Ethnographic fragments #10: Trump and the white middle class, Han Suyin’s unbelonging, being Sudanese-American in the era of the Muslim ban, a racist attack on a UK train, and taking a knee in a NC elementary school

white middle class


Photo Eric Thayer for the New York Times

“Though class divisions are a frequent topic for [big-city newspaper columnists], little attention is paid to seemingly important factors like income, access to basic services and the intersections between class and race. Instead, pundits choose to focus entirely on superficial cultural differences and consumer choices. The result is a constant stream of patronizing paeans to a mythical rural America and bizarre, half-baked theories that replace sociology with observations about which restaurants people go to …

This kind of misguided prejudice is also apparent in liberal circles. A few months ago, Keith Olbermann, the unofficial head of the #Resistance, criticized Trump for hosting Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock at the White House, whom he called “trailer park trash.” Classism aside, Olbermann fell into the same trap … he saw white people with bad fashion sense and assumed they must dwell at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Obviously, all three of Trump’s guests are now multimillionaires, but even pre-fame they were far removed from poverty. Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, Alaska is a suburb of Anchorage; her father was a science teacher and she enrolled in a four-year college immediately after high school. Ted Nugent was raised in the Chicago suburbs; Kid Rock the Detroit suburbs, where he grew up in a home that was recently put on the market for $1.3 million. Palin, Nugent, and Rock are exactly who the statistics show propelled Trump to victory — the comfortable white middle class.”

Sharp essay by Alex Nichols from July 2017.


all my mirrors of belonging have cracked

han suyin

“With my first book, and as I worked, much harder, on the next, a slow unravelling of our tie began. As my own sense of a place in the world grew, I could no longer understand her passion for China with quite the sympathy I once had. She refused to see both sides of the story after the Tianamen disaster, and created a counter-narrative. For years I held her intransigence responsible for the unravelling tie, but I can see now how I wanted her be who she no longer wanted to be. I wanted her to return to writing introspective fiction. I wanted her to be the cosmopolitan New Asian she’d been in her prime, not an apologist for a duplicitous regime or an old-style Chinese conservative. I wanted her to admit to feelings of exile and loss, while I still followed the party line she handed me: We are not divided. We are multiple. There is no unbelonging. There are no borders.

And yet if she hadn’t had to work through the dilemmas of dispossession there would have been no public persona, no sweeping statements, no grande dame of the Chinese Revolution. But that was her public role. The Suyin I knew had left home long, long ago and could only inhabit temporary shelters. Even the language she wrote in was her third. Suyin admitted to crushing loss. Suyin survived it all. Suyin was a superlative.

Even in our wholeness there are fractures. I’d compose letters to her:

‘Suyin, there are divisions. There are – to use one of your favourite words – contradictions. Contested belongings. No composites, no continuous wholeness: only an illusion, a yearning, a longing.

I never wrote them or if I did I left them unsent.”

Aamer Hussain writes in Granta on his friendship with Han Suyin.


identity politics

no man's land

“When the ban happened, it was like I was stripped away from being able to call myself American. It was a wake up call, and I felt like all I had left was Sudan – but it felt out of reach, like grasping for something while every inch of your body tries to pull you back. In the wake of that, traveling back to Sudan was different. This time, I didn’t want to leave. Lately, I’ve been having thoughts about what life would look like for me, had my parents never immigrated. I’m a Muslim American straddling the fine line between being too black and not black enough, too Muslim and not Muslim enough, too Arab and not Arab enough. This fluid sense of mis-identity has become my identity.

I’ve never lived in a place where I felt like I was a part of the majority, where I didn’t have to worry about taking up space. I love Sudan, but deep down I know it will never be for me what it is for my parents. America won’t either. If you asked me today to choose between the two I don’t know what I would say. I guess I’m accepting that I will forever be in this space of falsified identity. In limbo. The Trump ban forced me to reexamine my role as a Sudanese American. It reminded me that freedom will forever be a fleeting notion.”

Nadra Widatalla writes in Dazed and Confused on what Trump’s “Muslim Ban” means to her.


Nikesh Shuckla takes the last train home


It’s late and I’m on a train back to Bristol. I’ve just done a talk about a book I worked on, about race and immigration and I’m wearing the name of the book – The Good Immigrant – across my sweatshirt.

It’s late and I’ve spent the evening talking at people, so I’ve bought myself a burger and a beer to keep me company on the two-hour journey home.

The train is packed until Reading, as it always is, and then deathly quiet. Bored and with a need to stay awake, I put on a crap Jason Statham film, perfect company for the long journey. The action-packed thrills will keep me awake because if I fall asleep and miss my stop, I’m ending up in Swansea.

The further the train gets from London, the more it empties out. I don’t really notice it at first. I’m too engrossed in the film.

Around Swindon, three men get on the carriage shouting loudly. They sit around me and talk. I realise, looking at them, and around, and up from my Jason Statham film, that the carriage is empty, except for me and for them. They are carrying beer cans and talking in that high octave slur that carries most lads home from the pub after closing time. One of them looks at me and my sweatshirt then gets up and moves closer.

As he stands, he says: “There’s no such thing as a good immigrant” …


Friday night lights in the era of BLM

KIPP Gaston School

“I am so pissed this morning,” began a soon-to-be viral Facebook post. “KIPP Gaston College prep is trying to make my granddaughter kneel for the national anthem at the football game Friday night.”

It was the tail end of September 2017, past the midway point of the most politically charged year since the last one, and President Trump had just ignited a national controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. In an act of Twitter jujitsu, Trump turned Colin Kaepernick’s protest against social injustice into a referendum on patriotism, the military and the flag, opening the latest front in his ongoing culture war.

Now the battle had come to a charter school in rural North Carolina. For a few hours on social media, the national debate over Kaepernick’s protest movement exploded inside one school in a small town, exposing how the polarized politics of the Trump era have trickled from Washington DC down into America’s communities …”

A long read and a salutary one.


The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s