Tag Archives: American South

Demographics And Politics

As the results of the Trump- delayed census have emerged, we’ve learned that American diversity is both growing and shifting.

The overview–the national picture–is considerably less White, and that reality is further enraging the too-plentiful numbers of White Supremicists among us. Their hysteria–not unlike a child’s tantrum–is likely to have some ugly political repercussions. We can only hope that, in the scheme of things and the sweep of history, those repercussions are temporary.

When the picture focuses on distribution rather than on aggregate numbers, things get more interesting. Charles Blow has provided a rundown of those numbers in a recent column, and the basic thrust is that Black people are moving out of what were dismissively called the “inner cities.”

The term “inner city” has long been used as a derisive euphemism for Black — poor, blighted and in distress. But many inner cities in the North and West are becoming less and less Black because Black people are moving out.

Black populations in what were considered to be Black strongholds have been dwindling, and that has been happening all over the country. There has been a reverse migration wave of Black people from the North and West moving back to the South. Blow goes through an extensive list of cities that have lost Black populations.

Among the most interesting:

Detroit, once the Blackest big city in America, home of Motown, dropped from 82 percent Black in 2010 to 77 percent Black in 2020. The Hispanic, white and Asian populations all grew in the city over that period.

New York City, with two million Black residents, more than any other city in America, saw its Black population fall by 4.5 percent over the past decade. This came on the heels of the Black population declining 5.1 percent the previous decade, the first drop in the number of Black residents in recent history.

Harlem, according to the 2020 census, is now just 37% Black. Harlem!

Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles–Blow provides the numbers showing diminished Black population. He also shares the numbers showing the growth of Black population in the American South.

These shifts don’t mean that there are now fewer cities with Black majorities; the number is on the rise, as Brookings pointed out in 2019. It’s just that 90 percent of majority Black cities are now in the South. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that much of the municipal South is Black.

Ironically, Selma and Montgomery, Ala.; Jackson and Philadelphia, Miss.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Atlanta —places we associate with some of the worst episodes of America’s racist past– now have Black mayors.

All of this is politically relevant.

For a number of years, Republican Party leaders have been reacting to predictions that “demography is destiny”–fears that the growing diversity of America (and the decidedly Democratic lean of the country’s youth)–will soon make the GOP electorally irrelevant. That fear is what has prompted the GOP’s extreme gerrymandering, vote suppression tactics and efforts to control who counts the votes.

The movement of Black Americans out of easily demonized metropolitan centers changes the calculus. It’s harder to whip up fear of “those people” who live in the centers of large cities when so many of “those people” are White, young, upwardly mobile Starbucks drinkers. And as Stacy Abrams and her fellow-activists showed in Georgia, the previously solid South, which could be counted on to vote White, whatever party was carrying the banner of White Supremacy at any given time, is no longer so solid. It isn’t just cultural change, welcome as that is. It’s demographic shift. 

Blow didn’t include cities in Texas in his recitation, and it is likely that increasing demographic diversity there is due more to the growth of Latino populations than an influx  of Blacks, but when we think of states south of the Mason-Dixon Line currently headed by stubbornly reactionary Republicans, Texas certainly comes to mind. Whether Abbott’s frantic efforts to suppress minority votes in the face of demographic change will keep Texas in the Red column for another few years is anyone’s guess.

Blow says the new distribution of America’s Black population is producing “chocolate chip cities.” If–as sociologists tell us–bigotry is reduced by familiarity with members of previously marginalized populations, those “chocolate chip” cities bode well for civic amity.



Maybe The South Did Rise Again

Culture matters.

There was an intriguing essay by Josh Marshall a few weeks back on Talking Points Memo, addressing America’s regional differences.

Back in the 1990s, psychologists at the University of Michigan conducted a study about regionalism and aggression. As is often the case, the “real” study took place before the participants actually thought it was happening. The participants are all white male college students. They are walking down a hall when an apparent bystander thoughtlessly bumps into him while closing a file cabinet and calls him an “asshole.”

This is the core experiment. Does the study participant react with some version of amused indifference or does he move into an aggressive affront response? The experiment showed that participants from the South were significantly more likely to have the latter, aggressive affront response.

This is not terribly surprising for anyone who has studied American history and perhaps for anyone who’s spent significant time in both parts of the United States. The Southern murder rate has always been substantially higher than any other region in the United States. Indeed, New England and the prairie states have historical rates of murder that aren’t much different from those in Europe. The South is the big outlier and within the South Louisiana and to a lesser extent Mississippi are the big outliers, with murder rates substantially higher than the rest of the South. Even as murder rates have dropped rapidly across the country over the last quarter century the regional differential has remained unchanged.

As Marshall notes, the higher homicide rates in the south tend to be tied to “heat of the moment” incidents– the bar fight that escalates out of control, spousal killings and the like are typically outcomes of anger and escalating aggression rather than more generic criminal activities like burglaries or bank robberies.

What accounts for this difference? Why did the culture of the American South evolve as it apparently did?

Unsurprisingly, the best historical explanations for this trace back to slavery, a system rooted in violence and domination in which the privileges and respect for the sanctity of the body are paramount. In such an honor and status bound society the consequences of one’s status being degraded or questioned are severe and thus they are aggressively defended.

File this observation under “connecting the dots”–the complicated effort to understand the origins of our human cultural and social differences, and the roots of so many seemingly incommensurate attitudes and beliefs.

This is just one more illustration of the multiple ways in which America’s original sin continues to shape personal and regional attitudes and affect contemporary politics, as we are seeing in the responses to this disastrous Presidency.

“Know thyself” continues to be our hardest assignment.