A few weeks ago, Stacey Evans released a provocative ad called, “16 Homes”. The ad’s message: Evans grew up poor, went to college on the Hope Scholarship, and is now so wealthy that she can pay for other kids’ tuitions.
I quickly tire of white people’s personal stories. I suspect these candidates are shot out of a training camp told to motivate their politics with a personal story, but look, Evans, you ain’t Malcolm X. I don’t give a damn about your autobiography.
What I need from Evans is an argument for what policies she is going to push for me and mine as a matter of right, not because it personally affects her.
Personal stories are for people who don’t believe in politics. It’s true that people vote based on the quality of the person’s character. But the quality of the candidate’s character is not revealed by her biography, contrary to popular opinion. It’s revealed by her arguments.
The deep problem is that Evans takes her particular, racialized story of white poverty as a universal story about uplift from poverty, and this is especially unfortunate because her approach makes for bad black politics.
You see, in Evans’ story, degradation is primarily a problem of individual failures and successes. Her mom’s sexual ethics and dicey taste in men leads to all manners of problems growing up, and these political problems are rectified by Stacey going to UGA and Law school. The government allowed her to individually succeed by removing an incremental obstacle to American success: college tuition.
(There are two provocative moments of government inaction that figure in the background: the inability of the police to stop her mom’s abusive boyfriend, and the inability of the government to prosecute the fraud case that eventually made her, I suspect, wealthy.)
That’s white poverty. That’s not the story of generational black poverty. We have every reason to believe Evans’ mom was the black sheep of a family. We don’t hear about Evans being worried about her nephews and nieces, or whether the water in Ringgold is leaded.
Ringgold, Ga. is one of these white towns where the median net worth is low and the poverty rate is also low because there is enough stable white money in a cousin’s pest control business, or an uncle who is a plumber, a church member with an in at the local mill, an aunt who marries well, or a step-parent with a knack for getting government contracts and farming subsidies.
I say that the poverty rate in Riggold iis low because the poverty rate in Ringgold is still more than ten points lower than it is for black America. So if you want to think of Ringgold as a “poor white town”, and its poverty numbers are still that much better than black America’s, then most of black America is simply living in a different nation than the one in your (and Evans’) political imagination.
I’m saying that the woman running to be the Democratic Governor of Georgia, a state that is 30 percent black, has shown a history of basing her policy priorities on her personal experience that does not apprehend the structure of black poverty.
This is why the origin of Evans’ poverty can be explained by her mother’s sexual ethics, and the solution to Evans’ poverty can be explained by Evans going to college without getting pregnant, and let’s be honest, marrying a guy who probably didn’t live in too many trailers.
The evidence is clear: study after study after study makes it known that a college degree does not address black generational poverty and does not create anywhere near the same wealth it does when that same degree is in white hands.
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Education doesn’t redress the wealth gap. Family structure doesn’t redress the wealth gap.
Black generational poverty will only be redressed by programs that target the scope of black generational poverty, including housing and employment discrimination.
A black woman with Evans’ background does not marry into the stability of Andrew Evans’ family — the black woman most likely marries into debt — and just as Evans’ mother’s professional networks and domestic partners shaped Evans’ harsh adolescence, Evans’ young adult success is shaped by her domestic partners and professional networks.
These networks and partners are deeply racialized. If I look at Stacey Godfey Evans’ wedding photos, I suspect I will not see too many Negroes.
Evans really needs to sit down with me and talk, Negro to Negro, about a political program that’ll work for black Georgia. Short of that, or a worked out plan to address black generational poverty that does not emerge from her contemplating her own racialized White story, I’ll pass — and encourage others to pass — on her candidacy.