‘Southern White’ as an ethnicity

by John Quiggin on November 16, 2012

A while ago, I posted about the supposed capture of the ‘white working class’ by Republicans, pointing out that the term was being used to refer to those with less than college education. On more traditional measures of class, such as income, the Democrats do much better, though still getting only about half the vote.

In response to this post a number of commenters pointed out that the data was not disaggregated by region, and that the South was anomalous. A couple of things I’ve seen recently support this. Here’s Charles Blow, reporting that 90 per cent of white voters in Mississippi supported Romney. Kevin Drum observes that Obama won about 46 percent of the white vote outside the South and 27 percent of the white vote in the South. Here’s a bit more from The Monkey Cage.

It strikes me that the best way to understand the distinctive characteristics of US voting patterns is to to treat “Southern White ” as an ethnicity, like Hispanic. With that classification each of the major parties becomes an coalition between a solid bloc vote from an ethnic minority and around half the votes of the “non-Southern white” ethnic majority, which is more likely to vote on class lines. The question then is which ethnic/class coalition is bigger. As in other countries, voting for the more rightwing party is correlated, though not perfectly with higher incomes and (conditional on income) lower education, and to shift according to broader ideological movements.

Is it legitimate to treat Southern Whites as a separate ethnic group? Certainly, plenty of Southerners thought so at the time of the Civil War. Since then, Southern whites have made strong claims to a separate cultural heritage, defined in opposition both to blacks (and also through historic and recent conflicts with Hispanics) and to Northern Whites.

Obviously, this is a matter of self-identification. Not all light-skinned people who live in the South (however defined) would regard themselves as “Southern Whites”, and self-identifying Southerners do not necessary lose their identification by living elsewhere. But it seems likely that voting patterns would be even more strongly predicted by self-ascribed Southernness than by the regional data that’s available.

In political terms, a classification like this would support and extend the “Whistling Past Dixie“. analysis of Thomas Schaller. To the extent that white Southerners vote on ethnic lines, hostile to key Democratic ideas, it makes little sense to try for a class-based message that panders to (for example) Confederate nostalgia. Rather, the best hope is that younger generations will cease identifying with the South and regard themselves just as Americans or even (Utopianism alert) just as human beings.

In the meantime, the demographic trends are favorable. The ethnic population balance is shifting from White Southerners to Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. So, as long as this alignment remains stable and the Democrats continue to gain ground with younger voters in general, the odds shift in their favor.

{ 231 comments }

1

Glen Tomkins 11.16.12 at 3:26 am

The odds shift in their favor unless the Rs manage to revive a new, improved version of Jim Crow. A demographic swing can’t benefit the other party if that demographic can be kept from voting.

2

James Maiden 11.16.12 at 3:36 am

… and blacks giving Obama 99% of the vote in urban areas is just fine right?

3

Watson Ladd 11.16.12 at 3:56 am

JQ, imagine if you said “To the extent that blacks vote on ethnic lines, hostile to key Republican ideas, it makes little sense to try for a class-based message. Rather, the best hope is that younger generations will cease identifying with being black and regard themselves just as Americans or even (Utopianism alert) just as human beings.”

If you agree with this, then I’ve not no argument. But I would doubt that you would ever say this, which raises the question of why ethnic politics is good in one case and bad in the other.

@Glen Tomkins: Or if you take on the urban machine. Voters are only powerful when they can defect to the other side.

4

Joshua W. Burton 11.16.12 at 4:11 am

If you look at the 1896 (McKinley/Bryan) and 2000 (Bush/Gore) electoral maps, you can see an almost perfect parity flip, whose fascinating transient dynamics are of course well documented by Poole & Rosenthal’s D-NOMINATE work. But the short version is, mutatis mutandis, the Yankees and the blacks against the southerners and the Catholics.

5

SN 11.16.12 at 4:13 am

It is likely that, for a while, elections will turn around what worked for Romney a little bit (although he remained behind the whole time): A fake moderate stance and offers of imaginary bounties to come. Romney not only promised to get jobs for all the unemployed but he promised people higher wages. As well as other things. (This of course is his view–that the bread and circuses is necessary to get the hoi polloi to vote.)

PLUS: They will seek out non-white extreme right candidates like Rubio and Jindal.

The ethnic candidate will tap into a certain kind of racism–but only toward black people and Muslims. This will appeal to white people who are angry about various thing, real and imagined. Ideologically, it is going to be super easy to cling to the destruction of the public sector with the target demographic, whites. The idea will be to tip the scales by getting *some* of the Latino vote and *some* of the Asian vote. You can dump rage on the poor and the whiff of that attracts a certain number of anxious working, middle and professional classes. You counter the implied racism with your candidate’s race. It is unlikely that the majority of non-whites will ever buy it but all you need is *enough* and the Southern Whites have nowhere to turn anyway.

This combination will be great for them (until people realize the smoke they are blowing–which judging from Bush can take 2 election cycles).

So don’t be too comforted by the demographics. This is a class thing, not just a race thing.

6

bad Jim 11.16.12 at 4:17 am

They already define themselves as a separate ethnic group. They’ve got their own flag, their own religion, their own music and an instantly recognizable accent. To the extent that it makes any sense to speak of white Americans as a whole, it’s misleading not to distinguish the South.

7

David Carlton 11.16.12 at 4:30 am

The sociologist John Shelton Reed devoted virtually his entire career to developing this argument about white southerners, in the face of widespread skepticism. John’s pretty well to the right, and treats this theme a bit more benignly than you do, but his work is worth a read, as is Lewis Killian’s *White Southerners* (1970).

8

MPAVictoria 11.16.12 at 4:37 am

“JQ, imagine if you said “To the extent that blacks vote on ethnic lines, hostile to key Republican ideas, it makes little sense to try for a class-based message. Rather, the best hope is that younger generations will cease identifying with being black and regard themselves just as Americans or even (Utopianism alert) just as human beings.”

If you agree with this, then I’ve not no argument. But I would doubt that you would ever say this, which raises the question of why ethnic politics is good in one case and bad in the other.

@Glen Tomkins: Or if you take on the urban machine. Voters are only powerful when they can defect to the other side.”

Okay I think i have figured you out Watson. You are some sort of Slate style contrarian right?

9

gavinf 11.16.12 at 4:46 am

To me the most fascinating piece of the whole election was this by Andrew Sullivan showing how geographic voting ptterns have almost completely flipped since 1976, along with a fascinating insight into George Romney and old school (pre-Goldwater) GOP.

10

gavinf 11.16.12 at 4:47 am

11

gavinf 11.16.12 at 4:48 am

This is the one. Worth the read, sorry for the poor control of the post

http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/11/rethinking-george-romney.html

12

JW Mason 11.16.12 at 4:57 am

This is one of those interesting ideas where one of the most interesting things about it is that it is interesting, when once you say it it seems like it should be obvious. As bad Jim points out above, if you were to make a list of things that characterize an ethnicity, then Southerner clearly qualifies. But I’d never seen it that way, and I don’t think many other people do either. One wonders why not.

13

pretendous 11.16.12 at 5:05 am

Is it legitimate to treat Southern Whites as a separate ethnic group? Certainly, plenty of Southerners thought so at the time of the Civil War.

Here citing something like McPherson (1999) would be useful:
http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3181978?uid=3739560&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101442694177

14

bad Jim 11.16.12 at 5:33 am

The South seems obviously as distinct within the U.S. as Scotland is within the U.K., although I gather that Scotland doesn’t occupy an analogous political position, having been formerly Liberal and is now stalwartly Labour(?) I suspect that slavery, the Civil War, and segregation had something to do with the American case.

A couple of numbers I recall from the recent Pew report on the rise of the “nones”: the south is 37% of the country, and it’s where 60% of blacks live: link. Consider these trends, ye {weak, poor,…}, and hope!

15

Glen Tomkins 11.16.12 at 5:50 am

@2,

The day that Bubba becomes a persecuted minority, on that day his tendency to vote on ethnic lines would become understandable and excusable as a thoroughly unremarkable response to that persecution. Until then, Bubba’s just a bigot.

As long as Bubba remains a coddled minority rather than a persecuted minority, and the worst treatment of him you can point to is that some people call him hurtful names, like “bigot”, no, he really isn’t entitled to the sense of grievance that is a salutary spur to action in victims of actual racism.

16

Glen Tomkins 11.16.12 at 6:06 am

@2,

Oh, and about those urban machines…

Yep, it would have been Romney in a landslide had not urban machine enforcers like the New Black Panthers and ACORN been out in force keeping down the silent majority of city dwellers who would have liked to vote Republican. If there’s one group of people in this country who are systematically kept from voting, and so vote in drastically lower percentages than their true numbers would warrant, it’s your wealthy, older Anglos; and most of them, vast hordes of them, live in inner city precincts, where they can’t vote because of the oppression of the urban machines.

17

js. 11.16.12 at 6:08 am

Is it legitimate to treat Southern Whites as a separate ethnic group?

I’d say flatly no. But then, talk about ethnicity as a matter of self-identification makes me deeply uncomfortable. For example, could I, say, self-identify as “white”? As a Southern White? (Hint: I’m not white.) In other words, white people and only white have the luxury to “self-identify”. Whatever that means. (And please don’t start with the “Oh that’s race not ethnicity”—that distinction is frankly hopeless.)

Strangely—and it almost pains me to say this—but I’m in sympathy with the point Watson is making, or at least reaching for at 2. I’d put it this way: if you divorce the notion of ethnicity from the prevalent power-structures in society, you might as well discard the concept entirely.

I guess what I’m getting at is that you really do need class analysis at the end of the day, though again if your concept of class is based on how much someone takes home at the end of the day, or on median household income, or whatever, that’s probably even more hopeless than talking about “teh southern white ethnicity”. More plainly: if we want to understand the voting patterns (and perhaps even the cultural preferences) of southern whites, perhaps we could talk about reactions against eroding class privilege.

18

John Quiggin 11.16.12 at 6:09 am

Watson @2. You’re exactly right, as regards the symmetry. I suggest you go to RedState or similar and make the point that, as long as Republican rhetoric is suffused with coded appeals to white racism, trying to make class-based appeals to well-off or upwardly mobile Blacks and Hispanics is unlikely to get them far.

But please, don’t comment in this thread again, and to others, please no more replies to Watson.

19

js. 11.16.12 at 6:21 am

Certainly, plenty of Southerners thought so [i.e. thought of themselves as a "separate ethnic group"---js.] at the time of the Civil War.

One more thing. I’m just curious what this is supposed to mean. You’re welcome to prove me wrong, but I’m fairly sure that the concept of ethnicity as understood and deployed today simply wasn’t available or deployed, at least in any obvious sense, circa the 1860’s. So I’m genuinely wondering what it means to say that a set of people—who were let’s note very much the privileged group and so presumably thought of themselves as simply the norm—that this set of people were, to paraphrase, conscious of themselves as distinct ethnic group.

20

js. 11.16.12 at 6:22 am

Sorry, first sentence there was meant to be blockquoted—quoting JQ.

21

bad Jim 11.16.12 at 6:44 am

js. : “I’m fairly sure that the concept of ethnicity as understood and deployed today simply wasn’t available or deployed, at least in any obvious sense, circa the 1860′s.”

You’ve got to be joking. There may be a sliver of sense there, but there’s a forest you don’t seem to notice.

22

Colin Reid 11.16.12 at 6:52 am

bad Jim: A big difference is that Scotland now has parties of its own, notably the SNP, which is currently the ruling party. Generally though, the unionist parties in Scotland are local wings of UK-wide parties, unlike Northern Ireland where you have parties like the DUP – staunchly unionist but with no affiliation to the main parties in Great Britain.

23

dbk 11.16.12 at 6:52 am

A fine analysis of the 2012 outcome was by Richard Kline
[http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/11/richard-kline-thoughts-on-the-2012-vote.html], who makes most of the points in the OP and also provides a bit of historical background. He speaks of small pockets of “urban blue” surrounded by vast seas of “rural red” and not just in the South, they he does address the South as a special case in point. Like JQ, he notes that the demographic trend is towards “urban blue”, and that this was in fact the major takeaway from the 2012 election.

24

Colin Reid 11.16.12 at 7:00 am

It occurs to me that politically speaking, Northern Irish Protestants are the closest ethnic group the UK has to American ‘Southern Whites’. Thankfully for British politics, Northern Ireland is a relatively small part of the UK and can largely be ignored in coalition-forming at Westminster.

25

bad Jim 11.16.12 at 7:26 am

My Irish ancestors, not all that far removed from me in time, decamped from the Emerald Isle to escape starvation or at the least deprivation. As a result, I don’t know whether I’m a fourth or fifth generation Democrat; I imagine they were signed up as soon as they got off the boat.

Slavery, however, occasioned a bloody internecine contest which is yet contested; in some quarters it’s still called “the noble cause”. You’d think that we’d ruefully note that Brazil, at least, abolished slavery later than we did, but instead we find Faulkner noting the wistful hope that Pickett’s charge could have gone otherwise, to preserve the Southern way of life, keeping black people in chains.

26

Mao Cheng Ji 11.16.12 at 7:31 am

Urban/rural is a much better predictor, in my opinion. And, I believe, it also has stronger explanatory power, causality. Rural populations are always, and virtually in all respects, more conservative than the urban ones. And not just in the US, this is universal.

27

JanieM 11.16.12 at 7:45 am

28

bad Jim 11.16.12 at 7:54 am

You cannot understand the U.S. in purely economic terms. Two hundred years of slavery and a hundred years of its near equivalent in segregation have left such thick scars in our national discourse that we actually entertain the suggestion that the president may be less than legitimate because he won less than the majority of white voters, as though that particular measure mattered more than his winning most women.

29

bexley 11.16.12 at 8:06 am

The day that Bubba becomes a persecuted minority, on that day his tendency to vote on ethnic lines would become understandable and excusable as a thoroughly unremarkable response to that persecution. Until then, Bubba’s just a bigot.

@15 Come now who can forget Bubba’s horrendous persecutaion at the hands of Neil Young?

30

Phil 11.16.12 at 8:09 am

In other words, white people and only white have the luxury to “self-identify”. Whatever that means.

Not really true. Last time I applied for a job I was asked to self-identify (anonymously, for statistical purposes) as one of:

Bangladeshi
Chinese
Pakistani
Indian
Other Asian
African
Caribbean
Other Black
White British
Irish
Other White
White and Black African
White and Black Caribbean
White and Asian
Other Ethnic Group
Prefer not to answer

A list like that, which is standard on (British) job applications & the like, gives quite a lot of scope for people who want to proudly maintain their self-defined ethnicity (though it may be a bit less accommodating for people who really don’t care about it). The last Census used an even longer list.

More generally, I think you miss the point of John’s argument. The idea is not to treat self-defined Southern Whites as an ethnic minority, and offer them the compensatory protections that we generally offer ethnic minorities – that would be absurd as well as not being welcome to Southern Whites themselves (although I’m sure some would work out how to milk the system – see also “Ulster Scots“). It’s more to extend the explanatory usefulness of ethnicity by adding “Southern White” to the list.

31

John Quiggin 11.16.12 at 8:39 am

@js My main source is McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom which cites lots of pre-war Southern propaganda presenting Southerners and Northerners as distinct (ethnic, in modern terms) groups, with the South (agricultural, martial, aristocratic, English-Scots-Irish) as superior to the North (industrial, decadent, plebeian, polyglot).

Also, what Phil said in his last para.

32

bad Jim 11.16.12 at 8:47 am

Just a reminder. The deep south, where these severely conservative voters reside and vote so incongruously, is also where most blacks live, who are less than proportionally represented in Congress or state legislatures. These are low tax, low service states, still in thrall to a plantation mentality.

Equality, you see, is missing. It’s implicit that we’re not in this together; it’s as plain as the color of your face. If you don’t understand how corrosive this is, you’ve probably never seen separate “white” and “colored” drinking fountains or restrooms.

Southern whites are distinguished not by their thin origins but by their long history.

33

ORB 11.16.12 at 8:49 am

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Paul Krugman actually made a similar point a few days ago on his blog.

He’s got a graph plotting the voting patterns of minorities (including -and that’s the interesting part here- Southern Whites) against the average relationship between income and presidential preference, based on the exit polls and some pre-election polls.

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/13/identity-voters/

34

Steve J. 11.16.12 at 9:13 am

CRACKERS, THE SOUTH AND THE BAPTISTS
I’ve finished reading Grady McWhiney’s terrific book on how the Scots-Irish came to America before the Revolution and pretty much kept their way of life because they were mostly on the frontier. I didn’t find out how so many of them in the South turned from their native Presbyterianism and became Baptists but Patrick Griffin’s book, The People with No Name, offers one explanation.

According to Griffin, itinerant Baptist preachers from New England were able to go into the wilderness areas by themselves to convert the Scots-Irish and at the same time, the Scots-Irish really wanted some religious structure in their lives because there wasn’t much rule of law on the frontier.

From pages 164-65:

The “Congregations to the Southward” were instructed to appoint elders, install discipline, and adjust the lines between parishes so “in their after conduct” they could “proceed to obtain the Stated Ministry.” The synod from the north “had their interest much at heart,” assuring the people in Virginia that its members would “neglect no opportunities of affording them proper candidates and supplies to the utmost of our power.” Before the church would minister to the men and women further south, its institutions would have to be put in place. Such a process promised to be time-consuming.

The people living further south had little patience for such an approach. Searching for stability in a world transforming before their eyes, they expected a rapid response the church to the north could not provide. Baptist missionaries, however, could. Preachers from New England hoping to win souls traveled into Virginia as settlers ventured to the frontier of the colony. And they enjoyed much success. In one sense, the New England evangelical tradition championed by Baptist itinerants gained a substantial following in Virginia because the established Anglican Church failed to comprehend the needs of poor settlers in the west of the colony.

…Baptists promised the benefits of vital religion without institutional trappings or delay. Baptists favored an independent form of church government and, therefore, did not have to answer to any formal church hierarchy. The congregation of believers, they argued, formed the bedrock of the church. Moreover, they required no formal education for ministers.

35

Tim Worstall 11.16.12 at 10:20 am

“It occurs to me that politically speaking, Northern Irish Protestants are the closest ethnic group the UK has to American ‘Southern Whites’. “

As JQ @31 points out, there’s more than a sliver of truth to that comparison. Given that many of those who settled the South (more exactly, Appalachia) were indeed the Scots/Irish Protestants.

There is an amusement though at the idea that Bubba might be defined as an ethnic minority (as opposed to the cultural one which I think all agree upon?) for doesn’t that mean positive discrimination in favour of Bubba? And even if it’s just a cultural minority, where’s the Federal support for the dance of my people? Shouldn’t Nascar be getting Federal funds?

36

ajay 11.16.12 at 10:23 am

The South seems obviously as distinct within the U.S. as Scotland is within the U.K., although I gather that Scotland doesn’t occupy an analogous political position, having been formerly Liberal and is now stalwartly Labour

As noted above, Scotland also has a Scotland-only party, the SNP: this was true of the South before the Civil War IIRC, but not since. There’s some daylight between Scottish and English Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative parties, but probably not more than between Texas and New York Republicans.

talk about ethnicity as a matter of self-identification makes me deeply uncomfortable. For example, could I, say, self-identify as “white”? As a Southern White? (Hint: I’m not white.)

Actually, yes – potentially. It’s called “passing” and it used to be fairly common.

It occurs to me that politically speaking, Northern Irish Protestants are the closest ethnic group the UK has to American ‘Southern Whites’.

In terms of their attachment to Lost-Causery, you could make at least as good a case for the Northern Irish Catholics…

37

Fu Ko 11.16.12 at 11:42 am

Watson Ladd is quite a character.

js. is probably right that antebellum southern whites considered themselves a “default” — as in, they didn’t identify themselves as southern so much as identify northerners as Other. I don’t think this distinction has much relevance when you’re just dividing the electorate into voting blocks, though.

38

Alex 11.16.12 at 11:53 am

For example, could I, say, self-identify as “white”? As a Southern White? (Hint: I’m not white.)

No. Mind you, neither could a representative Manhattanite. Their accent and habits of speech alone would be a major barrier. I can’t, for example, self-identify as an Ulster Protestant with any degree of conviction, although I could do so as a Tory. This is why ideological right-wingers from New York like Ann Coulter adopt the alternative rightwing identity of being a libertarian. Phenomena have limits, but this does not mean they do not exist. A Boeing 737 will not go to space, but that does not mean it cannot fly.

In fact, there’s a cracking reality TV pitch in this….

39

Alex 11.16.12 at 11:55 am

Being Bubba Bush. In each episode, we find someone in NYC or LA and follow them as they attempt to assimilate to the culture of the Deep South. The main problem I foresee is public liability insurance.

40

soru 11.16.12 at 12:15 pm

The Top Gear crew already tried that experiment:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0074gdc

41

faustusnotes 11.16.12 at 12:18 pm

Glen Tomkins @1, I read on CNN a few days ago that black turnout in areas with obvious voter suppression legislation was up 300%. The effort may have backfired.

I have been highly entertained by NRO’s agonizing over the hispanic vote this week. It’s entertaining for two reasons: first, because they have obviously, immediately dismissed the black vote, oh gee I wonder why? And second, because while the Republicans do love to whinge on about identity politics, their own political strategies are obviously steeped in it. They’d rather die of irrelevancy than court the black vote and they just can’t figure out why they don’t appeal to “hispanics”; yet they can’t see a way to win the next election except to grab an ethnic bloc. I like to think that in Australia this kind of blatant ethnic bloc voting not only doesn’t exist, but would be dismissed as a tactic out of hand by either of the major parties. It’s positively uncivilized.

42

Alex 11.16.12 at 12:29 pm

40: my point is proven, I think.

43

Greg 11.16.12 at 12:35 pm

I’m scratching my beard because I’m not sure about where this is going. Classifications like this are never neutral.

As you nearly point out, “Southern White” as an ethnicity has been kind of reverse-engineered by some of the worst racists, out of supposedly shared racist cultural values. This turned into the Southern Strategy. So first, in terms of explanatory power, isn’t “Southern White” going to be a kind of tautology? And second, and much more importantly, isn’t it a really bad idea to reinforce all of this nonsense? With all the coded racism we have already, do we need another code word for “racist” (because that’s what this smells like)?

Maybe I’m way off.

44

marcel 11.16.12 at 12:51 pm

As a matter of self-education, I especially appreciate Steve J.‘s suggestion of Grady McWhiney’s CRACKERS, THE SOUTH AND THE BAPTISTS. I am surprised that no mention has yet been made of David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed which traces the cultural origins of Southern Whites to 2 strands of 17thC British culture.

ajay wrote:

As noted above, Scotland also has a Scotland-only party, the SNP: this was true of the South before the Civil War IIRC, but not since.

I do not believe this is correct. Until the presidential campaign of 1860, the Democratic Party was the only national party in the U.S., and Lincoln was elected only because it fractured. In that election, the Democratic Party split north and south; the Constitutional Union Party was organized by former whigs, north and south who hoped to avoid secession, but based on the votes it received, its appeal was limited to the upper south, so not even the whole confederacy.

45

marcel 11.16.12 at 12:54 pm

I should have searched first to check the reference.

Steve J: Did you mean McWhiney’s Cracker culture : Celtic ways in the Old South?

46

Marc 11.16.12 at 12:59 pm

There really is an overwhelming sense of victimhood among conservative southern whites as well; this has become a cultural marker as well. Being called a racist is worse than actual racist acts; and in any case, minorities are the real racists because they benefit from institutionalized discrimination (affirmative action). Blacks are hostile to the Republican party because they are explicit targets of the rhetoric of party members and leaders; and the fact that so few vote for the Republicans proves that it is the minorities who are the actual bigots.

There are countervailing forces, such as unions, elsewhere in the US. But the South lacks such counterweights, and there is a seamless link with other cultural identifiers such as evangelical christianity.

47

marcel 11.16.12 at 1:00 pm

Hmm… I had not heard of McWhiney before.

One must wonder about someone who was high up in the League of the South, even if he eventually broke with it. It might be useful to take his interpretations and conclusions, if not his facts with a grain of salt.

48

Harald Korneliussen 11.16.12 at 1:21 pm

Ethnic identification shouldn’t be badge of honor for anyone, nor something you have to perform to “deserve”, so I find the question if it’s legitimate to treat them as a separate ethnic group ridiculous. Would you deny that e.g Turks, Serbs, Russians, Persians, or Chinese have a “real” ethnicity because you disapprove of their particular brands of bigoted nationalism? Then why should you deny it to white southerners? Just as anyone ought to reject that “Arab” equals “terrorist” or “Roma” equals “criminal”, so should one reject that “separate ethnic minority group” equals “good guys deserving concessions to their perspectives”.

Isn’t it ironic to deny the group’s separate existence, while in the same phrase referring to them scornfully with a stereotype name (“Bubba”)?

Also, blaming them for “voting along ethnic lines”? For that to be possible, there has to be other groups voting differently, and that would be equally visible in the voting patterns. There’s nothing inherently bad in that a distinct group has a distinct voting pattern.

Perhaps it’s a good thing to remember that if e.g. men voted exactly the same as women, or blacks the same as whites, then universal suffrage wouldn’t even be necessary. In that case we should probably limit the franchise to one or the other, just to save costs on logistics.

49

Colin Reid 11.16.12 at 1:29 pm

“In terms of their attachment to Lost-Causery, you could make at least as good a case for the Northern Irish Catholics…”

Perhaps so, but I was thinking more that the Protestants used to have a system that was rigged in their favour and are still getting over the fact that they’re not special any more. By contrast, from the Reformation onwards, Northern Irish Catholics have never had a more benign government than they have nowadays. A better comparison might be with Native Americans, or Chicanos whose ancestors lived in the Southwest US back when it was still Mexico.

50

Clay Shirky 11.16.12 at 1:42 pm

@SN #5,

“PLUS: They will seek out non-white extreme right candidates like Rubio and Jindal.”

This is true, but will not, I think, work as well in 2016 as they now imagine.

Some of the analysis of voting patters act like this is a game of Pick Up Sticks, and point out that Republicans left out too many of the sticks in the middle.

But politics is not that game. They have been blowing the dog whistle so hard for so long that any strategy that says “Hey, there are good Latinos (Marc Rubio) and bad Latinos (Luis Gutierrez), and good blacks (Herman Cain) and bad ones (most of the ones who are not Herman Cain)” would send the audible message that this isn’t the old Republican party anymore, but it would also send the dog-whistle message “Racists should sit this one out.”

Cain and the trumped up “Rice for VP” thing were fantasies spun by the non-racist wing of the Republican party, a kind of feint with no chance of actually being implemented. Any campaign that says ‘Racists stay home” is one the Republicans lose.

51

Anderson 11.16.12 at 1:43 pm

As one of the 10% voting for Obama in MS, I think this post sounds about right.

52

Trader Joe 11.16.12 at 2:01 pm

Lets state the obvious – not only will a black candidate not appeal to the Southern White, a clearly left of center candidate won’t either and the President fits both these descriptions – it should be little wonder he polled so poorly.

As previously noted, this ‘bloc’ is characterized as being lower-wage which means they are interested in jobs. They have likely lost work (or no someone who has) to the growing hispanic population across the South so they will oppose pro-immigration ideas. Strong law enforcement, gun-rights and a strong national defense are important to this bloc….the President ran on none of these views.

Why this bloc holds these views and if they are ‘right’ is a separate debate – to win a voter a candidate must appeal to their values and the President made little effort to capture these votes through either statement or deed.

Health care polls very well in the South, the President could have run on that in these areas and possibly done better – but the clear thrust of the campaign was to appeal to the base in swing states – did the President make a campaign stop in Alabama? This sends the same message as Romney not visiting Oregon…and the outcomes are self evident.

Its not impossible for a D to do well in the South and with the Southern White vote – Clinton and Carter both ran well and had strong support among both men and women and Gore polled strong although he lost most of the states….

Its interesting to get wrapped up in the ‘racism’ and it would be naive to think that had no impact – but a white clone of Obama and his policies would surely have polled just as bad particularly if he fashioned the same campaign strategy which was to incessently visit Ohio – Virginia and Florida and only a few other places.

53

LFC 11.16.12 at 2:23 pm

Of some (albeit perhaps tangential) relevance to the OP, I see from the USIH blog that Bertram Wyatt-Brown has died.

54

Anderson 11.16.12 at 2:30 pm

but a white clone of Obama and his policies would surely have polled just as bad

The Southern whites have certainly gone Republican, for reasons connected to race, but Obama has triggered a virulent hatred that, say, John Kerry did not. We didn’t get a movie about how Kerry wasn’t really an American — which did rather well down here. Kerry was not painted as an existential threat to America itself, as Obama has been. Etc.

55

Uncle Kvetch 11.16.12 at 2:45 pm

Kerry was not painted as an existential threat to America itself

No, but Bill Clinton — himself a white southerner — was accused of murder and drug-dealing on national TV. So while it’s true that the hatred of Obama has an unmistakable racist tinge, the level of crazification here really isn’t surprising, given what we saw in the ’90s. Any president with a “D” after their name will be considered fundamentally illegitimate and an existential threat to the nation by the 27%.

56

Emily 11.16.12 at 2:48 pm

Sadly the stereotypes being speculated on here are mostly nonsense. Anybody ever look at the masses of northerners moving south. In Western NC almost all my neighbors are from New Jersey. Asheville has the same demographics as Portland OR. Charlotte has had so many northerners move down for the banking behemoths that its a totally different city than it was 30 years ago. How about the major universities and research Triangle near Raleigh – you think those people have the same characteristics as the ex tobacco farmer (another stereotype). Who do you think lives in Charleston and Hilton Head these days. Lets get real. This article and the comments are wasted electrons.

57

Consumatopia 11.16.12 at 2:53 pm

As previously noted, this ‘bloc’ is characterized as being lower-wage which means they are interested in jobs.

I doubt very much that it’s concern for jobs which distinguishes Southern Whites as a voting bloc.

Strong law enforcement, gun-rights and a strong national defense are important to this bloc….the President ran on none of these views.

The President and his party have basically adopted the GOP position on all of that. Did Romney even bother to mention law enforcement, crime, or guns? We certainly did not see much evidence that national defense was much of a weakness for Obama this time around.

I’m not saying that “white Obama”, someone with fair skin and a resume including community organizing and being a professor at an elite university, would win this group. But Clinton’s performance wasn’t because he was ideologically distinct from Obama or Kerry. (Though I’m not sure what states Clinton would win today. The South may have changed, and Perot isn’t on the ballot.).

58

notnow 11.16.12 at 3:14 pm

I’m not sure why people are quarreling in this thread, since JQ’s basic point — that Southern White is an ethnic group similar to, say, Italian-American or Bangladeshi-American — is obviously true. To describe a group of people as ethnically distinct isn’t to praise or damn them, it’s just to describe them. By history, cultural inheritance, and, yes, little things like accent, I am a white southerner. But that doesn’t serve to completely define me. I think I’m, ethnically, southern White, but I voted for Obama (twice!) and loathe Lost Cause-ism, and was delighted when my white southern cousin married a great African-American guy. Even in Mississippi and Alabama there are plenty of whites — though not a majority — who voted for Obama. And, of course, ethnicities change over time; being Irish-American in 2012 means something different than it did in 1900. So what’s the fuss?

59

Belle Waring 11.16.12 at 3:17 pm

but a white clone of Obama and his policies would surely have polled just as bad

Are you affecting to believe this? I am near certain no one is as stupid as that.

My suggestion may be ill-received, but I believe I have a unique viewpoint on this matter, so hear me out. My stepfather was named after, and the great-etc grandson of, the last Southern general to surrender during the Civil War: Edmund Kirby-Smith. His mother was a Daughter of the Confederacy, and lived with his father, Col. (Ret.) Edmund Kirby-Smith Sr. up in Sewanee, TN, right by the University of the South. My step-father had many friends from his college years there, and Lee Atwater was (and this may surprise some) among the less colorful. Yes that Lee Atwater! Lee Atwater has been shitfaced on bourbon in my mom’s home many a time. We subscribed to Southern Partisan magazine when I was a kid, OK?! Additionally I was born in Savannah, GA and return to my home in South Carolina to see my dad once a year. What I’m saying is, you all have to trust me on this.

My proposal is that we call this ethnic voting block “cracker-ass crackers.” “Cracker-ass-crackers are breaking 90% to 10% for the loaf of Sunbeam bread who emerged from the Republican primaries this election cycle and against the governor of Georgia who presided over an unprecedented drop in unemployment in that state to an all-time low of 4%, coupled with a series of strong education reforms that have inspired many other states BLACK LADY.” Cracker-ass-crackers is a neutral, accurate term we can all get behind.

60

Ben Alpers 11.16.12 at 3:25 pm

Do Southern Whites actually self-identify as “Southern Whites”? I ask because, according to the US census, most Southern whites actually identify themselves differently. It is true that an unusually high number of Southerners do identify their ancestry as simply “American,” but such people constitute a minority of white Southerners. Only in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Arkansas are self-identified “Americans” a plurality. I’m sure that most white people in the South identify as Southerners, but most seem to also have a more specific ethnic identity.

Back in 2008, a lot of ink was spilled about the voting patterns of the self-identified “Americans” in greater Appalachia, who were particularly resistant both in the primary and in the general election, to voting for Barack Obama. I have no doubt that it makes sense to talk about these people as an ethnic group, but they are only a subset of Southern whites.

“Non-Southern Whites” seems like an even more dubious “ethnic” marker than “Southern Whites” (and, needless to say, “Non-Southern Whites” doesn’t describe a majority of the population as the OP suggests, but only a plurality).

61

Matthew Yglesias 11.16.12 at 3:29 pm

It’s perhaps useful to put religion into the mix here. Are white southern atheists likely to vote Republican, or are white southerners just relatively unlikely to be atheists? Do Democrats do better with northern white evangelicals, or are northern whites less likely to be evangelical?

The hypothesis here is interesting, but that’d be the way to test it. My suspicion is that the regional difference mostly comes out in the wash of religion.

62

AcademicLurker 11.16.12 at 3:41 pm

@59

I’m not sure that disentangling religion from regionalism is feasible in this case.

After all, an entire denomination went out of their way to identify as Southern Baptists. And if wikipedia is to be relied on, the split away from the mother church was over questions related to slavery.

63

GregMc 11.16.12 at 3:56 pm

Most of the South was primarily Scots-Irish/Scottish with a bit of English plus African in ancestry until relatively recently, if I’m remembering my reading correctly. The big waves of Irish, German, Italian, Scandinavian, etc. immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries didn’t really crash into the place. So to a large extent there is (was?) indeed a relatively high degree of ethnic homogeneity among southern whites that was not confined to little pockets but was instead regional (i.e. most of what had been the Confederacy). So there’s that.

Add in the “Lost Cause” (see Vicksburg, Mississippi’s decades-long abstention from 4th of July celebrations) and the different economy (until recently — light on heavy industry and ranching, heavy on agriculture; not very urban) and different religious traditions (not very Catholic, not very “main line” Protestant, very bathed in the blood of the lamb) and it would seem not unreasonable to argue that we’re talking about a distinct ethnicity to the extent that the word can mean anything.

I wrote a seminar paper in grad school to the effect that one could speak of a nation according to the terms offered by the various nationalism theories. I haven’t read the paper in many years, but my gut tells me the idea’s not crazy (but I may not have done a solid job of arguing it).

64

bjk 11.16.12 at 4:08 pm

I hope Belle’s comment is a parody of the “Those snobs are real snobs and I should know because I went to school with them!” because I don’t think anybody could be that unintentionally transparent.

65

Anarcissie 11.16.12 at 4:10 pm

I wonder if there is any objective way to categorize persons or groups as being of a given ethnicity. That could be applied to ‘White Southerner’ as a category.

Several years ago I was sent a questionnaire by a court with regard to jury duty which among other things asked me to enter my race or ethnic group. I omitted any answer to that question. Subsequently I received a letter (a form letter, so I guess there were many like me) justifying the question, on the grounds of ensuring racial balance. I replied that I did not know my race or ethnicity, but would answer the question if they would tell me how to determine it. Needless to say I received no further correspondence on the matter. I imagine I was put on the crazy list. But it is a good question, since people jabber about race and ethnicity so constantly. What, actually, are they talking about? Maybe somebody knows.

66

ktward 11.16.12 at 4:14 pm

Joshua W. Burton @4 writes:

But the short version is, mutatis mutandis, the Yankees and the blacks against the southerners and the Catholics.

It’s a careless and demonstrably false assertion that Catholics vote GOP. (And Catholics are notorious for their vocal disagreements with the edicts of their hierarchy.) Pew reports* the Party affiliation of registered Catholic voters in 2012 as:

White conservative R=76% D=18%
White moderates 39% 51%
White liberals 13% 81%
Hispanics 27% 64%
Other 25% 69%

Only 30% of registered Catholic voters are white conservatives.

Reports Pew: “The only group of Catholics that has been divided in recent elections is white Catholics who identify as moderates; they were closely divided in both 2000 and 2004 before swinging strongly in the Democratic direction in 2008. So far in 2012, there has been little drop-off in support for the Democrats among this group.”

* http://www.pewforum.org/Politics-and-Elections/The-Catholic-Swing-Vote.aspx

67

ktward 11.16.12 at 4:24 pm

Thought-provoking OP, btw, and the comment thread equally so. I’ll have to make it a point to stop by more often.

p.s. My earlier comment is in moderation– is this standard practice for new commenters or is it because of my link? No worries, just curious.

68

lupita 11.16.12 at 4:35 pm

Do Southern Whites actually self-identify as “Southern Whites”?

People were actually given this option, albeit inadvertently, during the 1970 census which was the first that tried to count brown people.

People had the option to check “South American” together with “Mexican”, “Cuban”, some other Latin American nationalities, plus “none of the above” as one’s origin. Whites all around the country had no trouble understanding they should self-identify with a “none of the above” origin with the exception of white Southerners who, in numbers great enough to invalidate the question, chose “South American”.

69

PatrickinIowa 11.16.12 at 4:50 pm

Nascar gets a ton of federal money, from the military using the cars as billboards, and in other ways, I’m sure.

Of course, it goes to the people who own the cars, who apparently are what Romney seems to have meant when he thought of “good old boys,” another name we could be using here.

Neil Young’s oppression of “Southern Man” was another example of a Canadian coming to the South (I moved from Ontario to Houston in 1959), looking around, noticing things like two colors of bathroom, and saying, “What is it with these people? This is nuts.” (Conveniently forgetting everything that goes on in Canada with respect to, for example, the First Nations.)

70

lupita 11.16.12 at 5:00 pm

What, actually, are they talking about?

A Spanish friend of mine told me that she had a horrible experience while being processed for entry to the US. She marked “white” as her race which upset the Homeland Security officer to the point of accusing her of usurping an identity and threatened her with sending her back, if not jail. She was supposed to have marked “Hispanic”.

Another Spanish friend recounted his tourist experience as having marked “Hispanic” and having his identity changed to “white”, albeit in a gentle, non-threatening way.

To answer your question: nobody knows.

71

Hektor Bim 11.16.12 at 5:02 pm

The South is a little more complicated than people admit here. There is for example, a very large Catholic population in Lousiana largely descended from French-speaking immigrants before the founding of the US. They also do not vote for Democrats, in the main.

ajay’s identification of Catholics in Northern Ireland with Southern Whites is wrong, precisely because of the imbalance of power. Southern whites have an identification with power and being the dominant group (regardless of whether it helped them personally), that is an essential feature of Northern Ireland Unionists. For Southern Whites, they are the ruling class, the class of government, police, law, business, etc. That is why Reconstruction was resented so strongly, and why it was terminated with extreme prejudice. Similarly in Northern Ireland, Protestants believe themselves to be the ruling class, the class of government, the dominant group, and why they fought so hard to retain a numerical majority in a rump Northern Ireland.

Democracy is valuable only so long as it can function as a herrenvolk democracy. Unfortunately, there seems to be a strong correlation with British cultural origins and the institution of a herrenvolk democracy, see Northern Ireland, Rhodesia, Southern US, etc.

72

Hektor Bim 11.16.12 at 5:04 pm

I have talked to Spaniards in the US who do not speak Spanish in public because they are afraid of being mistaken for Mexicans and suffering a loss of social status. A fairly regrettable attitude, but there it is.

73

Anderson 11.16.12 at 5:04 pm

That’s hilarious, Lupita. I hadn’t heard that.

… BJK, what Belle is gently trying to tell you is that she knows what she’s talking about. I realize you may find that unsettling.

I have the, uh, privilege of living and working in a white-flight area near Jackson, Mississippi, which probably means I should get off the damn internet and start brushing up on anthropology for my book proposal. May I borrow Cracker-Ass Crackers for my book title, Belle?

74

js. 11.16.12 at 5:11 pm

Phil (endorsed by JQ):

The idea is … more to extend the explanatory usefulness of ethnicity by adding “Southern White” to the list.

I understood that this is what was being attempted, and my point was—and is—to question it. In particular, I don’t see that the concept of ethnicity has any explanatory usefulness if gets divorced from how (1) identification as part of an ethnic group confers distinct social privileges or imposes distinct social burdens, and (2) how this identification necessarily depends on how one is perceived and identified by others, and especially by members of what in the given context is the privileged social group. (And I swear this last point is just a lot more obvious if you’re not white.)

Look, I agree with JQ that simple “class-based” explanations, where one’s “class” is defined in terms of current levels of income and wealth is completely inadequate if we want to understand medium-term voting patterns in the US. But trying to explain how most white people in the South vote as “the expression of a distinct ethnicity” is pretty hopeless I think. At best, it’s simply renaming the phenomenon rather than providing an explanation.

75

Marc 11.16.12 at 5:14 pm

We have records of how well different Democratic candidates did across the US. Oddly enough, Obama seems to have done far worse than all previous Democrats across Appalachia. Now perhaps there is some unusually radical policy different between him and all of the others that is just invisible to voters everywhere else, and to people like me.

Or it could be that racial animosity is actually a real thing.

I find door #2 rather more likely.

76

Anderson 11.16.12 at 5:17 pm

“identification as part of an ethnic group confers distinct social privileges”

I don’t understand. Are you questioning whether this is the case with Southern whites?

77

js. 11.16.12 at 5:18 pm

bad Jim:

js. : “I’m fairly sure that the concept of ethnicity as understood and deployed today simply wasn’t available or deployed, at least in any obvious sense, circa the 1860′s.”

You’ve got to be joking. There may be a sliver of sense there, but there’s a forest you don’t seem to notice.

Once again, not sure what this means and am genuinely curious. I do think it’s anachronistic to project back a concept like ethnicity when talking about how white people in the South thought of themselves in the 1860’s. What forest am I thereby missing?

Also: ajay’s point about passing (36) is well-taken, though it surely helps my case. Also, what Greg said at 43.

78

soru 11.16.12 at 5:21 pm

Another Spanish friend recounted his tourist experience as having marked “Hispanic” and having his identity changed to “white”, albeit in a gentle, non-threatening way.

Time for another drive-by video link:

http://welovemediacrit.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/oh-im-sorry-maam-i-thought-you-were.html

79

mrearl 11.16.12 at 5:25 pm

Given the realities of the electoral college, if “Southern White” were an ethnic voting bloc, under what circumstances would it make a difference anymore? After all, Romney could have carried 100% of the black vote in Mississippi, and so what?

Until that bloc modifies its “cracker-ass cracker” ways (Miz Belle, I am familiar with the species), what plausible “rainbow coalition” could be forged to include it to obtain 270 electoral votes?

80

Coulter 11.16.12 at 5:26 pm

“there is some unusually radical policy different between him and all of the others that is just invisible to voters everywhere else, and to people like me”

Door # 1 is pretty wide open there for you. Ask yourself if urban voters saw policies in Obama that they didn’t see in Clinton and square that with Romney doing far worse than all recent Republicans across east coast urban centers…

81

js. 11.16.12 at 5:29 pm

Anderson @72:

No, of course I don’t mean that. As I said in my first comment, if we want to think about the voting patterns of white people in the South as a reaction to the erosion of class privilege, then I think we have the beginning of an explanation. I didn’t—and don’t—think this is what JQ was getting at with the “ethnic” designation. But if I’m wrong about this, then I guess we’re not in disagreement.

82

Harold 11.16.12 at 5:36 pm

J. W. Cash’s The Mind of the South is dated and has some flaws, but is still worth reading.

Even at the best and fullest, the idea of social responsibility which grew up in the South remained always a narrow and purely personal one. . . . The Virginians themselves … never got beyond that brutal individualism — and for all the Jeffersonian glorification of the idea, it was brutal as it worked out in the plantation world — which was the heritage of the frontier; that individualism which, while willing enough to ameliorate the specific instance, relentlessly laid down as its basic social postulate the doctrine that every man was completely and wholly responsible for himself. … The individual outlook . . . the whole paternalistic pattern, in fact, the complete otherworldliness of religious feeling . . . all this, combining with their natural unrealism of temperament, bred in [white Southerners] a thoroughgoing satisfaction, the most complete blindness to the true facts of their world.”
***
“… hardly any Southerner of the master class every even slightly apprehended that the general shiftlessness and degradation of the masses was a social product. Hardly one, in truth, ever concerned himself about the systematic raising of the economic and social level of these masses. And if occasional men [would sponsor a school here and there, the same men] . . . would take the lead in indignantly rejecting the Yankee idea of universal free schools maintained at the public charge . . .” W. J. Cash, The Mind of the South (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1941).

83

SamChevre 11.16.12 at 5:40 pm

I am distinctly unconvinced by Belle’s implication that the issue in the Georgia governor’s race was race.

I think that very few votes would have switched if the contest were between Jimmy Carter (D) and Clarence Thomas (R).

I second the recommendation of “Albion’s Seed” as a source, and will note that “Southern whites” are a concatenation of Appalachian/Scots-Irish whites (Belle’s crackers) and the overwhelmingly English plantation-country upper class, who get along quite poorly.

84

NMissC 11.16.12 at 5:42 pm

Sitting here in Mississippi, I find it puzzling– even startling– that folks aren’t quite sure there’s an identifiable population called “White Southerners” that share lots of common characteristics.

What I found puzzling in the wake of the election was how long it took folks to wonder the extent that the white (or white male) vote against Obama was really a southern white vote against Obama– if you took out white southerners, just how lopsided would the remainder be? (A lot less, apparently, although still a majority against).

Another point: Sure, Obama did a little worse with white voters in much of the south than, say, Kerry, but not that much worse. Lee Atwater taught Republicans everywhere (well, helped teach. He picked up a theme and perfected it) how to inject race into everything. Republicans in Mississippi work overtime to identify everything the Democratic party does with blacks.

Someone up thread mentioned John Sheldon Reed, who, as noted, has spent a career insisting that there is such a thing as Southern identity. I’d love his take on this, partly because it would be that of a conservative who has thought deeply about the subject.

As an aside, I, like Anderson, am apparently of the roughly 10% of white Mississippians who voted for Obama in ’08 (no exit polls this time, so I have no measure of how rare I am this time around). When I heard the 10% number at the time, my reaction was: “Then I must know ever single one of them personally.”

85

NMissC 11.16.12 at 5:45 pm

I’m glad someone brought up W.J. Cash.

86

Bloix 11.16.12 at 5:48 pm

The historian Michael Lind argues that “Southern white” is indeed an ethnicity and that the ethnicity is Scots-Irish:

“the fervent Protestantism and the penchant for violence of the Bible Belt South are not responses to the American frontier environment. These traits are ethnic inheritances that the Scots-Irish brought with them from Northern Ireland in the 18th century and took with them as they moved from the Appalachians to the Ozarks to finally, Southern California in the 1930s as “Okies.” The historian David Hackett Fischer, the journalist Kevin Phillips, and others, including myself, have written at length about this topic.. “

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0406.lind.html

87

Jonathan Mayhew 11.16.12 at 5:52 pm

I’m wondering, if “Southern White” is an ethnicity, are there also “Southern Whites” in Missouri, in Southern Indiana, Southern Ohio, Southern Illinois, or even Pennsylvania? Rural whites, basically, who might be Southern Baptist or Pentecostal in religion and have confederate flags on their pick-up trucks? Or is the “deep south” distinctive in some way, if only because of a higher concentration of this ethnic stereotype?

88

lemmy caution 11.16.12 at 6:07 pm

The last non-“southern white” democratic president before Obama was JFK. That was 50 years ago.

89

Harold 11.16.12 at 6:09 pm

Cash maintained that upper-class Southerners (of English ancestry, or pretending to be) made a point of affecting to despise (Celtic) lower class whites even more than African-Americans.

Others, such as Stetson Kennedy (from Florida), who studied the Crackers, and George Pullen Jackson (from Maine), author of White Spirituals of the Southern Uplands, have championed them.

http://www.kislakfoundation.org/millennium-exhibit/bucuvalas1.htm
and http://gargoyle.flagler.edu/2011/10/stetson-kennedy-a-celebration-of-a-legend/

Link to 1949 radio program narrated by George Pullen Jackson: http://sacredharpmemories.net/jackson1949.mp3

I also enjoyed very much the movie Ross McElwee’s semi-documentary: Sherman’s March to the Sea, as an ethnography of the modern South.

I am half East-Texan and half-third generation NYC, myself.

90

GregMc 11.16.12 at 6:14 pm

I haven’t seen this idea really taken up (though a few people have mentioned it, as did I), but the more I think about it the more I convince myself that the fact that all southerners have grown up hearing a variation on the idea of “you are from a part of the country that got a lesson (two, actually) taught to it by the rest of the country” has had an impact on the subconcious. I know I always twitch when I hear the Vietnam War described as the first time America had been defeated (a double wince, when one counts the War of 1812).

I can’t claim that there’s a connection to voting, but it wouldn’t surprise me that this heritage makes white southerners particularly open to conservativism.

91

lemmy caution 11.16.12 at 6:16 pm

“Albions Seed” also argues that southern whites include cavaliers who developed most of the plantation culture of the south. His argument is that southern whites are two ethnicities. Nobody ever talks about the cavaliers though.

92

GregMc 11.16.12 at 6:17 pm

Oooh! And now it hits me that more than a few of the better known black Republicans just happen to be southerners, too: Allen West and Herman Cain (FL), Clarence Thomas (GA), Condoleeza Rice (AL), and, well, I’ve run out. Nevertheless!

93

Harold 11.16.12 at 6:28 pm

My feeling is that it is an oversimplification to attribute (or blame) the Southern “penchant for violence” solely to the Scotch-Irish ethnicity of the South. My Texan father, was always carrying on about the regrettable absence of the Code Duello in Manhattan and the prevailing atmosphere of (what he considered) rudeness he encountered there.

The fact is that the American South retained feudal customs brought over from 17th and 18th century Britain, after these customs (such as dueling and forced labor, to name two that come to mind) had been banned across the Atlantic. I remember reading Mark Twain somewhere remarking on this and giving many examples of it, and I have sometimes noticed (or fancied) similarities to customs and language in English novels by, say, Smollet and Defoe, to those of American Southerners.

94

ptl 11.16.12 at 6:29 pm

Condoleeza Rice (AL)

Oh yes. She got a lesson taught. A schoolmate of hers died here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16th_Street_Baptist_Church_bombing

95

GregMc 11.16.12 at 6:32 pm

I’m aware of that. Hence my careful wording.

96

Hektor Bim 11.16.12 at 6:48 pm

GregMc,

The US did not get defeated in the War of 1812. It didn’t carry all before it, but there were a number of US victories at sea (Atlantic ocean engagements, Great Lakes) and on land (New Orleans, York). Particularly for the South, New Orleans is seen as a great victory for the US against perfidious Albion, which it was.

97

ptl 11.16.12 at 6:50 pm

GregMc, sorry.

98

GregMc 11.16.12 at 6:53 pm

Fair enough. Shall we call it a draw?

I’m ashamed of myself for overlooking the Battle of New Orleans. There as a song about it and everything!

99

GregMc 11.16.12 at 6:54 pm

No need ptl!

100

Bruce Wilder 11.16.12 at 7:25 pm

I would think that there’s both a contrast, and a synergy between, the “Southern White” of the lowland South — what was once the plantation South, the part of the South where blacks are numerous and economically essential, albeit disadvantaged and resented — and the “Southern White” of the hill country and Greater Appalachia.

It may be of interest that residents of Greater Appalalchia are very likely to self-identify their “ethnicity” as “American” — something that is not all that common anywhere else in the country, where the “nation of immigrants” and diversity ideologies are widely accepted.

101

marcel 11.16.12 at 7:25 pm

Jonathan Mayhew wrote:

I’m wondering, if “Southern White” is an ethnicity, are there also “Southern Whites” in Missouri, in Southern Indiana, Southern Ohio, Southern Illinois, or even Pennsylvania? Rural whites, basically, who might be Southern Baptist or Pentecostal in religion and have confederate flags on their pick-up trucks? Or is the “deep south” distinctive in some way, if only because of a higher concentration of this ethnic stereotype?

Hacker discusses settlement patterns extensively in Albions Seed. I read it 8-10 years ago; IIRC, southern IL, southern OH and nearly all of IN up to but not including the Great Lakes coastal plain were settled largely by immigrants coming up from the south, especially VA and KY[1]. Again, IIRC, the original white settlers of the southern uplands (i.e., Appalachia) came through 17th and 18th C Philadelphia by invitation of one W. Penn. When the whites who’d preceded them found them pretty obnoxious, they were encouraged to keep going west. When they got to western PA and ran into the Appalachians, they started moving northeast and (mostly) southwest, following the mountains, but many remained there as well. As for MO, given that it was a border state/slave state that experienced its own Civil War in miniature, I expect it to be chock full of Southern Whites, at least away from St. Louis and near Arkansas.

So Hacker’s story aligns with the points you raise.

[1] I lived for a number of years in Chicago and learned, while I was there, that despite the NW Ordinance of 1787, slavery did exist, sparsely, in southern IL before the Civil War. A colleague who attended college in southern IL mentioned seeing what were described as slave shacks when driving around the countryside. I would be surprised if the same thing was not true of IN and perhaps OH and PA, at least near its southern border with MD and VA (now WV).

102

dsquared 11.16.12 at 7:27 pm

The idea is not to treat self-defined Southern Whites as an ethnic minority, and offer them the compensatory protections that we generally offer ethnic minorities – that would be absurd as well as not being welcome to Southern Whites themselves

I don’t necessarily think it is absurd or offensive. I think there’s a decent case for Southern White being an ethnicity, and if it is one, then the evidence is clear that it’s a systematically economically disadvantaged one. I would hazard a guess that it people of Southern White ethnicity are probably systematically stereotyped, and even actually discriminated against. I think a decent case for some sort of affirmative action could be made, and would even hazard that the long term political and social effects of such a program would be entirely salutory. The case for not doing something to help out the descendants of the side which lost the Civil War seems to rest on “they sometimes act bigoted and their ancestors were really nasty”, which seems like a poor reason to me.

103

LizardBreath 11.16.12 at 7:39 pm

the evidence is clear that it’s a systematically economically disadvantaged one.

Clear? I don’t think so. The South, where Southern Whites live, is poorer than the rest of the US, but within that region I’d be really surprised to find that Southern Whites were disadvantaged compared to any other group. It is slightly more plausible that Southern Whites who leave the South might be disadvantaged compared to non-Southern Whites, but I’d really want to see some evidence before I relied on that. What were you thinking of as the clear evidence here?

104

Leeds man 11.16.12 at 7:43 pm

@89: (Celtic) lower class whites

Do Northern English and Lowland Scots (the main sources of “Ulster Scots”) self-identify as Celtic?

105

Hektor Bim 11.16.12 at 7:59 pm

dsquared,

The problem with that reasoning is that almost all groups are economically disadvantaged in the US relative to Reform Jews and Korean-Americans. Southern Whites are not disadvantaged in their states of origin relative to the population as a whole. There is a whole other group that is, however. Someone would have to provide statistics that Southern Whites are discriminated against in non-Southern states, relative to the median population. It is not clear to me that such statistics exist, and if you possess them, please direct us to them.

106

Barry Freed 11.16.12 at 8:10 pm

. I think a decent case for some sort of affirmative action could be made, and would even hazard that the long term political and social effects of such a program would be entirely salutory.

That is a fiendishly clever scheme to defuse the race-baiting objections to affirmative action even if it’s probably too late to make good use of it as affirmative action has barely any political or legal/regulatory presence these days. It would also be dificult to keep white power types from hijacking the idea and wedding it to their own ugly agenda.

107

Harold 11.16.12 at 8:15 pm

Southern whites are disadvantaged in the sense of having less education than whites elsewhere. The causes of this are political rather than economic — though arguably insofar as they are economically disadvantaged, it is for political reasons.

James C. Cobb’s The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity argues that with the spread of the get-rich-quick ethic and agribusiness, debt slavery, Walmart, privatized prisons and use of prison labor, gated communities, etc., — the whole nation is (or was, it was originally published in 1992) on the verge of becoming “the South”

108

Frank in midtown 11.16.12 at 8:19 pm

We’ve had this conversation before. Regionalism isn’t ethnicity, and they will always vote against the party that tells them they aren’t better than the minorities they hate.

109

GiT 11.16.12 at 8:27 pm

Both UT and UC use “top x percent” of every high school admitted plans which advantage rural whites along with those from urban schools within the state. Many elite colleges aim for “geographic diversity,” which entails targeting the South. So rural and Southern Whites may already be getting some degree of affirmative action.

110

Steve J. 11.16.12 at 8:32 pm

marcel 11.16.12 at 12:54 pm

I should have searched first to check the reference.

Steve J: Did you mean McWhiney’s Cracker culture : Celtic ways in the Old South?

YES

111

John Quiggin 11.16.12 at 9:00 pm

js@81 That’s pretty close to what I’m saying.

On “passing”, I agree that the availability of self-identification varies a lot, and is correlated with privilege etc. Members of a dominant ethnic group will typically be very good at picking out interlopers. In the US, as you say, it’s much easier for whites (in the literal sense of “people with light skin”) than for others.

112

Omega Centauri 11.16.12 at 9:24 pm

Candians know more about the war of 1812 than USAers, they have a holliday to celebrate it. All I remember being taught in school was the fact we were angry at the Brits, and heroes like John Paul Jones, and the battle of New Orleans. So naturally USAers don’t think of it as a near defeat. In reality we were getting out butts kicked, but Britain had other pressing continental concerns. I’ve always regarded the battle of New Orleans as a real tragedy, being that the peace treaty had already been signed, only the news hadn’t yet reached the combatants.

113

Substance McGravitas 11.16.12 at 9:26 pm

Candians know more about the war of 1812 than USAers, they have a holliday to celebrate it.

We do?

114

Leo Casey 11.16.12 at 9:35 pm

To really develop this idea, one would need to also look at Appalachian whites, which also are a strong Republican bloc. Take for instance West Virginia, which came into being as a state in opposition to the historic South, yet was as solid Romney as any deep South state. Across Appalachia — southwestern rural Virginia, southwestern rural Pennsylvania, southern rural Ohio, even into parts of Cincinnati, Kentucky, Tennessee — the pattern holds. And there are interesting cultural affinities between the Scots-Irish of Appalachia and the Scots-Irish of the South, including unusually violent cultures with a very heavy emphasis on honor and respect. Fox Butterefield’s All God’s Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence, while examining an African-American family, locates it in that tradition and culture.

115

Leeds man 11.16.12 at 9:36 pm

Substance, maybe “holliday to celebrate it” is Americanese for “The Conservatives made a bunch of TV ads about it”.

116

Leo Casey 11.16.12 at 9:44 pm

One more thought: what is especially interesting about the Appalachian white is that it engenders some of the most powerful expressions of working class identity in American history — I am thinking particularly of the miner’s struggles which, produced among other things, probably the American classic ‘class war’ anthem, “Which Side Are Yon On?” Offhand, there is no parallel for the southern white, with racial divisions being a major explanatory variable. The absence of a significant black population in Appalachia would make the development of a class consciousness an easier historical project. What is interesting is why Appalachian whites have moved so strongly toward an anti-African-American identity in recent years. (West Virginia was once, and not so long ago, among the most reliably Democratic states.)

117

Niall McAuley 11.16.12 at 9:45 pm

Harold at writes The Mississippi Delta

…was shining like a national guitar

118

Dr. Hilarius 11.16.12 at 10:00 pm

White southerners are not disadvantaged relative to others groups in the South. The South is economically disadvantaged, relative to the rest of the US, because of white Southerners. Unlike, for example, working-class whites in Michigan, southern whites have consistently resisted unionization. When I lived in bucolic Smyrna, Tennessee there was an attempt to unionize a local machine plant. Things were bombed, people were beaten and unionization was once again thwarted. A commonly expressed view was that “I don’t need a union, I can take care of myself.” A backward-looking cultural tradition, akin to lost cause nostalgia, gets in the way of better schools, better infrastructure, and a better economy.

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John Quiggin 11.16.12 at 10:27 pm

The War of 1812 is the perfect summation of the pro-war mentality. The outcome was the status quo ante, except with Washington burned, tens of thousands dead, and the most famous battle fought after the peace had been signed. Yet both the Canadian and US sides regard it as a victory.

120

Eskimo 11.16.12 at 10:35 pm

What is the defining characteristic? Accent? Troglodyte attitude? Birthplace?

121

Harold 11.16.12 at 10:36 pm

@116 “southern whites have consistently resisted unionization.” I would argue that it is not “nostalgia” but brutal and unrelenting repression on the part of wealthy opponents of unionization. See also John Dollard’s classic, Caste and Class in a Southern Town (which should be required reading for all Americans) for the mechanisms of social ostracism and enforced conformity meted out to those who dared to depart from the approved “individualist” line.

There were also Southern whites who heroically supported unionization (sometimes at great personal cost, such as Claude C. Williams http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_C._Williams), Zilphia Horton, Virginia Foster Durr, and doubtless countless others I don’t know about.

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Meredith 11.16.12 at 10:37 pm

Southern white as an ethnicity — makes sense, for reasons elaborated in many comments.

But to complicate things a bit. (I speak as the granddaughter of a Virginian, who was happy to flee that world for NYC in 1916 or so, but who passed her ways of cooking on to my mother who passed them on to me, and who also passed on the southern — white and black — preoccupation with genealogy, good story-telling, lots of other things).

Food as an example. White and black southerners know all about greens and biscuits, cornbread and grits. Heavy on the pork. Class is more the marker of whether it’s ham or chitlins.

Religion another. Heavy on the fundamentalist and evangelical Protestantism. (Southern Baptists look tame next to the church my grandmother grew up in, in rural Virginia.) Of course, there are Episcopalian southerners (the white version), who once represented the “ruling classes.” That’s been a lot more complicated for many decades now. My point only: a lot of southern blacks and whites share a lot on the religion front.

Feeling for the land (mountains or plain), sense of family, love of stories and story-telling (especially about family): shared by whites and blacks, if usually separately from one another. Blacks and whites who went north for jobs still made (and make) the regular treks “home” to that grandmother in Virginia or Mississippi or Alabama.

Music and dancing (e.g. clogging through tap): here, more actual “mixing” of black and white endeavors. Fascinating history here. Add, today, athletics.

I guess I’m working my way towards: white southerners as a separate ethnicity, yes and/but no: after the Civil War only thanks to Jim Crow and the continuing Lee Atwater effects now. (And even Lee Atwater played with BB King.) And even then and now, not entirely.

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Meredith 11.16.12 at 10:49 pm

I can’t restrain myself. Out of loyalty to my grandmother and mother: Not just pork. Chicken. Fried. (With nods to Maryland baked.)

124

Manta 11.16.12 at 10:56 pm

125

Harold 11.16.12 at 11:29 pm

121. Cousin marriage.

My great-great grandfather was a drummer boy in the war of 1812. However, I only found this out a year ago, so I guess the Hark a Vagrant link is spot on about US-Americans’ lack of interest in the subject.

126

slavdude 11.16.12 at 11:48 pm

Another book that I found useful for my own interest and for writing lectures on pre-Civil-War America is John McCardell’s Idea of a Southern Nation, which goes into antebellum Southern nationalism. One of its products was the University of the South (mentioned upthread) in Sewanee, Tennessee.

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Peter Erwin 11.17.12 at 12:02 am

All I remember being taught in school was the fact we were angry at the Brits, and heroes like John Paul Jones, and the battle of New Orleans.

I’m afraid you’ve mixed in some American Revolution there: John Paul Jones had been dead for 20 years when the War of 1812 broke out. (The famous American naval hero of the latter was Oliver Hazard “We have met the enemy and they are ours” Perry.)

128

marcel 11.17.12 at 2:01 am

Omega Centauri wrote:

Candians know more about the war of 1812 than USAers, they have a holliday to celebrate it.

Manta linked to harkavagrant.com

As a United Statesian, I respond thus!

129

marcel 11.17.12 at 2:02 am

Please, please, please, get my last comment out of moderation hell…

130

js. 11.17.12 at 2:15 am

JQ @111:

So there’s less of a disagreement than I originally thought. Duly acknowledged, and sorry for misunderstanding. But let me be less than conciliatory and (re-)offer the following points:

1. I continue to be pretty seriously uncomfortable with treating the (in the relevant context) privileged group as just another minority. So take this from the OP: “the best way to understand the distinctive characteristics of US voting patterns is to to treat “Southern White ” as an ethnicity, like Hispanic [emph. added].” This kind of thing I don’t agree with at all. At least to me it seems that once you assert something like this, it’s hard at best to not treat the professed grievances of the group in question as worthy of serious attention and address. Which, mostly, I don’t think they are because they are very often expressions of anger and resentment at the erosion of their previously—and unjustly—held privilege. (Reverse racism!) In other words, I think the asymmetry of privilege is criterial (as is the inescapability of the designation: see below). Explanations that appeal to ethnic identity make sense (when they do) insofar as they allow us to see how

2. If you want to say: no, I don’t mean to endorse any such consequence, I just mean to point to some salient cultural differences, then ok, let’s accept the “ethnic” designation. But now I think all we have is a renaming of the phenomenon—there’s no explanatory power left. (And anyway, if what’s doing the work is the reaction to the erosion of privilege, let’s talk about that and forget the “ethnic” detour. Right?)

3. Re passing: The point isn’t that it’s “easier” for Whites to pass (if this is what you meant). The point is rather that the motivations are completely asymmetrical. No member of a privileged group would want to “pass” (pass as what, anyway?). So passing isn’t at all like self-identification. Most obviously, if you can self-identify, you can’t be found out! This is what I referred to in my parenthetical at the end of (1). If you can self-identify, then the ethnic designation is question is escapable. So: I can start out as ethnically a Southern White, then I start listening to Television or Wire or whatever, and start wearing retro sneakers and tight jeans, and reading a bit of Murakami, and presto!, I’m not an ethnic Southern White anymore. This is not an ethnicity—not in any explanatorily useful sense.

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Harold 11.17.12 at 2:19 am

132

js. 11.17.12 at 2:40 am

Damn typos!

In 129, the first sentence in (1) should end “…as just another ethnicity“. The last sentence in (1) is obviously incomplete—it was mostly meant to reiterate the point about the asymmetry of privilege. Emphasis was most definitely not added to “like Hispanic”, but it should have been. Cheers.

133

Belle Waring 11.17.12 at 3:37 am

102: white southerners are disadvantaged only insofar as they live in the poorer states of the union. They are at a huge advantage when compared with their African-American fellow state residents, who are the poorest goddamn people in the whole country. White southerners will sacrifice government money for themselves if it means 1/16th as much money would go to a black neighbor. Not to say they don’t have black friends, know more about black culture, and spend more of their lives entwined with black people than their northern white counterparts. But I fail to see why we should all stand around with our thumbs up our ass pretending they’re not RACIST. Does anyone think I was joking about the Lee Atwater thing? Not joking. Lee Atwater wasn’t even that racist, personally! No, he was a worse person in that he was just willing to exploit the ignorance and white-supremacist views of his fellow-cracker-ass-crackers to win elections. Dsquared, I love you, and I wish appeals to the interests of poor working-class whites would move the needle on any issue, ever. But no, because every single government program conceivable, from putting out cans for recycling to limiting the number of handguns a person can buy in a given month to four (or two, can’t remember, but my dad actually ran up against the limit one time and bitched [he is a besieged white southern liberal]) has been permanently linked with BLACK PEOPLE in the minds of cracker-ass-crackers by the Republican party. They should be publicly chastened and shamed for being a bunch of cracker-ass-cracker racist shitbags. People need to go on TV and say things like “slavery was unequivocally, soul-warpingly evil. It was as bad as the Holocaust. If you say one single thing faintly implying it was OK in any remote fashion you should be run out of town on a rail and never be seen in polite society again.” Also, some other people should go on TV and say “hi America, entrenched racism exists in our fair land. We should, like do something about that. EVER.” I am a patriot, I love America, I love the South, I love Georgia, and South Carolina, and the people there, and the food, and I love some people who are cracker-ass-crackers on the razor edges of their sharp souls and I hold them to me anyway, even though it hurts. The fact remains, Reconstruction was abandoned, and black citizens returned to an evil serfdom, and southern people need to know they lost the Civil War FOR A GOOD REASON, because they were fighting ON THE SIDE OF WRONG and the fields of the south were harrowed with lead and dry bones and watered with blood AND THAT WAS JUST AND FAIR.

134

Omega Centauri 11.17.12 at 3:52 am

I wonder how much of the West Virginia results are due to the characterization of the mythological war on coal. Coal is big business in that state, and a declining business. People whose jobs are at risk due to changes in the economy are prone to arguments blaming scapecoats. And on the margins tougher regulations on power plants, and mountain top removal are accelerating the process.

135

Hektor Bim 11.17.12 at 4:06 am

Agree 100 percent with Belle. Lincoln’s 2nd inaugural says it all.

136

Hektor Bim 11.17.12 at 4:10 am

Also, have to disagree with JQ about the war of 1812 being pointless. It sealed and validated the results of the American Revolution, so that Britain was forced to treat the US as something closer to an equal as opposed to a dependency or colony. It also convinced the Canadians that they could maintain their independence from the US and thus reduced their dependence on the UK.

137

Bernard 11.17.12 at 4:16 am

of course. southern whites are different for all the reasons above and hold on to such difference as a badge of honor. it is so complicated and so simple as to why Southern whites are a separate class unto themselves. all this talk. gosh does anyone think a southern white will vote for anything left of center. and the reasons for such are self explanatory. Gosh, how many times do you have to hear “God, guns and gays,” to know only the white southerner could create such a list of things to self identify with and through. our history is so self defining.

the European(Creole) New Orleanians/ pre Louisiana Purchase/1803. didn’t trust the white Americans one bit. we had a Dividing line in New Orleans. Foreigners(Americans) lived on one side, natives (Creoles) lived on the other side. they just didn’t mix, neither did their religions as well. the kind of thinking just proves how our upbringing determines/influence everything.

frankly i had never heard of the anti war white southerners until i took college courses and heard of the Hill/upcountry folks who didn’t want anything to do with slavery, much less fight a war over it, so some rich white Slave owners could keep the status quo.
just more proof of the anti Government inherent in the white Southerners, Scots Irish, regardless of their outlook towards other minorities or that peculiar “institution.” the stories i heard about the “mistreatment” of the Civil War losers/white southerners also help perpetuate the isolationist thinking/ self reinforcing behavior of the Southerner whites.

while the Cities in the South may be cosmopolitan, the whites who live in the suburbs carry on the same Southern white values attributed to the legacy of Lee Atwater. we are still and probably will continue to be a special class of American. as one bumper sticker said. “American by birth, Southern by grace of God.” something never change. lol

138

js. 11.17.12 at 4:17 am

And what Belle said. (Not that I have any such intimate acquaintance with the people or phenomena in question.)

139

John Quiggin 11.17.12 at 4:21 am

@js I am not suggesting any legitimacy for Southern White claims for special treatment, such as pandering to Confederate nostalgia. I said this in the OP and repeatedly in the comments thread. Where I use the term “minority”, I use it literally to mean “less than half”. In this context, the most extreme example of a politically significant minority is the 1 per cent.

The explanatory power is in the realization that, when Southern Whites are excluded, a standard class-based analysis works pretty well in explaining the voting behavior of whites, contrary to the claim dominant in US discussion that the Republicans have won the support of the white working class. That in turn implies, to me at any rate, that the right strategy for Democrats is to ignore Southern Whites (or try to persuade them to drop their identification with that group), and push policies that appeal to the non-Southern white working class (as well as working class members of other groups).

On ‘passing’ we seem to be in furious agreement. Blacks and Hispanics can’t easily pass as white, but Southern Whites can choose to be generic American whites.

140

bad Jim 11.17.12 at 4:27 am

In reply to js. @ 77: Southerners have always considered blacks a separate ethnic group.

141

Harold 11.17.12 at 4:32 am

I for one would not wish Southerners, white and black, to give up the positive aspects of their regional identity as a price of assimilation. I don’t think it is helpful to call Southern whites ass-crackers.

142

rf 11.17.12 at 5:01 am

Is the South really that different today? I was always led to believe that after the introduction of the air conditioner and the resulting southward migration the whole country just, homogenised? (Is that the word?) So how do these demographic shifts effect this idea of Southern white ethnicity? As best I can remember Lisa McGirrs Suburban Warriors, she argued that the ones who initially drove the Republican movement in the South weren’t Scot Irish malcontents but Suburban nut-balls. Can you even speak of a group called ‘Southern whites’ in any real way anymore? (Apart from as a group of white people living in a certain location) Seems more of an ideology at this stage than a genuine culture? What am I missing….(this might all have been said already or all be nonsense. I’m willing to accept that)

143

Harold 11.17.12 at 5:16 am

What the USA really looks like: http://www.saltwaterwitch.com/img/WhatAmericaLooksLike-2012Election-ChrisHoward.jpg
Notice that the Western “red” states are really pale pink (because of their low population) and the Southern states are really purple.

144

Dr. Hilarius 11.17.12 at 5:22 am

Harold@121: I would not dispute for a moment that attempts to unionize in the South have been met with violence. But unionization was met with violence in every part of the this nation. My point is that there is something in the culture that has resulted in the failure to unionize to an extent far greater than other regions. My anecdotal evidence comes from living in the South (not just in Tennessee) and repeatedly hearing anti-union rhetoric from people who could have greatly benefited from a unionized workplace. I suspect a secondary reason for anti-union sentiment was an identification of unions with “outside agitators.”

The lack of union activity is the reason Boeing opened an aircraft assembly plant in South Carolina. It’s internal off-shoring of jobs to the third world.

And Belle is dead on.

145

LFC 11.17.12 at 5:36 am

rf @142
I believe you may (?) be misremembering McGirr’s ‘Suburban Warriors,’ which I haven’t read but as I understand it (and acc. to the Amazon summary) focuses on Orange County CA to illuminate the Goldwater-to-Reagan trajectory whereby conservatism (understood as ‘free-market’ worship and virulent anti-Communism) went from its 1964 electoral low point to electoral triumph in 1980. Most of the deep South went for Goldwater in 1964 (before the 1965 Voting Rights Act), so the white South was already starting its Republican-ization at that point. (Two political scientists who have written extensively about Southern politics, Merle and Earl Black, should probably be mentioned in this thread.)

I’ve never lived in the South proper but I did live for roughly a year in small-town West Virginia. It was too long ago to shed much anecdotal light on recent voting patterns but suffice it to say I’m not too surprised that Obama lost WVa twice, notwithstanding aspects of the state’s political history that have been mentioned upthread.

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mrearl 11.17.12 at 5:36 am

Miz Belle has it 100% correct at 133, and ya’ll can just shut up. Again, like her, I know the species, and I love me some cracker-ass crackers, and, ma’am you are right, it does hurt. Lord forgive them, they know not what they do. But they are my cracker-ass crackers, and I will abide them and comfort them as I can in their madness.

What amazes me more than their madness is the lengths to which ya’ll learned sophisticates will go to analyze it, categorize it, historicize it, criticize it, authenticize it, compromise it, minimize it (alright, me on that one), and elevate the backward to a position worthy of serious consideration, study, and even ethnic group status. There’s a reason why nobody reads Key and Cash anymore, and it’s because they’ve been irrelevant since before I got out of college and had to read them forty years ago. The world moves on, and it leaves the South behind, and nobody much cares, including “Southern Whites.”

Over 140 comments on the very idea that these ignorant peckerwoods deserve some kind of classification as anything but ignorant peckerwoods by a fine group of largely Yankee intellectuals is, well, as amazing as it is condescending. These good old boys will see even the OP, well-meant as it may be, as looking-down-the-nose and will have no truck with you. You will not bring them into the 20th, much less the 21st, Century by these means, by labeling them an “ethnic” group. Not to be too blunt, but my sense is that most of you do not care whether to promote them to modernity, but only to taxonimize them. Insofar as they are incorrigible, and they are far, far, incorrigible, I can see that point, but it sure does lack empathy.
Miz Belle, if I have overstated the case, please forgive me.

147

Meredith 11.17.12 at 5:39 am

Maybe the problem is the term “ethnicity”? What does it mean? To me, voting patterns aren’t the way to do initial tracking. (News flash: people of the same ethnicity often vote differently from one another.) Why I went to things like food and music, but these aren’t adequate, either, when you throw in the US notions of race. Yet still, if you’re going to include region as a marker of, or at least guide to, ethnicity, you can’t ignore the shared cultural experiences of blacks and whites in the south, the together-shared and as-opponent-shared. Just saying, all this is complicated.
Btw, Lee Atwater + BB King (and others): to me, too, a betrayal — THE betrayal, given the long (let me emphasize: long) history of music and dance as arenas of sharing, well and good — where the anger sometimes gives way to joy. (Maybe my problem is that my southern connections aren’t high class enough.)

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mrearl 11.17.12 at 5:54 am

Meredith, I take your point, but I think you may have the cart before this thread’s horse. I don’t think what’s on the table is vote-tracking as an ethnic identifier, but vice-versa.

It’s not complicated. I never met Lee Atwater, and count myself poorer for it, but I’ve met BB King a couple or three times, and here’s why it’s not complicated: BB King has never done me or the country any harm.

149

LFC 11.17.12 at 5:56 am

from the OP:
It strikes me that the best way to understand the distinctive characteristics of US voting patterns is to to treat “Southern White ” as an ethnicity, like Hispanic. With that classification each of the major parties becomes a coalition between a solid bloc vote from an ethnic minority and around half the votes of the “non-Southern white” ethnic majority, which is more likely to vote on class lines.

2 problems here: first, as B. Alpers already pointed out, ‘non-Southern whites’ are a plurality not majority. Second, Obama this time got approx 70 percent of the Hispanic vote, appr. 93 percent of the African-American vote. That’s pretty solid bloc votes from two ethnic minorities, not one.

Meredith: I agree it’s complicated. mrearl may disagree: h/she says southern whites are just ignorant and ‘backward’ and need to be “promoted to modernity.” And then accuses those not taking this precise line, or using these words, of lack of empathy (!).
mrearl: the OP (original post) is not interested in this backwardness/modernity stuff. Its point as I read it is basically to ‘write off’ southern whites as culturally or ‘ethnically’ distinct so the Dems can make more direct class-based appeals to working-class whites elsewhere.

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mrearl 11.17.12 at 6:10 am

I may well be wrong, but I took the OP to suggest an ethnic voting bloc, not something to be written off, but something to be exploited/engaged. I do not find a lack of empathy there, but in most of the following comments, and it has nothing to do with taking any precise line, but merely with whether the comments have any practical application.

Now, if the Dems want to “write off” the South for the next few elections, I see your point and wouldn’t blame if they did, because they just did for two consecutive elections and it was a winner. I’ll stop there, lest we derail.

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Meredith 11.17.12 at 6:40 am

Hey, I initially just sited the Atwater-BB King connection as an illustration of complex threading, the strangeness of connections. Can’t tell you how weird to find myself potentially associated with any defense of Atwater!
But I do feel that some other things are at stake here: I keep going back to food and music, religion in there, too. And, you know, to people. The things that polisci ethnographers tend to overlook. (Talk about weird.)

152

Meredith 11.17.12 at 6:57 am

Maybe I should also add, as a 62-year-old, there’s an awful lot that I tend to take for granted — yes, that’s obviously true — and don’t feel the need (nor yet can find the energy) to state yet once again. For instance, racism bad, anti-racism good. Sorry if such statements of the obvious are somehow still needed. Note to younger: get with it.

153

bad Jim 11.17.12 at 7:34 am

The point is that the sentiment “we’re in this together” doesn’t work as well in the South as we would expect. There, trying to help people who are not doing well, who are actually suffering, not only isn’t popular, it’s been met with massive resistance for a hundred and fifty years. At some point progress is impossible if there is a consensus that some group may not be not allowed to benefit.

It makes no sense to talk about Southern whites without explicitly mentioning Southern blacks, segregation and slavery. It’s a package deal. It’s not the drawl, the sweet tea, NASCAR, twangy music or fried foods. The most important thing about Southern whites is the condition of the Southerners who aren’t white.

154

GregMc 11.17.12 at 9:48 am

Following up on bad Jim’s point: explicit definition of southern Whiteness as “not Black” was used by the South’s leadership to maintain slavery against criticism from lower class Whites and to fight labor unions and (trans-racial) populism from the late 19th century onwards. Citation needed, I reckon.

I don’t know the latest scholarly consensus, but a concept of Nation (and the related one of ethnicity) doesn’t spring from the soil so much as it is defined by cultural and/or political leaders.

155

Belle Waring 11.17.12 at 11:25 am

Thank you Mr. Earl. I appreciate the support. And bad Jim has an excellent point.

156

rf 11.17.12 at 12:46 pm

LFC
“I believe you may (?) be misremembering McGirr’s ‘Suburban Warriors,’…..”

Yeah I think so (I do remember it was OC etc). Or at least, I got a bit carried away and extended McGirr’s analysis of the rights strategy there to other areas where they’ve been successful. I think Meredith clarified what my problem was to me (if I’m not misunderstanding) ie identifying a Southern White ethnicity through voting patterns (and political positions of the new right?) rather than through normal, cultural markers?
I was just wondering whether that identity still really existed, and how relevant McPherson or ‘Albions Seed’ etc was to describing Southern White cultural today? Buy Belle and mreal have answered that. Apologies for the incoherence, it is indeed complicated. Though very interesting
(Gonna look up the Merle and Earl Black recommendation)

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Philip 11.17.12 at 1:35 pm

I fail to see why it’s so important that ‘southern white’ be an ethnic identity instead of a regional one, the numbers add up the same either way. I would think most Southern whites also see themselves as American white. I would say my ethnicity is White British or White English but I also identify as being Northern English and Northeastern English. I’m probably missing something but to me making ‘southern white’ an ethnicity only give legitimacy to southern nationalism.

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dsquared 11.17.12 at 2:15 pm

They should be publicly chastened and shamed for being a bunch of cracker-ass-cracker racist shitbags.

the opposite approach, of smothering them with love and taxpayer money, and gently moving things in a direction in which throwing stones at primary schools in defense of your right to display racist emblems on your factory floor seems like a bit of a ridiculous thing to do, has worked in Northern Ireland, in a culture that’s about as similar a test case as we’re going to get. I mean, we can all laugh at the official translation of all documents into Lowland Scots, but the Northern Ireland peace process has kind of worked in a way that lots of people didn’t think it would. I still need to collect on a lot of bets people made that it would be impossible to get rid of the RUC and have a functional integrated police force.

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marcel 11.17.12 at 2:16 pm

GregMc wrote:

Following up on bad Jim’s point: explicit definition of southern Whiteness as “not Black” was used by the South’s leadership to maintain slavery against criticism from lower class Whites and to fight labor unions and (trans-racial) populism from the late 19th century onwards. Citation needed, I reckon.

I don’t know the latest scholarly consensus, but a concept of Nation (and the related one of ethnicity) doesn’t spring from the soil so much as it is defined by cultural and/or political leaders.

A month before the election Ta-nehisi Coates had a post in which he discussed the 250 years of U.S. slavery as the period and the institution in which our concept of “American” was defined and worked out (through violence) to mean, “not of African descent”.[1] . An implication of this argument is that the Revolution could not have happened, much less successfully, without this period of definition.

[1] It is worth adding that during the same period, something similar and complementary was occurring with respect to Native Americans; treatment of both the “5 Civilized Tribes” and the Iroquois is especially illuminating on this score.

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marcel 11.17.12 at 2:16 pm

Sorry about forgetting the close link tag.

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notnow 11.17.12 at 2:31 pm

Peckerwoods? Crackers? Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Oh, I forgot, because some of the commentators here are white Southerners, it’s OK when they use ugly, demeaning language. Would this blog, and these commentators, welcome such bigoted disparaging terms to be used about other groups for two seconds? Like I said above, I am a moderate Democrat, I voted for Obama twice, but after reading this thread I am also reminded that the notion that liberals look down on white southerners isn’t just a creation of Lee Atwater’s twisted imagination.

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bianca steele 11.17.12 at 2:40 pm

What’s the alternative to calling Southern whites an ethnicity? (Given that I’m not familiar with all the social-science implications of identifying ethnicities.) One effect is that it distinguishes Southern whites from non-Southern whites. It might seem that it’s intended to handwave away the existence of Northern racism. On the other hand–to the extent, obviously, that there is a real difference between the (sub)cultures of South and North–it moots the possibility of designating Southern whites as the spokesmen for “real” white culture, because Northerners are in denial or something.

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bianca steele 11.17.12 at 2:45 pm

I would say there’s certainly a “native Protestant ethnicity” in New England, also, which is still somewhat distinct, and which isn’t either “ethnic” in the usual sense, or necessarily the culture of the wealthy. And is probably different from the corresponding culture in the South, or for that matter in, say, eastern Pennsylvania where I grew up.

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bianca steele 11.17.12 at 3:05 pm

And I’d recommend “The Idea of a Southern Nation,” except that I think it may overstate the point. IIRC it suggests a willed creation of an identity that isn’t “really real,” overshadowing any real differences that might exist and invalidating them, and thus that people should be argued out of it.

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rf 11.17.12 at 3:10 pm

Not wanting to get carried away with this particular hobby horse, but here’s Arsenaults article on air conditioning and cultural homogenity

http://course.cas.sc.edu/germanyk/post1945/readings/arsenault_raymond_air_conditioner_01cc993398398010d4203033f&0.pdf

Is this particular brand of Southern Republicanism an extension of Southern White culture or the (relatively) new demographic changes (pro military religious suburbia) which have only a tenuous link to Southern culture of yore?

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rf 11.17.12 at 3:12 pm

Apologies for the messy link. Feel free to remove it

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LizardBreath 11.17.12 at 3:53 pm

the opposite approach, of smothering them with love and taxpayer money,

This is an approach that has been tried extensively in the past, and it hasn’t really had the effects you’re hoping for. If I thought the rest of the country sucking up to ‘Southern Whites’ harder than we do now would make anything any better, I wouldn’t have any principled objection to the idea, but it’s not as if the remainder of the country hasn’t been subsidizing them and catering to their political whims since about 1875.

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bob mcmanus 11.17.12 at 4:03 pm

164: or the (relatively) new demographic changes (pro military religious suburbia) which have only a tenuous link to Southern culture of yore?

This is why I, as a Texan, find this thread, if about politics, relatively uninteresting.

1) Texas is the ballgame. South Carolina or Miss insignificant. If Democrats can flip Texas, the Republican Party as we knew it will disappear, along with the influence of Southern White Culture.

2) 1.4 million people moved to Texas in the aughts, 850k from outside the US, 450k from within. They are not all Latinos, I live near a huge Vietnamese Catholic community in a suburb, and the whites moving down here are not all cracker-ass-crackers, although they may be Republican and conservative.

3) 2/3 of Texans live in the Metropoles, which are blue as hell, and still growing, quite healthily.

4) I dislike the victimology. Cracker-ass-crackers do not have dominance or hegemony, certainly not in urban Texas or far South or Southwest Texas. They have more power and influence then we would like, but that is in large part because C-A-Cs are organized and do see themselves as a ethnic group or shared interest group, in ways Vietnamese+Latinos+African-Americans+LGBT together do not, and may really never see themselves as a solidarity. This is about the only problem left, asymmetrical organization and lack of solidarity on the left. Sheer numbers may not overcome the identity diversity.

5) At some point soon, Cracker-ass-cracker Southern Whites will become a truly dominated minority in the important states, and at the point their culture becomes nothing but an exercise in nostalgia, and is not accompanied by institutionalized or socialized oppression, I can’t object to letting them have their parades and symbols.

6) Very few of us are ready to become fully globalized human beings, without national, contingent cultural or ethnic identity. I suspect part of the path past it is tolerating a degree of chosen identity, to make contingent identity seem archaic and obsolete.

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bob mcmanus 11.17.12 at 4:08 pm

If you don’t understand 5), there is a huge difference between allowing the Stars-and-Bars on the bumper of a pick-up truck, and allowing them on a state flag.

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marcel 11.17.12 at 4:16 pm

Bob McManus wrote.

I can’t object to letting them have their parades and symbols.

That depends. I’m thinking of the Nazi parade in Skokie, IL a generation ago, or various Klan parades in the last generation. As a policy matter, it may be better not to prevent them, but as an organized political act, I don’t see why we “can’t object.”

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bob mcmanus 11.17.12 at 4:18 pm

I am with Adolph Reed, in seeing an important difference between fighting racism and fighting racists.

If you find the S & B on the pickup truck simply intolerable, then you are probably defining your own identity as someone in opposition-to, against-, not-Southern White, and will then find trouble forming coalitions with other interest groups.

A big problem with the Democratic Party is its current identity as not-Republican. It then spends all its time looking at Republicans in order to discover what it is, and spends very little time seeking what it might be for.

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bob mcmanus 11.17.12 at 4:25 pm

169: Of course you can object, but I for one don’t waste much of my time and identity on being “anti-Nazi” although of course I am. Don’t care much about Arians or monophysites either.

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LFC 11.17.12 at 4:42 pm

@rf
your link to that air-conditioning article works fine (i just tried it). no need to remove.

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LFC 11.17.12 at 4:54 pm

on ethnicity, this may be worth a look.

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Anderson 11.17.12 at 6:08 pm

Bad Jim is right. Southern Whites, whersoever migrated, define themselves against blacks and above blacks. It’s the whole point.

Could go off here on the revolt of the rednecks, the bizarre fusion of Progressivism and race-baiting, but I’m on my phone here.

Belle’s fine rant above btw is pretty much the message of “Absalom, Absalom!” btw. Preach it sister!

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lupita 11.17.12 at 6:19 pm

There is a parallel between Southern whites as a group with respect to the US as a whole and the US with respect to other nations. Individualism, lack of social cohesion, right-wing, evangelical, non-unionized, guns, even whiteness, are distinctive characteristics of US as opposed to the rest of the world.

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Anniecat45 11.17.12 at 7:52 pm

@harold at 141 — what positive aspects of Southern identity are you talking about? I grew up in the South and anything positive about it can also be found to a much greater degree in other parts of this country.

@Belle — exactly what I’d want to say, only you said it better x 100

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David 11.17.12 at 8:15 pm

Since religion items were not included on all versions of the national and state exit poll questionnaires, a comprehensive analysis of religious voting patterns by region and state is not possible. Despite these limitations, the exit polls do make clear that Obama received less support from white Protestants in the South compared with other regions of the country. For example, 50% of white mainline Protestants outside the South voted for Obama, compared with 32% of Southern white mainline Protestants. And 30% of white evangelicals outside the South voted for Obama, compared with 21% of Southern white evangelicals. Obama’s support was 9 points higher than support for Kerry among non-Southern evangelicals, but Obama did not improve on Kerry’s performance among evangelicals in the South. One apparent exception is North Carolina, an important state that shifted from red to blue in 2008; in North Carolina, Obama’s support from white born-again and evangelical Christians was 9 points higher compared with support for Kerry in 2004.

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David 11.17.12 at 8:17 pm

So a clear but not huge difference. I wouldn’t be surprised if the difference is really red state – blue state.

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Harold 11.17.12 at 8:24 pm

I spent five years in North Carolina and found many committed liberals there and also ordinarly people, black and white, who were exceptionally warm, helpful, and friendly in a way I had not found elsewhere (except among a few my southern relatives, not that they were perfect, far from it). Our apartment building was also racially integrated in a way that was in advance of what we had formerly known in Philadelphia.

Granted we also observed egregious acts of racism and bigotry and exploitation of workers while we were there. But I don’t agree with Faulkner that either racism or stupidity are part of people’s “essential” “ethnicity”. There are infuriatingly stupid racists, thugs, and criminals among northern whites — Protestants and Catholics — among Sicilians, Poles, Belgians, Slavs, Irish, Lebanese, Ukranians, Chinese, Germans, Jews, Hindus, Kurds — and on and on. It goes along with ignorant and brutalized credulity. I am sorry to read what I am reading from upper-class Southerners on this thread.

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clew 11.18.12 at 12:44 am

Belatedly, mostly to js.:

Antebellum Southerners might not have described themselves as an ethnicity, but they would have described themselves as a race and a breed and having traits in the blood. Pre-1927 novels keep this up, e.g. Maria Thompson Daviess, who I can read as a deeply misguided decent person. I’m not so much on academic sources, but how about Normans and Saxons: Southern Race Mythology and the Intellectual History of the Civil War? (Last chapter: _Conclusion: Race Mythology, the Lost Cause, and Twentieth-Century Southern Sectionalism_.)

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purple 11.18.12 at 4:20 am

Yes, the South is an awful place for Blacks, which is why so many of them are moving back. You do know the Great Migration has gone in reverse ?

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js. 11.18.12 at 4:23 am

JQ @139:

Fair enough. And I do think I lost track of the relatively narrow electoral context of the post. Setting aside my continuing reservations about the ethnic label, you may well be right that its a hopeless for the Democratic party to try and get the votes of the people in question. In any case, cheers for the clarifications.

bad Jim @140:

Of course they thought that black people were different from—and hell, lesser than—them! Why on earth would I doubt this? But surely that doesn’t at all settle the question of whether they thought of themselves as a distinct ethnicity?

clew @180:

Thanks for the link. Not familiar with it, but it seems quite interesting.

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bad Jim 11.18.12 at 5:07 am

js., my only point was that your initial statement was overly broad, since it seemed to overlook blacks, as so much of this argument does. I’m sorry if I annoyed you.

There’s abundant evidence from the Civil War that Southerners thought themselves more valorous and virtuous than Yankees, and they proclaimed that they were defending their way of life, so they did consider themselves a somewhat distinct people. I don’t know whether they regarded Northerners as mongrels and themselves as pure, but it would settle the question if they did.

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Harold 11.18.12 at 5:23 am

Theories of “scientific [sic] racism” date from the last decades of the nineteenth century and flourished until 1945. According to biologist Richard Lewontin, “race” is generally a vague word whose meaning can only be understand by “race” by from context.

“Race” is a term of uncertain etymology and many meanings. It may refer to a whole species (the “human race”), a collection of loosely related individuals with a common appearance (the “white race”), a nation (the “race of Englishmen”), or a single family (“he was the last of his race”). Compounding the ambiguity is the substitution of “people” or “tribe” that seems to shed the historical fardels with which “race” is burdened. Are the Navajo a tribe, a people, or even a race? In a former time, when the classification of humans depended on manifest physical features like skin color, facial and hair form, and skull shape, members of a “race” as opposed to a “people” were claimed to be recognizable as such by the external physical features common to all individuals of the same “race.” In all these usages the implication is one of common ancestry tracing back ultimately to some relevant founding group, but obviously all such ancestries must incorporate members of other groups at various times in their histories.

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Harold 11.18.12 at 5:29 am

It is my impression that upper class Southerners believed themselves to be descended from younger sons of the British peerage. Maybe some were. Others pretended to be. This widespread fancy distinguished them from upper class northerners.

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js. 11.18.12 at 5:57 am

js., my only point was that your initial statement was overly broad, since it seemed to overlook blacks, as so much of this argument does. I’m sorry if I annoyed you.

I’m not annoyed; just remarkably surprised. One of my main reasons for wanting to withhold the ethnic designation is that we’re talking about the oppressor class (historically speaking). So the history of the oppression in the American South, esp. the oppression of black people, is precisely what I’ve had in mind all along.

Let me, more generally, reiterate one, not entirely unrelated, point (and then I’m done here):

To the extent that one’s ethnicity exists, and especially in the cases where it matters, one’s ethnicity depends not on how one thinks of oneself, but rather on how others see you. I can craft any sort of history for myself that I want—this history might even be true—but if other people (=white people!) see me as just another brown dude, then ethnically speaking I’m just another brown dude, my preferred or actual history be damned. (Not that I have any particularly weird history.)

In fact, I’ll end by putting the point more controversially, because it’s what I actually think: if you inhabit a social position where you can pick or choose your own ethnicity, you don’t need an ethnic designation, nor is it particularly useful to think of you as having one.

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js. 11.18.12 at 6:05 am

Did my comment go into moderation because I have been commenting too much? I didn’t say Sozialismus or anything!

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Meredith 11.18.12 at 6:23 am

For Harold. One of the charms of Southern (should that be capitalized? does so doing mark it as an ethnicity? should white be included as an epithet, lest the notion “white” slyly assert its hegemonic unmarked status? should “white” be capitalized? I don’t raise these questions to be cute — they are important) -ness is the way with words, the skill with story-telling. An insidious charm, perhaps, perhaps not insidious in just bad ways, though (the great Faulkner having been invoked lots here, perhaps naively, but still, the power of story nonetheless asserting itself).

And then I think, well, there’s Burt and I (not to mention most of the great names in 19th c American literature), and New England cornbread. NE v southern cornbread (I grew up aware of the battle — on the cornbread front, my mother went more northern than southern, despite where she’d got her first recipe). Maybe it’s more to do with mountain people v plain people? Dunno. Do think it interesting that an Australian poses some askew question about US politics and all this spills out. I wish there were more black southerners (should I capitalize?) weighing in here. I’d like to hear. (As I type the last sentence or two, it crashes down on me: this whole site is assuming we’re all white. Maybe we’re all not. But that assumption rules here.)

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MountainMan 11.18.12 at 6:49 am

@Harold:
Only the depths of social science would I expect to find someone seriously quoting Richard Lewontin’s 1971 paper. In many circles, citing it has become somewhat of a scientific anti-pattern (unless of course, it’s done ironically). Though it is perfectly understandable that sociology departments have kept it on their syllabuses for decades — it’s findings *are* quite convenient for helping defeat those damn “scientific [sic] [sic] racists”. And besides, discrediting it actually requires some real math. Luckily, that’s been taken care of:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_genetic_diversity:_Lewontin's_fallacy

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bad Jim 11.18.12 at 7:25 am

js. @ 187: “if you inhabit a social position where you can pick or choose your own ethnicity, you don’t need an ethnic designation, nor is it particularly useful to think of you as having one.”

I don’t think this will do. I can’t escape being a white American. My speech patterns mark me as mid-Atlantic or Western. In Europe, there are only a few countries where I can blend in with the locals even if I keep my mouth shut.

Individual Southern refugees can indeed emigrate and blend in with their adopted culture, but as often as not they don’t. Bakersfield was long a distinctly Southern outpost in California (see Johnny Cash). For the most part we’re concerned with Southerners in the South, though, perpetuating a separatist tradition defined and permeated throughout by racism.

Because of that ethnic identity and pride, it’s long been the conventional wisdom that only a Southern Democrat could be elected president. The success of Carter and Clinton tended to confirm that, but it didn’t quite work for Gore. Note the reasoning: what matters isn’t the policy but the regional identity of the candidate; Southerners are expected to vote against their own economic interests, since that’s what they do in local elections, but they will sometimes vote for a national candidate who shares their identity. So, yeah, they’re an ethnic group.

Immigration is slowly changing the South. Florida is a crazy mix of Southern natives, Northern retirees, and Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants. Commerce, technology and immigration are stirring Virginia and North Carolina into the mid-Atlantic blend. For now, the main hope for political change is pinned to demographic trends.

We’re talking about Southerners who live in the South

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agm 11.18.12 at 8:12 am

I’ve only read about 1/4 of the comments, but I’m just going to say no no no.

Southern White is a cultural group, and there are some ethnic heritage issues such as the many Scots/Irish who settled the South (and many of whom emigrated to Texas after, giving the South and Texas many strong similarities inculture in rural areas).

But no, it is distinctly *not* an ethnic group. There is no common genetic factor generally leading to a certain brand of treatment, nothing like the “one drop of negro blood”, certainly nothing like the “Southern Whites enter through back door” or “Southern Whites forbidden from using this swimming pool” treatment. Trying to claim that there is such is flat out ignoring actual American history is an attempt to sweep the racism endemic in our history under the rug.

It also notably ignores that this North-South divide has altered to a more rural-urban divide, or the fact that North vs South never really applied to the American West – the official divide, as enshrined in the Mason-Dixon line, led to civil war before such could happen, and the sins of American culture was much more xenophobia and Manifest Destiny than the Noble Cause. (Also, we’re still struggling with digesting half of Mexico, cause man, that was a lot of land settled by not-white people to integrate.)

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GregMc 11.18.12 at 8:46 am

agm:

“But no, it is distinctly *not* an ethnic group. There is no common genetic factor generally leading to a certain brand of treatment, nothing like the “one drop of negro blood”, certainly nothing like the “Southern Whites enter through back door” or “Southern Whites forbidden from using this swimming pool” treatment. Trying to claim that there is such is flat out ignoring actual American history is an attempt to sweep the racism endemic in our history under the rug. “

Who has claimed such?

As far as the other point: where/when does a culture end and an ethnicity begin? Surely we’re not hanging ethnicity on genetics. I’m no genetics-knowing guy, but it seems to me that a reliance on genetics would swiftly destroy most common concepts of ethnicity (which might be a good thing).

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Soru 11.18.12 at 9:56 am

It’s pretty clear different people are using the terms race, ethnicity and nation differently. Dunno how much of the discussion would remain if they weren’t.

But if I had to pick one of those terms, I’d say nation. It’s a group that in politically relevant history had an army and navy, and currently has news media and most of a political party. 39% of southerners watch fox news, 13% of north easterners do. That’s not that much more than get their news from the BBC; it’s the figures you would expect for news from a foreign country.

That’s all stuff transmitted and organised by mass-scale modern technologies, not families, communities or genes.

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GiT 11.18.12 at 12:56 pm

Yes, confused stuff happening with race, nation, ethnicity, culture, region…

Going through them, ethnicity does seem like the right one to me. The nationalist streak strikes me as an ethno-nationalism (thin appeals to Blacks who fought for the Confederacy and respect the Stars and Bars aside…).

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NickT 11.18.12 at 1:59 pm

“southern people need to know they lost the Civil War FOR A GOOD REASON, because they were fighting ON THE SIDE OF WRONG”

This is unfortunately a badly misleading claim. Moral claims didn’t win the Civil War, just as superior virtue didn’t win WWII. In both cases, the side with the stronger industrial base and better resources did. Similarly, when it comes to e.g. colonial wars in the 19th century, it’s hard to see how the British had a better moral case most of the time. They did, however, have access to superior technology. War is an extension of logistics by other means, not a morality tale where the good guys win in the ninth innings as the fat kid who never got a hit in his life miraculously knocks it out of the park.

If you want to argue that the South deserved to lose the Civil War, that’s another argument entirely, although we would have to ask about the numerous northerners who clearly didn’t give a damn about slavery.

I know it’s tempting to construct moralizing histories, especially when they suit our modern day political allegiances, but the end product is self-deception and bad history.

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chris 11.18.12 at 2:44 pm

Surely we’re not hanging ethnicity on genetics.

Why not? A “real” ethnicity can be told apart at a glance, right? The way people react to them hinges on being able to recognize them. (This is obviously somewhat related to the phenomenon of “passing”, but my understanding is that passing is something you do on purpose, so that’s again different from just not having a Confederate flag tattooed on your face and then nobody can tell which subgroup of white you are.)

That’s why I’m uncomfortable with identifying “southern white” as an ethnicity — clearly it’s a distinct *cultural* group, but if I have to talk to a white person for a few minutes to tell whether they’re southern or not (unless I just assume based on where I meet them), ISTM that’s different from other ethnic classifications and I’m not sure what purpose is served by stretching the term “ethnic” to cover a purely cultural distinction.

But at this point it’s just kind of a semantic dispute over what “ethnic” really means.

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GregMc 11.18.12 at 4:00 pm

If “real” ethnicity can be told apart at a glance, then there’s pretty much only one or two “native” ethnicities in Yurp. Surely that doesn’t work.

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agm 11.18.12 at 4:46 pm

GregMc, the concept of ethnicity, as used in the US, very much hangs on one’s ancestry. Genetics are part and parcel of that, whether one discusses Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, being seem as a wetback despite being born north of the Rio Grande, being (up to) 1/32 Native American for census purposes, or talking about Garrison Kiellor’s home on the edge of the prairie. This is why a Hispanic person can have essentially the same tone as some of Western European ancestry but would not be regarded as white in the US.

To ignore that is to purposely misapprehend a significant portion of American culture and history, in the purpose of no worthwhile discussion. White is an ethnicity in the US (basically, meaning “pale skin”). However, the Southern bit is basically white vs not-white. Defining yourself as “not colored, and superior to colored” does not a useful meaning of ethnicity make (in US usage).

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agm 11.18.12 at 4:54 pm

An interesting tidbit that always comes to mind is that in US nomenclature, “Hispanic” is a pretty loose and lazy way of categorizing “Spaniards slept with someone in the family tree”. Spaniards are *never* Hispanic. Cubans typically do not identify as Hispanic, as their culture never had a sojourn through Nueva España or Mexico. I advise against taking a Puerto Rican for a Mexican-American. If you value your bodily integrity, remember that a Colombian is always a Colombiano/a.

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agm 11.18.12 at 5:03 pm

Also, where are you going to classify Texan? Texas contains plenty of Confederate war memorials, typically in the town square of smaller towns and cities. Texas mythologizes the Alamo, not the Antebellum.

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GregMc 11.18.12 at 5:36 pm

Look upthread for Spaniards being considered Hispanic.

And clearly ethnicity is based (largely or completely) on ancestry, but that’s not always clear “at a glance”. Beyond that point, who has ignored anything? Defining a group as being NotThem is ONE OF the things that’s been mentioned above, but not the only one.

I’m no longer sure where the consensus is in this thread, but I’m going to say again that I think a strong case can be made that “Southern White” is an ethnicity with the caveat that ethnicity itself is an extremely flexible term. Someone above voted for “nation” and I would second that (despite that word also being easily confused).

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GregMc 11.18.12 at 5:38 pm

I should also say that Texans seem pretty comfortable with calling themselves Texans. I’m willing to take them at their word. It’s as real as Germany (and older as a political structure).

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Harold 11.18.12 at 6:08 pm

I do not endorse this, but I remember a few years ago someone telling me about a noted historian/anthropologist (maybe it was David Hackett Fisher) who had written an article claiming that the big mistake of the Democrats was to ignore Southern whites (as an ethnic group) while appealing to the ethnic pride of Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans, etc. By Southern whites, he meant specifically the Scotch Irish of the Piedmont, not the “planter class”. (I’m aware that not all Southern whites are Irish Protestants — there were also a lot of Irish Catholics who assimilated).

It’s my impression that a lot of the GOP “Southern strategy” of cynically appealing to the worst greed, racism, and fear in people — was conceived and carried out by people who weren’t Southerners, such as Nixon, Reagan, Gingrich, Renquist, and their circle, pace Lee Atwater, who supposedly recanted on his deathbed.

It seems to me that many of these problems stem from a reluctance on the part of Americans to face the problematic history of our country or to have any interest or knowledge about history whatever, since everyone in America is typically “re-inventing” themselves and starting over.

Rather than appealing to ethnic or regional chauvinism as a political tactic, it would be preferable IMO just to have more knowledge about the ordinary lives of real people.

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GregMc 11.18.12 at 6:24 pm

Harold: I’m down with that.

Divide and conquer is pretty much always a net evil.

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Harold 11.18.12 at 6:28 pm

This looks like a really interesting book by David Hackett Fisher and James C. Kelly– Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement (2000), though I haven’t made it through Albion’s Seed yet!

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Lurker 11.18.12 at 6:38 pm

I can start out as ethnically a Southern White, then I start listening to Television or Wire or whatever, and start wearing retro sneakers and tight jeans, and reading a bit of Murakami, and presto!, I’m not an ethnic Southern White anymore. This is not an ethnicity—not in any explanatorily useful sense.

Actually, you are describing voluntary assimilation. If you do these things, you are not a Southern White anymore. Similarly, if I, as a Finn, move to the US, hone my accent, get the US citizenship and do these things, I can pass pretty well for an urban white New Yorker. But it takes self-identification and effort. And getting rid of an accent is a real trouble, I tell you. My family has lived in Western Finland for two generations and the locals often still ask where I come from. My accent carries a clear East Finnish twang.

A “real” ethnicity can be told apart at a glance, right? The way people react to them hinges on being able to recognize them. .

No, it can’t. Not in most of the world. You cannot tell a Swede, a Finn or a Russian apart by sight. (Although you probably could tell apart three groups of hundred Swedes, Finns and Russians each.) As long as they are not talking, you cannot really tell. And in the US, any Finn is automatically regarded as White. I’ve found that I can pass rather well for American, although my accent is pretty terrible. But I wouldn’t even dream of passing for a local in Southern US.

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Harold 11.18.12 at 8:38 pm

Grayson County Virginia Appalachian dance team 1990.

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lupita 11.18.12 at 9:54 pm

An ethnic group is a form of social organization in which all members interact as a whole. It has a past, therefore a history. In order to have a future, it must be able to transmit its language, culture, and institutions to the next generation. It has rules of membership that determine who is and who is not, how to become and how to cease to be. Ethnicity and nationality are acquired by being a member of a historical society called either ethnic group or nation depending on its size, longevity, and international recognition as a legitimate state.

On the other hand, what Americans call ethnic groups are merely disconnected individuals who share a certain characteristic, ancestry, which is the best indicator for race that the US Census Bureau has been able to come up with.

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Meredith 11.18.12 at 11:10 pm

A famous video, rightly so:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cs2j8f7H2WY

I see a couple of errors in the following (e.g., Vaudeville older than this, and other circuits older still) and omissions (sailors’ contributions; role of Jim Crow in inhibiting interactions that had once been much richer), but mostly it seems like a sound account:

http://www.worldartswest.org/main/discipline.asp?i=29

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Peter T 11.19.12 at 12:06 am

Instead of “ethnic group” with its connection with descent, what about “identity”. Southern whites surely identify as such, although one should always keep in mind Eric Hobsbawm’s remark that identities are not like hats – you can wear more than one at the same time.

Also – mountain man, that wikipedia article does not “refute” Lewontin. And

Belle is right – the perceived justice of a cause makes a big difference to how many people will support it/oppose it/fight for it. War is not just logistics.

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Harold 11.19.12 at 12:50 am

I don’t know much about Hobsbawm’s studies of identity, but people are continually renegotiating their identities/traditions/folklore, deciding what to keep what to discard according to the exigencies and pressures of the moment. There is a lot of hybridity — and always has been. I read somewhere that in recent times many Americans of British descent now have ceased to call themselves this, choosing to forefront whatever minority they know they have in their ancestry. And of course lots of African Americans are of British Protestant descent but were not permitted to call attention to it.

From reading Lewontin’s recent article I got the sense that, contrary to what some people try to tell us, we can as yet only detect a fraction of the information about our ancestry that is in our genes at this moment, particularly in the female line. In the same way, our outward appearance conveys only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

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rf 11.19.12 at 1:10 am

“On the other hand, what Americans call ethnic groups are merely disconnected individuals who share a certain characteristic, ancestry, which is the best indicator for race that the US Census Bureau has been able to come up with.”

This is right though, isn’t it? White southerners claims of ethnicity, rather than identity, are no more invalid than African-Americans or Hispanics. All have initially come from a diverse set of regions/cultures, and had a diverse set of experiences dependent on where they moved to, when etc

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Cranky Observer 11.19.12 at 1:53 am

= = = Similarly, if I, as a Finn, move to the US, hone my accent, get the US citizenship and do these things, I can pass pretty well for an urban white New Yorker. = = =

Assimilation happens between 16 year olds (generally, one boy and one girl of different ethnic groups[1]). In adults, not so much.

Cranky

[1] Whatever those might be

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lupita 11.19.12 at 1:53 am

rf@213

A member of the Hispanic ethnic group is anybody who has an ancestor born anywhere in Latin America. This category includes tourists. I do not see how a tourist could be included in the category of White Southerners.

As to the African-American ethnic group, it does not exist. There is, however, a racial category called “Black/African-American” and it is used to categorize anybody, including tourists and Hispanics.

Since the whole system used to categorize Americans and those entering the country is so confusing and contradictory, I think you may safely refer to Southern whites as an ethnic group without fear of invalidating the current usage of the term any more than it already is.

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Bruce Wilder 11.19.12 at 3:07 am

“Assimilation happens between 16 year olds . . .”

Is that what they’re doing? ‘Cause I imagined something else going on . . .

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Harold 11.19.12 at 4:03 am

Interesting that Mick Jagger’s dancing has the same up and down thigh movement as clogging.

Carolina Chocolate Drops: “Country Girl/ living in the South”

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rf 11.19.12 at 4:20 am

So if John Yoo authorises Majid Khans torture, is that inter ethnic hatred?

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Meredith 11.19.12 at 6:32 am

Harold, brilliant!
I’d add a link to Local Hero: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh0ja-BTpbk

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monboddo 11.19.12 at 4:23 pm

“A member of the Hispanic ethnic group is anybody who has an ancestor born anywhere in Latin America.”

Mitt Romney!

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Hector_St_Clare 11.19.12 at 5:48 pm

Re: Rural populations are always, and virtually in all respects, more conservative than the urban ones. And not just in the US, this is universal.

Uh, no, no it isn’t. In Latin America rural people usually vote for the left (look at a map of support for Chavez or Humala, or just about any other election in the region). This is generally pretty true in developing countries, I think. I’m not sure how patterns in European countries look, but it’s certainly not ‘universal’.

.

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Meredith 11.19.12 at 10:21 pm

Hector@221: I can never figure out why rural New England, much (though not all) of which is reliably blue/left, doesn’t count. Why don’t dairy farmers in Vermont count, for instance? Or how about Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin: a lot of the rural people there, including farmers, are voting blue.

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corgan 11.19.12 at 10:27 pm

totally unrelated, but just wondering what quiggin might make of this. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324735104578120953311383448.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

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Hector_St_Clare 11.19.12 at 11:00 pm

Yes, rural New England is reliably Blue. Some rural sections of Minnesota and Iowa vote Blue as well, as do parts of northern Michigan and Wisconsin. A large swathe of rural Michigan and Wisconsin counties went for Obama in 2008 and flipped back to Romney this year. Which is disappointing, but at least it showes that a Black Democrat can win large portions of the rural upper Midwest in a good year.

Again, the South is really different from the rest of the country here.

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Meredith 11.20.12 at 12:31 am

Yes, the South is really different, and for obvious reasons. Using race as a wedge for exploitation and promoting certain class interests is as old as forever in this country, everywhere. (In northern cities as well as the rural south. Less in the rural north only because there are fewer blacks there?) To venture beyond the obvious, race isn’t the ONLY wedge here, even in the south. The idea of “government off my back” (cf. big landowners off my tenat-sharecropping-crofter back, England off my Scottish or Irish or Welsh back, lowland Edinburgh and Glasgow off my highland back, highland clan leaders off my — just get the hell off my back) is something the right plays into especially well in the south, especially in its mountain regions. Dems can fight back and win people over here, long-term, if they’re smart and don’t dismiss these people as beneath contempt.

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MountainMan 11.20.12 at 2:03 am

@Peter T:

My point is merely that a lot has changed since Lewontin’s heyday. He’s picked fights with Dawkins, Pinker, and (mostly notably) E.O. Wilson, and in retrospect looks rather foolish in almost every instance. Don’t get me wrong, I think the man is brilliant; however, the degree to which he goes out of his way to denounce the importance of genetics and their predictory power strikes me as odd.

Just look at his latest article in the New York Review of Books: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/dec/06/is-there-a-jewish-gene/?pagination=false

Apparently unaffected by the computer age and scientific breakthroughs, his decades-old convictions remain fervent as ever. If this is what he has to say about Jews, I can’t imagine what he’d write about “Southern whites” and their weird fascination with genealogy.

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Hector_St_Clare 11.20.12 at 6:14 am

Meredith,

I’m more interested in Democrats focusing on keeping a lock on the Great Lakes region and the Southwest. Democrats can win without the South. And some portions of the South are getting more Democratic, partly because of Black people moving back to the south (e.g. North Carolina).

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Harold 11.20.12 at 7:18 am

Lewontin’s targets, Pinker et al., were sitting ducks.

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Peter T 11.20.12 at 9:38 am

Mountain Man

I see Lewontin gently reminding people that the words they use do not, in everyday use, have the meaning they ascribe to them – that “race” is not biological, even though in some places biological markers are a major reference point; that “Jewish” is likewise not biological in the sense used in the biological sciences, that genetics is complicated and that as yet we really know very little (the simple Mendelian genetics I was taught in school does not appear in modern books; we are only on the fringe of epigenetics, gene interactions and gene-environment interactions). All good points,and ones often overlooked both by popularisers and science enthusiasts.

And, yeah, Pinker is a large sitting duck.

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Meredith 11.21.12 at 6:31 am

Way late, Harold (in every way — I’ve been preparing pie crusts, for filling tomorrow — oh, and cornbread for the sage-cornbread stuffing from my Virginia grandmother), but as the proud daughter of Minnesota forebears, too (what with also my own sojourn in Michigan as well as Minnesota, for schooling formal and much more), I agree about the upper midwest. (I even had some very youthful formative experiences in New Mexico, so include the southwest. God’s country, at least, where I first appreciated the meaning of the phrase.) I am feeling thankful.

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Meredith 11.21.12 at 6:53 am

Meant to say, Hector! Well, too much pie-making! (Waiting for cooling is very taxing.) Hello to Hector and Harold both! Happy Thanksgiving!

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