Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Genealogical Branch Line Between Segregationists, Suburbia, and Strategies of the GOP

Let me refer you to Clay Risen's Book Review of Kevin Kruse's book, "White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservativism," in this week's Nashville Scene. According to Risen on Kruse, rather than surrendering to integration, whites in Atlanta merely "retreated" and re-grouped in the 'burbs, "where they could re-create their racial idyll without at the same time suffering the ignominy of being cast as racists." Likewise, the Georgia GOP, with many of the same segregationists at the helm, "pushed for an explicitly suburban strategy that would take advantage of lingering white frustration with the civil rights era."

Hence, terms like "small government," "property rights," and "quality of life" were used as code to cover the previous segregationist commitments. Many of us who have moved back to the cities from the suburbs remix and deploy some of the terms to mean something diametrically different; for instance, "quality of life" has to do with funding adequate urban services without government waste and, at a social level, living in a balanced and diverse community. And while we are redefining these terms, modern conservativism is morphing new terms to justify what Republicans and the mainstream media call the "Southern Strategy." For example, "libertarianism" is the mantra du jour of en vogue conservativism.

On the one hand, Risen's review has definitely motivated me to read his fellow MBA alum's book on Atlanta, because it seems to demonstrate connections many of us suspect in our gut between sprawling suburbia, white flight, and the Republican Party's agile strategy for playing on race fears across the "Sunbelt" without casting themselves as the party of racists. On the other hand, Risen seems to worry that Kruse's book will be seen as "another anti-South diatribe." But I have yet to see legitimate commentators on suburban politics and race archaically reduce the problem to a uniquely southern problem. Accounts of the racist genesis of suburban neighborhood associations in Los Angeles, of violence directed toward Martin Luther King, Jr. when he took his movement to Chicago, and of the social strife in Boston over busing are well-known and acknowledged examples of segregationist angst nationwide during the last century. So, Risen's concern is misplaced, in my opinion; it did not deserve mention.

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