Thursday, September 22, 2005Matt Yglesias says here that for all of our talk about "culture" and "values", race remains the primary determining factor in Southern elections. And Digby notes that this racial politics is a big part of why we don't have things like national health care. The legacy of slavery is what distinguishes America from other industrial democratic nations.
This is all pretty obvious, although worth keeping in the forefront of our minds. The point was made as long ago as W.E.B. DuBois, who was trying to explain why socialism got nowhere in America. The answer is easy - conservatives in America have been able to use the racial divide to change the subject away from class. If we are all tribal groups warring over supremacy, the elites in society will be able to rob the store. The racial split in the South is so deep that conservatives have been able to maintain power there, and have used that regional supremacy to win power in the nation at large, using the South as a political base.
But where I would like to depart (or at least modify) Matt and Digby's argument is that in America, race is a cultural question. "Cultural group" might in fact be a better method of identification than race. Southerners on both sides have a cultural history deeply effected by the legacy, which colors their opinions on every subject. Where slavery is present, you see the spirit of domination and rationalizations of superiority (and inferiority). Whites, as the dominant social class, have acquired as a group all of the psychological attributes of the Romans - social hierarchy, intense religiosity, militarism, and a personalized, oligarchic politics. And because skin color is the determining factor for ancestry, white nationalists have been able to attach a permanent stigma to blacks in the minds of Southern whites.
The question is how to solve this problem. Because as long as this vein in the Southern psychology remains dominant, liberals are going to have a gigantic political problem. I don't have an easy answer for you. Essentially we have to hope that the homogenizing power of the mass media will eventually mute the distinctiveness of the South. But whenever someone talks about their "Southern Heritage," at least you know what they are referring to.