How the other fifth lives

Books | The view from back row America
by Chris Arnade
Posted 7/25/20, 09:23 am

With gut-punching photographs and stories, Chris Arnade’s Dignity shows what life looks like from the “back row,” the benches of the unemployed and uneducated, the drugged and depressed, the homeless and hopeless. In this excerpt, courtesy of Penguin Random House, Arnade notes that “much of the back row of America, both white and black, is humiliated. The good jobs they could get straight out of high school and gave the stability of a lifelong career have left. The churches providing them a place in the world have been cast as irrational, backward, and lacking.” Be sure to read Emily Belz’s interview with Arnade from last year, and to get a taste for his book—and to learn more about how the other fifth lives—please read on. Dignity made WORLD’s short list for 2019 Book of the Year in the Understanding America category. —Marvin Olasky

Respect, Recklessness, and Rebellion

In August 2016, Sylville Smith, a twenty-three-year-old black man, was shot dead by a Milwaukee police officer while running from a traffic stop. His death was followed by marches in the almost entirely black neighborhood of North Side. They began peacefully and stayed that way until midnight, when a small group turned violent. They set fire to three buildings, one a gas station many blacks had a long history of frustration with.

Months later, the exact spot of Sylville’s death is marked by deflated Mylar balloons, Hennessy bottles, and candles clustered around a tree. Each morning the adjacent street fills with his friends and their friends, who park cars across the entrance to the block and hang on the street. They come daily, standing around, talking, laughing, listening to music, with the intent to stand guard to honor Sylville’s memory.

When I try to photograph the memorial, the crowd rushes toward me, a tall, slender man leading the way. He splits off from the group, holding them back with one hand, the other hand pointing toward me: “No way you doing that. Nobody gave you any rights to come around here. Get out of here.”

I tell him I want to write about the challenges faced by the neighborhood, and he laughs, putting a finger gently on my chest. “You going to just turn us into young thugs. They already have turned Sylville into a hoodlum, a gangster. Now move on.”

I come back every day, each time looking for the tall, slender man to try to convince him I am well intentioned, that I got it, that I understand his and his friends’ frustration. On occasional visits, someone around the memorial would let me in, and neighbors would apologize for their skepticism of outsiders, but most of the time the crowd puts up a wall of silence and aggression, telling me to leave Sylville’s memory alone that and this is neither my story nor my story to tell. On my last visit, the tall, slender man approaches me, once again gets in my face, and tells me, “This is not your hood; this is our hood, and the police with their bullets have made this our street.”

“This is not your hood; this is our hood, and the police with their bullets have made this our street.”

Venice Williams, a minister and local community activist, lives blocks away. Her house is a one-floor ranch similar to the houses on the block where Sylville was shot. Her yard is filled with vegetable gardens, whatever space she has available given over to squash, corn, greens, and beans. A small handwritten sign facing the sidewalk welcomes anyone who wants to learn to garden.

She has spent the last few decades helping her neighborhood. Her latest project is a community garden, a massive green space fashioned from an empty lot that was once filled with garbage.

When I ask her about Sylville ’s memorial, she says she wishes those standing guard would reopen the street, cut the music, cut the posturing, but she also understands why they are there: “Our young people are tired of being humiliated by police. Tired of being researched and overanalyzed by journalists and nonprofits. This behavior, the clothing, the music, and sometimes the drugs and violence, this is the only toolbox these kids have. It is one filled with a need for pride and protection.”

PAUL SITS IN HIS TRUCK in the Prestonsburg, Kentucky, Walmart parking lot waiting for his wife, who is shopping in the Goodwill. The parking lot is filled, but it is always filled. No other part of the small town is as constantly busy, as central to the town, as the Walmart plaza. It is so busy that a city police officer is assigned to patrol it on a bicycle.

Prestonsburg is a small, almost entirely white town surrounded by hills mined for coal. Those hills ring the plaza, which lies in a flat space carved out of the hills.

Paul’s left leg is missing, lost to cancer when he was young. He pivots from the cab of the truck to the back edge, swinging his body on the doorframe with his arms. He dropped out of school after freshman year. Most of his time in school had been in special education. “I hated school. I was teased all the time. The other kids called me retard or cripple. I learned to fight them. I had to.”

Now he is on disability benefits, supplementing that on the down-low with lawn care work for a few friends. “The government doesn’t want me working since I get benefits, but I got to work. Nobody can’t work.”

Flying from the back of his truck is a large Confederate flag. It is attached to a rusted pole held in place by a cement block, just behind the cab of his truck. I ask him about it. “I love the flag, because I love fishing and hunting. That is what it means to be from the South, and I am proud of being from the South.”

When I mention that people see the flag as offensive and racist, he replies, “No, sir, that isn’t how I see it. For me, it is about Southern pride.”

“The government doesn’t want me working since I get benefits, but I got to work. Nobody can’t work.”

MUCH OF THE BACK ROW OF AMERICA, both white and black, is humiliated. The good jobs they could get straight out of high school and gave the stability of a lifelong career have left. The churches providing them a place in the world have been cast as irrational, backward, and lacking. The communities that provided pride are dying, and into this vacuum have come drugs. Their entire worldview is collapsing, and then they are told this is their own fault: they suck at school and are dumb, not focused enough, not disciplined enough.

It is a wholesale rejection that cuts to the core. It isn’t just about them; it is about their friends, family, congregation, union, and all they know. Whole towns and neighborhoods have been forgotten and destroyed, and when they point this out, they are told they should just get up and move (as if anyone can do that) and if they don’t, then they are clearly lazy, weak, and unmotivated.

Everyone wants to feel like a valued member of something larger than themselves. The current status quo doesn’t do that for most of America, because it only understands value in economic forms of meaning. In that world it is all about getting credentials, primarily those gained by education.

The current status quo supports a system that is said to be a meritocracy that allows anyone to rise to the top. To get there you just have to follow a path that weaves through a series of select educational institutions, internships, jobs, and communities.

It is a path that is supposed to be available to everyone regardless of class, race, gender, and sexuality. Yet the path is tightly rationed, with only a few allowed access each year. It is a path requiring information (how to apply, where to apply) and resources (economic and cultural) that few beyond those with the right families born into the right communities have.

For those born into well-connected communities, there is plenty of support and a long history to draw from to navigate the path. For those born outside these communities, there is little guidance. It’s about not just money but having the time and access to needed information. Many children have no idea about the rules, language, and expectations of education (something needed to navigate the path) because they don’t know anyone who went to college. Other children are overwhelmed early with caring for older family members or dealing with the problems of adults. Some children are tasked with parenting the parent—a responsibility that denies them the time to dedicate to their own education.

The educational meritocracy is a well-intentioned system designed to correct massive injustices that enslaved, demeaned, constricted, and ranked people based on the color of their skin, sexuality, and gender. Yet in attempting to correct a nasty and explicit exclusion, we have replaced it with an exclusion that narrowly defines success as all about how much you can learn and then earn.

It is a system that applauds itself for being a meritocracy, allowing anyone to succeed. Implying that those who don’t choose this path, who can’t or don’t pick up and move constantly, who can’t overcome the long odds, are failures and it is their own fault. They are not smart enough. You didn’t make it out because you suck. That is humiliating.

Few minorities are born into communities or families with the right connections and enough resources to navigate the path.

It is all the more frustrating because the new system is still unjust and slanted against minorities, relegating them to second-class citizens, rejecting them at birth. Few minorities are born into communities or families with the right connections and enough resources to navigate the path.

For them, the rejection, frustration, and humiliation aren’t new. They have long been subjected to the cruel trope that they are lesser. Long subjected to demeaning and amoral conditions—legal and illegal, large and small—simply based on their race and place of birth. It has made getting an education and a decent job and building a meaningful life a long shot overcome only with immense focus or immense luck. Then, if they fail at the long odds, they are told it is their fault. Their fault for being lazy, dumb, or whatever the speaker feels they need to be. When they play the long odds because the short odds aren’t available, they are told they are morally weak, prone to illegal behavior, or just dumb.

This has made growing up in places like Selma, Milwaukee’s North Side, East New York, or the Bronx frustrating and humiliating.

People respond to humiliation in different ways, but the most common response is to find a source of pride wherever possible, even if that means in places the status quo doesn’t approve of. It means trying to find a community or activity that values them. For those in the back row, that means a place that doesn’t demand credentials.

Drugs are one of them. Bars, drug traps, and crack houses offer communities that don’t care about your past, your failures, or the color of your skin. As long as you join in, shooting up or taking a hit or swallowing the pills, it is all OK. They also offer a numbing salve from the pain of humiliation. It is a reckless choice, but when your choices are limited, recklessness might be all you have.

Many churches offer that, especially Pentecostal and evangelical faiths. They offer a community with few barriers of entry, regardless of someone’s past. The only requirement is a desire to reform, to live a different way, to accept a set of rules on how you live your life and how you expect others to live. They also provide a place in the larger world. You may not be valued here and now, but you are valued by God, and you will be valued in the afterlife.

Living in the place you grew up doesn’t require credentials. It’s a form of meaning that cannot be measured. Family doesn’t require credentials. Having a child is an action that provides meaning, immediate pride, and a role, especially for the mother, who can find value in raising a family.

There are other non-credentialed forms of community that come with far greater stigmas but can appeal to anyone frustrated enough.

Racial identity is one, providing a community that doesn’t require any credentials beyond being born. Like drugs, it is rightly stigmatized, but also like drugs, it can appeal to the desperate.

Finding pride in racial identity is dangerously easy because it doesn’t demand anything beyond pride in your own group and the capacity to hate. For frustrated whites, it is especially easy because it offers a community with a long (and ugly) historical legacy, boosting its sense of importance. It also offers plenty of scapegoats to punch down at.

In the back row, it can feel as though everyone is sinking, making it the perfect environment for the politics of blame. That all anyone does is throw out a few lifesavers, providing an escape to a small group, makes it even more appealing. That the lifesavers are seen to unfairly go to minorities via affirmative action makes it even easier.

In the back row, it can feel as though everyone is sinking, making it the perfect environment for the politics of blame.

Affirmative action is the right short-term way to try to deal with the long history of structural racism, yet if everyone—black, white, Hispanic—is sinking, it can feel unfair. If it is more about getting a larger share of a shrinking pie than a larger share of a growing pie, then it can inflame hate.

Donald Trump, in 2016, exploited the dangerous and easy appeal of racial identity. He offered frustrated and angry whites a community wrapped in a political movement that didn’t require credentials and claimed to value and, most of all, respect them.

Trump talked their language—rough, crude, and blunt. He addressed their concerns, built around frustration, humiliation, and anger. He acknowledged their pain, offering up easy-sounding solutions. He took their anger and leveraged it by blaming minorities and mocking the front row. He built a community steeped in racism that celebrated being uneducated and white, twisting the need for respect into a demand for revenge.

All of the back row is stagnating, is humiliated, and wants respect. Yet only minorities, African Americans in particular, have suffered from an unending history of racial oppression. Consequently, how they respond is different. They can and do form political movements built around racial injustice and vote for politicians simply because they will support blacks. Racial pride and finding an identity in it is one of the few unique freedoms afforded to minorities.

For whites, given their responsibility and complicity in our country’s history of racism, of segregation, of slavery, finding respect through race is extremely dangerous. Yet with other forms of noncredentialed meaning gone, with other outlets for respect eroded, it has left many with few options other than surging into the ugly, unacceptable territory of outright racism.

Excerpted from Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America by Chris Arnade, in agreement with Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © Chris Arnade, 2019.

Chris Arnade

Chris is a freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal among many others.

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Sat, 07/25/2020 07:24 pm

    Sorry, but I am absolutely not buying most of this. The way I read this author, he is saying A) there are a lot of people in this country stuck at the bottom, with very little hope of ever moving up; and B) being stuck at the bottom is almost totally due to factors completely beyond the control of those at the bottom. 

    Here is what I see (and have seen all my life) that refutes those two points:  First, point A:  this Nation is full of people who started at the bottom and moved up.  "Moving up," and success, to me are not necessarily becoming the CEO of General Electric, owning a multi-million dollar mansion, graduating from Harvard, or becoming a top recording artist, actor, or athlete. I am defining "success" here as having a comfortable lifestyle more or less equal to those around you, attained as a result of your own efforts. "Average" IS success. Shoot for more than that if you wish, and if you have above-average abilities you will probably attain an above-average life. But "Average" in America is definitely comfortable, and definitely nothing to be ashamed of. Average is the large group most of us are happily part of. 

    Let's look at Black Americans to begin with, because they probably (in my opinion) have the most difficult time moving up, simply because their color makes them easy to single out for oppression.  Despite that, a large majority of Black Americans graduate from high school, and obtain and keep jobs. Over 40% own their homes--a smaller percentage than White Americans--but nevertheless a distinct step up from the bottom.  At the least, an equal number of Black Americans who rent manage to pay their rent without government assistance, like White Americans. A distinct majority of Black Americans have lifestyle options that are substantially similar to their White neighbors, and they achieved that in spite of real barriers:  One, Black Americans have only been able to escape a legal Jim Crow system of oppression since the mid-1960's when the major civil rights laws started being enacted; and two, Black Americans do face humiliating and demoralizing acts of racism and discrimination on a daily basis, from a small number of Whites who refuse to accept that minorities have equal rights. Despite obstacles, Black Americans can and do move up. Black Americans' success in moving up in the face of obstacles is to be commended and celebrated, not denied. 

    Looking at other Americans who have lifted themselves and risen from the bottom, certain immigrant groups faced and overcame well-known oppression. My Welsh and Irish ancestors are a case in point.   Many of the earliest waves of Welsh came to America to be given only some the dirtiest and most dangerous work of all: underground coal mining. Many Irish found, particularly everywhere in the Eastern cities, signs saying "Help Wanted--Dirty Irish Need not Apply," and "For Rent--NO Papist Irish Allowed."  For these groups, the succeeding generations found that their fathers' reputations for hard work had opened doors--job and housing restrictions were disappearing. 

    Other notable examples of overcoming majority discrimination are the various groups of Asians who have arrived on our shores over the past 175 years. First, the Chinese coolie laborers who were brought in, particularly to help build the first continent-spanning railroads, were treated brutally, almost as badly as Africans brought to America as slaves. Later, Japanese Americans were told we could not trust them not to aid Imperial Japan in World War Two, and were locked away in internment camps, many losing substantial property in the process. More recently, waves of impoverished "boat people" and similar groups of Southeast Asian refugees were brought to the U.S. despite vocal public opposition. All have worked to raise themselves from poverty and are now seen by many as symbols of thrift, diligence, and strong families. 

    The last group I'll cite is Jews:  the majority of Jews who came to the U.S. through the last half of the 19th and first part of the 20th Centuries were refugees from intense persecution in various parts of Europe. Many entered with literally the clothes they wore, few skills, no English, just like other immigrants. Yet despite a continuing degree of anti-Jewish sentiment, few Jews can now be found in poverty. 

    Now:  my refutation of Point B, that people stuck at the bottom in America simply cannot do anything about the massive factors that oppress them, is pretty much contained in my answers to Point A. The ways to rise in spite of oppression remain the same as they have been throughout America's history:  primarily education and work. Add to that some other rather simple traits. These include avoiding having children until they can be raised by a committed union of mother and father. Avoid succumbing to abuse of alcohol, drugs, etc. Dress and talk like the group that is moving up, not like the group that is staying on the bottom. Treat others with respect, and attempt to do that even with those who do not respect you.

    As for education, opportunities for education through high school graduation are available and free everywhere in this Nation, and the effort needed to attain a diploma is within nearly everyone's capabilities. The doors opened in our Nation by a simple high school diploma are immensely greater than opportunity available to ordinary people in much of the world. 


    For work, the requirements are equally attainable by almost everyone:  Show up on schedule. Do the work you are assigned, to the standards you are given. Show respect to those over you, those beside you, and those below you. Behave according to the standards you see the majority of others following. Be honest, respect property, remember your well-being and that of your employers' are generally linked. 

    I believe the majority of those "stuck at the bottom" are those who have refused to understand that becoming unstuck is made possible by emulating millions who have left the ranks at the bottom. I am firmly convinced that the United States of America remains a land of far greater opportunity, for those who will reach out for it, than most of the rest of the world. It would appear that belief is shared by the millions who are striving to come here from the rest of the world. 

  • JD
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 04:17 pm

    OldMike- AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!!! I, for one, am so sick of this "woke" view of America that insists on preaching at us from a rather self-righteous seat, that we should all be ashamed for, generically speaking, the plight of everyone else who isn't as well off as, or live in a house as nice as, or......  As if the author knows my house or my degree of education, or the struggles or lack thereof that I've had.  Do we not have enough, "You should all be ashamed" stories inundating every angle of news every single day??


    I can't tell you how refreshing your commentary is and how wonderful that there are still people out there not afraid to speak to the current poplular atmosphere of buy-in to the guilt-ridden, shaming and negativity and hate by degree muck melancholy passed off as good reading.  You know, people, our land is supremely blessed.  And, we've much to be thankful for and much to be celebrated.  Yes- we have problems.  Name me a country that doesn't.


    Thank you, OldMike!  Being positive and bringing light is hard work these days.  We have forgotten how to look for the blessings and have acted as petulant children who stomp our feet in a hissy fit that we didn't get exactly what we wanted for Christmas, while we literally have a room full of presents in front of us.  Keep bringing truth, brother!  There's lots of us cheering you on and standing with you!

  • not silent
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 12:04 pm

    Respectfully, I am not sure this article is trying to say that it is IMPOSSIBLE for those "on the back row" to move up.  I think it  is pointing out that there has been a message to people who have fewer opportunities (due to race, economic status, family breakdown, trauma, mental illness, etc) that it's their fault if they find it HARDER than people who have had MORE advantages (i.e., more money, better education, better "connections," less racial discrimination, etc) and if they don't achieve the same level of success.  To say it differently, it's not IMPOSSIBLE for people who started with fewer advantages to succeed, but it IS harder and takes more work; and it doesn't help for those of us who started out ahead to point our fingers and blame people for the fact that they are having to work harder to get where we are. 

    I've known people who started out WITH the advantages but still didn't succeed, and I found it interesting how much others were much quicker to excuse THEIR lack of success than any failings in people who had it much harder to begin with.  I have personally been told, "You can do anything if you try hard enough/put your mind to it/really want to."  I'm sure it was meant to encourage me to keep trying, but it wasn't technically true.  I will never become a professional basketball player no matter how hard I try. There was a time when I was unable to work because of illness, and being told by well meaning people that I could do it if I just tried hard enough/really wanted to made me angry and frustrated.  Notably, it DIDN'T encouage me to "try harder" because I was already trying very hard. Instead, I was tempted to give up.  

    I do think American is a land of unparalleled opportunity, and I'm grateful to live here. We all have certain opportunities, but we don't have opportunities that are exactly the SAME.  It's true that people can overcome obstacles; but, depending on the obstacle, they may have to work much harder than people who DON'T have to overcome obstacles. I think it would help if we all acknowledged that SOME things are ours because they were given to us; i.e., it's not ALL because of hard work.

    I also think we sometimes look at this backwards for some reason.  The Bible says, "To whom much is given, much will be expected in return." (That's not an exact quote, but it's close.) What I'm seeing more and more is a tendency to hold onto what we were given very tightly; and, instead of HELPING others who were given less to begin with, we blame them for not having the same gifts/abilities/advantages and tell them they must work harder.      

  •  Searwar Family's picture
    Searwar Family
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 01:30 pm

    I think one must consider that the author is not a Christain and appears to lean more toward a secular humanist worldview.  And while I agree with all of the examples you laid out, it is also much more nuanced.

    For instance, my family immigrated to the US from Guyana, South America in 1981 at the age of six.  We lived in the inner city of Newark, NJ for several years.  A Messianic Jewish man and his family, who were members of a Baptist church, sponsored our family and showed us how to get going in the US.  With hard work and discipline we were able to move out of the inner city within 3 years to the suburbs.

    Today, I'm raising my own family in a poor neighborhood by choice.  While I may be doing well with owning my own property, many around me are in a vicious cycle of evictions.  They know how to work ths system to stay in a place as long as possible until police have to get involved to escort some from various properties.

    One of the things that I thought I could do to help was to try something similar to what the Messianic Jewish sponsor did for my family long ago.  There have been successes and failures.  Most of it comes down to pride.

    I've seen a single mother of four overcome great obstacles while diligently seeking the Lord.  Her humility appears to strengthen her.  And I've seen a young man decline rapidly because he didn't want personal help and accoutability. I've prayed for and prayed with this young man, but he seems to think he can work the system to just survive.  He says he believes in God, but his lifestyle says otherwise.  Government dependency is a cruel mistress.  But that's another topic.

    While I don't agree with the article's entire premise, I don't see it being a problem for WNG to publish it for a broader perspective on what's going on it certain communities.  Every community has it's own fingerprint.  So the challenges will look different in some ways and similar in other ways.

    Anyway, I believe change has to start with "Blessed are the poor in spirit".  One must understand the need for a Savior, the need for greatest of helpers in order to overcome any challenge.  It's certainly not about money.  There are many who are wealthy that are desperately empty.  The early church was primarily poor in a material sense, but wealthy with the Holy Spirit.  Enough so to upend a civilization.  

  • JM
    Posted: Sat, 07/25/2020 02:23 pm

    The second sentence,("The good jobs they could get straight out of high school and gave the stability of a lifelong career have left."), and the first point, is the point.

         Social workers are not the answer.  Making something that you can look at and see worth from, is what we need.  He does mention that women can and do rear children, as a source of worth.  The family is broken too, but we need to get those jobs back.


  • DC
    Posted: Sat, 07/25/2020 03:09 pm

    I disagree with the authors statement that as a person who happens to have less meletonin in my skin I am responsible and complicite in my country's history of racism, segegation, slavery. Read Dr. Shelby's work on Systemic Racism and Dr. Sowell's work on racism. Both are black conservative historians who argue factually from history for different solutions then the leftist narrative we are currently hearing so much of today. I taught in an urban minority district most of my career and also worked three years with white lower socio-economic juvinal delinquents. I loved my students and liked most of them,most of the time, but their issues were spiritual at root not material. 

  • Richard L
    Posted: Sat, 07/25/2020 03:32 pm

    It strains credulity to say President Trump had anything to do with this.

    Mr. Arnade' bigotry is an open show in regards to his racism accusations. 
    This excerpt is quite disgusting. 

  • DH
    Posted: Sat, 07/25/2020 04:15 pm

    Interesting article, it would be helpful to address the impact thatt government encouraged single parenting has had on the current state of affairs. In particular regarding the African American community the culture in Africa was patriarchal. Due to slavery and then welfare programs that incentivized there being only one parent, usually the woman the result was children many times being raised without a father in this country.This is being played out currently throughout our culture among all races and in my opinion contributes to what I see as a breakdown in our society. In addition as church participation declines I expect that our values sense of morality will decline as well. What was not mentioned is that substantial sums of money have been directed by educational and governmental agencies to address some of these problems to no avail. Clearly government is unable to address problems such as those that have been identified in this article. As long as we abdicate our responsibilities as individuals to be of help to each other I would expect little to change.

  •  Bill Mann's picture
    Bill Mann
    Posted: Sat, 07/25/2020 06:13 pm

    I appreciate the point of view of Arnade, but it is simplistic and wrong in its assumption that all of 5th are due to systemic racism (insofar as they are black). In 1968, 85% of black families had a father and a mother. Fast forward to today where 75% of black familes have no father. I have written about the statistics  of children without fathers; it is not pretty and has nothing to do with Trump. That's a popular theme when the reality is that the seeds to the family destruction was planted in the 1960's when the social welfare programs started leading to a dependency on government whether it is welfare, food stamps or other subsidies. Those programs had a devastating result. Arnade goes off the rails making the political jab at Trump - this is a cheap shot. His programs have enhanced black universities and colleges and until Covid 19 his economy led to the lowest unemployment rate of blacks. Then the final jab (straight out of the BLM textbook) is that all whites are responsible and complicit for systemic  racism. Give me a break. My grandmother immigrated by herself through Ellis Island from Sweden around the turn of the 20th century. It would be unimaginable for anyone to blame her in a broad brush stereotype, yet statements like that go unchallenged.  At some point, their has to be a discussion of personal responsibility instead of the current mantra of victimhood.   Steven Sowell has written Disparaties and Disctrimination, and Charles Murray has a book titled Coming Apart. Those are worthwhile reads. Murray, a sociologist, takes two communities - one black/one white - that went downhill. They looked identical at the end: broken families, decline of religion, increased crime, drug use, etc, Basically the breakdown of a community results in the same symptoms and race has nothing to do with it.

  • JD
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 04:28 pm

    YAY Bill!!!!  I'm cheering you on from my computer seat!!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you for speaking truth into this!  Much, much, much needed!

  • LS
    Posted: Sat, 07/25/2020 09:03 pm

    How this book came to be short-listed for book of the year in Understanding America, I have no idea.  Maybe if one read the whole book instead of just this excerpt, one may understand the potential, but the above section is just providing another excuse for victimhood.  Dr. Ben Carson rose out of the twenty percent described here, and there are many others.  The author's assertion that only minorities have suffered an undending histroy of racial oppression is true as far as it goes, but racial minorities who suffered oppression in the past included many white immigrant groups.  That they are now considered among the white oppressors because the original immigrants and subsequent generations have manged to work hard, be honest, keep most families intact and earn the respect of the broader culture is offensive.  This author should have stuck with explaining how people in that demographic feel about their situation and perhaps provided some insight into what this group identifies as types of changes that could allow for and increase desireablility of upward mobility in education, housing, avoidance of substance abuse, etc. He shoud have avoided the blame game, as it puts his book in a category that is already full.  I recommend Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, who has lived experience vs being a white outsider trying to look in and analyze what he has little insight into through the filter of his progressive views. 

  • Kathryn Berry
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 01:03 am

    I appreciate the info & research put into this excerpt and I assume the whole book. I do not appreciate his analysis of Trump voters that he "exploited the dangerous and easy appeal of racial identity. 

    He offered frustrated and angry whites a community wrapped in a political movement that didn’t require credentials and claimed to value and, most of all, respect them.

    Trump talked their language—rough, crude, and blunt. He addressed their concerns, built around frustration, humiliation, and anger. He acknowledged their pain, offering up easy-sounding solutions. He took their anger and leveraged it by blaming minorities and mocking the front row. He built a community steeped in racism that celebrated being uneducated and white, twisting the demand for respect into a into a demand for revenge."  
    I voted for Trump based on the Platform not Clinton's. I am not a racist, angry, revengeful, humiliated, etc. this is a biased viewpoint. We all have our biases, I hope the author & World can look at theirs. 

  • Big Jim
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 03:46 am

    I have to commend all of the commentators above me, you all have made some excellent points, varied in thought yet woven together as one tapestry, a tapestry that refutes the assertions of Chris Arnade. In fact, I learned more through your comments than from the book excerpt. I did not read the book but based on this excerpt I have no idea how Dignity made any World Book of the Year list. The author's publishing credits appears to align him with the hard Left and according to Wikipedia (for what that's worth) he identifies as a Socialist.

    The problem that I see with Mr. Arnade's analysis is that it is all through a human lens. Being part of that "80%" might seem important to him and some of us but God is not nearly as impressed, in fact it may be a hindrance:


    "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

    But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

    And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

    That no flesh should glory in his presence."  1 Cor 1:26 - 29 KJV


    Paul offers another good bit of advice:


    "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."  Phil 4:11 KJV


    Yes, even the "20%" can be content in Jesus and many of them will go into the kingdom of God before me.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 05:35 pm

    Here's another perspective Arnade does not consider at all, at least in this excerpt. 

    ALL of us are rich.  The average net worth of American families is about $176,000.  Now the rich, or some of us middle class or tech/working class folks may say, " Oh, that doesnt really seem like much.  I mean, I know a LOT of people who own $300,000 homes."  And so forth. But consider this:  SECOND place is Switzerland, Swiss families having an average net worth of $128,000!  About 2/3's of US family average!  I thought we would be in the top 5, but with everything the media and certain politicians have said in the past few years about our horrible economy, inequitable distribution of wealth, loss of jobs, real wages falling, I did not think the US was still Numero Uno!  And to see 2nd place isn't even close!  (I am NOT applauding, keep reading please)

    Now, please consider another aspect of our wealth vis-a-vis the world. In our poorest cities, our poorest people (with only the exception of mentally ill and homeless, or those in similar situations) live in apartments (or houses) that have heat in the winter, and many have summer a/c. If they cook, they do so on a gas or electric range, have a refrigerator, a door that locks, and rain and snow do not come in on them as they sleep. They very likely have a color tv, a video game system, smart phones. Outside of our urban areas, even very poor families usually own a vehicle. ALL have access to a degree of healthcare and ALL have access to schools for their children. (Whether they choose to make full use of all of those benefits is another matter). In America, people on welfare without jobs live better than BILLIONS of working people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, regardless of the fact that those poor Americans' net worth is very low. 

    So what does this mean?  It certainly doesn't mean we are better than anyone else, or that we deserve it more than anyone else, or that God likes us more than anyone else. Yet we HAVE been blessed more than anyone else. I believe our current position comes from the incredible wisdom and understanding of a handful of White Men, who were determined to set up a system where opportunity was not limited to a small class of elites.  Despite the fact that a number of those men were not Christians, I do believe they were guided by The Creator to provide this gift of America for their descendants, for newcomers, and even eventually for those who were, at that time, not even fully human in their eyes, including Native Americans and African slaves. 

    Why?  Many, myself included, believe we were put in our position in order to bring blessings to our fellow man throughout the world. In some ways we have done that. Today I believe our impulse to do that has been sharply curtailed. I also believe many of the blessings we've received are diminishing, or, true gold is being replaced with fools gold. 

    I can't draw many conclusions from these observations.  But I must make one further comment, considering the points I've made:  We the People of the United States of America, from the richest to the poorest, when we complain how rough we're having it, how unfair things are, how "someone" is cheating us out of what is rightfully ours, we must be the most whiny selfish entitled perspective-lacking self-absorbed bunch of brats to inhabit this planet since Marie Antoinette. 


  • JD
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 11:58 pm


  • PW
    Posted: Mon, 07/27/2020 12:12 am

    I really liked Emily Belz's interview with Chris. The book excerpt is very well described in the comments section above. THIS is an extraordinary array of thoughtful commentary!!! I understand your interest in Chris as a popular author, but I think the comments by OldMike are so insightful, and the excerpt from Chris so .. well, not. I'd like to know why his kind of perspective seems missing in World coverage of the race issue. 

    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 11:12 pm

    There seems to be a disconnect between the interview and the book excerpt. In the interview, atheist Chris seemed to acknowledge the value of religion. Perhaps a better choice of book excerpt would have been the last several paragraphs presented by First Things 

    Start with "When I walked into the Bronx I was an atheist. It was something I was sure about. After years of traveling America, I wasn’t so sure. To my educated lifelong friends, I might have said I was agnostic, or still an atheist, but one who appreciated religion."

    Such congruence between the interview and the book excerpt may have elicited fewer negative comments.

  •  JOHN B STONE DMIN's picture
    Posted: Mon, 07/27/2020 12:43 pm

    Trump offered blacks and whites and everyone else, a chance for something differing from the failied policies of the liberal dems, too. "What have you got to lose by voting for me?" Trump asked Before the panic of the virus set in, all categories had higher employment numbers, a fact the author does not seem to note in this excerpt.  I suggest reading Crystal Wright's CON JOB.  Also, Wilfred Mcclay's history, LAND OF HOPE.  

  • Ceelynn
    Posted: Mon, 07/27/2020 02:06 pm

    I agree with the comments made so far.  None are positive toward this book excerpt and I felt the same way when I read it.  Why is this in WORLD? I guess it shows us what some people are thinking, but it is nothing new as we see this everyday in the news media and social media.  As I read this excerpt, I kept thinking of how crucial parents are in training the next generation in righteousness.  If I had a child that was "dumb" as Mr. Arnade explained, I would encourage them to develop their God given abilities as best they could and be content with what they can do and achieve.  More God-fearing, stable families would go a long way in improving the situation.  What is Mr. Arnade's solution?

    The other thought that came to mind as I read this piece is how insulting it must be to those people/families of any race that have worked hard to improve their situations and are law-abiding and have succeeded!

  • MD
    Posted: Mon, 07/27/2020 09:33 pm

    It's unpopular to make any comment disagreeing in any way with articles that blame "white" people for "responsibility and complicity in our country's history of racism," hence the lack of comments on this article. Any person who is repressed or minority in any way is being encouraged toward resentment, revenge, violence, entitlement, seeking monetary reparations, etc., by those who seek to destroy the Constitutional Republic that was designed to allow change for the better and increase of freedoms.  Major changes in our country's past problems, via Constitutional Amendments, the citizenship of all born in the U.S. and the right to vote of all male U.S. citizens regardless of race, were voted in and ratified by all white males.  The vote was later given to all women citizens by all male voters. This shows not a determination to keep power from minorities at all cost, but a willingness to change for greater human rights and freedoms even on the part of a powerful white majority. As a white female, I am very aware not only of our country's changes, where all races now have right of citizenship, vote, bearing arms, worship, free travel, enterprise, etc., but also of the fact that all "white" citizens are not a homogenous group but also comprised of many disparate ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic groups.  My ancestry is comprised of people from Germany, Scotland, Ireland, England, and also Native American.  Should I have reparations then, for past evils toward Native Americans? Many of my ancestors, although melanin-challenged, were the poorest of the poor, despised by society's elite. Does this give me the right to blame all wealthy people and demand reparations? Or should I dredge up guilt over evils that neither I nor my family took part in?  It's time for all of us to stop our racism, our blame of every group not our own, recognize commonality of family through Adam and Noah, stop blaming whole groups for the sins of individuals, and LOVE AND FORGIVE ONE ANOTHER AS CHRIST LOVED AND FORGAVE US. This can only come from Christ-followers obeying Him, whatever their color and background.  It is impossible to make people love one another through legislation.


  • JD
    Posted: Mon, 08/03/2020 10:34 pm

    Amen, MD!!

  • Janet B
    Posted: Mon, 07/27/2020 09:36 pm

    The above comments make most of the points I would make, so I won't repeat.  But I will comment on two things:

    1)  I would like to see any research of Mr. Arnade, or anyone for that matter, that will show me a speech made by Donald Trump in 2016 where he obviously "took their anger and leveraged it by blaming minorities and mocking the front row" or "built a community steeped in racism that celebrated being uneducated and white, twisting the need for respect into a demand for revenge."  Or where he offered "easy-sounding solutions."  Otherwise, these statements are opinion rather than fact.  (John Stone's statement above seems to me a more accurate statement of what President Trump offered in his campaign.)

    2)  I will agree that the education system has failed many families that fell into poverty when businesses became more interested in the diplomas rather than the skill of someone who would gladly learn a trade as he went along.  Statistics show that one out of five Americans have dyslexia, a genetically inherited learning difference manifested in a difficulty to learn to read  and spell.  It makes someone look "dumb" when in fact they are usually quite bright and talented, but cannot learn to read in the manner that ignores their phonemic and phonological awareness issues. Some states are beginning to address this epidemic, but the educational elite fight against it.  More than color, or location, or socia-economic class, this condition affects people and relegates them (without some helpful interference) to the bottom of the rung. 

    I ask, is it harder for poor people to be educated because they are poor?  Or are they poor because they (and their parent and their grandparent) have dyslexia and cannot (could not) learn the way the education system insists on educating all people so that they can "fit into the box?"

    Mr. Arnade should pick up this cause, if he really wants to make a difference.

    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 12:32 am

    Janet B, thanks for bringing up the topic of dyslexia. I have witnessed people with this “learning difference” lifted from the “bottom rung” through “helpful interference”:

    First, one of my brothers. Not much was known about dyslexia back in the 1960s. School was horrible for him. However, he had at least four agents who ran “interference” for him: Mom (so many hours working with him over the years), the military, an aunt (a teacher who introduced him to Louis L’Amour), and an uncle (who enhanced his handyman skills). I admire my brother’s skills and intelligence in areas that escape me, and it hurts to hear the low opinion he has of himself. (When Mom told him he was smart, my brother said, “You have to say that; you’re my mom.”)

    Several years later, my sister heard one of her daughters “reading” to a younger sibling – and suspected dyslexia. My sister fought for a diagnosis; finally, a fifth grade teacher believed her. My niece was given strategies to learn, so that she later attended a prestigious technical institute, became a successful saleswoman who has traveled internationally, and – most important – is a loving wife and mother.

    The third person was a fellow student in a military training venue. She confided that she was the last to finish testing because of her dyslexia. Remembering my brother and niece, I was delighted that the young woman in my class shared top spot with me for the course.

    When I was a math tutor, some of my students had reading difficulties. I’m so glad that dyslexia is getting the attention that people deserve.

  • MD
    Posted: Mon, 07/27/2020 10:04 pm

    World Magazine claims to be a Christian news organization. The assumption that goes with a Christian news organization is that there is a Creator God who is in charge. So the question is, how much choice did you have in your race, gender, nationality, parents, economic status, etc.? If you believe that you are owed something because people you don't know wronged other people you don't know, then you should take it up with the Creator who is in charge of those circumstances. Even the most simplistic reading of Scripture points to the fact that we are in a fallen world and can't anticipate mistreatment as believers. The only response we are allowed, for those of us who are believers, is to love our enemies and be kind to those who despitefully use us. The example of Christ on the cross concerning the individuals who wronged Him is "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they do."  Mr. M

  • MD
    Posted: Mon, 07/27/2020 10:07 pm

    How dare you? How dare you lump all people of a similar skin color together and say they are all alike and all complicit in the same set of sins? Isn't that also racism and bigotry? Mrs. M

    Posted: Mon, 07/27/2020 11:34 pm

    In “The End of Illusions” (July 15) Marvin Olasky states that, in 1986, he had proposed a strategy: “Christians should put time and money into setting up Biblically objective publications that through strong reporting could attract audiences.” Such a strategy aligned with a new publication: WORLD.

    Fast-forward 34 years. Several of World’s readers wonder about an excerpt from a book, eliciting these comments:
    “How this book came to be short-listed for book of the year in Understanding America, I have no idea.”
    “We all have our biases, I hope the author & World can look at theirs.”
    “I have no idea how Dignity made any World Book of the Year list.”
    “I'd like to know why [a commenter’s] kind of perspective seems missing in World coverage of the race issue.”
    “Why is this in WORLD? … we see this everyday in the news media and social media.”
    “World Magazine claims to be a Christian news organization.”

    In those intervening 34 years, World became a member of the Associated Press, which is considered left of center. Could it be that World is unequally yoked?

    Toward the end of his “illusions” article, Marvin says that he takes no joy in confirming his forecast: “Whether our predominant loyalty is to conservatism or (much better) to Christ, we need to emphasize growing our own publications and competing organizationally, not just trying to place a few people in hostile territory.” Then, near the end of an appendix to the article, he states: “… only news organizations owned and staffed by Christians will be able to practice journalism consistent with strong Biblical faith.”

    Is it time for World to reconsider its associations?

  • not silent
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 09:47 am

    Hannah, you have explained why you keep pointing out that World is associated with Associated Press.  Would you mind explaining to me why associating with a news group which is "left of center" means they are not following their stated mission?  I.e., it's my understanding that "left" and "right" in this context means politically liberal or conservative, not "Christian" or "Unchristian." Thanks.

    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 01:06 pm

    I think Marvin Olasky can answer your questions better than I can. He added an appendix (that I hadn't seen before) to his original ruminations about "Goliath Media and its increasing hostility to journalistic Davids." He seems to be questioning belonging to secular media organizations (in light of recent "cancel" culture) and calling for the independence of Christian journalists and journalistic organizations.

  • not silent
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 03:57 pm

    Sorry I wasn't more clear, Hannah.  I wasn't asking you to explain Mr. Olasky, his views, or what he "seemed to be questioning."  I was hoping you would clarify why YOU are wondering if it's time for World to reconsider its associations. 

    I noted in a previous comment that AP has been rated by as the least biased media outlet and as "very high" in factual reporting, despite being "borderline left center biased." I doubt World has the money or the staff to travel all over the world or even all over the US to cover every story in person. I doubt any Christian publication can do that.  I'm not a journalist, so I don't know how that kind of thing works, but I guess I'm wondering who you would prefer World associate with.  

    Posted: Thu, 07/30/2020 10:38 am

    After some searching, I think I've settled the question -- for me. At the top of the World web page is a drop-down menu, Special Sections. At the bottom of the menu is Wire Reports. Clicking on that provides "The latest news from The Associated Press." At the top is this caveat:

    WORLD provides links to the latest news from the Associated Press as a service to our online readers who desire access to the depth and breadth of this worldwide news organization. But in doing so, we acknowledge that the worldview expressed in AP's reporting often differs from WORLD's (please see our About Us page) and ask you to keep this in mind when accessing AP content through our website.

    Now I see that World's being a member of the AP is required so that this service is available to us. It is my responsibility to be discerning. So, I'm grateful that World has provided the service -- and the caveat.

  • not silent
    Posted: Thu, 07/30/2020 12:33 pm

    For Hannah, thanks for your due dilengence about this! (I suspected the situation was as you discovered, but you were willing to take the time and effort to find out for sure.)  I would agree 100% that we always have to be discerning about what we read, whether it is in World or any other source.   

  • not silent
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 12:57 am

    I am apparently in a very small minority here, but I want to thank World for having the courage to present viewpoints that many may question or disagree with. 

    My thoughts after reading this: 1) I don't have to agree with everything in an article to learn something from it. 2)  It's tempting to view my experiences as the only valid "truth," but they are only my experiences. The experiences of others may be VASTLY different.  3) I can't have compassion for others if I am unwilling to listen to them or if I insist their experiences can't be real.  4) I have had many advantages that others did not have.  I need not feel guilty, but I shouldn't feel proud either because it's ALL God's grace.  5) I am responsible for what I do with what I was given and for discerning whether my actions or lack thereof serve me or God.  6) I don't like it when ideas I have always accepted as truth are challenged.  I tend to get defensive and sometimes angry. Unfortunately, it's happened a lot in the past 20 years or so; and I've had to reconsider a lot of things. 7) I know others may disagree with me, and that's okay.  I don't know everything, but I'm willing to learn. 


  • TW
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 05:38 pm

    Well looks like World is going the way of the main stream journalistic approach! I really had high hopes for a periodical that spoke for a Christian world view. That to soon! Cloaked in a facade of conservatism and social justice, berate whites and hire far left ideological thinkers to make them all feel worthless. These type articles are becoming far more frequent with World! Looks like World may be on my list of cancelations very soon. 

  • OldMike
    Posted: Thu, 07/30/2020 05:14 pm

    Please don't cancel!   What is another source of world and national news that gives us a Christian perspective on current events?  And gives us news on topics most media totally ignores, like Pro-life work? And Christian perspectives on popular culture?

    Printing an excerpt from a book is not advocating the author's views, not at all.  Anyway, good journalism calls our attention to more than one view--do you think it's better to stay hidden in our own little bubble?  

    I've been a World fan and advocate a long time.  That's certainly not changing because World reports something I disagree with!  

  • TT
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 05:54 pm

    Heart-breaking and eye-opening. Thank you.

  • TT
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 10:55 pm

    Heart-breaking and eye-opening. Thank you.

  • RM
    Posted: Wed, 07/29/2020 10:12 am

    For a little more perspective, may I suggest a first-hand account of the struggles of poor white Americans in places like Kentucky and Ohio.  It is "Hillbilly Elegy" by J. D. Vance.  Many of these people would be considered "back row" people.

  • KeithT
    Posted: Wed, 07/29/2020 12:35 pm

    I am sad by what I see is an utter lack of Christian love or generosity.  Where is the listen twice before speaking once?  Where is the evidence of " humility count others more significant than yoursleves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others? (Ph 2:3-4)  

    I want to say I'm stunned, but I'm not.  When I read this article I expected most of the comments to be negative.  So many of us WNG readers are steeped in the individualistic, personal responsibility aspects of Christianity that the mere suggestion of any group responsibility blinds us to other aspects of our faith and people around us (our neighbors). 

    God punished ALL of Israel for one man’s sin.  Achen hid some gold.  Israel was defeated and many died.  Because of Adam, all have or will die (1 Cor 15:22)   I’m reminded of this excellent John Fischer song:

    We Are All Together

    Adam stood in the garden
    And thought that no one was watching
    And he was free to do whatever he pleased
    No one would see
    But he failed to see
    That he was part of one humanity
    And all who came after
    Would suffer for his own selfish ways
    All of their days

    You can't imagine that you have the right
    To live your own life
    Thinking you're the only one
    And no one will care what you do

    You don't live alone
    We are all one in the Lord
    You don't sin alone
    We must all bear the same load
    You don't live alone
    We are all one in the Lord
    You don't sing alone
    We must all sing the same chord

    Don't you know that we are all together
    Don't you know that we are all together
    We are all together
    Don't forget that
    We are all together in the Lord

    It seemed to me that this excerpt was MOSTLY an attempt to give us a glimpse of what it's like to be in this group's shoes.  I have friends and family living in the bottom fifth.  It took me decades to finally figure out that their world is different from mine.  Choices that seem so obvious to me seem invisible to them.  Even when visible, they seem impossible.  I learned it's presumptive to expect them to see the world in the same way I do.  

    Except for three people, it seems like everyone basically said, “I’m tired of compassion.  Let’s get grumpy.”  Sorry, but that’s how it sounds.