[Blackstudies-l] where does racism come from?
lima at geneseo.edu
Mon Oct 7 10:03:43 EDT 2013
*Democrat and Chronicle 10/06/2013, Page B01*
University of Rochester political scientists think they found some answers,
but our Emily Crosby needs more...
* UR study explores slavery’s legacy**
Its impact is still a factor in today’s South*
The American public’s attitudes about race have been the subject of any
number of books, but three University of Rochester political scientists are
presenting a study that puts the focus back on slavery.
The three — Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell and Maya Sen — looked at the
1860 U.S. census in the South to determine where there were concentrations
of slaves and then looked at recent public opinion polls.
What they found is that counties in the pre-Civil War South, where slaves
often made up a sizable percentage of the population, harbor more racial
resentment today than counties that had a population with a low
While the authors don’t dismiss other factors that can shape views, they
present a case for linking the institution of slavery to the mindset of
whites in the South today, at a time when racial issues have
resurfacedthere and elsewhere.
“We show that contemporary differences in political attitudes across
counties in the American South trace their origins back to the influence of
slavery’s prevalence more than 150 years ago,” write the authors in a
summary of their 52-page study.*
See SLAVERY, Page 7B*
* Avidit Acharya*
* Matthew Blackwell*
* Maya Sen*
*Article Continued Below*
See SLAVERY on Page B07
Continued from Page 1B
Importance of past
A recent posting about the study on
The Huffington Post website generated more than 3,400 comments — and a host
of complaining calls to UR.
“There is a strong division and a strong polarization in the way people
react,” said Blackwell. “You can have two comments that are juxtaposed
against each other — one that says these results are obvious and one that
says these results are obviously wrong.”
Sen noted how their study, “The Political Legacy of American Slavery,”
touched a sensitive nerve.
“We, as Americans, don’t want to be shackled by the past. One of the things
we are suggesting in the study is that things that happened long ago
continue to affect us today,” she said.
Beginning with Sen’s presentation in late September at the University of
California at Riverside, the authors are appearing at Princeton University,
the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the University of California at
Berkeley, Columbia University and Yale University.
Reactions from experts on slavery and civil rights were generally
favorable, though questions were raised.
“The study seems sound to me, as far as it goes, and it confirms a general
observation that white racial attitudes and political identification are
more conservative in the deep South than elsewhere,” said Pulitzer
Prize-winning historian James McPherson, who is a professor emeritus at
But McPherson raises the question of whether racial attitudes of whites in
the counties studied might be more influenced by the high concentration of
African-Americans living in these areas today.
A failure to pay adequate attention to how the post-Civil War South
developed is also found in other critiques.
But the study’s relevance to the present was noted by the Rev. Marvin
McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
“This paper helps explain why the ink was not dry on the June 2013 (Supreme
Court) ruling about the Voting Rights Act before Mississippi, South
Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas — all major slave-holding
states — took immediate steps to suppress the black vote in their states,”
William J. Harris Sr., an instructor of history at Hobart and William Smith
Colleges, said that, while the legacy of slavery, race and racism continue
to play a role in the development of the nation, quantitative analysis has
“Racial demographics or economic systems alone cannot be used to explain a
community’s actions at a given time, let alone a century and a half later,”
Method of analysis
The three authors, all assistant professors in political science at UR
skilled in the use of statistics, decided to go ahead with the study early
For starters, the authors — using the 1860 census — looked at the
percentage of the population that was slaves in 1,251 counties in states
south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
They then looked at opinion polling data of more than 39,000 white
Southerners from 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2,011 compiled by the
Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which does Internet polling.
Counties that in 1860 had a population with a high percentage of slaves
were most likely now to have a white population showing racial resentment.
The question for measuring resentment is whether the person polled agreed
with the statement that generations of slavery and discrimination make it
difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower classes.
Disagreement with the statement indicated resentment.
The white population in counties that once had a high percentage of slaves
was also more likely to be Republican than in Southern counties that had
lower concentrations of slaves. And the white population in counties that
had a high percentage of slaves was more likely to be opposed to
About 90 of the counties in the South had pre-Civil War slave populations
less than 3 percent and had views similar to some counties in the North —
an example being Campbell County, Ky., in the South having similar views as
Perry County, Ind.
“Taken together, these results are clear. Slave prevalence in 1860 has an
effect on the political attitudes of Southern whites today,” says the
The study is limited in focus to the South, as the authors point out in
defining the scope of their research.
Richard Newman, who teaches history at Rochester Institute of Technology,
said that the authors provide quantitative evidence of the “slavery effect”
on American society.
“But we should not overlook the fact that racism remains a national
problem,” Newman said.
Many of the counties in the study that had a large percentage of slaves now
have a sizable African-American population, but the history of slavery
continues to be a factor, Blackwell said.
Even with two Southern counties that today have the same percentage of
African-Americans, the one that in 1860 had more slaves currently shows
more racial resentment.
Migration patterns are also taken into account by the paper and would not
affect the study’s findings, Blackwell said.
The paper takes note of how after the Civil War — and the end of slavery —
blacks continued to be oppressed by a tenant farming system that made them
beholden to white landowners. Segregation also took hold.
Another sign of racial hostility toward blacks was the high incidence of
lynching in the South.
But the authors point to the importance of slavery shaping opinions that
were handed down.
“How would pre-Civil War slavery directly affect attitudes today? We
hypothesize that the abolition of slavery in 1865 was a cataclysmic event
that undermined Southern whites’ political and economic power,” says the
The Southern white elite, however, continued to promote anti-black
“These racially hostile norms were subsequently passed down through
generations, resulting in contemporary anti-black attitudes that can still
be felt today,” says the study.
Emilye Crosby, who teaches civil rights and African-American history at the
State University College at Geneseo, said that at the heart of the study’s
argument is that political attitudes of some whites in the South are
influenced by slavery.
She agrees that to some extent that has been the case, but questions
whether slavery is as predictive as the study suggests.
“I think my biggest concern with the paper is the emphasis that ‘attitudes’
or ‘feelings’ were passed down through the generations without sufficient
acknowledgment of institutionalized racism and the way it would fuel,
reinforce attitudes over generations,” she said.
JGOODMAN at DemocratandChronicle.com Twitter.com/Goodman_DandC
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