Thursday, June 21, 2012

An interesting idea... what are the implications

William Faulkner, at a public meeting, in 1957: "The Negro is—is a part of our economy and our—our southern traditions. It's true anywhere, Virginia, Mississippi, or Texas. The—the—the southern—southern—the white southerner loves Negroes as individual Negroes, and—but he—he don't like Negroes in the mass, as apart from the northerner who in theory loves the Negroes in the mass but he's terrified and frightened of individual Negroes."

1. Is this a reasonable claim on his part?
2. If it is, how might this help explain the complex web of public policy as they relate to Afican Americans in the twentieth century?

I'm not entirely sure about the answer to either of those questions, but it's an interesting thought.


  1. Of course, Faulkner was generalizing, and, as generalizations, they are not bad. The generalization about Northerners is unfair, however. The phrase, "Some of my best friends are Negroes," was something that Northern Whites said. Southern Whites did not have to. It was understood.

    There is nothing particularly peculiar about that. That is how stereotypes work. People make exceptions in individual cases. For that reason I doubt if those stereotypes acted much differently from other stereotypes in regard to public policy.

    Some civil rights legislation applied to de jure segregation, but not to de facto segregation. In truth, there was not a whole lot of difference between them, and Southern Whites felt that the North was being hypocritical. Maybe so, but without that distinction the legislation would not have passed. The South today is close to where the North was then.

    Because of the ubiquity of interracial friendships, Southern Whites felt that they understood "The Nigra". That was an illusion, and it may have increased resistance to the Civil Rights Movement and "Outside Agitators". OC, "Our Niggers" would not fight for civil rights on their own. They were like children in many regards, unfit for true independent existence, yet easily swayed by demagogues. We Southern Whites would take good care of them. After all, we held them in true affection.

  2. Oh, yes. In "Mississippi: The Closed Society", James Silver has a chapter about the friendship between Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, who was reactionary even for Mississippi, and his Black fishing buddy.

  3. I this is just Faulkner restating what was once a platitude:

    "In the south, they don't care how close you get, as long as you don't get too high; in the north they don't care how high you get, as long as you don't get to close."

    I don't know how good this was as sociology with regard to the south. My impression is that it was fairly accurate, but that people were dead serious about the "too high" part; southerners could love black people, but only as inferiors. This also seems to have been true of the parts of the north where whites did try to extend a hand to blacks -- northern Illinois, Boston, Philadelphia. The overall attitude of the north comes through in historical example after example: the fact that early anti-slavery northerners usually favored colonization schemes for the freed blacks; the lack of political will to enforce Reconstruction; the white flight and outrage over forced bussing in the north in the 1960s and 1970s.

    There's also a great Randy Newman song on the subject:

    I like to think that things have improved, but I suspect that all the previous generations also flattered themselves with like conceits.


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