Friday, June 03, 2005

Corner Demographics

Tonight, as I stood quietly on our usual corner with my anti-war sign, I couldn't help reflecting on the matrix of power and privilege-relevant demographics (at least those that can be assessed in even an approximate way under the circumstances) and how that relates to the responses we receive to our presence.

The neighbourhood is coded as white-dominated and middle-class. (In Los Angeles, race and racism are expressed very blatantly in terms of geography -- it's a very segregated city.) In the context of the white-dominated neighbourhoods in LA it is among the less affluent, I think, but given the racialized nature of poverty in most of North America's urban areas, in the city as a whole it is still definitely well above average in terms of income. The neighbourhood that starts a few blocks to the south is significantly more working-class and Latino/a, and it is mainly Latino/a Americans who make use of the park that is on the corner we use.

(White) West LA is staunchly liberal and the neighbourhood is majority anti-war, so the responses from passing cars are net positive by a significant majority. I can't count the number of times each vigil when there is a honk and a wave or a peace sign from the driver of a Lexus or a BMW. Despite having stood on this street corner once a week (give or take) for more than nine months now, it still feels strange (a) to receive such a positive response overall, and (b) to have so many luxury cars responding positively.

Generally speaking, middle-class white men of middle-age and above and middle-class white women are more likely to either indicate support in some way, or (I assume) to enact their disapproval of us in ways consistent with the repression that goes along with socialization into middle-class whiteness (yes, mine included) and just look away while turning up Rush Limbaugh on the radio. The most frequent sources of audible/visible negative responses to our presence are young white men driving expensive vehicles -- a demographic prone to aggression, and constantly reinforced in their own right to privilege from birth and therefore more likely to feel they can say and do whatever they want -- and working-class white people of all ages, who according to polls are more likely to support the war.

The responses from people of colour, on the other hand, are almost entirely positive. Over these months, of those who visibly or audibly have responded to our presence, I don't remember a single African American driver who responded negatively, and few Latino or Asian Americans. Of course that may have something to do with the persistent menace of racism: Regardless of what they think of our signs and banners, a history of lack of safety from white people and white-dominated institutions means, I would imagine, that most people of colour would conclude it was not a good idea to respond to a group of white protestors in a white neighbourhood with the kind of verbal abuse that some college-aged affluent white Republican men feel they are entitled to and can get away with. But more significant than that, I think, is that according to many polls a significant majority of people of colour in the United States, again particularly African Americans, are opposed to the invasion and recolonization of Iraq. These communities, again for reasons of long historical experience, are more inclined to express a healthy skepticism of the professed benevolence of the U.S. state.

So there's nothing surprising about any of this response when you take a look at where the protest is and what the polls tell us about public opinion. But it still feels weird to get a thumbs up from someone driving a Jaguar worth more than everything I have ever owned. That would never have happened in my experience doing peace vigils in Hamilton (Ontario, Canada) where, because of the demographics of the city and the somewhat different relationship between class and politics, I think the majority of both positive and negative responses (though still usually net the latter) came from working-class white people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Go back to Canada and get a life, you goofy doofus!