It’s a trick question.
Answer: every single one of us.
The better question is: what sort of bubble are you in?
It is nearly impossible to climb outside of our own experiences. That’s why, nearly 20 years later, Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack remains so relevant. That’s why this recent story about workplace sexism resonates so much. What each of us experiences in life is normal for us, and it’s difficult to resist the thought that it’s therefore normal for everyone. Teasing apart what is unique to me versus to my social or identity groups versus universal is really tough.
Which brings us to bubbles.
Since the election, there have been approximately 4,236,747 stories about Trump voters and how we should all try to understand them because their experiences are real and their pain is real and they’re the real America that us coastal elites in our bubbles ignore and disparage yackity-smackity, mea culpa mea culpa mea maxima culpa (and leaving aside that it’s the RIGHT WING elites who disparage the rural poor).
And you know what I’m talking about, because you’ve read AT LEAST one of those 4,236,747 stories. The setting is nearly always the same: Small Town in largely rural area. 90%+ white. Not an immigrant, refugee, Muslim, or person of color to be seen anywhere, except maybe in a ghettoized neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks or near the local toxic waste dump. The Factory – whether it was coal or auto or textile or food processing – shut down years ago. Walmart moved in a year ago, or five years ago, or ten years ago, promising jobs, and they delivered, sort of. There *are* jobs, but the people who work them qualify for SNAP and Medicaid and other forms of government assistance, because Walmart pays poverty wages. You can buy cheap shit there, but in the meantime, Small Town’s Main Street was decimated. Educational achievement is low, and rates of opioid or meth addiction are high. Everyone watches Fox News and listens to Limbaugh – or worse.
And I’m supposed to buy that those Trump voters AREN’T in a bubble, while I am?
I do live in a blue, highly educated, high income/cost of living coastal city. My neighbors – as in people I know and speak with on a regular basis on my block – are black and immigrants and gay…and white couples with kids. I have a Black Friend (actually more than one, and Muslims and Jews and Latinas and Hispanics and Asians and LGBT people, etc., etc., etc., and yes, these are people I see regularly and who come to my house and I go to theirs and we know each others’ families and other friends).
Before I left the church, I spent a summer as a teenager on a missions trip to poor, rural Missouri and worked with the kind of people profiled in those Trump voter pieces. And yes, that rural poverty is dire. My dad was the first person in his family – and the only one of his generation – to go to college. His sister and brother-in-law and their four kids, who live in a Habitat for Humanity house, have been on public assistance of one sort or another for 30+ years, and his other two siblings and their spouses are blue-collar. On the other hand, both of my mom’s parents had graduate degrees, as do both of her brothers, as do I and one of my 13 cousins (although many of the rest of them also did not go to college).
I volunteer on a regular basis with two different groups that bring me into contact with all sorts of people – school groups, workplace groups, people with intellectual disabilities, people doing their court-mandated community service, kids from under-privileged neighborhoods. I have ongoing relationships with some of these people. I ride public transportation almost every day and encounter a rainbow of people there – all colors, all ages, all social classes, all religions and sexual orientations and gender expressions. I get to eat food and hear music and see art and attend theater from all kinds of cultures every week.
I don’t watch TV news – it’s shallow and detracts from, rather than adding to, our national discourse – but I read a wide variety of reputable mainstream and left news sources (yes to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, Slate, MIT’s Technology Review, Vox, and The Atlantic – no to the purely partisan alt-left that’s nearly as bad as a alt-right, The Intercept and your fellow travelers, I’m looking at you). I’ve traveled to the overwhelming majority of the US states, including most of “flyover” country, and I’ve been to a bunch of places outside the US, too, and not just western Europe and the tourist Caribbean.
I’m not saying all this because I want some sort of pat on the head. I would guess that a decent amount of what I just related holds true for many – although certainly not all – of the people who live in my blue, highly educated, high income/cost of living coastal city.
I still live in a bubble. But my argument is that my bubble is pretty big and varied.
And I’m the one who needs to understand people who’ve never traveled more than 50 miles from the town they were born in and who’ve chosen to drastically narrow their world view by the media they elect to consume?
I don’t think so.
Do you remember The Fresh Air Fund? You know – the organization that packs city kids off to live in the country for the summer, so they can experience trees and cows and crickets and whatnot? They’re still out there, after 140 years, and that’s a good thing. But I think we also need a, for lack of a better term, Smog Air Fund, to bring kids from small town rural communities into the city for the summer, so they can see that our cities are not the dystopian hellholes so-called President Trump is trying to convince them we are, and meet some people of color and immigrants and gay people and see that they’re just regular people, and see some art and eat some interesting food and maybe go to a play or hear music they wouldn’t normally encounter, and expand their bubbles a whit.
I need to bust out of my bubble. I need to read Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. And Edward McClelland’s Nothin’ But Blue Skies. And Maharidge and Williamson’s Someplace Like America. I get that. But fixing the problems in the US isn’t – and can’t be – all the responsibility of one side. It’s time for those on the right to step up and own their bullshit, too.
Image found here.