Ross Douthat, the New York Times hardcore conservative columnist (as opposed to the softcore David Brooks) had an interesting column yesterday. He was talking about why rural white America mistrusts urban America. Douthat pointed out that elite and in particular ivy league Universities and colleges admit a moderate number of poor blacks and latinos, but essentially no poor, rural white students. It's as if being in the 4H, the Future Farmers of America or high school ROTC disqualified you for admission to Harvard.
On my own, I thought that a poor white student could clean up his or her diction, get clothes from Brooks Brothers and a good haircut, and pass for a successful business person, but a black person will always be black (ask Henry Lewis Gates). Then I read some of the comments written about Douthat's column (I read the first 25 and the highlighted comments). They pointed out that a lot of rural white America does not, in fact, trust ivy league type schools. Especially among the home school set, they would rather send their children to a close by school affiliated with the religion of their choice. This is combined with the fact that (according to one commenter) only some 10% of high school students take the SAT's in Alabama, versus some 80% in Massachusetts (I wonder if some Alabama students still take the ACT).
This got me to thinking. I am sure we have heard that one explanation for the problems African Americans have with integrating into mainstream America is that they feel mainstream America has been racist for as long as America has existed (and before), and to act and dress and speak like the white man is to admit that the white man's culture is superior, and to be African American is somehow to be inferior. I think you will understand what I mean instantly if I say those two somewhat offensive words "Uncle Tom".
Now obviously this is a complicated issue, and speaking for myself I happen to think white culture is dandy, but I certainly can understand the point being made by (some) African Americans here. Here's the thing, though. I wonder if a parallel concept is being created in poor white rural America. If a high school student from 50 miles outside Boise or Bismark is accepted to Harvard or Stanford, will they have to drop their accent or change their manner of speech, to be accepted by their fellow students or reassure their professors that they know what they are talking about? If the student from the farm does not acquiesce and assimilate, will they survive at whatever prestigious school? If they do adopt the urban, educated manner of speech, if they learn literary criticism or medieval french tapestry making, will they have learned something of value to take back to the farm? Will they be greeted by their family and friends as a highly educated and valuable resource for their community, or a traitor?
Obviously I am over simplifying here, and a young person who goes off to Harvard or Stanford or UPenn or even Iowa State and comes back a doctor or a veterinarian will obviously be a valuable resource for their community. And that community will expect its doctors or veterinarians to speak the language of science, to do their job the best that they can. But my basic thought is whether yet another subculture has been created, the "real" American subculture of poor rural white America, where Darwin and James Hansen are not welcome. Can we afford that?