Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How Southern Slavery Turns White People Into Republicans 150 Years Later

From AlterNet:

The authors offer several potential explanations for how a human rights atrocity banned more than a century ago can continue to drive political attitudes today. Among them, the authors suggest that “the sudden enfranchisement of blacks was politically threatening to whites, who for centuries had enjoyed exclusive political power. In addition, the sudden emancipation of blacks substantially undermined whites’ economic power by suddenly increasing blacks’ wages and threatening the plantation economy.” These two factors, according to the author of the study, “led Southern white elites to promote localized anti-black sentiment by encouraging violence towards blacks, propagating racist norms and cultural beliefs, and, to the extent legally possible, pushing for the institutionalization of racist policies (such as Jim Crow laws). In turn, these racially hostile attitudes have persisted as each successive generation has, to some degree, inherited the attitudes and beliefs of the previous generation.” 

More here.

There really is something to this, and it's good to see that the social scientists are in hot pursuit of some real evidence making it plain to people who would deny it.  But I get the feeling that white Southern conservatives would deny this no matter how many studies you show them, because, damn it, they're not racist!  So consider a couple of points.

First, ideas don't exist within a vacuum.  They're always associated with other ideas.  Liberalism, conservatism, it doesn't matter: both points of view are packages of many different ideas, all of them undergoing continual interplay with one another.  So ideas about human nature, ideas about human interaction, civilization, self-interest, compassion, justice, right and wrong, gender, race, power, history, freedom, oppression, love, hate, all this stuff comes together in various combinations to form what we call ideology, or political point of view.  Indeed, there are so many ideas going into ideology that it's ultimately difficult for an individual to see how, exactly, all these ideas are affecting each other.  Why am I a liberal?  Why is my family conservative?  In the end, those are virtually unanswerable questions.  Sure, it's how I see the world, but why do I see the world in one way, when the people who share genes and family culture with me see it in another?

So there is for all Americans something of a mysterious component to how their ideologies are constructed.  That is, it's almost certain that we are influenced by ideas, notions, and concepts that we don't know are influencing us.

Second, we humans are not as rational as we think we are.  As cognitive linguist George Lakoff has noted, the logical parts of the brain literally cannot function unless it is in tandem with the emotional parts.  Indeed, if you remove the emotions, then there is no logic!  That means no matter how hard we try to be purely rational in our analysis of the way the world works, we must necessarily fail.  Our feelings are always shaping and informing what we tell ourselves is a rational process of logic.  And because we're always so dead set on insisting that we came to our conclusions in the most reasonable ways possible, most of us simply deny the reality.  For that matter, those of us who admit the reality, such as myself, are hard pressed to filter our logic for those emotions, anyway.

So it is almost undeniable that our political views are affected by how we feel, whether we want to admit that or not.

What does it mean, then, in light of those two points, to grow up believing that the Civil War was about "state's rights," and not about slavery?  What does it mean to spend your life thinking that the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of honor, integrity, and righteousness?  What does it mean to be told all your life that people on welfare are lazy, or criminal, or both?  What does it mean when everyone around you believes all these things?  If they get you young enough, that stuff's in your bones, part of deeply embedded intellectual structures that are both logical AND emotional.  Certainly, lots of people have managed to rise above and beyond such social conditioning as it might relate to their respective world views.  But how many people haven't?  How many people think there is absolutely no connection between their Southern pride and their politics overall, even though there almost certainly is? 

You probably already know what I think.  And that's also why I think it's a good idea to call out Paula Deen, not for her usage of the n-word thirty years ago, but because she thinks it's just fine to host a dream Southern Uncle Tom themed wedding, which is a strong indicator of her having lots of other ideas about the world along these lines floating around in her head.  Indeed, that's what this is all about: millions of white Southerners who think their Southern pride is a benign concept that doesn't have anything to do with anything other than being proud of where they're from.  But make no mistake.  Southern pride is the quiet source of inspiration for middle and working class whites in the South continually siding with the super-wealthy against their own interests, for supporting all manner of zero-tolerance policies in the schools and courts, for hating the federal government, for hating labor unions, for despising religions other than their own, for choosing war over diplomacy, and on and on.

White Southerners are the largest and most powerful voting faction in the Republican Party.  As goes the South, so go the Republicans.  Increasingly, I'm not the only one seeing this.