Going Native

A young female sociologist, born to the pre-eminent sociologist, submits a proposal to live on an urban American bantustan and do fieldwork – and the proposal is green-lit by professors and department heads, all of whom live in gated communities.  Alice Goffman emerges to write a harrowing book about this impersonation of a gang initiate, detailing all manner of insult to her gang friends and her young female person by the police and other authorities – and the readership of the book are ones who do not live in the ghetto, who live utterly divorced from the reality of gun deaths and drug sales. Then, after getting a professorship, Ms. Goffmann yearns for a return to the block:

after finishing her dissertation in 2010, she spent two years on a postdoctoral fellowship in Michigan (she threw away the two years of field notes she took there, fearing an even worse version of the criticisms she got for ‘‘On the Run’’) and then moved to Madison for her new job there. But now that she was in Princeton for the year, she had told her Sixth Street friends that she would be back on the block again.

Ghettoes are not places to get in touch with your more authentic self, or to foreswear your affluence and privilege. They are horrific places of shootings, social decay, starvation of fundamental needs.    A liberal wants to embrace and then reform these places, a conservative to condemn them, but a social nihilist wants them to be outlawed, and for every human to have a right to a decent, socially-supported upbringing.

That’s simple pie-in-the-sky, (there should be a laugh track accompanying such unrealizable aspiration),  but there should be no politics, no political science, no punditry or political talk that does not view the American bantustans as evidence No. 1  of the futility of American politics, where half a century after the murders of so many Black American leaders and activists,  racism marches on in enforced abysmal economic inequality.

And you think a hectoring, bilious Bernie Sanders, who lives in no ghetto, who is all for the bantustans in Gaza, is somehow the voice against racist economic oppression? Class interests of the disenfranchised  cannot be led  by someone who is not of the oppressed class – they are always suspect as voices for people whose culture is not their own. Bernie – how many bankers have you shut down? Why the pointed finger against them – are you not of their class?

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