Blacks and whites in today's South seemingly have come to terms -- terms that amaze outsiders -- about living together in a halfway house of racialized politics.
The South's new political order essentially is a case of white and black cooperation in still-strained and peculiarly regional fashion. Peaceful coexistence -- Southern style!
Interestingly and importantly, white Southern politicos have been joined by many blacks, liberal interests and governmental agencies in adopting an accommodational approach to public life. Both races seem super-sensitive and responsive to their competing cultures, frankly because it serves select purposes of progress and practicality in this troubled land.
Modern Southern politics is indeed biracial in the sense that constitutional white supremacy and statutory segregation have yielded to openness and opportunity for blacks to participate. But the South's implementation of "biracialism" could just as well be labeled "bi-racialism" -- with a hyphenated emphasis on racial divisions of power, race-sensitive deliberations of policy, and sometimes dualistic programs for whites and blacks. Furthermore, "bi-racialism" often smells of "bi-racism" as politicians pursue electoral arrangements and governing outcomes for their own racial interests and to placate their racial constituencies.
Legacy of Hard History
The curious historical reality is that race-based policies and practices have now become routine options in regional politics. There's a lot to be criticized about the halfway house of racialized politics, but it has proven functional and stable in this region. Biracial accommodation has survived -- very alive if not well -- the lingering stench of racism, civil rights litigation, judicial scrutiny, fiscal concerns, and begrudged acceptance among blacks and whites.
It is not pretty civics; it's just the continuing legacy and evolving politics of hard history. Race is the acknowledged, powerful continuity in a new game whereby both whites and blacks now biracially accommodate important adjustments and routine politics in regional life. The practice of racial politics varies from state to state and even within states, and much remains to be improved. But I believe that my analytical construct accurately depicts and explains real change throughout the Old Confederacy.
Thus this is a qualitatively different racial system featuring new cultural ideas and approaches to politics. As demonstrated in the rest of this series, the new regime can be distinguished from that of yesteryear in substance, style, strategy, operation and outcomes.
Let's begin with substance and style.
Simply and centrally, contemporary Southern politics is more moderate in its issues and more progressive in its practices than what happened in the Old South or the post-civil rights movement South during the latter decades of the twentieth century.
Numerous factors -- such as demographic adjustments, cultural shifts, legal pressures, partisan developments, and moderating politicians -- figure into this regional progress, but a key explanation is that African Americans have joined the political process as competitive and cooperative agents of change. As a consequence, outright racism is no longer a common staple of electoral campaigns, and state and local governments now pursue more equitable priorities.
The South is still a conservative region; the racial divide continues to impact the political process; and biracial accommodation among politicians has yet to translate into full fairness and equality in broader Southern society. But the new race game is substantively different from Southern politics of the past.
In terms of style, the new politics is more open and honest about race, in mainly positive ways, than were previous politicians. Southern society has shed sinister racist ways of the past, but race constantly, consciously, and subconsciously impacts public life. Sophisticated Southerners recognize the reality of their racial legacy; they have adopted more genteel, yet direct, manners in conducting the political business of contemporary regional democracy.
Hence the changing public face and discourse of the new Southern politics. Race continues as the most useful, single factor of both analysis and power in the South, but people down here understand that they have to adjust their language and conduct to political realities and a new way of life.
Consequently, the style and substance of Southern politics has changed. The race-talking has softened and racial issues have blurred into broader, more substantive and conventional considerations among the diversifying Southern populace.
In my next post, I'll discuss the changing strategy, operation and outcomes of Southern politics.
Disclosure and Acknowledgement: This series includes edited, updated material from one of my books: The South's New Racial Politics: Inside the Race game of Recent Southern History (2009): and portions of these posts will be included in an upcoming book. I'm grateful to NewSouth Books for allowing me to borrow from those publications for my discussions on the Huffington Post.
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