Thursday, February 21

Social progress?

I was walking today in my neighborhood, on some of the streets closer to the main drag and alongside a park, and picked up some trash, till my hands were full: two beer bottles, a crushed soda can, a Styrofoam food box, and then -- oh joy! a plastic grocery bag to carry it all in. And the trash made me think about class and race and neighborhoods. And it occurred to me again that maybe what people in this country really care about is class, not race. My neighborhood is racially mixed and mostly clean and peaceful, and that's part of why people enjoy living here. (The trash is an aberration and is a result of this particular street's location in the traffic flow.) I think most of us don't care about the color or gender preference of our neighbors: what we care about is how people behave.
And then I thought of Obama's rising popularity as a candidate, and how amazing it is that suddenly we've made this seemingly huge leap to what might have only recently seemed years away -- a non-white presidential candidate, wow! Later in the evening I read this NY Times article and thought, yeah, they like this guy because he's -- well, he's okay! He's good! He's like us! He shares our values! (Sure, there's vestigial racism in the remarks of some of the citizens reported on) but man, this is progress.!) And so it comes down to economics, getting people out of poverty and into the middle class. That's not to speak out in favor of a dreadful conformity, and there will always be some who want the heady mix of, say, the City, and those who prefer the quiet of the lone prairie. I'm just saying that I think we're maybe evolving and entering a state where it's not your race that matters so much as your fit with your community and the consensus of the greater society. My Kenilworth neighbors, for instance, value clean streets, quiet evenings, and within their houses the freedom to do what they want without disturbing others. For the most part we don't care what the race, political preference, or gender orientation is of our neighbors: we just want them to behave relatively decorously in public. We love the existence of New York City and other big cities where there's much more noise and variety of lifestyles, but for middle America I think more and more that middle class values trump the racial and gender divisions.

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