read more: Boston Herald
[password]We have heard for years about demographic shifts to the South and the accompanying growth in Southern political power. Indeed, as a result of the 2010 census, Massachusetts is likely to lose a House seat, as the South is positioned to gain.
To some, this is a scary thought – not only because it means the loss of power for Blue State America, but because of a condescending Northeastern bias against Southerners and their values. (“Bitter clingers” comes to mind.)
Last week, I made a trip to Charleston, S.C. – part vacation, part relief from the kids and the hockey rinks, and, as it turns out, part fact-finding mission.
Charleston is a charming city – picture Beacon Hill with palm trees – and the people are filled with the hospitality one would expect from an historic Southern town. Charleston has a vibrant African-American middle class and appears more integrated than Boston. Yet some old tensions linger.
We visited Fort Sumter, where on April 12, 1861, the Civil War began. Throughout the tour, our guide referred to “South Carolina’s fight for independence,” by which he meant South Carolina’s secession from the United States. And when I asked the man who ran the gift shop, a retired gentleman from Massachusetts, about our guide’s repeated use of terms like “the War of Yankee Aggression,” a female tourist with a Southern drawl spat back, “Well, that’s what it was, honey!”
Why did I all of a sudden feel like Ben Stiller in “Night at the Museum [trailer]” when, in a moment of frustration, he yells at the museum’s Confederate soldier statues: “The North won. But, South, you guys get the Allman Brothers and NASCAR, so just chill.”
Quietly, I made my purchase – a blue Union soldier cap for my son (not surprisingly, the women behind me bought the gray Confederate cap).
Back in Charleston, although the election was over, political lawn signs remained. Most were for Tim Scott, a conservative African-American just elected to Congress. Scott will be South Carolina’s first black Republican congressman since Reconstruction. He won his seat after winning a primary against Paul Thurmond, son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, the famous segregationist.
Also dotting the landscape were signs for Nikki Haley, a conservative Republican, the daughter of Indian Sikhs, who will become the state’s first female governor and its first governor of color.
There is a story about Haley that illustrates the change in South Carolina’s racial attitudes. When she was young, her mother entered her in a beauty pageant, which offered two crowns – one for a black winner, the other for a white winner. Neither black nor white, Nikki was disqualified. Decades later, her election is testament to the demise of the black-white paradigm that formerly dominated Southern thinking.
When asked about South Carolina’s changing racial-political landscape, Scott remarked “that we continue to evolve as a state. And the most important characteristics for our constituents are not the obvious ones, but our characters and our value systems.”
Those values were evident in those political signs, which seemed to shout out to tourists like me, “We are the new face of the South.”
To be sure, old New England stereotypes of the South still echo in the Civil War vocabulary used by some Carolineans, but the elections of Scott and Haley demonstrate that they are fading fast. In their place stands the New South in which conservative minority leaders might teach us damn Yankees a thing or two.[/password]