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It's the Economy, Stupid

Fascinating stuff on racial tolerance I just found next door at Glenn's place:

• Anglo and Latin countries most tolerant. People in the survey were most likely to embrace a racially diverse neighbor in the United Kingdom and its Anglo former colonies (the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and in Latin America. The only real exceptions were oil-rich Venezuela, where income inequality sometimes breaks along racial lines, and the Dominican Republic, perhaps because of its adjacency to troubled Haiti. Scandinavian countries also scored high.

• India, Jordan, Bangladesh and Hong Kong by far the least tolerant. In only three of 81 surveyed countries, more than 40 percent of respondents said they would not want a neighbor of a different race. This included 43.5 percent of Indians, 51.4 percent of Jordanians and an astonishingly high 71.8 percent of Hong Kongers and 71.7 percent of Bangladeshis.

The bit about Venezuela is telling, I think, given the political and economic appropriations of the Chavez era. Latin America has always enjoyed a decent reputation for relaxed racial relations, due in no small part to there not being much of a choice. There's a lot of troubled history in that part of the world, but it's been racially so mixed up for so long that there's no one dominant racial group.

But Venezuela has been harvesting the, uh, fruits of socialism for so long, that increasing racism comes as no surprise. When people become collectivized, when the lose their individual rights, then they tend to group together for security. In the Middle East, people tend to sort themselves by clan. In India, by caste. And in Venezuela now, by race. People made insecure by rapacious government need easy and obvious ways for sorting themselves into "safe" collectives.

So what about the English and Scandinavian countries? Well, we're rich. And money can paper over a lot of differences. I wouldn't be surprised if Americans were more concerned about race today than we were ten years ago, because of increased insecurity and an increasingly rapacious and corrupt government. But ten years ago was probably worse than the Go-Go '90s. And the '80s and '90s were certainly better in racial terms than the '70s were. Part of that is a cultural process, the norming that happens after segregation is ended. But mostly, it's the money. When we're making it instead of taking it, that's one big reason not to bother with hate or fear of "the other."

There was an episode I'll never forget of Will & Grace from back when that was funny. Will had bought a country home in what he had thought was an up-and-coming gay neighborhood in Vermont or one of those places. But it turned out to be the wrong town, and it looked like the hick neighbors were coming after the New Gays on the Block with pitchforks. Actually, the locals were bearing gifts, because at long last some trend-setting gays had come to gentrify the neighborhood and increase everybody's property values.

Yeah, it's a lame sitcom premise, and we've gotten away from talking strictly about race. But there's more than a germ of greater truth in there, too.

Money papers over a lot of differences. It's time we got back to the serious business of making it again.

UPDATE: There's a more permanent solution at hand, too.