Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Inter-racial marriage: the view from Mississippi

There was a poll in Mississippi of Republicans to assess the views towards potential Republican presidential candidates.

They asked views of inter-racial marriage. Seems 46% of Republicans in MS disapprove.

Maybe it's just my coastal naivete, but I find that breathtaking: in 2011, a plurality of Republicans in MS disapprove of inter-racial marriage.

How many are tea-party? More here.


Paul said...

Despite having spent three years in Mississippi, I can offer no insight into their attitudes towards inter-racial marriage. The subject simply never came up. I can offer a few observations which might help.
One thing which really struck me about southern society was the degree of isolation from the rest of the country. Southern people tend to stay in the South. Relatively few migrate away. More rarely does anyone from the rest of the country venture in. There isn’t enough economic activity in the South to attract outsiders. You can do your own experiment by exploring the web sites of academic departments at Southern universities. Like departmental web sites everywhere else, they list the faculty and the school where each professor got their Ph.D. The preponderance of Southern universities on these lists is striking, as is the relative absence of universities from the rest of the country. The rare exceptions generally use their time in the South as a stepping stone to higher status positions elsewhere. The South is like another country; you really have to be born there to be comfortable there.
Fox News is playing on every public TV set. You don’t really escape it until you hit the Atlanta airport (headquarters of CNN). Fox is viewed as mainstream news. We got MSNBC on cable when I was there, but in Keith Olberman’s slot they played reruns of Deal or No Deal. National Democratic political candidates don’t bother to campaign in the South, and so their point of view is never heard. The result is a complete isolation from one half of the political spectrum.
Churches are the principal organizations of Southern life. Drive through enough small towns in Mississippi and you will wonder if there is anything to do besides hunting and going to church. You can find small towns where the church steeple is the tallest man-made structure in the town. This is what a medieval small town must have looked like. Anything you may have read about the secularization of American culture simply does not apply to the South. I actually had a real estate agent ask me which church I attended. (She was genuinely trying to be welcoming, and wanted to show me that they had my denomination represented in town.) This is the America of the 1950’s.
I met a lot of wonderful people in Mississippi. Some will be friends for life. I was overwhelmed by the response to Katrina, which amounted to a total mobilization of the entire community. I shake my head in disbelief when I hear their political views, or the results of this poll. But you have to understand, these people live in a different world. And, I am sure, they have trouble understanding us as well.

Counterlight said...

I generally second Paul's observation,and add that the South, like a lot of isolated and self-isolating communities that I see here in New York, is paradise for those who fit in and hell for those who don't. New York is filled with ex-pats from the South who could probably never go back and won't.

Hermano David | Brother Dah • veed said...

New York is filled with ex-pats from the South who could probably never go back and won't.

Not even to visit if possible.

IT said...

I posted a selection of maps comparing the different states. It may give further insights into these comments.

Marshall Scott said...

Having grown up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and lived in Memphis (and, believe me, those are two very different cultures), I think I can add some nuance to Paul's comments. First, it's heaven to those who live there - that is, if they're middle to upper middle class and white. There remains a strong cultural attachment to family that crosses racial lines, and so encourages some folks to stay; but that doesn't make it heaven for other cultural groups.

Historically, poor folks from various areas of the South - both poor blacks from the flat, agricultural areas and poor whites from the southern mountains - move away to find work. However, if the work dries up, because of the family connections they frequently move back. If one is going to starve, it's better to starve with family and share what little there is. (This is, by the way, a well-studied historical movement.)

Also, do not underestimate the ongoing cultural consequences of Reconstruction after the Civil War. It is precisely in the states most harshly governed by Reconstruction military govenors that change is most stubbornly resisted. That's not a justification to me; but it certainly is to those who live there.

Finally, don't underestimate the desire to romanticize life before the Civil War, even - or perhaps especially - to the detriment of race relations. As a child I was told by relatives (although not by my parents!) that I should have inherited "100,000 acres of the best bottom land in the Mississippi Delta," had laws of primogeniture not changed after the Civil War. It was absolutely false: the ancestors specifically involved were in fact small holders and storekeepers. But the myth was quoted quite often enough, at least for others, to almost establish some sense of loss and violation.