Book of the Month: Strangers in their Own Land

I will be honest, I was skeptical about this book. I will tell you why. I am sick of think pieces examining America's right and middle America and all the likes, trying to figure out what makes them tick. Blah bla blah. No one cares. They are not that special, I always thought. And poverty is not exclusive to people of a certain ideology or to people in a particular geographical location. Black people are poor too. People on the East Coast are suffering too. People on the left feel left out too. Non-Trump supporters have issues to gripe with as well. So no, no one cares why you voted Trump or frankly why you voted for anyone for that matter. You voted. Okay, and? That doesn't make you special But this book...this book was something. A good something. I actually loved it. I should start by saying, while Hochschild is a renowned academic, she tries her best to not fill the book with academic jargon. It's a book that anyone can read and enjoy. I had a hard time putting the book down from the moment I picked it up.

So yes indeed, the book explains the worldview and emotional underpinning of right wing America and supporters of the Tea Part movement and Donald Trump in Louisiana, the Deep South. Now, she began the research for this book way before the 2016 elections. She was immersed in the community around Lake Charles, Louisiana and centers the book around five (?) people. But instead of just talking about a whole bunch of policies, Hochschild, like most great academics, knew to focus on one major issue: environmental politics. Despite the high concentration of petrochemical plants, the high levels of pollution that was LITERALLY killing people in this community, why were they so vehemently against environmental regulation and voting against their own interests. We come to find out a LOT about people living in this community. Hochschild argues it's because these people hold true certain cultural values that motivate them to oppose environmental regulation. I, on the other hand, see it as people believe what they want to long as it confirms their bias. Most people do not care for facts and for evidence. Interestingly, the ongoing Jussie Smollet fiasco case confirms this reasoning.

Basically, the Tea Party supporters are angry about the changing face of America that values immigrants, women, blacks, and other racial minorities, who they view as "cutting the line" to achieve the American dream. So ahem in anger, they are voting against their interests. Basically what my people describe as, o n bínú orí ó fi fìlà déèdí. We come to find this out because of the "deep story" of each interviewee which the author uncovers. The deep story is how the conservatives feel about themselves. And she tells us this so that we can both know where they are coming from and show why we need empathy to heal the political divide in the country. The key thing to take away from this book is that no matter our differences we should reach across the line, remove our "empathy walls" and seek to understand people who think differently from us. We need to get out of our bubbles and echo chambers and understand other people to see the humanity in them. Ultimately, this is NEVER a terrible idea.

Before signing off on this post, some things stood out to me in the book that I will share, as I do for most books of the month. The most salient thing in this book is the influence of big oil and pollution: their animals were literally dropping dead. One of the main subjects, every single member of his family had been diagnosed with cancer. This is not an hyperbole: every single one of them had one or two forms of cancer. But they are still so adamant that federal regulation or accepting any form of government help is a stain on them. Yet the party they support favor giving big tax breaks to the same organizations that are responsible for deaths, loss of jobs, and destruction. Even when the evidence were laid in front of them, they chose to twist it.

Across the country, red states are poorer and have more teen mothers, more divorce, worse health, more obesity, more trauma-related deaths, more low-weight babies, and lower school enrollment. On average, people in red states die five years earlier than people in blue states."

A bulk of them kept denigrating people on welfare and insinuating that those on welfare were lazy pieces of trash etc. Yet one of her main subjects randomly hinted that one time while working at one of the plants, he got injured and had to go on disability for a while. Pray tell, what was used to finance that? Some of the richest people in this country benefit significantly from the government. Stockholders in these petrochemicals are not spending their dollars in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Nah, they bought their mansions and pools in Connecticut, California etc.

I also noticed how most of them would not shut up about God. I have found that people tend to use God as a crutch to do the most heinous things. And when it comes down to it, some still idolize country over God. They think their belief in God gives them the audacity to hate others, to lack empathy, or to hurl unkind words at people, as far as they end whatever they say with "God".

"I am going to believe what I believe even if you do give me scientific evidence."

They all kept insisting they were not victims or they were not "poor mes". They are proud to endure the loss of their homes and communities, their drinking water, and even their jobs, but the one thing they were not was victim. But...they are quite literally the textbook meaning of victim.

The amount of fact checking she had to do at the end of the book also tells you everything you need to know. When you do read the book, please read the afterword. Sorry for this lengthy essay on what was an intellectually invigorating book. I hope you read the book because I know you will at the very least find it interesting. And the best possible case scenario is that henceforth, we all bring down our empathy walls, listen to others, and bridge the divide.



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