White Southerners Still Resent End of Slavery, But That's Not the Whole Story


Recent research from Acharya et. al has found a correlation between contemporary political beliefs of southern Republicans and closely-held pro-slavery beliefs. The researchers provide what they claim as the first study to examine political beliefs within historical context to explain contemporary political behavior. The research provides brief insight into what they believe are factors that correlate certain strains of conservative political behavior with pro-slavery beliefs, but the public should be careful not to attribute all racist beliefs to the Republican Party.

In the group's research, slavery and modern-day racist sentiments are linked to pro-slavery states with heavy concentrations of slaves from other regions during the antebellum period. Acharya et. al place historical context to their research, but political beliefs that are against privileges for minorities like affirmative action are not exclusively Republican. The researchers make a case for political behavior motivated by deep-seated racist beliefs, but the realities of racism are too nuanced to simply correlate anti-Democrat political behavior with southern whites. For instance, it is possible that some minorities from the areas that the research found had high prevalence of slaves in 1860 either identify as Republican or are against policies typically championed by Democrats for reasons that are unconnected to inherited pro-slavery ideals.

Archarya's research backs up previous theories that parents pass on partisanship to their children, who tend to absorb those beliefs. If the ideologies of political parties are linked with pro-slavery roots, then it would appear there is a strong case for how some Republicans are more interested in advancing a racist agenda.

Racist agendas cannot move forward without cooperation. Neatly couched factors that contribute to policies that affect race are not the sole fault of Republicans that reside in the slave-owning areas of the antebellum South. Acharya et. al urge researchers to consider historical context when assessing contemporary political behavior. Drawing connections in context, society should be careful not to make a modern-day political party the scapegoat for all things racist, or it runs the risk of becoming blind to the racism fueled within other parties. Neither scapegoating the GOP or ignoring how racism survives will stop it.

But the new research does provide a hint at a catalyst for change. If parents pass on their beliefs between generations, can we identify where such ideology originated? Since ideas have the ability to change over time, a good start to move past racist beliefs would be to address how the period of slavery and its effects throughout history are institutionalized.

Full acknowledgment and immersion into America's history of peoples of color can help resolve common misrepresentations of America's tempestuous relationship with race, racism, and slavery, while simultaneously preventing us from oversimplifying these complex issues. It will likely take a combination of political will and social demands to get there, but it must be done. America's problem is not the GOP; it is the pervasiveness of racism and how it is passed on from generation to generation.