Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Taken As A Whole, The White South Remains Culpable For Past Injustices

When sins of history are discussed in the present, those who continue to reap the benefits of evil deeds often claim they are not responsible for the past.

Strictly speaking—and I’m wary of  strict construction because it’s a type of argument that often places narrow facts over logic —this may be true.

In the case of slavery, for example, the people who administered and supported this injustice are indeed now  dead. As for slavery’s successor, Jim Crow, most, though not all of its architects and supporters are gone as well.

These narrow facts do not, however, absolve the modern white Southerner from responsibility. This culpability will only recede when the white South—at least the voting majority of the white South— renounces and moves beyond the rotten deal behind American Apartheid.     

In Colonial America, white Southerners made a bargain amongst themselves. The deal was that in exchange for the legal and social superiority of all whites over all blacks, a racial solidarity would be observed that transcended class differences. 

They dressed this deal with the Devil up in the respectable sounding garb of “States Rights.”

This deal is well explained in Alan Taylor’s American Colonies—The Settling of North America  and in William Freehling’s The Road To Disunion–Secessionists At Bay 1776-1854. 

Many poor whites in the South liked these terms so much they were willing to die for them in the Civil War. The white South liked this deal so much they stuck to it after after the bloodshed of the Civil War. Jim Crow remained in effect until the 1960’s and even  then it had to be beaten down with protests, lawsuits and federal action.    

Formal Jim Crowism is gone. But based on how the white South has voted since since Jim Crow, these are people who, taken as a whole, retain an allegiance to the understanding reached 300 years ago. This despite the vision of a more humane and decent South offered by former Georgia Governor and U.S. President Jimmy Carter and by former President Bill Clinton of Arkansas.       

When the racial progressive Carter beat segregationist champion George Wallace in the 1976 Democratic Florida primary, it seemed that maybe the South would take a new direction.   

Those hopes were killed when Ronald Reagan, a racist in his deeds, gave a speech in his 1980 campaign defending so-called states rights in, of all places, Philadelphia, Mississippi.

This was near where the three Civil Rights workers, Schwerner, Cheney and Goodman, had been killed in 1964.

From that point on the Republican Party, driven by the model of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of stoking white resentment against black people, captured the consistent majority of white Southerners.

Bill Clinton’s victories in some Southern states were accomplished with pluralities instead of outright majorities. The 1994 Republican victory was anchored in the South. George W. Bush has counted on strong Southern support to compensate for electoral weakness in other parts of the nation.

Behind all this is the same old deal—White solidarity and exclusion of blacks from power. And whatever some  want to say about states rights being a concept that goes beyond its ugly racial history, it’s always been about protecting local oligarchs and the local power structure from treating all people as equals and from having to bring living conditions in the South up to modern standards.  

Are we supposed to believe that the South is reformed today because many whites moved to the suburbs and now now have less to do with blacks instead of actively discriminating against them on a daily basis?     

The recent election of Indian-American Bobby Jindal as Governor of Louisiana is an exception that proves the rule. Mr. Jindal is as narrow and to the right as any Louisiana conservative.

Good people are to be found everywhere. The North has never been any racial paradise. (Did any city fight school busing the way Boston did?) Individuals most be taken as they come. But when we consider elections and who holds office, it is a matter of what the majority of people are doing. 

In the South, the majority of white voters may have have adapted to new realities, but they have not moved ahead with the times. As such, the past and its injustices remain an active part of the political makeup of the White South.  

November 15, 2007 Posted by | Books, Colonial America, History, Political History, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment