Sunday, August 29, 2010

the privilege of Manhattan Anti-Racists

Constance Ash, aka al-zorra, recently said I was "living a life among entirely white friends and in a community made up only of people exactly like himself in the suburbs of Tucson, i.e. only white sfnal people, and who, as far as I can see doesn't work at all, and hasn't had a job of any kind since he was a kid and had to do chores for his family's business -- well, that says it all."

It made me laugh, because every part of it is wrong, which really doesn't say much for a woman who is credited with writing nonfiction. Fact-checking isn't hard in the age of Google.

I wrote two posts for her on my main blog: work I've done and I, Romance Model, or The Things We Do To Do The Things We Love. Then I sent her a note in which I asked her about her carbon footprint. I must've struck a nerve, because she wrote:
In any case, going back to salvaging our packing materials rather than generating new, which would then go straight to landfill -- unless C'Town has recycling? I don't yet know that -- it's this sort of scavaging is why the average individual who isn't part of the obscenely wealthy population of NYC has the smallest carbon footprinting generally in the nation. Most of also don't drive cars. We walk or take public transportation. Etc. My own garbage is one small bag a week, which is mostly organic, from meal preparation. The rest is bottles and cans, which are recycled. No microwave, no newspapers, re-usable coffee filters, no tea bags but tea strainers for loose tea, those 'green lightbulbs' that supposedly last forever, no washer, dryer or dishwasher. Until getting a new one this summer, no new computer since 2003 or 04 -- can't recall right now -- but this one is still in use and will be, rather than discarded. No appliances at all, in fact, other than a vacuum cleaner, a environmentally correct refrigerator with freezer (essential for nutritious and cost-effective meals) and same for stove and oven.

This is how NYers mostly live. Thus why city dwellers tend to have far smaller carbon footprints than those in suburbia or even on farms. And I do know first hand about all the carbon output that is agriculture, particularly petroleum based industrial agriculture, which most of it is.
Truth can sound harsh when it's rarely spoken, so I'll say up front that I love me some folks who live in Manhattan. I lived in Manhattan for three years at the deal of the decade, a studio apartment on West 73rd near Broadway that I rented for $125 a month in the late 1970s. I heart NYC as much as anyone could.

But I have no love for Manhattanites who brag about their greenness. The card they palm is that few people can afford Manhattan green. has basic info about New York City:
The overall cost of living here is 364% compared to the national average, making it just slightly less than California's Silicon Valley, the most expensive area in the nation. Average apartment rentals go for $1,600 per month, with utilities costing an average of $189 per month.
That average lies about Manhattanites. It's like calculating the average income of people who live near Bill Gates. The truth is at August Average Rental Prices in Manhattan: The cheapest average studio apartment in Manhattan is $1496 in Harlem.

What about folks who buy? The average price of a Manhattan apartment is about $1.43 million.

The costly green creds of Manhattanites plummet if they travel much, especially if they travel by air: "Air travel produces almost as much CO2 emissions per passenger per mile as one passenger driving the same distance alone in a car. The overall effect of air travel may be much worse than a car, though. Besides the CO2 emissions, the planes also emit nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, soot, and water vapor (contrails) directly into the atmosphere at high altitudes, which may double the overall warming effect on the climate."

Marx and Engels had a term for people like al-zorra: bourgeois socialists.

ETA: This applies to K. Tempest Bradford and a few other folks, too. If I remember correctly, Coffeeandink lives in an expensive neighborhood in one of the other boroughs.

ETA 2: Made a third post for al_zorra about work I've done: wild rice days. If I ever need blogging ideas, I'll go straight to her.


  1. Well, to be exact Friedrich Engels might be considered a bourgeois socialist himself, considering he was a successful merchant.

    Though I agree that the "greener than thou" tone of the post was annoying. I've had more than my share of experience with sanctimonious greens.

    However, I think the Marx term that most closely applies to many of the failfans would be "Katheder Sozialist", i.e. pontificating from the lectern.

  2. German has some lovely terms.

    Engels and Marx were both middle class, but they weren't the sort of "bourgeois socialists" that they wrote about in the Manifesto. You could argue that they didn't walk the walk, but changing the way they lived wouldn't have changed the world. They had a very clear notion that systems matter more than individual actions.

  3. I'm pretty sure I'm a bourgeois socialist! I write software for a living, for which I am paid a stupidly large amount of money on account of I'm very good at it.

    While I feel vaguely guilty about it, I am also a pragmatist, and the money is just too god-damned good to open a bakery or start racing sailboats professionally (both of which would pay shockingly badly).

    On the subject of greenness, you're dead-on: If you fly in airplanes anywhere, you have a giant fat footprint. Like, unfortunately, me.

    There are much nastier ways to say 'pragmatist' in this case which are just as accurate. Happily, I'm doing the typing just now!

  4. PS. I do make an effort to keep my carbon footprint low, but that's just part of living simply and cheaply.

  5. littlebob, while I love tweaking antiracists who brag about their green creds, I actually think that given the system we have, so long as you support changing it to the best of your ability, your personal carbon footprint is irrelevant. Though he misdirects the principle by focusing on race instead of class, Tim Wise was right when he said what we need is systemic change. Otherwise, the system itself means that people will fly when that's the fastest or the cheapest option. We need better options.

  6. Yeah, in Marx and Engels' day, if you weren't rich, you didn't go to school. Having time for writing and research required privilege. If you want to live in anything like what's considered comfort today, that's still true.