Strangers in Their Own Land in an insightful book by Arlie Russell Hochschild from several years ago gives a glimpse of some of the experiences in our wider culture which sustain racism in the United States.
When Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, a bewildered nation turned to Strangers in Their Own Land to understand what Trump voters were thinking when they cast their ballots. Arlie Hochschild, one of the most influential sociologists of her generation, had spent the preceding five years immersed in the community around Lake Charles, Louisiana, a Tea Party stronghold. As Jedediah Purdy put it in the New Republic, “Hochschild is fascinated by how people make sense of their lives. . . . Her attentive, detailed portraits . . . reveal a gulf between Hochchild’s ‘strangers in their own land’ and a new elite.” Already a favorite common read book in communities and on campuses across the country and called “humble and important” by David Brooks and “masterly” by Atul Gawande, Hochschild’s book has been lauded by Noam Chomsky, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, and countless others.
Barbara Ehrenreich writes the celebrated sociologist Arlie Hochschild left Berkeley and went far outside her comfort zone to live among and report on Tea Party members in Louisiana over five years. With the clear-headed empathy she is famous for, she explored the central paradox of these political activists in the heart of ‘cancer alley’: they understand that the chemical and oil companies have destroyed their environment and sometimes their lives, but they remain ardent defenders of free market capitalism. Hochschild spent many hours—at church services, picnics and kitchen tables—probing the ways they struggle to reconcile their conflicting interests and loyalties. There could not be a more important topic in current American politics, nor a better person to dissect it. Every page—every story and individual—is fascinating, and the emerging analysis is revelatory.