Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


lady-sons

Paula Deen's Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. (PHOTO: GREENBOB16/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Seriously, Is There More Racism in the South?

• June 25, 2013 • 8:00 AM

Paula Deen's Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. (PHOTO: GREENBOB16/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

They may not be overtly racist, but Southern whites are still more likely to use code words that indicate racial animus than non-Southern whites.

The New York Times recently ran a story describing the Savannah, Georgia, defenders of Paula Deen. Deen, of course, is the recently disgraced television chef who was fired by the Food Network due to her admissions of casually using racial slurs and planning an antebellum plantation-themed wedding for her brother. The Times’ story is laden with quotes from a number of white Southern patrons of Deen’s restaurant offering defenses of their region and some barbs for their Northern critics. For example,

“Everybody in the South over 60 used the N-word at some time or the other in the past.”

“I don’t understand why some people can use [the N-word] and others can’t.”

“We have lived with each other and loved each other here for a long time. Sometimes I think there is more prejudice in the North than there is in the South.”

So what’s the story? Few would question that the South was home to some of the world’s most virulent white racism just a few decades ago, but similarly, few would doubt that the region has made tremendous strides to overcome that legacy. Is there still more prejudice in the South than in the North?

Political scientists and pollsters used to have an easier time identifying bigots in surveys; Americans were once very upfront about their discomfort, distrust, and even hatred toward people of other races. Over the past half century or so, though, a social desirability effect has become apparent. Even if a person fundamentally dislikes members of another race, he knows not to say this publicly, or even in response to a private survey. It’s simply not part of the acceptable parlance any more. But that doesn’t mean racial animus has disappeared.

Political psychologists instead look for evidence of “symbolic” racism. These are instances of individuals using code words that tend to indicate racial animus without being overtly racist themselves. For example, a white person might complain about immigrants, welfare queens, food stamp recipients—populations that are disproportionately racial minorities and portrayed as unjustly taking something from other Americans—but still deny that they have any problem with non-whites. (For a rich example of this, see Newt Gingrich’s exchange with Juan Williams during the 2012 Republican presidential primary debates.) Oh, and if you’re complaining that you aren’t allowed to use the N-word while other people get to? You just might be a symbolic racist.

So here’s an example of a question along these lines from the 2008 American National Election Studies, asking whether African Americans should be “working their way up” without “special favors.” Only the white respondents are included in the tally:

Symbolic racism, South vs. Nonsouth

There’s about a 10-point difference there, with Southern whites more likely to agree with the question than non-Southern whites. We see the same sort of pattern when we look at questions about interracial marriage, whether blacks should “push themselves where they’re not wanted,” or whether the law should support homeowners who choose not to sell their house to blacks. Southern whites are consistently more likely to choose the symbolically racist answer than non-Southern whites are.

In a thorough review of these sorts of questions and how they vary by geography, Nicholas Valentino and David Sears (via John Sides) concluded the following:

General Social Survey and National Election Studies data from the 1970s to the present indicate that whites residing in the old Confederacy continue to display more racial antagonism and ideological conservatism than non-Southern whites. Racial conservatism has become linked more closely to presidential voting and party identification over time in the white South, while its impact has remained constant elsewhere. This stronger association between racial antagonism and partisanship in the South compared to other regions cannot be explained by regional differences in nonracial ideology or nonracial policy preferences, or by the effects of those variables on partisanship.

In other words, it’s not just that there’s more prejudice in the South; Southerners are more likely than Northerners to use that prejudice in making political decisions.

This, of course, is not to suggest that the North is free of prejudice or that the South is peopled solely by bigots. And it is not to disparage the considerable racial progress the South has made since the era of segregated schools and violent repression of the vote, which happened within the lifetime of many of its residents. But even with all that progress and all the movement of people into and out of the region over the past half century, key cultural differences do remain. A future Paula Deen could emerge in the North. But she’s far more likely to emerge in the South.

Seth Masket
Seth Masket is a political scientist at the University of Denver, specializing in political parties, state legislatures, campaigns and elections, and social networks. He is the author of No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures (University of Michigan Press, 2009). Follow him on Twitter @smotus.

More From Seth Masket

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 22 • 1:00 PM

Keep That E-Reader Out of Bed and You’ll Feel Better in the Morning

New research finds e-readers, like other light-emitting electronic devices, can disrupt normal sleep patterns.


December 22 • 12:25 PM

Stop Trying to Be the ‘Next Silicon Valley’

American cities often try to mimic their more economically successful counterparts. A new study suggests that it’s time to stop.


December 22 • 12:00 PM

Pill Mills and the Rise of Controlled Substance Use in Medicare

Despite warnings about abuse, Medicare covered more prescriptions for potent controlled substances in 2012 than it did in 2011. The program’s top prescribers often have faced disciplinary action or criminal charges related to their medical practices.


December 22 • 10:00 AM

Economics at the North Pole: Are Santa’s Elves Slaves?

A pair of economists seek to reconcile two conflicting schools of thought in order to predict what sort of environments increase incentives for labor coercion.


December 22 • 8:00 AM

What Influences Whether Owners Pick Up After Their Dogs?

The presence or absence of suitable receptacles for bags is not the whole picture.


December 22 • 7:04 AM

Coming Soon: This Is How Gangs End


December 22 • 6:00 AM

Politicians Gonna Politic

Is there something to the idea that a politician who no longer faces re-election is free to pursue new policy solutions without needing to kowtow to special interests?


December 20 • 10:28 AM

Flare-Ups

Are my emotions making me ill?


December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


Follow us


Stop Trying to Be the ‘Next Silicon Valley’

American cities often try to mimic their more economically successful counterparts. A new study suggests that it's time to stop.

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.