White people and white culture in the US is being analysed, dissected and problematized with the rise of Donald Trump to the Republican Presidential nomination. I am particularly fascinated by the parallels between these people in the US and poor white people and culture in Australia, as there are many.
For a start, England used both America and Australia as dumping grounds for their ‘human refuse’ – Irish Catholics and poor Protestants, mainly, for whom food and work could not be found in the UK. Once they reached the ‘new world’ though, discrimination for reasons of class and religion did not stop. In both America and Australia poor whites were practically or literally enslaved as indentured labour, and then faced systematic discrimination in regard to property ownership, labour laws, and health and housing, which has persisted in attitudes and pockets of poverty and inter-generational unemployment and discrimination to this day.
Despite virulent prejudice and outright hostility between Catholics and Protestants up until the 1960s, waves of immigration from Europe and Asia, along with the prosperity Australia has enjoyed since the 1970s up until the early 2000s has rubbed out many of the class and religious distinctions between the Anglo-based populations. Now, unlike in the US, it’s difficult to generalize about poor whites in Australia on a religious or ancestral basis.
One thing we do still have in common with the US, though, is the way the left wing liberal class talks about the white poor, and it’s often with contempt. In the US and here in Australia, poor white people who are anti-immigration and pro-candidates like Pauline Hanson or Donald Trump are the people it’s still okay for those who should know better to be bigoted and classist about. In England too, where those who voted for Brexit have been generally characterized as stupid, racist and ignorant.
Where I particularly dislike the discourse is the way in which left-wing liberals in all these countries often say one thing but do another, particularly on the topic of marriage and sex. A study released by the Archives of Sexual Behaviour last week reveals that Millennials in the US are not having as much sex as preceding generations and that women in particular are not ‘achieving’ (such a horrible word for it) sexual satisfaction. The reason is obvious to me. Hook-up culture, casual sex and uncommitted relationships do not make for the trusting, caring context necessary for intimacy and sexual satisfaction.
The Guardian, though, a bastion of the left-wing liberal class, (and of which on many subjects I am a long-time reader and fan) was already mocking this point of view, as was the Huffington Post. Somehow sexual conservatism is akin to misogyny or living as chattel in their lexicon, although this seems more for reasons of left wing party history than sense.
The hypocrisy becomes apparent when you look at who is getting married, or living in de facto long-term relationships, and what the outcomes for the people in those marriages, particularly children, are. In Australia and in the US statistics overwhelmingly show that growing up in a two-parent family is a leading indicator of better educational and health outcomes for children. Marriage is a way of pooling resources for the long term, of creating a community. It’s one of the reasons why I believe in gay marriage, and why I am married myself.
Yet in the US it’s the ‘red states’, and in Australia the people living below the poverty line who have the highest incidences of teen pregnancy and single-parent families – which are some of the surest ways to keep poverty around. This point was made in Margaret Talbot’s New Yorker article, Red Sex, Blue Sex.
And in Australia, people who go to university – including the ones who write the articles saying how fuddy-duddy it is to be against hook-up culture and casual sex – are much more likely to marry and stay married (or be in a long-term de facto relationship), and their children more likely to achieve better financial and educational outcomes (and incidentally also marry) themselves.
I don’t think this is because the people going to university are smarter, or have access to more resources that they enjoy these advantages – although these certainly contribute to greater stability and resource accumulation over the generations. It’s because they unconsciously enjoy the fruits of a more sexually conservative culture, which would have helped get them there in the first place.
Meanwhile, in poorer suburbs and country towns far away from the city centres, where more people are unmoored by repeated shocks and trauma, where unemployment is widespread and community resources are run down, there is a lessening of support, religious or cultural, for parents or young people, for the coming of sexual feeling – that great wave that crashes into a young person’s life. Studies have shown that when a girl starts having sex is when her educational outcomes will suddenly be thrown into the air, and when everything about her future will hinge on her reproductivity and the choices she makes. The later in adolescence that she has sex, basically, the better her educational and health outcomes are likely to be.
I believe in marriage for romantic reasons. A lifelong love; blah, blah, blah. But I believe in it equally for financial, community and practical reasons. Committing to love and care for another person through good times and bad is a form of discipline that extends and develops our humanity. I am a Christian for these reasons also. In my new novel The Cleanskin, one of the characters describes morality as playing your ultimate game. The Christianity put up by the liberal left in Australia is a straw man – a world of fools who believe in a man with a beard telling you what to do. No, morality is a technique for living, as the novelist and philosopher Irish Murdoch said, and for me that is best expressed culturally and symbolically in the language of Christianity.
I would like to see the liberal left wing in the US, UK and Australia stop talking about white people who think differently from them in such bigoted, class-conscious terms, and be more accountable for the choices and morality they espouse, compared to the ones they live. These choices, and this morality, have played a major role in the more prosperous and stable lives they enjoy.
Laura Bloom is a novelist and writer and blogs at www.laurabloom.com.au