Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What's color got to do with it?

Make no mistake, Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America by Richard Parker is a terrible book -- disorganized, repetitive, under-edited and unconvincing. That's too bad, because Parker raises and touches on what are probably many of the appropriate issues in a book about contemporary Texas: migration, racial and ethnic diversity, demographic change, urbanization, the legacies of do-nothing Republican governments, under-funded public education, and climate change in the form of drought. Too bad he doesn't have much that's cogent to say about this hodgepodge.

His method is journalistic. He introduces his reader to a cast of individuals who serve as stand-ins for his themes. "Carla Ramos" (I don't know if this is a real name or a pseudonym) serves as an instance of the emerging generation of Latinos. And in telling her story, he tosses off an anecdote that should inspire considerable speculation on a vital topic about which Parker is seemingly oblivious.

By the final months of 2013, Carla Ramos was living with her boyfriend in East Austin. Somehow the ethnicity of the young gentry was lost on the locals. She laughed: "They call us 'the white people'. They point to our house and say, 'Look, that's where the white people live.'"

Those remarks could use some unpacking that Parker doesn't offer.

Are these "locals" African Americans who are being displaced by Latinos? Or are these "locals" Latinos -- perhaps recent migrants or very low income workers -- who take Carla's ambition and relative affluence as a markers of race rather than class? Do "Hispanics" become "white" when they acquire education and more money? What is the role of African Americans -- a population whose absolute numbers are holding steady in both Austin and the state but declining precipitously in share of the population? Is "race" in Texas still defined in the ancestral fashion of this country as being determined by proximity in color and economic position to African Americans?

Parker offers next to nothing on these questions. I'm not ready to stipulate that Texas or the rest of the country is on its way to escaping them.


janinsanfran said...

An observant reader asked whether the title for this unfortunate book that I wrote out at the link is a typo, given the picture of the cover. Not according to Amazon which sells it as I wrote it. ????

Should say that I read it by ear, probably making a bad experience worse: pretentious writing read theatrically is no fun.

Hattie said...

Funny how people react to change,as if it isn't the way of the world. These are dynamic times.

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