The South and the Black Experience

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.

Tags: black, Democratic Party, South, strategy (all tags)

Comments

9 Comments

Re: The South and the Black Experience

I hope you are not saying that the Democratic Party should write-off the African-American population of the South, or us white Southerners who don't want to see the GOP drive our states right into the ground.

I know that it won't be easy and I know that it will be hard to keep Southern Senate Seats and very difficult for a Democratic Presidential candidate to carry the Southern states.

However, let's look at the other side. Except for GA and SC, the state level parties are in pretty good shape. Democrats control the legislatures of NC, TN, AR, LA, MS, and AL. Democrats control the Governor's Mansions of VA, NC, TN, AR, and LA. Democrats hold Senate seats in VA, LA, FL, and two in AR. Democrats hold House seats in white districts in every Southern state.

In SC, we came within 500 votes of electing a Superintendent of Education who would fully support sending money to our cash-strapped public schools to unregulated private schools. Southerners, both white and black, can't afford for the Democrats to give up on the South.

by wayward 2006-11-15 01:38PM | 0 recs
Re: The South and the Black Experience

No I am saying that you aren't helping them by trying to convince white evangelicals down South to vote for you since those interests are not interested in helping blacks. I am saying there is more than one way to skin a cat, and repeating the same strategy for 150 years isn't a sign that you want to "help" If you can create a coalition that goes beyond southern white conservatives as a strategy, then do it,b ecause in the long run, that's the best thing for blacks.

on another point, If we can't have discussions without people who get defensive of the very idea of changing up approach, then nothing will ever change.

by bruh21 2006-11-15 02:25PM | 0 recs
Re: The South and the Black Experience

I'm certainly open to ideas, but whatever coalition we come up with still has to get 50%+1 of the vote.

by wayward 2006-11-16 01:56AM | 0 recs
Re: The South and the Black Experience

wayward,

One challenge we as a party have is, yes, we control legislatures in Southern states like TN,AL,MS. Yes, we've always had a Democratic presence in states like SC.

But the problem is a significant number of  "White Southern Democrats" in these states habitually or should I say automatically cross party lines when it comes Presidential races.

It's almost like these " Southern White Democratic voters" have been trained to vote Republican every 4 years but automatically come home again when it comes to voting for Governor or local politics.

Five perfect examples are TN, NC, AL, OK, VA

Many White southern Democrats in these states proudly vote & deliver victories ( even landslides in some cases) for a Democratic-Phil Brendesen for Governor, a Democrat-Mike Easley for Governor, a Democratic Don Segelman for Governor, and a Democrat Brad Henry for Governor, or a Democrat Mark Warner for Governor.

But they also make sure NOT to vote for a Democrat Al Gore for President,a Democrat John Edwards for Vice President, a John Kerry for President- even if they are running in the same ticket.

This is my biggest reservation with a Hillary Clinton. If someone like her ends up with the nominee, I will understand 100% from both a financial & time management perspective to just FORGET about these Southern States.  It almost impossible for her to even compete.

At least a Warner, a Clark, a Bayh, an Edwards would have a shot at being competitive.

That's why John Kerry NEVER had a chance in any of these states from the get go. There was so much pressure for him to almost sweep the Northeast & the midwest. There was No room for error whatsoever because he literally had to cross out the ENTIRE SOUTHERN REGION.

With the right national candidate, there is NO REASON whatsoever that we shouldn't have a Fair Shot in southern states like VA, AR, FL, TN & NC.

by labanman 2006-11-15 06:24PM | 0 recs
Re: The South and the Black Experience

You continue the illusion that there is some magic candidate like Bill Clinton who will ride in on his Southern white horse to save the party. This isn't a situation where one needs a messiah, it's one where the party needs time. The reality is that it is just now rebuilding itself. If anything the non Southern idea (as in we focus everywhere, and not just on the South, is meant to aknowledge where we presently stand- ie, better prospects in certain places in the outer South, in the NE and New england, in the West, and in the SW). I don't see this as zero sum, but more like the pie may eventually be bigger, but its going to take a whole lot more than a magic pill. IN the meantime, what should we do to enact progressive measures that will help blacks down there such as those affected by the events of Katrina. To me, the solution will in the short term include building a democratic majority  outside of the region to enact favorable legislation that a GOP legislator (beholden to conservative white voters would not).

by bruh21 2006-11-15 06:53PM | 0 recs
There is hope in part of South. But not GEORGIA

I do think one of the reasons why it will be tough to convert the average white person in GA to return to the dem fold is that there is this obsession with hating the city of Atlanta and its black leadership. Sure, people like Bill Campbell were corrupt bastards(but how many big cities have very honest officials) , but Shirley Franklin has done everything possible to be a moderate voice and has been welcoming of a lot of segments. THe city of Atlanta is far from perfect and some of the black politicians are not above race baiting.

However,, the same whites do not appear to be worried about the massive corruption on a federal level engaged by white politicians. I just get the feeling from some of my white "friends" that the only reason for the focus of their hate is racism. They just can't get over that the prize city of the south - Atlanta is controlled by a black elite. A lot of the dems that left the party were the old dems who were more racist than the republican of the era in which they joined the party.

I say go with the 50 state strategy for local races to rebuild the party, but you gotta do some picking and choosing for Presidential elections in 2008. IN 2012, if the local elections paid dividends, there should be less picking and choosing.

by Pravin 2006-11-15 04:18PM | 0 recs
Don't forget the Confederate Flag

The Confederate Flag flap was a large part of what killed the party in GA and delivered the final blow in SC.

Republicans took control of the SC Senate when pro-flag Danny Verdin defeated anti-flag Jim Bryan. After the party switchers switched parties, Republicans had a clear edge.

In Georgia, Barnes' fugly state flag and how it got up there made a lot of people very angry. I believe that it played a large part in the Democratic collapse in 2002 that put the Republicans in power.

Sometimes you have to pick and choose your battles. No matter what you think of the Confederate Flag, this was not a wisely chosen battle.

by wayward 2006-11-16 02:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Don't forget the Confederate Flag

if all it took was the confederate flag issue, then I got to wonder how deep was the support even before the flag issue. And more im portantly what does that say of our prospects in general if what they focus on are things that are frankly counter to their real interests, ie, the ones that aren't symbolic like healthcare, education etc.

by bruh21 2006-11-16 06:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Don't forget the Confederate Flag

I agree. The Confederate flag was one big factor also. As Bruh has said in his response to you, the support must have been very soft for all the old dems to turn. We are talking about a party where many people remained Democrats mainly out of institutional inertia encouraged by the stranglehold they had on control of the state.

And it wasn't like the GA Democrats were beacons of integrity.

by Pravin 2006-11-16 10:32AM | 0 recs

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