--Rep. Joan Brady
(R) South Carolina
(R) South Carolina
In Being White: Stories of Race and Racism, Karyn D. McKinney writes:
I am sometimes surprised by my feeling a need to defend my home region. But I don’t think it comes so much from a sense of “Southern pride” as it does from a need to correct a fundamental misperception about the nature of white racism today. This misperception allows [people] to use the South as a scapegoat for white racism and continue to ignore the prejudice in their own backyards.
I do believe that there are differences in white attitudes that are based in part on the geographical space in which whites grow up. However, I believe that these differences are today no longer split as much along a North/South distinction but based on whether one has grown up in an urban or a rural setting.
Even this distinction is not a “neat” one and may be true more in the North than in the South. In Southern states, even whites who grew up in rural areas have often had contact with people of color, specifically with African Americans, because of the agricultural nature of rural life and the historical involvement of African Americans with Southern agriculture. Whether or not this contact leads to a positive outcome differs, of course, for different white people. Still, at least the contact has been there, “messy” as it sometimes has been.
In the North, however, for rural whites, contact with people of color was and is less likely to occur. Thus, it seems that as prejudiced attitudes have abated in the country based at least in part on contact between whites and people of color, it is often whites who have had little contact with people of color who are left with attitudes that seem behind the rest of the country by several decades.
I hypothesize that it is rural whites who are the least likely to have had contact with people of color and thus are the most unfamiliar with them. This can lead to essentialist beliefs, fears, and for some, outright prejudice and racism exhibited in their attitudes. It is ironic to me that while Northerners tell me how “racist” the South is, I have heard more overt racist statements, witnessed more hostile stares directed toward people of color, and toward me when I am with them, and seen more Confederate flags in proportion to the population since moving North than I did in the South.