Dear America, Liberal cities aren’t the problem
It has been said by numerous people, most recently by the NYT columnist Ross Douthat, and by libertarian Charles Murray before him, that class segregation into large liberal cities is the result ((cause?) It is often hard to tell with these stories) of so-much inequality. Either way, the reality is that liberals live in big cities. Just look at a map of voting from the past election and no one can deny the truth of this claim. Douthat, Murraty and Cowen, have a decent argument. It certainly feels wrong that white people live with white people, and rich people live with rich people, and the middle class is cut out from the best, and even more so, the poorest are cut out from it all. Libertarian Tyler Cowen writes that poor people don’t get to participate in the great-matching-game, or participate at lower success rates, than the rich which furthers inequality. This is all true and yet it confuses the argument of inequality.
Let me be candid for a moment, I am hard-pressed to see the logical connection between people enjoying a fresh-squeezed-cold-pressed-juice-plus-antioxidants while chatting about Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit from the debate last night is the source, or even the most important result, of inequality. There is a strange obsession forming with analyzing millennial habits, and a good number of conservatives trying to catch this “progressive” generation as gentrifying those communities they support. While it is a hundred percent true that wealthy young people now think it is trendy to live in areas with street art and cheap food. There are two things I find troubling about this narrative: firstly, poor people might also enjoy fresh-squeezed-cold-pressed-juice if they weren’t being paid a starving wage, being educated in a failing school system, having their drug addictions criminalized, or even, recreational drug use criminalized, yes, being forced out of their houses, and having to deal with a highly competitive skill sector economy. Secondly, it doesn’t talk about redistributing money, power, and opportunity. You know what is even better than imaging a country where all people’s get to enjoy the refreshing fresh-squeezed afternoon juice? A place where everyone gets to enjoy a school system that works and has access to the capital to start a business. This is not some dream for equality. This is a claim America is more comfortable with, equal opportunity. Maybe it is the case that a juice bar in rural West Virginia would do well? (Probably not) but I guarantee there is someone in rural West Virginia with an idea about how to make their community great.
On a recent trip to Saint Louis I learned that the residents of Ferguson don’t want to integrate. Social Scientists need to accept the idea of a metropolis where black, white, asian, latino, pacific islanders, africans, and middle-easterners all live in the same block and share flour with each other might not be what people want. Would you want to live in a community that doesn’t speak the language you prefer? Doesn’t have the grocery stores you like? Point blank period, where you feel un-settled? If you answer these questions with no then you are like the majority of Americans. As Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” has shown us so vividly, there is plenty of justifiable discomfort felt when a person of color is surrounded by white people. White people also get plenty scared when surrounded by people of color. Ever had your mom lock the doors when going through the “bad neighborhood”? Or better yet, ever been parts of town your parents would not dare drive through? My mom was shocked the day she learned my brother drove through the ghetto to drop off his friends from football practice. My question is, why does your critique of inequality focus on the dissolving of liberal cities and not the elimination of the root causes of poverty?
Stop fetishizing millennial lifestyles. The fact that home prices in cities are skyrocketing as the bubble effect makes cities even more alluring is not the worst trend in America, nor is the fact we use Tinder to find a match (they usually only last a night). People did not learn to find Asian-American or Black guys or Latino guys or Middle-Eastern guys unattractive overnight—it is just shockingly visible now that platforms put us all in the same space. There has been a greater society at work to produce the results of sorting (the same one that produced social scientists like Murray and Cowen). This is not a blank check to millenials. You can be progressive and still be racist. It is an attempt to have a conversation about the root causes of racism and inequality. Sterotypes, white conceptions of beauty, access to capial, perceived levels of opportunity available to a person, and, generally, de-humanizing the poor are some of the roots of inequality. You know what is helping to change that? TV that is more representative, yes, even our nasty millennial binge-watching habits are helping society. We may have just experienced the most diverse Oscars ever, and yet, this liberal-millennial-searching-culture is just exasperating inequality (while they fund and support diversity on screen and online). I am not saying every millennial is a blazing intersectional super hero, but some of us are! And these are either products of, or residents of, liberal cities in most cases. Liberal cities have saved the lives of countless Queer folk over the decades; directly, by people moving there and forming coalitions and indirectly by people giving people hope for a better life.
A liberal city is a kind of special place. The place where you feel like kissing your partner on every corner because this is New York. I can’t speak to the experience of other minorities; however, the central point of this article is that minorities can speak for themselves. The concept to “Break up the Liberal City” is perpetuating the existing power structure rather than a subversion of the status quo. The idea that ‘If only these rich coastal liberals would live somewhere else they could give their capital, and good values, to Akron so these fly-overs have something to mention.’ One, the mid-west has a slew to mention already, two, the goal must be to be empower everyone to be able to make their own choices. Now, does giving everyone the resources to empower themselves have to deal with gentrification? Yes. Is spreading the rich all over the states the answer? No. Should cities be designed with low-income housing in mind? Yes. Should people be paid a living wage? Yes. Should people feel comfortable surrounded by another race? Yes. Should social policy force people to integrate? No. Is matching a symptom of classism and racism? Yes. Is it new? No. Now that, that has been sorted, lets talk about progressive taxation and effective poverty reducing programs.