Who we think we are

An interesting analysis of the racial divide in America at the NYT, and how what we’ve been taught to think about homogeneous rural people and people from diverse urban centers doesn’t turn out to be true, at least when it comes down to who they’re voting for:

The assumption has always been that a black candidate should perform worse among white voters in states with less racial diversity because those voters are supposedly less enlightened. In fact, the reverse has been true for Obama: in the overwhelmingly white states of Wisconsin and Vermont, for instance, he carried 54 and 60 percent of the white voters respectively, according to exit polls, while in New Jersey he won 31 percent and in Tennessee he won 26 percent. As some bloggers have shrewdly pointed out, Obama does best in areas that have either a large concentration of African-American voters or hardly any at all, but he struggles in places where the population is decidedly mixed.

What this suggests, perhaps, is that living in close proximity to other races — sharing industries and schools and sports arenas — actually makes Americans less sanguine about racial harmony rather than more so. The growing counties an hour’s drive from Cleveland and St. Louis are filled with white voters whose parents fled the industrial cities of their youth before a wave of African-Americans and for whom social friction and economic competition, especially in an age of declining opportunity, are as much a part of daily life as traffic and mortgage payments. As Erica Goode wrote in these pages last year, Robert Putnam and other sociologists have, in fact, found that people living in more diverse areas evince less trust for others — no matter what their race. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that while white Democrats in rural states are apparently willing to accept the notion of a racially transcendent candidate, those living in the shadow of postindustrial atrophy seem to have a harder time detaching from enduring stereotypes, and they may be less optimistic that the country as a whole would actually elect a black candidate.

What I find interesting about this is that we can no longer think along lines of urban/suburban/rural.  The mention of communities that are somewhere between these categories, and in existence outside of formerly successful urban empires, is a new sort of population that’s only recently beginning to enter the cultural consciousness for many Americans who assumed that everything was either New York City, the suburbs of Desperate Housewives, or Mayberry.  There are many different kinds of communities between each of those sorts of points on the scale.

Read the whole article here.



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2 responses to “Who we think we are”

  1. Debra Weaver Avatar

    I think it is important to remember that the majority of people voting in the Democratic Primary are Democrats. Although it would appear that there may be less racism in more homogenous populations, the phenomena that is being seen is one that indicates that there may be less racism in Democratic homogenous populations. I for one, see something else lacking in the NYT analysis; the author totally overlooks the impact of sexism on the contest. In issues of race and/or gender it is important to look at the intersection of both. The other thing the author fails to point out is that there is a very large conservative contingency in those same rural states he discusses.They didn’t vote in the Democratic primary. I doubt they are as progressive about issues of diversity as the Democrats. I think that what you are seeing in the larger cities is not so much about whether an African American can or can’t win the general election as it is that in urban areas voters are engaging in some rational and logical analysis, taking race and sex out of the equation, looking at the candidate’s skills and abiliites – and then making a decision. When that is done, the urban areas are voting for Hillary. I believe it is too soon to speculate about the poplulation as a whole in terms of attitudes about race and gender and the part both play in this contest until after November.I fear we may find that race and gender both have a larger impact than we would currently like to imagine. I do think that identity politics have taken an entirely new course in our country. I’m hoping that that the current conversation about race and gender ultimately brings about a “detachment from enduring stereotypes” rather than signifiying more divisivness in our nation but only time will tell.

  2. Christopher Barzak Avatar

    I agree with much that you say, Deb, but I think if the writer factored in all of the other aspects you’re talking about, it would be a different article. It seems to me he was specifically looking at Obama’s exit polls, and who’s voting for him and who isn’t, focusing on that rather than all of the identity factors that are in play this political season. I think it would have served him well if he’d have qualified that all this was, of course, to do with Democrats, but then it also seems inevitable that’s the group he’s referring to, simply by context of it being a primary election. I do, however, think that people of rural areas aren’t as narrow-minded as the stereotype many hold for them is. And that these in between areas that are not quite suburban either–at least by the standards of what most people think of as suburban–outside atrophying postindustrial cities, exhibit the sort of racial friction that the writer is speculating about. I think we can see that not only outside of Youngstown, but within it too. I’ve also sensed that people of urban areas in general trust people less than people of more homogeneous regions. I think largely it may be because more homogeneous regions live under the illusion that simply because everyone in their community looks like them in some way, that they are like them, and hence no one will do harm to one another. It’s obviously not true, but it’s an easy belief to live within for long periods of time. I think it’s also why smaller and/or more homogeneous populations exhibit more shock when something horrible does erupt within their populations than urban and postindustrial suburban peoples. Unfortunately I think I’m saying that people who live within more diverse populations have learned is that people in general aren’t trustworthy, at least not by default of their racial makeup.

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