The Re-segregation of the South, and the memory hole of American political discourse

Propublica released a very interesting an honest paper and podcast by Nikole Hannah-Jones on re-segregation in the South and self- or economically-justified-segregation in the rest of the United States.  Since ProPublica has a liberal technocratic bent but is non-partisan and extremely wonk-focused, it is given to being more honest about the US political discourse misrepresentation of reality.

One of the primary points she admits, but only implies the reason, was that forced busing and the voting rights act were generally only applied in places that had the most egregious legal segregation: i.e. the South.  Ironically, this led to a situation where southern schools were actually desegregated while all the other schools in the US became more so. If you look at national trends, segregation and gerrymandering are endemic to the entirety of the US.  Who says there is no such thing as structural racism?  Yet, there are deeper complications here:  1) In the case study she did, it was that both the white community leaders and the black community leaders saw gerrymandering as necessary?  Why? The white community was afraid of the degeneration of school base from white flight, and the black community thought that perhaps it was time to give up on integration because it had led to the collapse of historical black institutions and white dominance over the fates of black students by sheer demographic force.  2) The black community, however, even though it got material concessions either did not or could not get significant economic investment in the black communities it asked for as part of the deal nor could it attract quality teachers to the neighborhood, so educational results were more poorer (or, at least, it is a factor in the situation– I realize poverty, oppositional culture, and family background all correlate to low educational outcomes).

What the author laments is that even though the South is undoubtedly filled with racial problems, the North Eastern liberal snobbery about that is dishonest and it also ignores leadership of the Southern black communities opinion on the matter.  It may be the South is re-segregating, but what we clearly see in this matter is deeper than that: the largest cities of the North East are the only places with significant minority communities in the North East, and in those cities, the schools and neighborhoods are some of the most segregated in the US.  So when you here people talk about South as unique, this is a cop-out.  What made the South unique was a  history of slavery and Jim Crow, but segregation and discrimination, indeed structural racism, has always been just as predominant in the North East. Just more invisible due to fewer minority communities outside of the cities large enough to shelter and separate entire ethnic blocks.  The mid-west and the West show similar trends, although with more economic and school integration with richer Asian immigrants than with say First Peoples or Hispanics (which is not even a coherent racial category).

Now, there are some more disturbing and problematic parts of this: I have often said that I worry about gentrification because the displacement of the poor, but most anti-gentrification efforts are basically attempts to keep property values down and to keep neighborhoods ethnically and class demographic homogenous.  Now, there are communities with are diverse and yet minority determined which are gentrified by planning for tourism: i.e. Chinatown in NYC, DC, and the Bay Area. However, this is very different case from poor black neighborhoods with no tourism value in the South East, sometimes even community control to fight gangs and reduce crime is enough to gentrify the area.  But how do you reduce poverty when you can not raise land values in doing so? In a market economy, without coercion and what would amount to forced segregation, any attempt to do this without already injecting significant amounts of capital into the community and have them deliberately NOT invest into the  community until the internal infrastructure lifts all who are already there?   I have a hard time figuring out how that would work.   But one of the issues is that this concern that many liberals have against gentrification play in direct contradiction to the impulse for integration.   The values are simply incompatible in a capitalist society, and complaining and umbrage-taking about the effects of gentrification does not do anything about capitalism.

What this amounts to is simple, as much as we talk about race in the US, are nearly obsessed with it.  We are fundamentally dishonest about the actual history and statistical truths.  The “fuck-the-Southerners” are certainly a subset of bourgeois liberals who do not wish to deal with the reality of the past the complicity of liberal ideology in it. Sure, they will pay lip service to checking their privilege or how bad racism is, but structurally they absolve themselves from doing anything about it, and in the North East, effectively, ALWAYS have.   Sure, they realized the horrors of slavery during the civil war, but did not make into a motivating factor until the North was losing. (Of course, this does not contradict the lie that the South, particularly South Carolina, did not leave for slavery but “state’s rights.” The state’s rights they cared about was slavery.)

Similarly, that does not mean that demographic diversity has meant anything in the South in terms of outcomes.  While crime as decreased in the US, it has done corresponding by increased non-violent offender incarceration. One cannot say if it is casual, and I doubt it since nations which MUCH lower incarceration rates have similar trends.   In the South in particular, these felons lose their ability to vote, but are counting as part of the population for rural districts.  In other words, it inflates district representation in rural areas more than it already is, and then denies those same people as much 8% of the white population and 25% of African American population any political representation, again inflating the vote.

And people wonder why I do not believe in representative democracy?

But the key point remains the same, integration has had limited outcomes and a lot of anger aimed specifically at the South is based on misunderstanding the actual statistical facts of the US.  It also belies deeper problems of cultural  heterogeneity: integration in the past as generally, in my reading of history, come from two things–large cultural projects which join people in a goal and encourage linguistic similarity and intermarriage, or by force.  The later we generally see as imperialism. Indeed, the most multicultural societies have shared one or both of these traits:  the Ottomans, the Byzantine Romans, the Romans, the unification of India, the unification of China, etc.   What has become clear is that modern liberal democracy was never a deep enough cultural project without the aid of religion to do that.  Furthermore, the original theorists of classical liberalism had no interest in it in the first place.  Was it not John Locke who wrote the South Carolina constitution including it charter on slavery?  Was it not early liberal natural law jurisprudence which came up with a just conquest criterion for slavery in Catholic circles?

People have a vested interested in not changing their minds when their ideology is often the same source as the salary and relative security. Of course, this not unique to US or liberalism.  The fact that blood and soil parties control up to 20% of the voter base of most of Europe indicate this tension exists even in the most piously left-liberal of societies, including the Nordic social democracies (who were also kind of ambivalent about Hitler in world war 2 by the way.  Ze’ev Sternhell documents that really well in his various works on fascism and its development).  You also see both liberal and neo-conservative denial of the validity of ethno-nationalism, unless, of course, you are a strategic ally like Israel or Japan or most of East Asia.  Almost all people have survived genocidal wars of conquest, if the denial of special circumstances happens in those cases (such as the selectivity in the Balkans in the 1990s), then how can explicit ethno-nationalism be excepted in other cases–or even ethno-religious nationalism in the case of Israel.

You can see how selective this all is.   But what can learn here? Even things that look like self-segregation are often planned, and often planned in secret, often by the representatives of the communities most effected by it. The ideological dishonest about the history of the country acts as a cover for this, and things go on as per normal.   Many of the my radical friends have to wonder–if all of their venting about celebrities and media and discourse is not a release valve for more unfortunate and inconvenient truths.



6 thoughts on “The Re-segregation of the South, and the memory hole of American political discourse

  1. “And people wonder why I do not believe in representative democracy?”

    And this is why I believe in direct democracy. History has proven that both non-democratic governments and representative democratic governments lead to less than desirable results. So, why not try some variation that is closer to direct democratic self-governance?

    It might fail, but we should at least try it out as an experiment before dismissing it. We’ve tried many systems that have failed. I say it is time to try entirely new systems. No major government has yet tried direct democracy. I’m all for experimenting with the yet unattempted. Instead of discussing abstract ideological theory, let’s just try it out and see what happens.

    • I can say the risks of ignorance are much higher in direct democracy, and I tend to think it can only be compartmentalized. That said the incentives to know things are also higher. Republican democracy is passive.

      • I don’t think the risks of ignorance are any greater in democracy than in any other system. It’s simply an issue of who knows what and to what end. Even in a hunter-gatherer society, all kinds of knowledge are necessary for it to function. It’s just different types of knowledge are necessary for a well-functioning direct democracy than for non-democratic societies.

        A direct democracy would require the kind of knowledge that relates to direct democracy itself. Citizens of a direct democracy, first and foremost, have to know how a direct democracy functions well and what is necessary for that functioning. A large basis for this knowledge would be a culture of knowledge that is systemic in families, communities, media, and education. All of this would require a society be willing to invest, financially and otherwise, in all that is conducive to a well-informed population that is capable of rational thought.

        For example, research shows that people can be primed for rational thought by particular activities. A direct democracy would have to function by regularly priming the population for rational thought. It would have to be built into the entire culture, not just the politics.

        I don’t know if this is possible or not. I just think it would make for an interesting experiment. We need more interesting experiments. It could be done on a small scale, but it would require a population isolated enough to allow the direct democracy to function without any overt interference. I’m not sure where that would be possible. The ultimate problem isn’t that a direct democracy couldn’t function, but that the powerful governments and private institutions in the world today wouldn’t want it to function. This is an experiment that the powerful elite would never allow to happen, if they could stop it. Maybe it would require starting a colony on another planet.

        I suspect that its the wild card external factors that might create the conditions where such an experiment would become a realistic possible. Maybe one day.

      • Representative Democracy has been shown to reduce knowledge levels, particularly with the parties as sorters. The effect on the representative is not strong enough to encourage people to stay up on it, and there is a general trust in representatives. Ironically this is still true when approval low.

        If prediction markets are an indication, direct democracy would work better as long as it is not something out of the general spectrum of the public. Prediction markets work very well except when the populace is ignorant entirely of what is in the prediction market parameters (such as just knowing anything about the countries or science involved with the prediction). If general knowledge has some relationship, prediction markets work better than expert opinion, but if it is exotic or controversial.

      • I’m not even sure what would be the best experiments to undertake. I only wish there were more experimentation. As a global society, we’ve tried many systems and now know what doesn’t work. Yet there are many systems yet untried or not yet fully attempted.

        So, I don’t know about promoting any single system as the ultimate solution. Rather than promoting my pet ideology, I’m wondering what are the conditions we can all help create that would be conducive to encouraging experimentation.

        One of the reasons I would suggest direct democracy is that it is an experiment that would allow for further experimentation. In a direct democracy, a local population would be involved in its own experiment. And each local population would experiment differently. Some would be more successful and others utter failures. Experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t would then lead to further experimentation to refine the better ideas.

        Millions of people thinking about solutions are more likely to come to better solutions than a small elite trying to figure it out in isolation from the rest of the population. Systems like representative democracy don’t just lead to ignorance in the general population but also ignorance among the elites who are supposedly representing everyone else. The whole system becomes a quagmire of ignorance.

        US not-so-representative democracy is proof that the elite aren’t all that superior in their ability to solve problems. I don’t know what rises to the top, but it isn’t always or even usually the cream.

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