Tuesday, December 19, 2006

GOP and Race in The South

An important entry on a topic I've tip-toed around before:
Let's look at my neighbour across the street from my house in Chamblee (15 min outside central Atlanta). He recently had a meeting of minds with my wife over the FUH2 website which posts pictures of people "saluting" Hummers. He carries stickers in his car that read something like "H2: Fuck the environment, I'm rich", along with an assortment of anti-Bush stickers. Yet he is not a Democrat. Like most other white and sensible people I've met in the South he says he's a "Libertarian".

I don't know exactly what it is, but there's some powerful force that keeps Southerners away from the Democratic party. If you're a white male who grew up in the South, and you don't work in a very liberal-minded profession such as education or healthcare, then you're just not going to admit any allegiance with the Democratic party no matter how liberal, environmentalist or even socialist your political views are.
I wasn't ready to say this back in March, but I've been thinking about it a lot and now I am: Like Digby says, this "powerful force" is race.

That doesn't mean I think all white conservative Southerners are consciously racist in the sense that they will be hostile to or think badly of individual blacks. The young white Southerners I know treat black colleagues with respect and professionalism. (By the way I heard Barack Obama talk about progress in this area lately although I can't remember where. He said that when he's dealing with a white person one-on-one he doesn't feel that his race is on the white person's mind.)

But when I am in social settings outside of work surrounded by fellow whites I hear views about blacks and black neighbourhoods that don't make empirical sense to me. These assumptions are, I believe, rooted in tradition and history. Talk about how un-safe certain neighbourhoods are, for instance. I get a sense there's no point in asking if they've ever visited these neighbourhoods, or know somebody first-hand who has. That's irrelevant. There's just a clear sense that "they" are very different from "us".

1 comment:

Dan said...

I agree, Mads. The positions commonly associated with Democrats and having to do with racial issues, at least tangentially, have probably driven these otherwise sensible people from the party (Dixiecrats?), but I think there are other factors.

The tough guy attitude. There are unmistakable macho-ness issues going on in the South, at least in my experience. The Republicans have done a thorough job convincing people that the Democratic Party is the one of wimpiness and dangerous compassion. By "dangerous compassion" I mean the idea that helping out the dregs of society too much will cause undue strain on the mechanism of capitalism, so much so that there would be some kind of irrevocable collapse. Many Libertarians have the idea that pure, laissez faire capitalism can be a perfectly running machine when not hindered by social programs designed to aide people perceived to be unwilling to do well for themselves. I'd argue this is tied to an underlying racism, so gee, maybe I just made it overly complicated. Anyway, it makes sense because it allows Digby's neighbor to be as pro-environment and as anti-Bush as he wants, without even giving a thought to becoming a Democrat.

I think taxes are a huge issue as well. I know this is tied to what I've already said, but the belief that Democrats want to take away more of your paycheck is a very powerful repellent. Most people share this belief, so no one wants to answer to his neighbor for being dumb enough to vote Democrat. He might as well have taken the money out of his neighbor's pocket himself. I don't mean to call Digby's neighbor ignorant, necessarily, but...well, it's a powerful force, just like racism.

Anyway, I'm glad to see that you're willing to step forward on what, in most circles, is a very unpopular issue. Next time you're at a block party and this comes up, just see what happens! Almost no one admits to racism.