STL Mayoral debate between Alderwoman Cara Spencer and St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones

STL Mayoral debate between Alderwoman Cara Spencer and St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones at Ch. 9 KETC at the offices of St. Louis Public Radio on Tue. Mar. 30, 2021. The St. Louis American, Nine PBS, 5 On Your Side, and St. Louis Public Radio partnered to host the live debate and simulcast it live on their respective channels and websites.

This is arguably the most problematic, violable and dangerous time in the country’s history

The mayoral election this Tuesday April 6 will represent a paradigm shift for St Louis. First, the winner will be a woman, the second woman in succession to be elected the mayor of St Louis, which will signal the end of two hundred years of patriarchal political dominance. Second, the possibility that the winner could be a Black woman is a stake in the heart of St. Louis’s political misogyny.

Both candidates are under 50 years of age, this means whoever wins will represent a generational changing of the guard.  I consider this long overdue and much needed in a region that prefers its leadership too old, too male and too white. I don’t consider this as a sign of civic enlightenment, but the surrender of an old, exhausted, out of touch, white patriarchal civic elite that’s no longer capable of defending their corners. 

While Tuesday will be an opportunity for this emerging generation to celebrate a changing of the guard, this column isn’t meant to be celebratory, but a note of caution on what may await you as you turn this page in history.

I would suggest that we currently live and will continue to live in for the foreseeable future, in arguably the most problematic, violable and dangerous time in the country’s history. If you combined the America of 1877 (end of Reconstruction, beginning of Jim Crow), the economic disruption of the Great Depression and the global challenges of a post WW2, you have an idea of the world that awaits the next Mayor of St. Louis. Add to that a city in steep historical decline, the St. Louis high water mark is 1950, and a region that would have to be described as stagnant at best when compared to the growth rate of the country at large. To say the new mayor will not have been dealt a great hand is an understatement, but this mayor would have been dealt this hand before she was born.

The environment and challenges confronting the new mayor will have nothing to do with political machinations, economic dislocations or the need for government reform. The turmoil we are currently experiencing is tied to the redefining of the social status of average white Americans. As social animals, human beings interactions and relationships with each other are a function of their social status. Social status is the level of value a person or group has relative to other individuals or groups in the society. Status hierarchies are universal across human societies, affording valuable benefits to those with higher status, such as better health, social approval, economic resources, political influence, and freedom. 

There are two ways social status is conferred. One can earn their social status by their own achievements, which is known as achieved status. Alternatively, one can be placed in the stratification system by their inherited position, which is called ascribed status. Ascribed statuses can also be defined as those that are fixed for an individual at birth. This ascribed status is what it has always meant to be white in America.

For most of American history, racism and the social status of white privilege it conferred, worked for white people in America without causing them to abandon their fantasy of American Exceptionalism as a freedom loving democratic people. That’s because as late as 1950 the country was overwhelming white (88%) and with a relatively small (10%) Black population. The Indigenous People had already been decimated by 300 years of genocide.

But all that has changed because of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act. The 2020 census will find a country that’s 59% white and 41% people of color (POC). This makes it impossible to ascribe higher social value to white Americans and maintain the facade of a democratic society. And this demographic change has actually made America more democratic because more POC and women have increased their social value via achievement but that has also lessened the ascribed social value of average white men. 

Think of it like this. America is legitimately proud of Jackie Robinson integrating baseball in 1947. And because of that we have seen the greatest players in the history of the sport compete against each other, Black, White and Latin, and baseball is better for Jackie Robinson. We never talk about how the white players who could have played in a segregated major league felt about the Black and Latin players who took their places because they were better players. They would say their inherent right to play major league baseball was taken from them. 

This moment in America, whether it’s the Georgia or Missouri legislature, has nothing to do with public policy, inclusion or racial equity. This is about the most primal of human instincts, dominance. This is about average white men fighting to maintain control over the bodies of POC and women. Don’t get it twisted.   

The next mayor will have to manage her administration inside the context of this social reality.

 

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