A reminder that all politics is local (and cultural): avoid the barbecue third rail in North Carolina

National political candidates or officials often have to make sure that they can adapt to many different cultural contexts. Witness this example of Rick Perry and North Carolina barbecue:

And now Perry’s in hot water in North Carolina for a remark he made all the way back in 1992, when he was Texas agriculture commissioner and Houston was hosting the Republican National Convention.

Last week, in the Raleigh News & Observer’s “Under the Dome” politics blog, staffers Rob Christensen and Craig Jarvis wrote:

According to “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue,” in 1992 when Perry was a promising Texas politician but not yet governor, he tried some Eastern North Carolina barbecue from King’s of Kinston, which was served at the Republican National Convention in Houston.  “I’ve had road kill that tasted better than that,” Perry was quoted as saying…

“Holy Smoke” co-author John Shelton Reed, a retired University of North Carolina sociology professor, said Monday that people in his state do not mess around with this form of cooking. “Barbecue,” he said, “is the third rail of North Carolina politics.”

I don’t envy the task of politicians who have to continually switch gears on the campaign trail to keep up with all of the local cultural quirks. However, I wonder if these politicians have some sort of database or chart that alerts them to these local “third-rail” issues to avoid. What would an outsider have to avoid in coming to Chicago or the Chicago suburbs?

If anything, this story illustrates some basic sociological concepts. Residents of North Carolina rally around barbecue, among other things, and see it as a critical part of their state identity. When an outsider comes along and makes the comment that their prized food tastes worse than roadkill, they band together to defend their barbecue, reassert their group identity, and reestablish the symbolic boundaries that separate the group from other groups. It is not that different from sports fans reacting to perceived attacks from the outside, such as the reaction of a number of Chicago Bears fans to a new biography of Walter Payton that reveals his more human side. Even an outsider who might be telling the truth (though I’m willing to bet the barbecue was better than roadkill) still will have difficulty “attacking” one of the sacred features of the group.

Looking for the “great reset” button in Asheville

Earlier this year, Richard Florida released a book titled The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity. This book about economic development is apparently on the minds of some leaders in Asheville, North Carolina:

In other words, there’s a “new normal’’ emerging, with people saving more of their hard-earned money, and civic leaders having to ask what’s going to be the best investment of tax money in our sidewalks, bridges, and highways as well as what can encourage small businesses to take root here and nurture new jobs.

Florida is no stranger to Asheville, which served almost as a poster child for his 2002 bestseller “The Rise of the Creative Class.” The sociologist showed interesting research that the diversity and tolerance for different lifestyles that attract creative individuals may mean as much to the economic health of a community as industrial parks and factories that economic developers have traditionally touted.

I suspect there a lot of communities asking similar questions: how do we forge a viable and sustainable economy based on the realities of today’s economic landscape? Neal suggests Asheville leaders think they have the ability to capitalize on some of Florida’s ideas including attracting young human capital (“the creative class”) and being part of the megaregion of “Charlanta.”

Schooling and race in North Carolina

Interesting story about schools in North Carolina struggling with this issue: how to create diverse “community schools.” The article details some of the integration efforts and their degrees of success.

A confounding factor: many of the people in the area, nearly 50% in Wake County, were born outside the state and haven’t experienced the long history of integration efforts.