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Into the wasteland

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, anthropology professor | November 14, 2016

The day after the election, Kroeber Hall was as silent and as desolate as a tomb. It felt like there had been an unanticipated and sudden death in the family but in this instance the family is our divided nation. We were stunned. It is far too early for normalization and reconciliation. First we, the non-elected elite class of progressive academics, have to admit our faults, our bad faith and arrogance toward those seen —  not just by Hillary — as the ignorant deplorables who supported our president elect.

closed steel plantLiving and working as we do in sanitized, protected, liberal/progressive academic shelters, communicating daily on Skype, e-mail, and webinars that link those who live in U.S. global cities with those like ourselves who live in foreign global cities have done so without a passing thought to the ones left behind (or so we thought), our other native Others, the “nobodies” seething with anger and resentment from all those rural and suburban counties and villages with stolen Native American names that lit up the election returns.

Trump called the black inner city a wasteland, but the wasteland is what we used to call Middle America, rural and suburban. Our indifference and disregard for the suffering of white and rural ethnic minorities (many of them black and Latino) left adrift to rot in the rust belt, the tobacco belt, the shut down textile mill towns was also deplorable.

Every other year or so, my husband Michael and I crisscross the U.S. in our van, each time taking another route and pitching our tents in trailer “parks” looking  more like permanent refugee camps, and encountering more despair, more families who inject each other in the privacy of their homes with heroin and opioids  — “the family that drugs together stays together.” The epidemic of despair is found not only in trailer camps but also in the snug adobe homes in Georgia O’Keefe country in northern New Mexico and in the rustic cabins in the Green Mountains of Vermont. However, this American tragedy (among so many others) does not explain the enthusiastic support of the president-elect by comfortable, suburban, middle-class white women (not to mention men).

A smooth transition to a Trump presidency is capitulation and worse — the normalization of terror. If there was ever a time to mobilize, it is now and it has to be soon. We need to put our bodies on the line, literally: at Standing Rock in support of our long suffering indigenous brothers and sister and on behalf of our land, our common home. And should the threat of  building  walls  become a reality rather than a compulsive liar’s political bait, we need to migrate to the borderlands in droves, by bus, by carloads, by trains, by pilgrimages on foot to disrupt the bulldozers and trucks.

Those who can, especially the elders among us who have the least to lose, might consider putting aside everything else for the next four years.  When our Kroeber Hall tribal elder, the late Elizabeth Colson, retired and I asked her what she would do now, she replied curtly, “I think I might get myself arrested.”

Comment to “Into the wasteland

  1. With great respect, does not this article, by encouraging “the non-elected elite class of progressive academics” to “put our bodies on the line….in support of our long suffering brothers and sisters”, the trailer park families etc.. confirm and demonstrate that this elite thinks it knows what is best for such people and that they should not be entitled to vote against the effects of globalisation which impact on them.
    This is reminiscent of Brecht’s reference to communism in East Germany, that if the People had indeed let down the Party, then the Party might have to dissolve the People and elect a new one.
    I count myself amongst your elite and I think your proposed reaction to the election reinforces the suspicion of, indeed the allegation of bad faith and arrogance which you correctly identify at the start of your article.

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