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.