What’s wrong with living in your own private America
The crisis in Ferguson, Missouri., has refocused attention on racial divisions in the United States, specifically segregation. On a police force of 53, only three officers are black in a town that is roughly 67 percent African-American. Yet in some ways this attention obscures an even larger form of segregation that has been overtaking us for the past 40 years — cultural segregation.
Americans have managed to fracture themselves into clusters of the like-minded, the like-looking, the like-earning, the like-music listening, the like-TV watching and the like-movie-going.
We don’t live in America anymore. We live in thousands of Americas, many no farther away than our computer screens and the Internet. These are self-identified Americas. Beyond the usual suspects, Fox America and MSNBC America, we have hip-hop America, gun America, tree-hugging America, Tea Party America, drug America, sci-fi addict America, and on and on and on.
The fact that we have different interests, different perspectives, is certainly not new, nor is the fact that we band together, often through the Internet, with others who share our interests and values. What is new is that these many Americas that once cross-pollinated one another now exist in total isolation. Folks finally got the means to do what folks may have always wanted to do: Make the world cater to them. And the country is endangered because of it.
The late sociologist Robert Bellah in his path-breaking 1985 book Habits of the Heart described a country ghettoized by culture. He noted the rise of “lifestyle enclaves” — to which people could retreat largely because, in our increasingly diverse and mobile society, they needed something to, as Bellah put it, “express their identity thorough shared patterns of appearance, consumption and leisure activities.”