Columns » John Brummett

Who are you calling racist?


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This is one that will make you mad. This is the one that calls you racist.

Well, not you personally. I refer to your culture, your environment, your place. Make that our culture, our environment, our place.

Everyone is talking about an election map in The New York Times.  It ran Wednesday. It shaded in blue the areas of the country that went more heavily Democratic in this presidential election than in the last one. It shaded in red the areas that went more heavily Republican this time.

There aren't many of the latter, meaning those turning more red/Republican in 2008 than 2004. That's because Barack Obama did so much better than John Kerry. In fact there is only a small red belt, a narrow, conspicuous, boldly glaring one, that stretches from West Virginia into Kentucky down to Tennessee over to Arkansas and ending in Oklahoma.

It's kind of embarrassing, to tell you the truth. Your nation has done one thing, an historic thing. People dance in the streets all over the country, indeed the world. And here you sit, the buckle of this odd little anti-Barack belt. It's as if everyone on your street had a party and you didn't get invited.

Before we get to the elephant in the room, which is white rural racism, let's run through three benign and varyingly plausible explanations.

One: Obama chose not to campaign here and in those other red-belt states. If he had spent millions persuading us and Tennesseeans and Kentuckians and West Virginians the way he persuaded Ohioans and Pennsylvanians and Virginians and North Carolinians, maybe we would have given him a better vote.

Two: This is the same belt along which Hillary Clinton creamed Obama in the primaries, especially so, by 74 percent, here in Arkansas, which is, in a way, a home of hers. So we had lingering resentment toward Obama about that. The problem with this explanation, its fatal flaw, which perhaps already has occurred to you, is that New York is another Hillary home state that gave her a big primary win, but, for heaven sakes, didn't hold that against Obama months later in the epic general election.

Three: Our state's black population, and indeed the entire black population along this narrow red belt, is less than that of Upper Midwest urban areas and deeper South states. Obama ran altogether better in those areas, but only because of those higher concentrations of black voters. In other words, we may be white racists, but no more than white people elsewhere. This is, while arguable, something less than a ringing self-endorsement.

None of those explanations changes a basic and most uncomfortable fact. We're not talking here about areas that went Republican. Please understand: There is nothing racist in being a Republican or in honestly assessing McCain to be a better candidate than Obama. There were many such areas in the lower Midwest and Rockies.

Instead, this map points out areas that voted in greater numbers against a stronger Democratic candidate this year, who happened to be black, than against a weaker Democratic candidate four years ago, who happened to be white.

Skin color aside, I'm having a hard time wondering why someone would vote for John Kerry and not Barack Obama.

Anyway, we stand out on this map like a sore red thumb.

A vital postscript, so as not to paint our eccentric little state unfairly with one red brush: The state's most Republican County, Benton, is actually blue on this map for having given Obama a slightly higher percentage of its vote Tuesday than it gave Kerry in 2004. So let us make clear that Benton County is simply very, very Republican, but, it seems, not at all racial in its attitudes. That is good. Pulaski County, a Democratic stronghold, is blue as well on account of having given Obama a fractionally higher vote than it gave Kerry, though, as it happens, Pulaski's vote is remarkably similar by size and percentage from ‘04 to ‘08, with both Kerry and Obama getting 55 percent. Race appears not to have driven Pulaski County in any way. That is the goal. Most of the many red areas of the state, reflecting Kerry votes not sustained for Obama, are in rural sectors dotted across southern and eastern Arkansas. No need to call names. The need is for honesty and introspection.



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