Commandments, Jesus’s teachings in  the Gospels (including the Sermon on the Mount), and the ethical demands of the New Testament epistles.

Since Mark Galli wrote his Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump, the evangelical defenders of the POTUS have been playing the populist card. Let’s remember that the populist card is an identity politics card.

The opponents of Christianity Today have tried to paint Galli and other evangelical anti-Trumpers as “elites” who look down their noses at uneducated or working class evangelicals.  In their minds, Galli and his ilk are guilty of the same kind of supposed moral preening as university professors, Barack Obama, and the progressive legislators known as “The Squad.”  They view these educated evangelicals–some of whom they might worship with on Sunday mornings–through the lens of class-based politics rather than as fellow believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This populist argument has come from a variety of sectors, including First Things magazine (here and here), the court evangelicals (here), and Calvinist Front Porcher and American religious historian Darryl Hart (here).

So I ask: Has Trump’s class-based identity politics co-opted Christian ethics?

Trump has openly lied or misrepresented the truth. He has engaged in speech that is misogynistic, nativist, and racist. He has advanced policies that have separated children from their parents.  He regularly demonizes and degrades his political enemies.  It seems like these things, on the basis of biblical morality, are always wrong, regardless of whether an educated person or an uneducated person brings them to our attention.  Last time I checked, the minor prophets and John the Baptist did not have Ph.Ds.

Mark Galli of Christianity Today has offered a stinging moral criticism of Trump.  We can debate whether Trump’s actions in Ukraine are impeachable, but Galli is on solid ground when he says the president is “grossly immoral.”

Is it right to say that a Christian is “out of touch” when he calls out such immoral behavior?  (Or maybe one might take evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem’s approach and try to make a case that Trump’s indiscretions are few and inconsequential).

Would a non-college educated factory worker in the Midwest who claims the name of Jesus Christ think that racism, misogyny, nativism, the degradation of one’s enemies, and lying are moral problems?  Wouldn’t any Christian, formed by the teachings of a local church and the spiritual disciplines (as opposed to the daily barrage of Fox News), see the need to condemn such behavior?  What does social class have to do with it?  Shouldn’t one’s identity in the Gospel and its moral implications for living transcend class identity?

For those who are lamenting disunion in the church, I have another question:  Shouldn’t the church be an otherworldly, counter-cultural institution that finds some unity in the condemnation of immoral behavior in the corridors of national power?  Or should we take our marching orders from the divisive, class-based identity politics of Donald Trump?

An Accidental Professor

CrucetI love reading stories of professors raised in working-class families.  I thus need to read Jennine Capo Crucet’s recent book My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education.  The Atlantic is running a piece based on the book.  Here is a taste:

I am a first-generation college student, and the idea of becoming a professor—one of those people who seemed to emanate brilliance and poise, the people who made knowledge!—felt like too big of a leap for me, as someone who comes from a working-class family of electricians. Add to this the fact that the majority of my professors were white, and that most of them were male, and that most of the books they taught and deemed important enough to be covered in survey courses were written by straight white men, and you can see how a Cuban girl from Miami could come to think academia wasn’t the place for her.

When it came to having the privilege of choosing a career path, I did what people who’ve internalized systemic oppression sometimes do: I aimed for something different that felt more appropriate, more attainable. I decided I’d make a good high-school English teacher. I’d still get to talk about books and teach people to love and value the act of writing. And I’d have summers to work on all the novels and short stories I wanted to write.

Then something happened that very subtly set me on a different path. What happened was that I stayed up too late one night in my dorm, and I went in on pizza with some girls on my floor, and we got to talking about what we hoped to do with our lives. Of the four other women in the room, three of them had at least one parent who was a lawyer. I was searching my brain for what they would consider the right answer, which I somehow intuited was not high-school English teacher. When they asked me, I blurted out what I thought was an appropriately upgraded version of my dream: “I want to be an English professor.” And the minute I said it, I knew it could be true.

I genuinely did not think I was smart enough to be a professor. Even today, when I think of a professor, the image that comes to my mind is of a specific white man, James Adams, a scholar of Victorian literature who wore a for-real tweed jacket—with the elbow patches and everything—and who was so freaky smart and accomplished that I remember tracing my fingers over the written comments he’d add at the end of my papers, hoping his brilliance would somehow transfer to me that way. But I knew when the sentence came out of my mouth that I wanted to be someone who made knowledge, who got to live in books and in theories about books, who got to spend her life writing while teaching future generations of writers how to pick apart the books they loved and discover how they were built.

Read the entire piece here.

The Meaning of Trump’s “Winter White House” in the Wake of Irma

West_PB_FL_Mar_A_Lago_entr01

Rollins College historian Julian Chambliss puts Mar-a-Lago in some historical context.  He argues that the winter White House is part of a “Florida dream” that is unsustainable.

Here is a taste of Chambliss piece at Boston Review:

Donald Trump calls his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, his “winter White House.” This proclamation has been met with derision as well as outrage about the security costs and conflict of interest. But the sheer hucksterism that has defined Trump’s ownership—buying the once federally owned estate, overcoming local objections by turning it into an exclusive club, and finally using it, in name only, as a public institution—should also interest us. Often casting himself as an aggrieved party fighting entrenched interests in Palm Beach, Trump’s battles there offer a funhouse-mirror version of the common man’s struggle against elites. Presented in the rarified air of Palm Beach, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago travails foreshadowed his current political narrative.

Moreover, Trump’s relationship to Mar-a-Lago and his pursuit of victory there at all costs reveal a regressive vision of community, one that resonates deeply with Florida’s history. For almost 150 years, wealthy outsiders have fought an anemic state over who gets to enjoy paradise. Aggressive development opened up Florida for millions of ordinary Americans, but in the absence of an effective state, wealthy interests have hollowed out prospects for working people, degraded the environment, and made the consumption of Florida a rich man’s game. Mar-a-Lago reflects the legacy of Florida’s past. Given the newly established winter White House, this legacy now belongs to all of us.

Now, with Hurricane Irma’s aftermath certain to shape the state for years to come, the reality of policy inaction and the cost to individuals and communities is clear. Even as Republicans at the national and state level are quick to promise relief, they are equally committed to not talking about the excesses that cause it. As one scientist explained to the New York Times, “We know that as humans, we are all too good at pretending like a risk, even one we know is real, doesn’t matter to us.” In Florida, that natural human tendency has been enhanced by Republican governors who so persistently avoid mentioning the words “climate change” that scientists even “self-censor” their work. Yet, Florida is testament to a reality that cannot be ignored. Even as the state pulls itself together, the uncertain future must contend with a pattern of denial and a history of consumption that many are eager to maintain. Mar-a-Lago reflects this legacy of Florida’s past. Indeed, while the newly established “Southern White House” will no doubt be fine this time, we should care about what Florida’s legacies mean for all of us.

Read the rest here.

History Teaches Us That Pollution Hurts Some People More Than Others

Tosco Refinery Fire May Fuel Spiraling Gas Prices

Arica Coleman has a great piece at Time reminding us that pollution does not affect everyone equally. (HT: History News Network)

Here is a taste:

According to Carl A. Zimring in his book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States, this phenomenon — defined by former NAACP President Benjamin Chavis in 1992 as, “the deliberate targeting of people of color communities for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities” — was part and parcel to the construction of race during the post-Civil War era.

In the late 19th century, some subscribed to notions of hygiene that claimed, as Zimring puts it, that “whites were cleaner than non-whites.” Industrialization and migration to urban centers during the period led to overcrowding in northern cities, suffocating pollution and widespread epidemics. Nativists, particularly among the elite class, blamed the problem on the moral depravity of southern and eastern European immigrants, who were considered “less than white.” Yet, some politicians and civic leaders disagreed and focused on developing a sufficient sanitation infrastructure to address waste management, a public health campaign underscored by notions of hygiene to combat disease, and the creation of jobs in sanitation to lower unemployment.

As Zimring notes, the U. S. census shows that between 1870 and 1930 street sanitation work, also known as “dirty work,” was performed primarily by first- and second-generation eastern and southern European immigrants and blacks. Some of these foreign-born individuals, categorized during the early decades of the 20th century as white ethnics (to distinguish them from the native-born Anglo Saxon Protestants), went into the waste-management business while others obtained “cleaner occupations” and left sanitation altogether. With white ethnic categories eliminated from the census after WWII and assistance from the 1944 GI Bill, those occupying the margins of whiteness were granted full integration into white American society, fleeing “dirty jobs and dirty cities” for the clean and white life of suburban America.

In a world of de jure and de facto segregation, this situation meant that blacks, Hispanics and American Indian communities were left to bear much of the environmental burden of the 20th century. As one Chicago lawyer put it, according to Zimring, “Gentlemen, in every great city there must be a part of that city segregated for unpleasant things.” Segregated employment also justified relegating non-white workers to performing the most hazardous jobs in the worst unsanitary conditions, an issue that became central to the civils rights movement during the latter years of the 1960s.

Read the entire piece here.

 

The Democratic Malaise

revoltThis morning I picked up my copy of Christopher Lasch’s 1995 book The Revolt and the Elite and the Betrayal of Democracy and started reading it again.  I am still trying to process it all from the perspective of the so-called age of Trump, but here is a relevant passage from the Introduction.

p. 5-6: Thanks to the decline of old money and the old-money ethic of civic responsibility, local and regional loyalties are sadly attenuated today…Advancement in business and the professions, these days, requires a willingness to follow the siren call of opportunity wherever it leads.  Those who stay at home forfeit the chance of upward mobility.  Success has never been so closely associated with mobility, a concept that figuted only marginally in the nineteenth-century definition of opportunity…Anbitious people understand, then, that a migratory way of life is the price of getting ahead…The new elites are in revolt against “Middle America,” as they imagine it: a national technologically backward, politically reactionary, repressive in its sexual morality, middlebrow in its tastes, smug and complacent, dull and dowdy.  Those who covet membership in the new aristocracy of brains tend to congregation on the coasts, turning their back on the heartland and cultivating ties with the international market in fast-moving money, glamour, fashion, and popular culture….The new elites are at home only in transit, en route to a high-level conference, to the grand opening of a new franchise, to an international film festival, or to an undiscovered resort.  Theirs is essentially a tourist’s view of the world–not a perspective likely to encourage a passionate devotion to democracy.

As I read this passage I began to wonder how much the ascension of Trump is really a story that can be explained through the lens of “place.”  Healthy democracies often require face-to-face engagement in public spaces where ideas can be exchanged in civil ways. Sadly, it is hard to find these kind of spaces in America today.  Ambitious kids in search of the American dream no longer seem to find that dream at home, unless, of course, home is on the coasts.  They go off to college and never come back, depriving the communities that raised them of the intellectual resources and skills in informed, evidence-based conversation that are necessary for democracy to function at the local level.  (This, of course, assumes that they are getting these skills and resources from college.  With the rise of professional programs at the expense of the humanities this kind of education is no longer a given).

While Lasch’s juxtaposition of the “elite” and the “people may be a bit contrived, I think he does have a point.  If time allows, I will try to develop some of my thinking along these lines and post some more stuff from Revolt of the Elites.  I want to reread Revolt alongside J.D. Vance’s celebrated Hillbilly Elegy.

Stay tuned, and thanks for thinking with me on this front.

The Author’s Corner with Jennifer Goloboy

CharlestonandtheEmergenceofMiddleClassCultureintheRevolutionaryAmerica.jpgJennifer Goloboy is an independent scholar based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This interview is based on her new book, Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era?

JG: The project originally started because of a graduate school class I took with David Hancock, in which we read the Henry Laurens papers.  I was fascinated by Laurens as an exemplar of the eighteenth-century middle class.   He had a rigidly hierarchical view of the world.  He demonstrated a weird blend of public sanctimony and private willingness to betray his own principles, especially when engaged in the slave trade. 

When Prof. Hancock told the class there weren’t any other collections of letters from Charleston’s merchants that were as interesting as the Henry Laurens papers, I took it as a personal challenge.  

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era?

JG: My book is designed to help us clarify what we mean by “middle-class” in Early America.  Focusing on merchants in Charleston, South Carolina, it shows how the economic impact of the post-Revolutionary transition shaped middle-class culture.

JF: Why do we need to read Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era?

JG: For readers interested in class in early America, my book is unusual in that it focuses on work rather than the home as a cradle of middle-class culture.  Charleston’s merchants used shared cultural assumptions to connect with their business partners.  These assumptions changed over time.  Before the Revolution, the ideal merchant was deferential and polite; the post-Revolutionary merchant was a rowdy sport willing to do anything to serve a client; and the cotton-port merchant was a professional and an institution-builder.                  

Readers interested in Charleston will remember that historians have rarely written about the city between the end of the Revolution and the late 1810s.  So there’s been a mysterious and unexplained transition in local behavior: before the Revolution, a happy participant in British mercantilism, but after the gap, disdainful of trade.  This book argues that Charlestonians distrusted merchants because of a forgotten post-Revolutionary bubble, based partly on the slave trade and neutral trading with the Caribbean, which ended disastrously because of the War of 1812.  This is important because antebellum Charleston was so central to Southern intellectual history; we need to know that resentment of mercantile outsiders was not a natural product of the cotton empire.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JG: I really became interested in history when I realized that the point was not to eulogize heroes of the past, but to explain the distinct internal worlds of our ancestors.  I was a big fan of the “If You Lived In” series as a kid— and now I torment my poor children by telling them what “If You Lived In Colonial Times” left out.

JF: What is your next project?

JG: As I was researching this project, I realized how much we still have to learn about American trade in the years before the War of 1812.  They’re exciting years in economic history: lots of smuggling, lots of semi-licit trade between Europe and the Caribbean.  Stephen Girard, as one of the most important merchants of his era, kept track of the goings-on in all the ports touched by his business— I intend to use his papers to clarify this confusing era.

JF: Thanks, Jennifer!

The Author’s Corner with Heath Carter

Heath Carter is Assistant Professor of History at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso University  This interview is based on his latest book Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago

JF: What led you to write Union Made?

HC: While a master’s student at the University of Chicago Divinity School I stumbled upon an article in an old fundamentalist periodical about how the state of Wisconsin had quashed an attempt by a group of Christian ministers to form a union.  I read on, expecting the editor to rail against the state.  Much to my surprise, he instead reveled in the ministers’ misfortune, arguing that it served them right for associating with the devil (ie. the trade union movement).  The piece left me wondering whether working-class evangelicals shared the editor’s animus toward unions.  I had a hunch that their class experiences might have led them to different conclusions and was able to test my hypothesis during my first-ever graduate seminar at the University of Notre Dame.  That semester I wrote the first draft of what is now Chapter 5 on the religious dimensions of the Pullman strike.  One of the leading ministers in town had denounced the strikers and I was fortunate in that his still-active church, Pullman Presbyterian, had its membership records going all the way back into the 19th century.  I’ll never forget the excitement that afternoon when I discovered that, sure enough, in the weeks following the minister’s criticism of the strike a working-class walkout had commenced.  At that point I knew I had a story to tell.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Union Made?

HC: Working people keyed the rise of social Christianity in cities like Chicago.  In the generation before Walter Rauschenbusch published Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907), blacksmiths, seamstresses, and the like were already preaching and practicing social gospels; and their religious activism proved the single greater factor in a remarkable early-twentieth-century turnabout, as one by one the nation’s churches finally embraced organized labor. 

JF: Why do we need to read Union Made?

HC: The answer depends on the audience.  Historians should read the book because it recasts the story of social Christianity, one of the most significant reform movements in modern American history.  But I hope that Union Madewill also attract non-specialist readers.  The book does not pretend to offer contemporary Christians or labor organizers solutions for present-day problems.  Nevertheless, these groups and others may find, as I have, that the voices of late-19th-century Chicago’s working-class prophets are still surprisingly resonant.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

HC:  I did not take a single American history class in college, but my senior year at Georgetown I wrote an honor’s thesis on the Left Behind series that piqued my curiosity about the history of American evangelicalism.  Before I knew it I was off to the University of Chicago Divinity School, where I had the privilege of working with Catherine Brekus.  By the time I finished a lengthy research paper on the rise of an evangelical left in response to the Vietnam War – an experience which offered me my first extended exposure to the delights of historical detective work – I was hooked.  I applied to a variety of PhD programs and two weeks before I was admitted to Notre Dame I received word that Mark Noll would be coming to replace a retiring George Marsden.  When I got a phone call admitting me into the program, I jumped at the chance to work with Mark, whom I had so long admired.

JF: What is your next project?

HC: I am planning to write an ambitious new history of the Social Gospel in American life.  Remarkably, the grand narratives of the 1940s and 1950s remain the closest thing we have to an overview of this important Christian tradition, which I will argue was born in the decades prior to the Civil War and extends all the way through the present day.  The book will draw on original research but also on the insights of recent generations of historians, who have produced a wealth of excellent articles and monographs that now need to be synthesized.    

JF: Thanks, Heath!

Chris Gehrz on Social Class and Christian Colleges

Chris Gerhz of Bethel University is at it again with his excellent analysis of Christian College life.  (Someone needs to hire this guy as an administrator! Check out his series on “Ranking Christian Colleges“).

This time Chris is examining the topic of social class and Christian colleges.  As the child of working class parents and a first-generation college student, his series of posts caught my eye.

He begins with a Chronicle of Higher Education story by historian Richard Greenwald that offers some startling statistics about first-generation college students in general across the U.S.  More than 25% of them fail to make it into their second year of college and 90% fail to graduate within six years.  Many of them have a difficult time adjusting to a liberal arts education.  They feel “vulnerable” and “rootless” and do not know how to process criticism of their work.  I used to raise this issue a lot at the college where I teach, but it always fells on deaf ears.

Moreover, Chris wonders how working class students deal with college expenses that go beyond tuition.  Study abroad trips and other travel opportunities can be costly.  We tell our students to take advantage of extra-curricular opportunities to learn and grow their vitas, but often times only the wealthier students can take advantage of them. Like Bethel University, we push internships here in the Messiah College History Department.  How do you tell a student to do an unpaid summer internship when they need to get a job so that that they can afford tuition for the following academic year?

I don’t have the time or space here to unpack or interpret all of Gerhz’s research on this topic, but his series of posts is very revealing and definitely worth a look.  Check it out here:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Is Obama a Class Warrior?

Writing at The New York Times, Mark Landler suggests that Barack Obama seems to be embracing the “class warrior” label that Republicans are trying to pin on him.  He is fighting Tea Party and libertarian populism with some good old-fashioned economic populism.  Here is a taste of Landler’s article: 

Reprising the populist themes of recent speeches in Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia, Mr. Obama repeatedly challenged Republicans to pass the jobs bill. Extending the cut in payroll taxes would put $1,700 into the pockets of a typical Colorado working family, Mr. Obama said, and refusing to do so would amount to hitting them with a tax increase. Cries of “pass the bill” competed with chants of “four more years.”

Far from rejecting the Republican accusation that he is waging class warfare, Mr. Obama now seems to revel in it.

“If asking a millionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher makes me a class warrior, a warrior for the middle class, I will accept that; I’ll wear that as a badge of honor,” Mr. Obama said. “Because the only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against the middle class in this country for a decade now.” 

As I read this article, and thought a bit more about Obama’s job package, I recalled the scene from the movie “Dave” where the title character, played by Kevin Klein, tries get his own jobs bill passed.  You Tube would not allow me to embed the video, but you can watch it by going to the link above.

Does Obama Have A White Working Class Problem?

John Judis thinks so and I agree with him.

In a recent New Republic article Judis asks why Obama can’t connect with the working class. He writes:

Here is a fact: Barack Obama has trouble generating enthusiasm among white working class voters. That’s not because they are white. He would have had trouble winning support among black working class voters if they had been unable to identify with him because he was black. He has trouble with working class voters because he appears to them as coming from a different world, a different realm of experience, a different class, if you like. And that’s because he does.

This is one the best things I have read on Obama’s class problem. Judis gets it. I would argue with Judis that white working class voters are defined less by how much they make and more by the culture they share. Obama is clearly a member of the professional class. He may have worked as a community organizer but, as Judis notes, so do a lot of Ivy League graduates for a few years after they leave college. Without these kinds of budding professionals we would not have organizations like Teach for America. Working class people seldom work as community organizers.

A school teacher who makes 25,000 a year and comes home at night and listens to NPR or goes to the opera is a member of the professional class. A non-college educated general contractor who makes $150,000 a year and comes home and watches WWF Raw or listens to Toby Keith in his Ford F-250 is a member of the white working class. This does not mean that teachers do not watch Raw or listen to Toby Keith or that general contractors do not listen to NPR or go to the opera, but I think you get my point.

The white working goes bowling and few of them eat arugula.

I know this because I have been living in limbo for a long time and plan to continue living there for the rest of my life.

Judis sums it up well:

Race and income are important, of course, but so is function, which separates people who perform routine or menial or manual tasks from people who produce ideas and complex services. College professors do not always make more money than electricians; but they live in a different world. In census terms, it is the world of professionals compared to that of operatives, laborers, clerical workers, and technicians.