07/06/2012 07:38 pm ET Updated Sep 05, 2012

Strategy, Operation and Outcomes in the South's New Racial Politics

As was stated in previous posts, blacks and whites in the South seemingly have come to terms -- terms that amaze outsiders -- about living together in a halfway house of racialized politics.

The new regime can be distinguished from that of yesteryear in substance, style, strategy, operation and outcomes. I have already covered substance and style; now let's look at strategy, operation, and outcomes.


The new politics also involves strategic considerations reflecting the end of massive, white, conservative, one-party rule with rigid systemic constrictions on African American participation. Coalitional thinking -- involving blacks in a serious manner -- now predominates in Southern politics.

In most parts of the modern South, political strategy incorporates the possibility of biracial political success and even black self-determination -- in a variety of cultural environments, majority-minority settings, amid real Democratic-Republican competition. Even when outright victory is impossible, biracial coalitions and minorities usually parlay their agendas into the wheeling-and-dealing of Southern politics. And, as already noted, the new racial strategizing is mostly straightforward and out in the open.

It seems, for example, that in every election in the South, there's articulated hope for a controlling, moderate, color-blind and bipartisan center of political strength; but, in most instances, this strategy confronts the reality of race-tinged politics in a reddening constituency, especially in the Deep South. Then the fight usually turns into Republicans (mainly white) against Democrats (disproportionately black). Sometimes, whites and blacks ally in successful, competitive endeavors -- that is, behind some candidates, in some years, in some races, and in some policy initiatives -- particularly in the Peripheral South.

Furthermore, in some locales with African American majorities -- such as Birmingham, Atlanta, and other big cities and in certain parts of the Black Belt -- blacks exercise electoral and governing power, befitting their numerical dominance, for minority and progressive causes.

Race thus continues as an underlying factor, but it is now strategically employed -- acceptably, by whites and blacks alike, by Democrats and Republicans alike -- for real political and philosophical gain wherever and however, as contextual situations demand and/or allow in the new order.

That's not radical, avant-garde politics, but it's different from the old days of white one-party rule throughout the region.


Operationally, regional politics has changed considerably with the coming of a new order and convergence between the South and America; in many ways, activities in this region are amazingly similar to what would be considered normal party politics in other regions.

Southern politicians, political parties, and organized interests now run common, almost cookie-cutter electoral campaigns; and, as noted, whites generally ally with the Republican Party and blacks solidly back the Democratic Party. Both parties possess ample resources, powerful technologies, and precise practices that empower them to aggressively target, energize, and serve their base constituencies.

In terms of governance, the contemporary situation resembles a kaleidoscope of operational contexts. The practice of biracial politicking normally prevails in Democratic Party circles (obviously less so among Republicans), in areas where black-white issues are prominent, throughout the South.

Most commonly, and necessarily, policy-making where the two races share power resembles a dual system of governance in which dominant leaders and factions of blacks and whites compete and then consensually check-off on any final program of consequence (ironically, somewhat like the process of concurrent majorities envisioned by John C. Calhoun). This makes for tough going at times; but it's the only way to get anything done considering Southern racial history, constant legal oversight, and the contemporary political environment.

It is clear that race still plays into political operations, but not as fractiously as before. Many Southern officials and citizens -- both white and black -- now function in working alliances and normal operations along ostensible lines of conventional issues.


Summarily, Southern politics has evolved toward a somewhat normalized system -- mainly conservative of course -- in which black-white politics plays a central role. Most players -- the politicos and the public -- seem to understand, shrug, and accept the game and its outcomes.

But is this new order fair? Or is it just a cosmetic makeover for old-style politics and race-gaming? Does this arrangement reflect political progress in terms of policy and programmatic outcomes for black Southerners? Is it a positive sign for the future of the Southern political system? These questions are legitimate, and the answers are hedged in the analogy of the half-empty, half-full glass of water.

It is hard to get a firm handle on this question because most times governance and policy churn within the murky backwaters of regional politics. However, in my next post I will present a situation in which biracial accommodation was laid bare and documented in black-and-white jurisprudence.

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.