Dare to Ask: Are Northern whites actually less
accepting of blacks?
By Phillip J.
The Florida Times-Union
I’ve noticed Southern whites tend to be more accepting of blacks than
Northern whites. Why? — Melissa, 22, white, Montgomery, Ala.
To suggest that Southern whites, with their history of segregation, lynchings
and white supremacist groups, are more accepting of blacks is ridiculous.
— Rick, white, Ohio
I confess I’ve never participated in a lynching or a racist group. I did,
however, work with blacks every summer growing up. I got along with blacks
because if you treat them with respect they treat you likewise. — Jack, 56,
white, Suwanee, Ga.
I think many Southerners have more real-world contact with black folks.
Northern whites have read about blacks and “had a black friend once,” but never
interacted with them. Also, there is more shared history between blacks and
whites in the South (often poor history, admittedly), and they seem to
understand each other better. — Gregory, 23, black, New York
A few years ago I went to the Northeast to visit family members I’d never
met. They made fun of blacks’ appearances, and one family member complained
there was nothing but “a bunch of black people in Atlanta.” I’ve been to a lot
of small Southern towns but haven’t met someone as racist as many Yankees I met
on that trip. — Halley, Atlanta
There’s a likefest goin’ on down here? Say it’s so!
The idea of Southern whites being more accepting of blacks is based on “a
good bit of myth and a bit of reality,” said Emory University history professor
Joseph Crespino, author of “In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the
In the antebellum South, slavery advocates said the capitalist system of wage
labor was inhumane, and that slavery was much better.
“It was based on a paternalistic system of the masters wanting to take care
of their slaves instead of them being in the 'cold, heartless’ capitalistic
system,” he said.
By Jim Crow, segregationists were saying that while Northerners appreciated
blacks in the abstract, they didn’t like them personally, while Southerners
didn’t like blacks in the abstract, but loved individual blacks.
“There’s a long history of white Southerners saying they have more day-to-day
exposure with blacks, and therefore have better relationships,” said Crespino,
who grew up in Mississippi.
It is true, though, that some of the most segregated areas of the U.S. now
are the large, declining industrial cities of the Midwest, while places in the
Sunbelt “like Jacksonville and Atlanta have seen a more prosperous black middle
class more integrated into the lifeblood of the community,” Crespino said.
While residential segregation still is in full bloom in these areas, “the
races can have more of a kind of contact and equal footing, more so in the
workplace,” he said. “And that can lend itself to more meaningful
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. email@example.com. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his