White Flight and the Tea Party.


Matthew Yglesias flags this bit from Stephanie Mencimer's article on the Tea Party's weird opposition to sustainable-use policies:

In the tea partiers’ dystopian vision, the increased density favored by planners to allow for better mass transit become compulsory “human habitation zones.” They warn of Americans being forcibly moved from their suburban dream homes into urban “hobbit homes” and required to give up their cars and instead—gasp!—take the bus to work. The enemies in this fight are hidden behind bland trade-association names like the American Planning Association or ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability).

Not that Yglesias tries too, but I don't think that you can separate this from the racial politics of the Tea Party. Among people who identify with the Tea Party, according to the most recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 61 percent agree that the government "has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities" over the last few decades. Likewise, 61 percent agree that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against minorities.

So, with that said, here is my theory about Tea Party opposition to sustainable use policies. As far as demographics are concerned, the Tea Party is a movement made mostly of white people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s; 40 years ago, these were the people who fled the cities in what was eventually known as "white flight," as they left to escape the large and growing African American presence in urban areas around the country. They embraced Nixon for his message of "law and order," and they formed the backbone of the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s. In all likelihood, their paranoia about land-use policies is less about regulation, and more about the fear -- unconscious or not -- that the government will force them to share space with blacks and Latinos, i.e. the people they ran away from decades ago. In other words, this is just another manifestation of the racial paranoia that is a consistent feature of the Tea Party.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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