Thursday, September 4, 2008

white quotation of the week (karyn d. mckinney)

I come from a very conservative state. We don’t have a lot of women that are involved in politics. We are excited about Governor Palin because they say she is so North that she’s South.
--Rep. Joan Brady
(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.


  1. How long have you lived in the South, and how long have you lived in the North?

    How long have you lived in a rural area, and how long have you lived in an urban area?

  2. Me, or Karyn, who wrote those paragraphs? (I'd rather not reveal those details about myself.)

  3. Oh, I got confused because of the lack of italics for the latter quote. I had thought that you wrote that.

    I guess you have no obligation to reveal those details about yourself, but I'm trying to analyze your psychology for my personal understanding, in the way that you analyze the psychology of people of colour and present it to your readers.

  4. thanks for pointing out the potential for misreadings, restructure. i've italicized the second quotation to avoid further confusion.

  5. I notice this phenomenon in Portland, OR--a *very* white city. I recently learned that Oregon started off as a very white state because the state constitution made it illegal for black pioneers to move here. This law is no longer in place, but I observe its legacy here in Portland, the most urban place in Oregon. Not a lot of African Americans here, especially in the inner city. Initially the inner city was where black folks lived until white, middle class folks and businesses began gentrifying black neighborhoods. Now the city is racially segregated with the white middle class living in the inner city and people of color living in the suburbs.

    Before living in Portland I lived in Virginia, where they celebrate "Lee-Jackson-King Day" on MLK day. I thought I'd be moving to a really progressive city when I came to Portland, but quickly realized that there is as much, if not more racism here.

  6. i've spent considerable time living in the south, the midwest, the northeast and the northwest. i think that the issue of white racism is much more complicated than urban/suburban/rural and contact with non-whites.

    here are some of my observations, which are, of course, based on a limited sample.

    in the northwest, for example, i don't think that the extremely limited contact with blacks has necessarily led to higher anti-black racism. my experience was that white folks who grew up in the northwest are agressively anti-mexian.

    in the south, de-segregation/integration has increased the likelihood of white having to interact with or at least co-exist with blacks while in school. i think that this both dispells and re-enforces stereotypes of blacks in the white brain. but the historical culture of the south makes for a culture of more openness in talking about race, and a good number of whites being willing to openly admit their own feelings of white supremacy.

    in the northeast and midwest, everyone wants to pretend like their people never owned slaves and their schools were never segregated and no one in the north is a racist because we're all too progressive and rational and egalitarian for that. but the north does have a legacy of racism. the kkk is alive and active in the midwest. people living north of the mason-dixon line DID own slave and did have segregated schools as late as the 1960's. the problem in the north is, i think, not so much a matter of lack of contact with black folk (the white-flight suburbs and self-segregation of the races in the north is a symptom, not a cause), but that white folk in the north are in denial about their cultural and personal racism and feelings of white supremacy. so it comes out in little ways that are hard to put your finger on, but it is there and just as deeply ingrained.

  7. I grew up in Maryland, and during my teenage years, in a rural area that was historically a slave-holding county. I experienced the most blatant racism there of anywhere I've ever lived. Everything from common use of the n-word to burning crosses. And I've lived in Boston, MA, a city still segregated along racial lines, where the privileged college students around me exposed their ignorance frequently. Friends from around New England shared stories about their hometowns in Western Mass being more similar to my hometown experience than I expected (active KKK, et). I now live in Chicago, IL, in one of the whitest neighborhoods in the city. In terms of the segregation and the relative subtlety of the racism, it reminds me of Boston. I think deeluxegal was correct in her assertion about Northern/Midwestern racism being more difficult to pinpoint, but just as deeply ingrained. It is thus harder to fight. I personally prefer that people wear their bigotry on their sleeves.


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