The term third world is generally applied to underdeveloped nations, which unfortunately are mostly populated by people with brown skin. So even though Arianna Huffington’s book Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream is about the US economy in general, some readers might not be able to resist tying the title – and the book – to race, particularly conerns about the rise in non-white population in the US.
In a recent interview with Tavis Smiley on National Public Radio, Huffington said she deliberately chose the “jarring phrase,” not generally associated with America, to talk about the lamentable economic policies that have for a long time now tended to favor the wealthy over the middle class. Huffington fully admitted the difficulty of defining middle class other than those who have “some modicum of financial stability.”
And Smiley made no mention of race (absolutely no judgment on that, just an observation). The discussion was about the appalling fact that the American middle class has suffered substantially to the point where, even beyond political slogans, there is widespread concern about the class that undergirds the US and any stabilized “first world” or developed nation. Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, makes a compelling case that government policy has deliberately favored the wealthy at great cost to the nation’s economic development.
And then there is race, the sticky demographic that shouldn’t but often does correlate with economic class, as in a disproportionate percentage of lower-income Americans are black. Eugene Robinson’s Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America (appearing in the October 1 issue of Booklist) examines the complexity of African American identity, partly tied to economic class. Disintegration is a clever title that plays on long efforts to integrate (or at least desegregate) black Americans but also refers to loosening ties among African Americans on racial identity alone. In fact, there is indeed a third-world America among some, mostly minorities, who live in appalling poverty even as the middle class worries about losing its footing.
It all points to changing perspectives on race and class in the US at a time when the middle class is under enormous strain.