Monday, April 14, 2014

The Political Legacy of American Slavery

By way of this New York Magazine article I heard of a fascinating study that seems to provide evidence of the impact of slavery on racism that exists right at the present time - The Political Legacy of American Slavery available online in PDF format. According to the paper's abstract:
We show that contemporary differences in political attitudes across counties in the American South trace their origins to slavery’s prevalence more than 150 years ago. Whites who currently live in Southern counties that had high shares of slave population in 1860 are less likely to identify as Democrat, more likely to oppose affirmative action policies, and more likely to express racial resentment toward blacks. The results are robust to accounting for a variety of attributes, including contemporary shares of black population, urban-rural differences, and Civil War destruction. To explain our results, we offer a theory in which attitudes were shaped historically by the incentives of Southern whites to propagate racist institutions and norms in areas that had high shares of emancipated slaves in the decades after 1865. We argue that these attitudes have been passed down locally from one generation to the next.
Fascinating - and horrifying. It appears that the descendants of slave owners have created a culture aimed at hating the descendants of slaves, in an effort to exonerate themselves of the evil of slavery.

This might explain why a certain subculture of Southerners refuse to let go of identifying with the Confederacy - they must forever justify the evil of their ancestors by claiming that slavery was good for black people.

I quoted Krugman the other day pointing out how much Republicans hate poor people - so much that they'll refuse federal money that would support the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) out of pure spite - but I think that the NYMag article rightly identifies exactly which poor people the Republicans want to spite the most:
The Rochester study should, among other things, settle a very old and deep argument about the roots of America’s unique hostility to the welfare state. Few industrialized economies provide as stingy aid to the poor as the United States; in none of them is the principle of universal health insurance even contested by a major conservative party. Conservatives have long celebrated America’s unique strand of anti-statism as the product of our religiosity, or the tradition of English liberty, or the searing experience of the tea tax. But the factor that stands above all the rest is slavery.

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