Gene Expression

North vs. South, racism & more

With the whole Henry Louis Gates affair there has been some talk about how racist Boston is. This is a joke. I am aware that the North has a checkered history, from busing in Boston in the 1970s to Bensonhurst in the 1980s. But calling Boston the Alabama of the North is an insult to our intelligence. Part of the issue here I think is that it is easy to show how racist the North is, and how far the South as come, by using as a counterpoint a cartoon model of race relations as a function of geography which never existed. It is a fact that in much of the North blacks were excluded from settlement either de jure or de facto (several “Free States” attempted to ban black migration explicitly by law). But Boston was also the scene of riots when escaped slaves were caught and dragged off in chains by the law. Southern politeness is such that whites no doubt did not, nor do not, always behave like cretins to colored people.

But I was curious, how different are the North and the South on social issues? I used the GSS and combined some of the regional categories so that there were two classes, North and South. The distinction was based on Census Divisions, so one could quibble on the margins. I also limited the sample to whites, since blacks and whites may have very divergent views, especially in the South. Finally, I plotted the attitudes as a function of time to see if the two classes were tracking each other, diverging or converging.


On race relations there seems to be convergence. In contrast on other issues there is simply tracking, or no difference. Finally, on religion it seems that there has been some divergence.


  1. #1 6EQUJ5
    July 24, 2009

    Racism in the South is the reason why, when I drove across the country, while going through Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, I never got off the Interstate.

    And I’m blue-eyed and blond.

  2. #2 Art
    July 24, 2009

    On the first graph, the abortion one, at around late 2000 or early 2001 the lines are moving in opposite directions. There look to be similar divergences in the ‘Allow racists to speak’, and ‘homosexuality always wrong’ graphs at about the same time. Why?

    We all know about 9/11 but that would show up closer to 2002. The graphs are hard to read details from and gauging things on a computer screen isn’t easy either but it seems clear to me that the north and south shifted in opposite directions in reaction to some event in late 2000 or early 2001.

    Doing a bit of Googling about the only event that stands out in late 1999 and early 2000 is the election and swearing in of W. But how would that cause the view of abortion, tolerance for racist speech, and homosexuality in the north change? W puts his hand on a bible and suddenly northerners start changing their minds on those issues?

    It isn’t just that time alone. Several times in the graphs the north and south lines have knees at about the same time but going in opposite directions. What events triggered these trends?

    Seems odd to me. Do you have any insights into why the north and south trend lines seem to have gone their separate ways on those issues at those times?

  3. #3 Tony P
    July 24, 2009

    I will say this, in the south at least the racism is more blatant and obvious than it is here in the northeast.

    But I’ve seen the subtle racism rear its ugly head here in the northeast a few times. My SO is black. I’ve seen him openly dismissed because of his race and it pisses me off.

  4. #4 Marc
    July 24, 2009

    As a resident of Boston, Boston is pretty racist and very racist for the northeast.

  5. #5 Mikey
    July 24, 2009

    I come from a mixed background (that is my mother and her family are yankees and my father and his family are old southerners) and I will say that my yankee family and their friends (they are frome NYC suburbs generations back) are WAY more racist in their speech and views than my southern family. Like… by a lot. Not scientific, but thats my experience. Its also true of my stepfather’s family who are pseudo-yankees from Michigan: way more racist than my southern family. On that note, my southern family, although strong Reagan supporters and conservative (and we often argue politics), are much more accepting of my being homo..

  6. #6 Ross
    July 24, 2009

    “there has been some talk about how racist Boston is. This is a joke. “

    If it is coming from people whose main experience with the city is as students it could be an accurate reflection of their experience. As this article, which is admittedly dated, explains:

    “National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence published a list of 105 incidents of ”campus ethnoviolence.” Only seven of these occurred in the South. More than that occurred in Massachusetts alone”

  7. #7 Mike the Mad Biologist
    July 24, 2009

    Having lived in the South and in the Northeast, the comparison is ridiculous: Boston of 2009 isn’t Boston of the ’70s. If you want to find racism in the Northeast, look to the ‘burbs: parts of NJ and Long Island are awful, and incredibly segregated.

  8. #8 jim
    July 25, 2009

    The experiences in each region are vastly different. Most of the northeast liberals I know pride themselves on how non-racist they are — yet they move to the least black suburbs and avoid the black parts of their cities like the plague. When they’ve visited me in the South and are in heavy black areas they are quite visibly afraid.

    In the most of the South that type of total exclusion is just not possible because at least 30% of everybody is black – in the city, in the suburb, in the country. There’s vastly more daily interaction of Southern whites with blacks because there are many more blacks.

    A Southern white racist would have to work really hard to avoid blacks. A Northerner just has to move to almost any suburb.

    It’s always funny to hear a Northern white liberal spout off on race relations when they typically live their life to avoid any and all blacks.

  9. #9 Alan Kellogg
    July 25, 2009

    I’ve heard the difference explained this way: In the South they hate the race, but love the people. In the North they hate the people, but love the race.

  10. #10 Tom Bri
    July 25, 2009

    I live just outside of Chicago, but years ago I lived in North Florida. My impression at the time I lived in Florida was that race relations were better than back home in Illinois. Purely subjective impression. I wonder if a Black man would say the same. It may simply have been that Southern Blacks were more cautious.

  11. #11 Donna B.
    July 25, 2009

    Tom, Southern Blacks perhaps have more Southern-type manners? I wouldn’t call that cautious.

  12. #12 John Emerson
    July 25, 2009

    I think that “forbid interracial marriage” should be used as the rock-baseline for racism (seems to be about 12-14% depending of demographics). It’s not mixed in with any other issues the way affirmative action, policing, desegregation, etc., are. There’s no little-government, libertarian, public-safety, or economic justification for it. It involves restricting individual freedom for the single purpose of preventing racial mixing.

    This doesn’t mean that no one else is racist, just that these people certainly are.

  13. #13 Donna B.
    July 26, 2009

    It would be interesting to see if there’s a North-South difference in attitudes among blacks.

    I know… I know… learn to use GSS myself 🙂

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