Learning about race from the South

The Christian Science Monitor has a story about seven lessons that can be learned about race from the South. Here is the list: “recognize how far we’ve come,” “talk about race like a Southerner,” (#3 is not listed in a heading but is something like “see the benefits of frequent interaction between blacks and whites”), “Blacks love Southern opportunity,” “don’t stereotype whites,” “segregation by any other name…,” and “keep moving forward.”

One thing that caught my attention: #6 discusses segregation in the North, a region which supposedly has been more favorable to blacks. Several academics dispute this notion:

“The concept of Southern exceptionalism has obscured a lot of American history and a lot of Southern history, and it’s time to put that to rest and understand how deeply interrelated America and the South is, and how much the two have always resembled each other,” says Larry Griffin, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of “The South as an American Problem.” “For decades and decades, the South’s legacy has been the basic trope that permitted white Americans [to excuse] themselves from all racial guilt and project it to the American South.”

A group of historians – including Mr. Sokol and the University of Michigan’s Matt Lassiter – are revisiting how the North and South diverged after the Civil War. One of Mr. Lassiter’s findings is that Northern segregation happened largely by the same kind of government decrees that enshrined segregation in the South.

“The North has been a freer place, in some ways a better place [for blacks], but on the level of spatial segregation, structural inequalities, and poverty, [the North] is no better than the South and is, in many cases, worse,” says Sokol.

Sociologist James Loewen has also tackled this subject in Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. Loewen found that in the North between 1890 and 1940, blacks were forced out of many communities, often by informal “sundown laws” that required them to be out of a community by sundown or suffer the consequences.

An interesting article in a country that has difficulty discussing race and dealing with the consequences of a racialized society.