After it was revealed that southern cooking celebrity Paula Deen was racially insensitive (to say the least) toward African Americans, she lost all her endorsements as well as her television program that kept her out of the public eye ever since. All that changed when she walked onto a stage in Texas to participate in a cooking demonstration where she received a 10-minute long standing ovation and told the audience that “I’ve said all along that the one place that I would want to make my first step back out was Texas. Y’all’s hearts are as big as your state.” Deen’s popularity in a Republican state like Texas is not an aberration because recently in another Southern Republican state, Georgia, she enjoyed a 73% popularity rating that appears to correlate with the level of racism in former Confederate states.
As a rule, it is risky to make generalizations about a specific group of people from a particular region of the country, especially about how where they live affects their social values. It is fairly certain that Republicans dominate the population in the former Confederate states, and that based on recent electoral data racism still exists in large segments of the population in Southern states regardless their claims to the contrary. It is unreasonable to assume that all racists are Republicans, but there is evidence that most racists from former Confederates states are Republicans and a recent study suggests the “legacy of slavery continues to drive voters in areas that once housed large numbers of slaves to vote Republican.”
In the 2012 Presidential election President Obama “polled 40 points behind Willard Romney among white southern working class voters,” and it is in contrast to being only 4-8 points behind Romney among working class white voters in the majority of the country. The study conducted by political scientists Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell and Maya Sen reveals that the 32-point discrepancy is down to one simple fact; slavery. Even though slavery was banned by the Constitution a century and a half ago, long-held racial superiority drives Southern voters in areas once occupied by large numbers of slaves to overwhelmingly vote Republican.
According to the study, “whites who currently live in counties that had high concentrations of slaves are more conservative and express colder feelings towards African Americans than whites who live elsewhere. That is, the larger the number of slaves in his or her county of residence in 1860, the greater the probability that a white Southerner today will identify as a Republican, express opposition to race-coded policies such as aﬃrmative action, and express greater racial resentment towards African Americans.” Does that mean that racism is confined to former Confederate states? Of course not, but in someone like Paula Deen’s case, after she was revealed a racist she earned a passionate fan base and guaranteed she will always have a substantial number of Southern state fans who will support her because racism is deeply entrenched in the South.
The study’s authors explained that although slavery was banned 150 years ago, it still drives political attitudes today because “the sudden enfranchisement of blacks was politically threatening to whites, who for centuries had enjoyed exclusive political power,” and it is glaringly obvious the sentiment still exists to this day especially in the southern United States. It explains the Republican drive to disenfranchise people of color by restricting their right to vote, and incites Southern white elites (Republicans) to “promote anti-black sentiment by encouraging racial animus, propagating racist beliefs, and pushing institutionalized racist policies.” Children are not born racists, but they learn racial hatred from their parents and the study concluded that “these racially hostile attitudes have persisted as each successive generation has inherited the attitudes and beliefs of the previous generation,” and it is why there is little hope the racism plaguing the former Confederate states will never really end. In fact, there are Republicans who long for the days when being blatantly racist was considered a virtue and yearn for their return.
Senator Ted Cruz (a southern Republican) recently told an audience at the Heritage Foundation that what America really needs today is a Senate with 100 racist senators like Jesse Helms who opposed all civil rights measures befitting a typical southern racist. Helms is renowned for opposing and voting against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Civil Rights Act of 1964 that he regarded “the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress.” Regardless there is not 100 Jesse Helms in the Senate, Cruz should not despair because the conservative Supreme Court did what his hero, racist Jesse Helms, could not do and killed the Voting Rights Act because like southern Republicans, they concluded racism inherent in southern states is not that big of a deal in the 21st century. Paula Deen’s remarks during a deposition in a lawsuit against her alleging racial and sexual discrimination revealed a similar sentiment that her own racist remarks were “not really mean.”
Deen’s supporters claim she does not represent bigotry as much as she represents a tribute to her Southern past, but her Southern pride is permanently linked to a racist past. It is beyond reason that Southerners can celebrate their Confederate history without embracing slavery and racism, and the proof is the rash of Southern Republicans recreating history by reinstating African American voter suppression Americans witnessed in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Deen’s newfound admirers in Texas.
Is it fair to generalize and say all racists are Republicans? Absolutely not; but based on events of the past two years it appears most Republicans are racists and it is certainly true in Republican-controlled Southern states that took immediate steps to disenfranchise African American voters within hours of the Supreme Court striking down the Voting Rights Act. A journalist at the Guardian said “Paula Deen isn’t a racist just because she’s from the south, she’s a racist because she’s a racist” and it is technically true. However, according to the cited study, because she was born and raised in the South it is highly likely her racist tendencies are founded in hostility toward African Americans passed down to each successive generation from before the Civil War.
That Deen’s racist statements and attitudes came so easy to her gives credence to the notion that her racism was passed down from previous generations of racists and it explains her popularity among like-minded Southern state racists who will pass their bigotry on to the next generation. The unfortunate truth is that over the past 150 years, a large number of those Southern state racists relocated to every state in the Union and their Southern state racism is now American racism and more Republican racism.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.