The 'Suburban Housewife' Is a Specter Built for White Supremacists

Illustration for article titled The Suburban Housewife Is a Specter Built for White Supremacists
Image: Hulton Archive (Getty Images)

Donald Trump has a new personal mascot he’s parading around in a desperate attempt to fuel his re-election campaign: the suburban housewife. “The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me,” he Tweeted on Tuesday, shortly after the Biden campaign announced Kamala Harris as VP. “They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long-running program where low-income housing would invade their neighborhood.” Over the last few months, Trump has continually invoked the “Suburban Housewife Dream,” to describe a way of life he claims is under attack.

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Much like elves or trolls that live under a bridge, the suburban housewife is a myth, based loosely on a past stereotype resurrected to make the suburbs seem like a utopia for upper and middle-class whites. Trump, who has long enjoyed gesturing toward white supremacists, is digging up this old dog whistle from his backyard in a series of tweets intended to stoke fears of a more diverse suburban-life ruining the American dream. What Trump seems to have missed is that suburbs are not a magical safe haven for white people looking to get away from gritty urban areas filled with *gasp* different groups of people.

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The suburban housewife, an offshoot of the soccer mom, is cast as a demure white woman with at least 2.5 children and a white husband with a white-collar job. She herself does not have a job, which would take away from keeping her suburban home super clean and participating in suburban neighborhood activities, like lemonade stands and a cul-de-sac wide barbecue. Depending on her level of expertise she’s also the head of the PTA and knows to never bring snacks that contain nuts to events at her kids’ school. This is the woman Trump is talking about when he talks about the “suburban housewife” that will be voting for him in November.

But this woman is a specter of white supremacist’s imagination—a relic of the past, rekindled to give the far-right a vulnerable woman in need of protection. This idea also doesn’t take into account that housewives, in general, are slowly beginning to disappear as higher costs of living make it impossible in some states to own a home on a single income and dual-income couples become the norm.

Though suburban populations across the country are still 68 percent white, their demographics have been steadily shifting. A 2018 study from Pew Research found that beginning in 2000 suburban and small metro counties “gained 11.7 million new residents by drawing former residents of U.S. urban and rural areas, as well as immigrants from abroad.”

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And the thing that’s making the suburbs more diverse has little to do with policy programs launched by Democrats: Trump’s reference to Corey Booker and low-income housing is another racist flag waving high in the sky. HUD, AFFH, and low-income housing initiatives, in general, are often conflated with helping people of color get better housing. But according to a 2019 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, white people represent 49 percent of Section 8 housing and 32 percent of public housing.

So when we talk about the suburban housewife of 2020, we’re not talking about some I Love Lucy adjacent caricature of a white woman in West Hartford, Connecticut. The reality is that the “suburban housewife” is Trump’s way of sending a subtle signal to racists who long for a return to a version of America that never existed outside of the film Pleasantville.

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Correction 8/13/20: A previous version of this story misstated the number of white people living in section 8 and public housing. It is a large percentage, not an overwhelming majority and Jezebel apologizes for the error.

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DISCUSSION

davehasbrouck
Dave Haaz-Baroque

“They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long-running program where low-income housing would invade their neighborhood.”

I mean, I know it’s not-even-concealed racism, but even on the surface I can’t believe that he’s not being hammered more over the fact than in a period of deep income inequality, this guy is against making housing affordable.

Full disclaimer - I live in Oakland, work in the San Francisco Tenderloin and for nearly two decades have been working for agencies that provide housing and services for the homeless. So yeah, I have a vested interest in affordable housing. But in my professional observation in my field, not only is the housing crisis something that’s been affecting cities - for the past ten years it’s begun creeping into the suburbs as well. Affordable housing is getting scarcer in places like the Central Valley, which used to be seen as a haven from expensive rent.

Saying out loud that you want to restrict low-income housing from the suburbs is just... diabolically evil. You don’t want to help cities and you don’t want the suburbs to be attainable - where are the poor and working class expected to live?