Thursday, February 7, 2013

The white South’s last defeat

... is the title of an article by Michael Lind on Salon. Some of it really rings true to me, and I thought I would do some quoting and commentary of my own.

The article is accompanied by a photo of the confederate battle flag in front of the State Capitol here in South Carolina. (sigh) Every time I go to Columbia (I think the last time was for Occupy Columbia), I see someone taking a picture of that damn flag, and it's pretty embarrassing.

Some excerpts from the article:

The white Southern narrative — at least in the dominant Southern conservative version — is one of defeat after defeat. First the attempt of white Southerners to create a new nation in which they can be the majority was defeated by the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Doomed to be a perpetual minority in a continental American nation-state, white Southerners managed for a century to create their own state-within-a-state, in which they could collectively lord it over the other major group in the region, African-Americans. But Southern apartheid was shattered by the second defeat, the Civil Rights revolution, which like the Civil War and Reconstruction was symbolized by the dispatching of federal troops to the South. The American patriotism of the white Southerner is therefore deeply problematic. Some opt for jingoistic hyper-Americanism (the lady protesteth too much, methinks) while a shrinking but significant minority prefer the Stars and Bars to the Stars and Stripes.

The other great national narrative holds that the U.S. is a nation of immigration, a “new nation,” a melting pot made up of immigrants from many lands. While the melting pot story involves a good deal of idealization, it is based on demographic fact in the large areas of the North where old-stock Anglo-Americans are commingled with German-Americans, Polish-Americans and Irish-Americans, along with more recent immigrant diasporas from Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

But even before the recent wave of immigration from sources other than Europe, the melting pot never included most of the white South. From the early 19th century until the late 20th, the South attracted relatively few immigrants.
Many, many Americans in the Midwest (where I am from) descend from German and Irish immigrants. This is likely one reason they are more tolerant of immigration in general.

Lind includes THIS FASCINATING MAP (reproduced at left, you can click to enlarge), pointing out that much of the south simply regards its ancestry as "American" (which I guess ought to be spelled "Amurrican"). That truly does speak volumes.

However, I would also point out the huge swaths of purple on that map, which are the majority-African-American counties. That might give you some idea of how old-school white people feel "surrounded" in the South (underscoring the facts in my post about how white-flight brought down the economy). It is my contention that MOST whites would feel that way, and it is notable that there is no such similar swath of purple anywhere else in the country. Although yankee whites feel superior to southerners in race-matters, that is because they are safely in the majority. When African-American populations reach a certain critical mass (my estimate is about 25-30%), then racial animosities manifest in the North as well as the South.

One of the first things I noticed when I moved down South was that there are lots of rural African-Americans here, as well as city-dwellers, something nearly unheard of in the North. In the North, various white threats to "move out to the country" are racist code; dog-whistling for 'escaping' from blacks. In the South, such comments simply mean that you are moving to the country so you can grow tomatoes and raise chickens; no dog-whistling intended. Here in the South, there is no place whites can go (other than the richest enclaves) to 'escape' from black people. Would white yankees be as tolerant, in the same circumstances? Since most currently choose to live in segregated enclaves, far more segregated than the neighborhoods of most southerners .... I hardly think so.

This is the major reason white southerners don't like racial finger-pointing from yankees who live in all-white neighborhoods. I do not live in a white neighborhood, and I understand the sentiment.*

Back to Lind:
As difficult as it may be, outsiders should try to imagine the world as viewed by conservative white Southerners, who think they are the real Americans — that is, old-stock British-Americans — and the adherents of the true religion, evangelical Protestantism. In this perspective, the rest of the country was taken over by invading hordes of Germans, Irish and other European tribes in the first half of the 19th century, leaving the South, largely unaffected by European immigration, as the last besieged pocket of old-stock British-Americans, sharing parts of their territory with subjugated and segregated African-Americans.

This local British-American ethno-racial hegemony in the South was eroded somewhat by the migration of Northeasterners and Midwesterners to the Sun Belt following World War II and the advent of air-conditioning. And now, predominantly nonwhite immigration from Latin America and Asia threatens to make white Southerners of British Protestant descent a minority in their own region. Texas and Florida are already majority-minority states. It is only a matter of time before the same is true of every state in the South. Southern whites will go from being a minority in the nation as a whole to a minority in the South itself.

If Southern culture had a tradition of assimilating immigrants, then cultural “Southernness” could be detached from any particular ethnicity or race. One could be an assimilated Chinese-American good old boy or a Mexican-American redneck. To some degree, that is happening. And Southern whites and Southern blacks have always shared many elements of a common regional culture.
Indeed, one thing I find especially charming is young Asians with deeply-southern accents (little Asian children saying "Hey yall!" is too adorable for words) or young Mexicans at the White Horse Road Flea Market warning their brothers and sisters, "Its fixin to rain!" sounding as thoroughly southern as any other native South Carolinians. After all, they have been born here, and it was inevitable. There is a great deal of intermarriage among young white southerners and the new arrivals, and adorable kids of indeterminate race/ethnicity hollering "yall" has been the result. (And places like the White Horse Road Flea Market and the immensely-popular Anderson Jockey Lot is where we all come together.) I am one of the Midwesterners who moved here (in 1987) after the advent of air-conditioning (even though I often regard myself as a 'repatriated southerner'--since my mother's family was southern).

But the Old South ain't buying. Lind is right about that much:
[It] is difficult, if not impossible, for many white Southerners to disentangle regional culture (Southern) from race (white) and ethnicity (British Protestant). The historical memory of white Southerners is not of ethnic coexistence and melting-pot pluralism but of ethnic homogeneity and racial privilege. Small wonder that going from the status of local Herrenvolk to local minority in only a generation or two is causing much of the white South to freak out.

The demographic demise of the white South is going to be traumatic for the nation as a whole. A century ago, when European immigration made old-stock Yankee Protestants a minority in much of the Northeast and Midwest, one response was hysterical Anglo-American nativism. In a 1921 essay in Good Housekeeping titled “Whose Country Is This?,” then Vice President Calvin Coolidge, an old-stock Yankee from Vermont, explained: “Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides.” Patrician Yankees promoted immigration restriction to prevent “inferior” European races from further contaminating America.
And now we come to another fascinating map provided by Lind, also reproduced at left (again, click to enlarge): Evangelical Protestants, rates of adherence per 1000 population. It largely speaks for itself.

I was particularly curious about those bright red hot spots of Evangelical religious activity, which are mostly in rural areas. Snooping around (with the invaluable aid of Google Maps), I discovered some of these bright red spots are on (or near) the home-bases of various influential mega-churches: Morristown First Baptist (Morristown, TN); Heartland Worship (Paducah, KY); Victory Family Life Worship Center (Hugo and Durant, OK), Altus First Baptist (Altus, OK), First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls (Texas), Harrisburg Baptist and The Orchard (both in Tupelo, MS). That bright red square in Montana jumped right out at me also--possibly a Christian militia stronghold? Likewise, the spot in Idaho is very close to Ruby Ridge.

As we see, most of the orange swaths are in the South, and many of these spots also correlate to various mega-churches.

Lind again:
Just as white Southerners today are gerrymandering congressional districts and contemplating gerrymandering the Electoral College to compensate for their dwindling numbers, so the outnumbered Yankees of the North sought to dilute the political influence of European “ethnics” in the early 1900s. When the 1920 census revealed that largely European urbanites outnumbered mostly old-stock Anglo-American rural voters, Congress failed to reapportion itself for a decade, because of the determination of small-town Anglo-Americans to minimize the power of “white ethnics.”
The startling difference at this historical juncture is that they will not admit what they are doing. They will deny that this has anything to do with their whiteness, although they will proudly cop to evangelical religion as a major motivation (deny Christ at your peril!).

I have to admit, this denial of their xenophobia is what I find so confusing, as someone who lives here and argues with these folks rather frequently. The racists and bigots of yore came right out and told you what they were thinking; they were not ashamed. Modern-day southerners categorically deny that their gerrymandering and various attempts to prevent minority voting (etc) has anything at all to do with race or ethnicity ... and they actually appear to believe their own lies. They tell you it is about IDEOLOGY. They refuse to believe that their ideology or politics is backward or racist, and consider such a statement anti-southern.

This is why I continually remind everyone of the purple swaths on that map: whites are not the only southerners. I refuse to let them forget it.

Lind winds up:
By the 1970s, the social divisions among old-stock Anglo-Americans and the “white ethnics” had faded to the point that most white Americans in the North had ancestors from several Western European nationalities. Similarly, the trans-racial melting pot in the U.S. will probably blur or erase many of today’s racial differences by the middle of the 21st century.

But the old-stock Yankees in the Northeast and Midwest did not accept their diminished status in their own regions without decades of hysteria and aggression and political gerrymandering. The third and final defeat of the white South, its demographic defeat, is likely to be equally prolonged and turbulent. Fasten your seat belts.

A few days before the 2012 election, I was shopping at the Fresh Market (a gourmet store) and blundered into the men's restroom. (there is only one toilet per restroom) A well-dressed, mellow old southern white man was drying his hands, leisurely, and looked up at me, bemused. He wasn't bothered.

"Ohhhh--" I burbled, embarassed. "I am so sorry! I wasn't paying attention!" He laughed, and then so did I. "You got me, dead to rights!" I held up my hands, as if under arrest. He laughed heartily.

"Welp, in a coupla days," he drawled in his low-country accent (a speech pattern strongly associated with 'old money' in these parts) "somebody else in Washington, Deee Ceee is gonna be held dead to rights too!" he cackled delightedly. In case I didn't know what he meant, he punctuated his comment with, "Benghazi!" --which he pronounced Benn Gozzeh.

I was stunned, but I smiled and nodded politely. I hardly knew what to say, so I said nothing. Mr Low-Country departed the restroom, chuckling happily at Obama's imminent demise.

I was stunned because: 1) He really did believe with his whole heart that Obama was going to lose, like most of the Fox News fans, and 2) he had no doubt that if he was talking to a white woman over 50, that I must agree with him. I mean, I was a reasonable person who apologized for entering the wrong-gender toilet, wasn't I? OF COURSE I was no hooligan, and I must therefore be a Republican.

It did not seem to occur to him that he might be talking to someone who would not agree with him. I think this is because he had met so few people who did not.

This is the South that is currently perishing. Not fast enough for me, but probably too fast for Mr Low-Country.

I have thought of him many times since the election. And I wonder how he dealt with the shock.


*I was once self-righteously preached at by a prominent blogger, that she made People of Color her role models about racial matters (I had foolishly remarked that I looked up to my mother as a political role model). When I checked the demographics of the Midwestern town this blogger lived in, I was stunned: It was 98.5% white. Who the hell are these role models she is talking about?

I realized then, that she was talking about, you know, Oprah Winfrey and bell hooks and various bloggers at Racialicious, not people she actually lived next to or associated with in real life.

This was a major wake-up call for me, contrasting the political-correctness of what various hip, so-called 'progressive' white bloggers SAY and how they actually live and what they actually do. When I bring these matters up (of neighborhoods and personal associations), it is understood that I am somehow saying something dirty or uncool--the idea that they should practice what they preach seems foreign to them. Am I suggesting they stop living in all-white neighborhoods?

Why yes, I am.