This signal is intended, in particular, to activate white people who remain in the suburbs. We know that now in the largest metropolitan areas of the country, most blacks live in the suburbs. Most immigrants now live in the suburbs. The majority of Hispanics and Asian Americans now live there. But in most media, when they say “suburb” they mean “white.”
Therefore, we must be specific about whom we are talking about. And if we continue to think of the suburbs only as whites, we will never ask suburban black mothers or suburban Asian mothers what they really think of these policies. Unfortunately, we have been taught to say, “If white women think of this as a problem, it is the voice of the suburbs.” And, frankly, it is not. Because we see time and time again, when you actually talk to these residents, many people in the suburbs who are of color immediately saw through the hype about the critical theory of race like a dog whistle.
But it also raises the question of what coalition politics will look like. Many people assumed that with the suburbs getting blacker, brownier, poorer, they would simply vote for Democrats in a straight line. And I think if we look, we can really see that there are times when the GOP has made significant progress in mobilizing voters of color from the suburbs. It varies greatly depending on the racial and ethnic group. Black people in the suburbs remain firmly democratic.
Guys, Hispanics, it depends a lot on geography. Asian Americans, again, this depends a lot on geography and ethnicity. So, in order to think about a critical theory of races and suburbs, we must think about how they came about. We need to think about this as a signal and not assume that as we have a growing proportion of people of color and poor people in the suburbs, they will definitely vote for Democrats.
At work, you talk to your parents in the suburbs. What do you think drives these shifts to the right in the colored suburbs? What do people tell you?
Part of the job is realizing that people who have had the opportunity to choose the suburbs – that is, they had the means and they chose – they often try to establish a particular way of life. So when you talk about social policies that expand the safety net, when you talk about politics that put race at the center of the conversation, in some cases it’s a misunderstanding of reality in the suburbs. Many colored suburbanites have tried to assimilate and believe that we shouldn’t be talking about race. Many residents, regardless of race, said that one of the reasons they left the city was because safety net – the safety net was a burden that taxed them more.
There are now more poor people in the suburbs than in the central cities, which means that these same suburbanites are having these problems again. They have to reckon with what they were trying to escape from.