In Old Con­fed­er­acy, racial gap still wide


63 per­cent of whites be­lieve eco­nomic con­di­tions are get­ting bet­ter 63 per­cent of blacks be­lieve eco­nomic con­di­tions are get­ting worse

AT­LANTA — Black South­ern­ers and white South­ern­ers are so pro­foundly split on cen­tral ques­tions of equal­ity and op­por­tu­nity that the only thing they seem to share is ge­og­ra­phy, a new poll of the South sug­gests.

The Winthrop Univer­sity poll of the 11 states of the Old Con­fed­er­acy, re­leased last week, finds some com­mon ground be­tween the races on cer­tain is­sues. But 61 per­cent of white peo­ple in the sur­vey

be­lieve all Amer­i­cans have an equal chance to suc­ceed if they work equally hard. Only 33 per­cent of black peo­ple sur­veyed feel that way.

Like­wise, 60 per­cent of black South­ern­ers be­lieve strongly the legacy of slav­ery and dis­crim­i­na­tion con­tin­ues to hold black peo­ple back. But only 19 per­cent of white South­ern­ers share that strong con­vic­tion.

“I came from a mod­est back­ground and built some­thing be­cause I stuck with it and took some risks,” said Lyza

Sand­gren, a white busi­ness owner in Suwa­nee, Ga. “That is avail­able to every­one in this coun­try. Does every­one have the same abil­ity to suc­ceed on the same level? Of course not. The only av­enues that any of us have are ed­u­ca­tion, hard work and the will­ing­ness to take a few risks. No­body’s go­ing to do it for us. On that level, I say that every­one in the United States has an equal chance to suc­ceed.”

Sand­gren said she finds the poll re­sults un­per­sua­sive.

“To any­one who in these polls says, whites think this, blacks think that: I don’t care. I lis­ten to the per­son, not the race,” she said.

Court­ney Spencer, an African-Amer­i­can res­i­dent of Pauld­ing County, Ga., ar­gues the deck has been stacked against black peo­ple since the ear­li­est days of colo­nial Amer­ica.

“Dur­ing slav­ery you have the slave own­ers, who ac­tu­ally cre­ated wealth off of the ones that they put into slav­ery,” said Spencer, who works in the pest con­trol busi­ness in Hi­ram. “So, ba­si­cally that wealth trick­led down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. But when black peo­ple fi­nally got their free­dom, they were al­ready hun­dreds and hun­dreds of years be­hind. They’re hav­ing to play catch-up, and it’s hard to play catch-up be­cause there are peo­ple who don’t want them to.”

The key to racial un­der­stand­ing? “I re­ally think progress can only come from un­com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tions,” Spencer said. “There are a lot of peo­ple, re­gard­less of race, who don’t want to talk about race. They’d rather be silent about it and hope it will go away. But it never does.”


The poll comes as the South is strug­gling with a va­ri­ety of is­sues, from what to do with Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments to the resur­gence of white su­prem­a­cists — and the peo­ple who op­pose them — to re­newed cul­ture wars. It also comes near the end of the first year of the Trump pres­i­dency, which many be­lieve has ex­ac­er­bated racial ten­sions and fur­ther po­lar­ized the na­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, blacks and whites in the poll were in gen­eral agree­ment that the coun­try is mov­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. They also gave the econ­omy rea­son­ably good marks. But when it comes to the fu­ture, the wedge re­turns: 63 per­cent of whites be­lieve eco­nomic con­di­tions are get­ting bet­ter; 63 per­cent of blacks be­lieve they’re get­ting worse.

The elec­tion of Don­ald Trump may have much to do with those po­lar­ized views, said Emory Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Andra Gille­spie.

“Last year, be­fore the elec­tion, would whites have felt as san­guine about the econ­omy, par­tic­u­larly when the mes­sage com­ing from the Trump cam­paign was that the econ­omy was in bad shape?” Gille­spie said.

Racially dif­fer­ing views about the econ­omy have been re­vealed in other polls since Trump took of­fice, said Scott Huff­mon, the Winthrop Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who ad­min­is­tered the lat­est Winthrop poll.

In the other polls, among whites, “there was a mag­i­cal overnight swing af­ter Trump was elected, that the econ­omy was much bet­ter than when Obama was pres­i­dent,” Huff­mon said.

But Wil­liam Boone, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Clark At­lanta Univer­sity, said the poll re­sults might not hinge com­pletely on the elec­tion re­sults them­selves.

“Is this hap­pen­ing be­cause of the Trump ef­fect, or were things present long be­fore Trump but we are see­ing them flare up now?” Boone said.

He pointed to the poll ques­tion of whether peo­ple can get ahead, re­gard­less of race, if they work hard. Sixty-one per­cent of whites said every­one has an equal chance at suc­cess, while only 33 per­cent of AfricanAmer­i­cans felt that way. Boone said the legacy of le­gal dis­crim­i­na­tion against AfricanAmer­i­cans and sub­se­quent af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion poli­cies have af­fected the way blacks and whites today view their chances in the work­place and in the econ­omy.

“If you look at the poli­cies of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, those poli­cies were in har­mony with the coun­try’s mores at the time; school seg­re­ga­tion, hous­ing seg­re­ga­tion, em­ploy­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion,” Boone said. “Those things have driven us to where we are today. Now, blacks may ar­gue that af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion poli­cies are still try­ing to cor­rect the lin­ger­ing ef­fect of those poli­cies, but whites may feel, ‘Well, the gov­ern­ment is giv­ing them special treat­ment.’ But that viewpoint is ab­sent historical con­text.”


De­spite these dis­crep­an­cies, blacks and whites in the poll over­whelm­ingly agreed “all races should be treated equally” and that “peo­ple of dif­fer­ent races should be free to live wher­ever they choose.”

An­other area where blacks and whites ap­peared to agree was whether “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness threat­ens our lib­erty as Amer­i­cans to speak our minds.” Ma­jori­ties of both races agreed with that state­ment. Huff­mon said it was pos­si­ble that some AfricanAmer­i­cans who vote Demo­cratic but are so­cially con­ser­va­tive on is­sues such as gay mar­riage and trans­gen­der rights may have feel­ings sim­i­lar to white Repub­li­cans who are also con­ser­va­tive on sim­i­lar so­cial is­sues.

Whether blacks and whites can find mid­dle ground on the other con­tentious is­sues may not be re­solved by this gen­er­a­tion or even the next, said LaKeyta Bon­nette, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Georgia State Univer­sity.

She showed a clip in one of her classes of a “Satur­day Night Live” sketch where Tom Hanks por­trays a white Trump voter and lone white con­tes­tant on an episode of “Black Jeop­ardy.” In it, the con­tes­tants find com­mon ground on is­sues such as mis­trust of gov­ern­ment, the econ­omy and even body type. But things be­gin to break down when the cat­e­gory turns to Black Lives Mat­ter.

“That episode is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the di­vide,” Bon­nette said. “Race is go­ing to be di­vi­sive.”

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