By Caitlin Kelly
Americans know the expression, E pluribus unum.
(Here’s a definition)
The idea is that, with more than 300 million people sharing a sense of national identity, we’re all just American.
Not any more.
Every day now seems to offer another horrific story of racial, economic and political division splintering the country into angry, gun-toting, vitriol-spewing shards.
Two men shot and killed two people who were behaving, they thought, disrespectfully — one, texting in a movie theater:
It started with a father sending text messages to his daughter during the previews of a movie.
It ended with the 43-year-old man shot dead amid the theater seats, and a 71-year-old retired police officer in custody.
The shooting Monday during a 1:20 p.m. showing of “Lone Survivor” at a Wesley Chapel, Florida, movie theater escalated from an objection to cell phone use, to a series of arguments, to the sudden and deadly shooting, according to police and witnesses.
It was November 23, 2012, when Michael Dunn pulled into a gas station in Jacksonville, parking next to a red Dodge Durango full of teenagers.
The teens had pulled in for gum and cigarettes; Dunn, meanwhile, had just left his son’s wedding with his fiancee, who’d gone inside the convenience store for wine and chips.
Dunn didn’t like the loud music — “rap crap,” as he called it — coming from the teens’ SUV. So he asked them to turn it down.
What followed next depends on whom you believe. Dunn claimed Davis threatened him, and he decided to take matter into his own hands upon seeing what he thought was the barrel of a gun sticking out of the Durango.
But prosecutors asserted that it was Dunn who lost control, firing three volleys of shots — 10 bullets total — at the SUV over music he didn’t like.
Here’s a recent New York Times piece on the ongoing battle to integrate poorer Americans into the wealthy precincts of Westchester County, which stretches from the Hudson River in the west to Long Island Sound.
I live in this county, in a town that has always been, and continues to be, economically and racially mixed: subsidized housing for the poor; rental apartments and houses; owned single-family houses, owned multiple-family houses, co-op apartments and condominiums.
In our town of 10,000, you can find a $10 loaf of bread at one food store while another shop sits between two projects — New York jargon for government-subsidized housing. Here’s a recent story I wrote about Tarrytown, explaining its diversity and appeal.
It’s one of several reasons I felt at home where when I arrived in 1989 and, even though the town has changed with the influx of much wealthier residents in recent years, (many fleeing Brooklyn and Manhattan’s real estate prices), I still like that diversity.
But the town of Chappaqua, a 15-minute drive north of us, is home to former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with a median income of $163,201.
From the Times story:
Few places on the planet are as enviable as this Westchester County hamlet.
Stately houses are set on spacious, hilly lots shaded by old trees; its village center has gourmet restaurants and bakeries; its schools are top notch and its 9,400 residents have a median household income of $163,201, ranking the area roughly 40th among America’s wealthiest communities.
It is no surprise that Chappaqua is the home of a past president and perhaps a future one, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as a Hollywood star or two.
But the hamlet — like many other affluent, overwhelmingly white localities across the country such as Garden City on Long Island, Wellesley in Massachusetts, Marin County in California and several neighborhoods in New York City — has been churned up by plans to build new housing for people of much lower incomes, including black and Hispanic newcomers.
A developer is offering to build 28 units of affordable rental housing with caps on family earnings, though with no income floor; families of four earning no more than roughly $64,000 would qualify, as would poorer families, including those who receive federal vouchers.
It’s been said that Americans today have very few unifying experiences where rich and poor alike are subject to the same stresses and challenges — as they were in the Depression and WWII.
Today, with income inequality the highest since the Gilded Era, the nation feels as though it’s splintering into armed camps, whether the armaments are literal guns or a six or seven or eight-figure income.
Although economic downturns disproportionately affect black unemployment and home ownership, working-class and college-educated whites are now feeling the sting of restricted opportunity. In his book Angry White Men, sociologist Michael Kimmel describes how these men often blame the trifecta of feminism, affirmative action and immigration for their woes.
The relative devaluing of white privilege has been interpreted as racial oppression of whites and “reverse discrimination.” Opinion polls (pdf) suggest that half of all white Americans now see themselves as the targets of racism, and that number pushes past 60 percent among self-identified Republicans and among those who watch Fox News.
It’s a frightening and depressing trend, certainly for those of us who chose to come to the United States from another country with all the idealism and hope that every immigrant brings.
(And yet, watching terrible images of Syrians fleeing their homeland, and Venezuela erupting into protests and Ukraine killing protestors there…this is not [yet] that.)
How do you feel?
Do you see this sort of class warfare or random, ugly violence playing out where you live?
What, if anything, could address it?