Monica Potts’ columns from rural Arkansas are more useful than most of the “what is the white working class thinking” columns because she actually knows the region well and isn’t just Beltway reporters finding blowhards in diners they can get good quotes from. People who actually understand the white working class because they come from it have far more to say than either lazy Beltway journalists or white leftists romanticizing people they don’t know for ideological reasons.
Anyway, Potts looks at why the white people she knows in Arkansas are so pro-reopening. The answers….will not surprise you.
The attitude that some people just don’t want to work is often linked to racism: A 2017 Urban Institute study found that states with larger black populations were less generous with their welfare benefits. Indeed, Arkansas was one of the first states to tie Medicaid benefits to a work requirement, though that has since been struck down by a judge. Food-stamp beneficiaries in the state also must meet work requirements. The hesitation to support those out of work seems linked to the fact that black and Latino Arkansans have been hit disproportionately hard by the virus. Indeed, when asked whether the rise in cases among the Latino population was tied to work sites, Governor Hutchinson responded: “They want to work. They’re hardworking.”
That’s it right there. If this was white people dying, the nation would be taking COVID-19 much more seriously. But it’s black and brown people dying and so we don’t care and not having people work would allow THOSE people to not work and then you’re going to have the t-bone steaks and the Cadillacs and the sex with white women.
But it’s not only race. It’s that the white working class, particularly in the South and Midwest, genuinely believes that corporate America is a good thing.
Many people I spoke with here were happy with the $1,200 economic-impact payments, but it wasn’t enough to replace incomes. And yet, many were eager, as the Senate debated, to include a $500 billion pot of money for the biggest corporations in the country. They thought sending a lifeline to gigantic, publicly traded corporations would be the key to holding on to their jobs. I asked a woman who lives in my county whether she thought that was the only way to ensure her well-being. “Yes, ma’am,” she said, before bowing out because the discussion became too political. “It’s the trickle effect.”
This point is central to Bethany Moreton’s excellent book To Serve God and Wal-Mart, which notes how Wal-Mart and other similar chains were built in a way that directly appealed to white working class populism, wrapping themselves in the flag and Bible and rhetoric of family. Like Donald Trump and other fascists, the white working class will support corporations even if it is directly opposed to what we see as their interests. But they see their interests differently and it is what it is. But don’t think that these people are wanting socialism. They aren’t.