Bigger in Texas

I am now in Texas, the culmination of our current 1000-mile/1600 km trip, having made overnight stops in Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis on the way.

Americans, and foreigners who have lived here for a long time, know of the great pride Texans have in their state.  My first experience of this was back in the UK in the early 1980s.

The late John Clayton was an American teaching theology at the University of Lancaster.  I’d met John several times, and we drank beer as part of a small group at academic gatherings.

At an academic conference in the UK which took place on the Fourth of July, I asked John, casually, if he was going to do anything to celebrate America’s Day of Independence that evening.  John, the most amiable of men, growled back at me: “I’m Texan, our independence was from Mexico, not you Brits, so I celebrate that day (March 2nd, 1836, John informed me), not this shit on the Fourth of July”.  Umm.

Texan exceptionalism is of course embedded within a wider American exceptionalism, though tensions exist between the two– there are Texans who wish to secede from the US because they regard most of the rest of the US as “too liberal”!

So, what do Texan secessionists– who are overwhelmingly conservative, white, and overtly racist in some quarters– need to know in order to make a considered judgment about secession?

The ideological base of the secessionist movement also dominates the Texas State Board of Education, which has attracted recent controversy for its patently anti-intellectual stance on school textbooks.

In 2014 the board adopted new history textbooks (mis)informing students that Moses and biblical law are the inspiration for the American Constitution.

The “World Geography” textbook called African slaves “workers” and “immigrants”, until a public outcry forced the publisher, McGraw-Hill, to edit this part of the textbook.

A Mexican American studies (part of the state’s curriculum) textbook describes Chicanos as people who “adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society”.  Donald Trump would purr approvingly at another part of this textbook, in which Mexican Americans are linked to undocumented immigration. The textbook alleges that illegal immigration has “caused a number of economic and security problems in the United States”, and that “poverty, drugs, crime, non-assimilation, and exploitation are among some of these problems. Studies have shown that the Mexican American community suffers from a significant gap in education levels, employment, wages, housing, and other issues relating to poverty that persist through the second, third, and fourth generations”.

Not surprisingly, the textbook fails to mention that of the estimated 189 men who died at the Alamo, only six were native Texans, and their last names were Abamillo, Badillo, Espalier, Esparza, Fuentes, and Navatwo.  Likewise, only two of the signatories of the Texas Declaration of Independence were native Texans, and their last names were Navarro and Ruiz.

The textbook fails to say that until the 1954 US Supreme Court decision in Hernandez vs Texas, Hispanics who were put on trial were denied a jury that had any other Hispanics, or other persons of colour or women.

A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2016 placed Texas in the top 10 states with the highest rates of obesity.

A report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that in 2013 Texas had the second-highest percentage of uninsured children in the US (13%).  Only Mississippi did worse. In 2013 a quarter of the state’s children lived below the poverty line. The same report found that more than a quarter of the state’s children (1.9 million) are “food-insecure”, that is, living in families which had to “choose between food and other necessities”.

According to the Texas Medical Association, in 2016 Texas had the highest rate of uninsured citizens in the US, with 32% of its inhabitants having no health insurance.

The same TMA report also said that according to “2015 estimates from the America Community Survey, Texas had a lower percentage of high school (82.4 percent vs. 87.1 percent) and college graduates (28.4 percent vs. 30.6 percent) in the 25-and-older-population compared to the national average”.

 U.S. News & World Report placed Texas in the bottom 10 in its 2017 Best States in education ranking.

The USNWR also placed Texas next to the bottom in its ranking on infrastructure quality (only Mississippi did worse).

Texas is also among the top 10 most gerrymandered American states, says RanttNews, using data provided by the Washington Post.

Texas has highest maternal mortality rate in developed world.  This does not imply that the rest of the US does significantly better in this regard– the US is the only developed country in the world where maternal deaths increased between 1993 and 2013, according to the World Health Organization.

California has 12% of the US population and produces 6.9% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Texas, by contrast, has 8.5% of the population and produces 12.8% of US greenhouse gas emissions.

The secession of Texas is almost certain to entrench the states of affairs mentioned above, not ameliorate or remove them.

In fact, it would be inadvisable to bet against a secessionist Texas school textbook claiming that the pregnant mother of Jesus rode into Bethlehem on a dinosaur.

Interestingly, at a hotel in Texas, belonging to a nationwide chain, the United States Army flag flies below the Stars and Stripes instead of the customary state flag.  Out of curiosity, we asked why this was so at the reception desk, and the clerk said it had been like this ever since she worked there.  There was no military base nearby, and no military convention was taking place at the hotel.


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Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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