Vox, the website that I turn to frequently for policy and politics, has a worthwhile essay from Arkansas — How Southern racism found a home in the Tea Party.
The author is Dr. Angie Maxwell, an associate professor of political science at the University of Arkansas and director of the Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society.
The article notes the Tea Party’s strength in the South and the linkage between the Tea Party and the ascension of Donald Trump as the likely Republican presidential nominee. Writes Maxwell:
And the Southern Tea Party is a different beast from the Northern Tea Party. Our most striking finding in that 2012 data is that racism significantly predicts Tea Party membership in the South — and not just any kind of racism but “old-fashioned racism.” A high old-fashioned racism score means a respondent is willing to say on a survey that African Americans are lazy, untrustworthy, and unintelligent on a 7-point scale (meaning there is plenty of room for neutrality, room to hide one’s views).
Given today’s social norms, only the most defiant, the most willing to embrace racial stereotypes, will admit such prejudice, so researchers had in recent years largely abandoned such questions in favor of subtler measures of racial resentment (including, for instance, a strong denial of institutional racism). But anti-Obama sentiment among whites has brought old-fashioned racism back into the public arena, and the Tea Party in the South gave it a home.
But ….. but …. but ….
Dr. Maxwell must not read the local newspapers. We’ve been assured from Asa Hutchinson on down that Republican hegemony in Arkansas has nothing to do with race — the use of black men in Republican campaign advertising from U.S. Senate down to quorum court races notwithstanding.
Sure, there are reasons to disapprove of President Obama apart from the color of his skin.
Yet in the South, the dovetailing of racist sentiment and intense disdain for the nation’s first black president makes it hard to conclude that the Southern Tea Party is not substantially shaped by racial animus.
The history of slavery and Jim Crow, along with the longstanding tendency of white Southerners to define themselves racially as “us versus them” made the racist side of the Tea Party’s anti-Obama
spirit all the more attractive.
Us vs. Them? Now, THERE is an idea for a presidential campaign.
Also noted: Southern Tea Partyers (one dare not call them teabaggers, though that was the symbol around which they rallied in the early days as many photos illustrate) are younger, less educated and more likely to be female than northern counterparts.
Maxwell writes that white Southern support was vital to Trump’s rise.
The point is not that racism or xenophobia or an “us versus them” cosmology does not exist in the rest of the country. It’s that the Tea Party showed that politicians and political movements can still make direct racist appeals to white Southerners, and a substantial number of them, in the Republican Party’s largest geographic voting bloc, will still applaud. And that applause resonates nationally, falling on quite a few sympathetic ears.