Paul Krugman writes in today’s New York Times that despite his newspapers (and other media outlet’s) “tone of amazement” at the protests in Jena last week:
“But the reality is that things haven’t changed nearly as much as people think. Racial tension, especially in the South, has never gone away, and has never stopped being important. And race remains one of the defining factors in modern American politics.”
While Krugman is correct on this point, he errs by failing to recognize the ways in which the racial dynamics he’s attributing exclusively to the South are in fact, quintessentially American. To support this view, he quotes political scientist Thomas F. Schaller who, in his book “Whistling Past Dixie,” makes this assessment:
“Despite the best efforts of Republican spinmeisters to depict American conservatism as a nonracial phenomenon, the partisan impact of racial attitudes in the South is stronger today than in the past.”
Yet, it’s systematic racism — like that in housing — that reveals part of how deeply embedded racism is in this society as a whole. The first suburbs in the nation were built outside New York City, and those suburbs, such as the original Levittown, were built exclusively for whites at the same time that people were rising up against racist segregation in the south. Making racism a regional-disorder is provides an easy out for white liberals who would rather ignore the racism in their own backyard.