“It is not that Southerners are racist . . .”
I enjoy the New York Times “Freakonomics” Blog but recently I was reminded of one of the shortcomings of modern academics: they can deny common sense by talking too much. Take the following sentence recently published by Eric Oliver:
“Racially isolated whites in Arkansas or Alabama may have been more afraid of voting for Obama not because they are more racist than white voters in Minnesota or Montana, but because they perceive greater racial competition with nearby black populations.”
Seriously: WTF? This is like saying: “It is not that they are racist, it is just that they have a reason to be racist.”
“When Frank got into a car accident while under the influence of alcohol, it isn’t because he was a drunk driver, it is just that he has been going through a lot lately, and he enjoys drinking a lot of cheap beer.”
To be fair, Oliver is trying to say “competition with minority groups on the lower end of the economic scale will tend to make folks a bit bitter and even prejudiced against minority groups.” Fair enough, and worth knowing. But in the end, if you didn’t vote for Obama because you have an issue with black folks, you’re a racist. Plain and simple. This doesn’t make you an irredeemably bad person, but it does mean you have some room for improvement.
And yes, it is important to understand what drives racism, but it is also important that understanding doesn’t lead to being an apologist for racist behavior. Understanding should lead to fixing the issue, and part of that is to allow someone to admit that yeah maybe they are somewhat racist, and why that may be, and then, what they might do to improve their own self-understanding. That way in 2012 they may evaluate Obama not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.