Bob Moser at The American Prospect recently wrote about the continued befuddlement of otherwise clear-eyed liberals in relation to the American South. He cites Obama’s three electoral wins in southern states as proof of undue nihilism in regard to liberalism’s ability to sway folks below the Mason-Dixon line in the past. We now may be seeing history repeat itself with southern Democratic Senate candidates faring “surprisingly” well so far in 2014. One under-regarded aspect of this puzzlement lies in an overriding tendency to erase or discount the African American presence in the South, as Moser points out in his parentheses. Unfortunately this elision has more consequences than merely propagating poor punditry.
While African Americans in the South are often the subject of stories focusing on poverty and the efforts of voter suppression the agency of activists and everyday folk is often given short shrift. The work of folks in North Carolina participating in the Moral Mondays and elsewhere shows that the legacy of political and civic engagement is as vital as ever and ready to be engaged with and accounted for when discussing the tenor of the political environnment in a region too often described with nihilism or sarcasm by our intellectual and media class.
In the short term this would mean more support and touting of efforts like the recent one launched by Democrats to turn out voters where they would have merely been written off in the past. Also less of an anxiety about how being strongly identified as the party of people of color plays to the Reagan Republicans from liberals and moderates in the Democratic Party when considering and discussing policy and politcs would be the beginning of a conversation that would lead to more collaboration and honestly it seems no amount of distancing will be able to alter that perception at this point.
In the long term this greater acknowledgement would mean that fewer and fewer conservatives would be able to offer the assessment that the agency of African Americans is taken for granted by liberals. This belief is the source of a lot of the voter apathy seen in the black community and a brand of black conservatism too often written off as mere self-hate when it should instead be seen as a critique and rebuke of a perceived paternalism in the interaction between white and black liberals.
A greater engagement in the spirit of partnership could produce not only electoral gains but substantive policy in conjunction with community action to improve the nation for everyone. The current signs are encouraging for seeing this cooperation begin in earnest. If the established narrative could catch up to the reality on the ground it would be along even further.