The South and the Black Experience
by bruh21, Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 11:24:05 AM EST
Cross posted at D Kos as a response to pursuit of a non-Southern Strategy by Kos:
grew up on the North Carolina-Virginia border. Where I lived we had two schools, one private for the white kids who didn't want to be around blacks after Jim Crow failed under the courts, and one school that was public with everyone else. I lived in the South until the late 90s. Variously having lived in multiple parts of Virginia, North Carolina, Texas and having visited places like TN and GA.
I want to get into this debate about what strategy the Democratic Party should consider taking as someone who has lived down South, and understands the contours of the debate. I think I understand this better than some who may not be from the region in question, but also because I have lived in California and New York. I know many of these regions.
Let's deal with one issue of the South- it is culturally conservative. That reality more than anything has shaped national policy in perverse ways that we can't even begin to fully see. We've been in the thick of it almost 150 years. 150 years. Even before Nixon's Southern Strategy, there were the Dixicrats, Jim Crow and other forces which controlled the national landscape for both parties.
On the local level, I saw this with my first job as a bagger in a supermarket wherein I had more than one run in with race. I remember to this day one man saying to me "nigger, get my bags." Being poor, on a level that I don't think most American imagine, as in no running water poor, no car, Katrina poor, I did what he said and carried the bags to his car.
Before you conclude how horrible the South is based on race, you should realize that I have faced racial incidents in other parts of the country. In liberal Hollywood, I had one executive tell me that "You aren't applying to a minority internship" when I came in for a job interview (no where did I indicate I was looking for a hand out, but he was the face of polite racism.). Just last week, I dealt with the continuing difficulties of NY cabbies who race by me to pick up the white passenger assuming that he or she will pay, but that I will not (the face of indifferent racism).
However, I digress. There are no easy stereotypes about the South that will help. The truth is the South can not be the primary focus of national politics not simply because of our not being dependent as party on the South, but also because in the long run, it is better for blacks and progressives down South if the Party is not dependent on the Southern white vote to enact policies that will benefit us all (including Southern whites). We can't wait for them to see the value of these policies. We have been waiting 150 years.
So long as we are depend on the South, in the form of a specific variant of the South, and the white evangelical vote down there, we can't enact policies that will help the very people that we want to help most.
There are a lot of narratives that persist in hurting Southerners, and the US in general. Narratives about the South as persecuted even while it seeks to dominate national politics through cultural conservatism. Narratives about idealogy even as we are really talking about strategy. Narratives about Democrats as weak flip floppers willing to do anything, and about Republicans who need to return to their core values (which apparently can only mean Southern conservatism, not Western, not northern, not Southwestern). Where is the rest of the country in this self absorption? Even narratives about what is reasonable (a black guy running down South) and pragmatic (a black guy talking about denying the rights of citizens of another state), what is pragmatic and unpragmatic?
One of the reasons why the Democrats need to solidify its position, and go with a strategy not solely focused on the South is that in the long wrong its more beneficial to the South. These distractions from the really big concerns like globalization on the national scene are produced by the distortion of being dependent rather than interdependent on the South. By overweighting the South, we overweight the influence of manipulations of the idealogy by a minority, but determined, and cynical portion of the GOP leadership (a la Karl Rove, and as pointed out in the book by Kuo). If we don't change strategies, this allows this concentration of power in a minority of the American electorate to continue.
The notion that the Democrats are doing Southern blacks any favors by propetuating the present strategies for winning down South is flawed. Katrina didn't happen in a vacuum. It happened because of the mentality that thrives in all America, but it is all too pervasive in a region I still consider my home. I miss it at times because despite what I have to say here, there are things I don't think I can find anywhere else that are great about my home.
It reflects a reality of Southern black poverty that I knew first hand. The tax law for education in Alabama didn't happen in 2004 in a vaccuum. Macaca, which didn't work because of NoVA, in Virginia didn't happen in a vacuum. The Southern Strategy didn't fail. It worked extremely well for decades. Megachurches don't exist in a vacuum. Bob Jones University. The Christian Coalition. The dragging of that black man in Texas. There is a history to this. They didn't happen in a vacuum.
This doesn't mean we shouldn't try. It means as Kos has said that there is a difference between want and need. I want my home to be a part of the process for renewal in America. I don't think the rest of America should have to need the South to catch up before begining the process.
If we can become the city on the hill, perhaps the other regions will provide guidance to the South. Certainly, the South, as per Harold Ford about gay marriage in NJ, has no problem about telling others what to do. So it shouldn't be so hostile, as I see some people here are, to discussion of how to do things better so long as those things ae proven to be better.
Right now, we have an opportunity. New voices like Tester in MT, and Webb (who I wanted to win more than anything because he is a new voice for the outer South) can lead the way.
The South consistently underperforms the rest of the country in a lot of important indicators such as education. I have seen people try to dispute this here. I can't take you seriously. I grew up down there. I know that my hometown for example had an unemployment rate of 10 percent for African Americans. 10 percent. They aren't lazy. There aren't any jobs. Those jobs, as Webb has said, are slowly dying. The middle class is being squeezed. And yet, what is the middle class in the South worried about- gay marriage, terrorism (that happened incidentally in the NE, not the South), etc. Don't get me wrong, terrorism is important, but something is out of whack if the NE can see beyond it long enough to vote on other issues as well as that issue.
If the goal of conservative, moderate and liberal Democrats on the economic issues are the same, if we generally agree with the contours on the social issues, if not the details- then it must be understood by the moderates (of which I consider myself one) and conservatives that branding liberal and Democrat as bad leads to a perverse result in which the economic goals we claim we want to achieve aren't achievable because of the bad branding on us all.
This is all going back to an idea that I said in 2004, but it's important to remember. Southern cultural conservatism hurts Southerners as much as it hurts everyone else. Focusing our resources on one strategy of retaining power in the South versus treating the South as among equal with other regions is a mistake. It's not going to help any black people don't South in places like NOLA to keep the GOP in charge. That's what this is about for me outside of all the pride I see here which seems to be mixed in with the discussion. Set aside your pride, and consider what people are saying versus what you think they are saying. Southern pride isn't always a good thing.