Friday, December 14, 2012

What Southerners Don't Say

Interesting story in The Atlantic  entitled "In Southern Towns, 'Segregation Academies' Are Here to Stay." It presents a more nuanced view than what the title suggests--it does note that these "segregation academies" usually have some black and Asian students--but even so it only scrapes the surface of racial complexities in the South. Here's an example: 

Minniefield [a long-time black resident of Indianola, Miss.] does not believe the schools in Indianola will ever truly integrate.  "It has not been achieved and it will likely never be achieved,'"he said. "It's because of the mental resistance of Caucasians against integrating with blacks. ... Until the white race can see their former slaves as equals, it will not happen."

Steve Rosenthal, the [town's white] mayor, takes a different view. He argues that many white families have no problem sending their children to school with black students, but choose Indianola Academy because the public schools are inferior. His two children, both in their 20s, graduated from the academy, where he believes they received a strong education. "I would not have had a problem sending them to public schools had the quality been what I wanted," he said, adding a few minutes later, "If there's mistrust, it's the black community toward the whites."

And then there is what is not being said:
  • This is no longer just about race; it's about economic class, and growing wealth inequality.
  • On the other hand, race is often a proxy for economic class, especially in the rural South.
  • Middle-class black families are as averse as white families to having their kids hang out with ghetto kids from the 'hood, and sometimes even more so. But for the most part, this is a conversation that takes place only amongst other middle-class black families.
  • White Southerners these days--with a few diehard exceptions of the kind that can be found on the fringes anywhere--really have no problem with their kids going to school with black long as those black kids hold the same middle-class aspirational values as they do. These white Southerners of today get understandably huffy when they are portrayed as thick-necked bigots straight out of "In the Heat of the Night," circa 1964, because it's not true.
  • On the other hand, these same white Southerners are tone deaf and completely blind to the generational dividends they have inherited as a direct result of decades of Jim Crow: real estate values, social capital, family wealth, educational status. They simply do not want to see and will do anything to avoid admitting that history did not start in 1965.
And that's the name of that tune.

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