Race, Politics, and History

I have found it highly important to stress the importance of historical markers vis-à-vis racial constructs and voting in  my United States History courses. Often time, people are perplexed by the significance of Obama being elected. And, folks are even more perplexed over the matter of race. The latter point greatly confuses me. As noted in the post-circa American Civil War picture above, president Grant led Congress to debate the issue of black suffrage, raising the question of the vote for women. The controversy over the Fifteenth Amendment split the women’s movement; it passed, but did not assure black suffrage and left the issue of suffrage in the hands of the states.

Paradoxically speaking, the Fourteenth Amendment should have secured the black vote; however, due to the use of black codes, Congress quickly moved to adding the 15th. Southern states from 1868 to 1964 used various tactics to keep blacks from having any political power; it is here that shaped the constitutional liberal notion against states’ rights; blacks looked to a strong central government to protect their plight. Interestingly enough, this attitude has changed little. Blacks continue to eye states with a great deal of suspicion. As a collective group, they shifted their political loyalty by the 1960s; it was at this point that blacks supported Democrats over Republicans, though an embryonic move was in place during the New Deal. However, there is a caveat to this: many Southerners favored Democrats, too. In an ideological way, Republicans were still viewed as the party of Lincoln; it was the party that emancipated the negro and interrupted a way of life. Southerners would not shift to the Republican party until the election of Ronald Reagan during the 1980 election. Funny, but the two parties had already shifted. The Republicans of Lincoln were really the Dems of the Civil Rights movement. This part here is another post. But, I do want to note that it was a southern Democrat (LBJ) who was most instrumental in helping blacks gain greater rights.

Thus, black folks did not embrace Reagan. Better yet, he was seen as a racist — one who catered to racists looking to recapture the traditional elements before the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The traumas of the 1960s and 1970s created a loss of confidence among Americans; he capitalized on this feeling to easily win the 1980 verdict. Reagan promised to rebuild the nation’s defenses, cut inflation, restore economic growth, and reduce the size of the federal government; in reality, he did much of the opposite. Sure, he made cuts in a number of programs. Many of them aimed at helping lower-income Americans; he also cut taxes, but primarily for wealthier Americans. While reviewing a number of textbooks for my paper on Teaching the 1980s, I noted that:

Reaganomics and its assault on welfare are linked to racial issues of the 1980s. According to one text: Reagan portrayed those on welfare to being those of African-American descent. The text did shape a correct image in noting that whites living in rural areas were the primary beneficiaries of welfare, not a black mother of two living in an urban area — as noted in one of his speeches. He spoke to states rights. He spoke against affirmative action. On one hand he addressed his support for Bob Jones University, but then went on to discuss how race is not an issue. Keep in mind, Bob Jones University openly discriminated. The rational: It is not the job of the federal government to intervene in matters of the state. What?

The poorest Americans fared poorly. The bottom tenth saw their low incomes decline by 10 %. 1986, a full-time minimum wage worker earned $6,700 per year – almost $4,000 short of the poverty level for a family of four. One out of eight children went hungry and 20 percent lived in poverty, including 50 percent of black children.

While many Americans place blame on George W. Bush and Barrack Obama for the current debt crisis, all they have to do is read a history book to find that our current debt is not from New Deal programs, but from an expanding Cold War economy dating back to the 1980s.  I say let us give president Obama a chance; Americans have used both race and ideology to work against a much-needed effort at American reform. Hence, blacks will continue to vote in an ideological box; it is not because Obama is bi-racial; it is because many either read their history book, lived in an age that impacted them due to their race, or have experienced the plight of being black in the 20th and 21st century.


I did not footnote any of this information; it does have a particular lean to it; however, I suspect that if you read this blog you already know this. Thus, the greatness of America is that of voice; being permitted to share and engage in a discussion that is constructive. If you would like a works cited page, feel free to email me.


14 thoughts on “Race, Politics, and History

  1. This is actually pretty objective. Interesting how you even defended “W” here. Not much debate. Yes it does have a lean (your post), but life before Clinton for blacks were not always great.

  2. Being against an expanding welfare state does not necessarily mean being anti-minority. There are economic and moral arguments on both sides of the issue, so to paint one or the other as more racist is a political move. Special interest groups are not necessarily a bad thing, but it is frustrating when people lazily begin to accept the group dogma rather than weigh facts for themselves.

  3. Matt S:

    But there are historical factors that cannot be ignored here. Those factors shape much of what I mentioned above. I agree that being anti- welfare is not the same as being anti-minority. Again, Reagan equated the two at one point, though he was incorrect. And yes, it was a political move to incite race to some extent.

  4. Oh, I agree with you about the historical spark for voting patterns. When that fire has been going for decades and jumps from civil rights to welfare benefits, I’m not as sold on the objectivity of a 90% voting bloc.

  5. Carson –
    Interesting blog relating to historical voting patterns but to slander Reagan as a racist is fatuous at best. And to claim his policies did not assist blacks (your focus) or other minorities ….well, please consider:

    Throughout the 1980s, the average income of all economic segments of the American population rose: the poorest fifth by 10.4 percent, the second poorest fifth by 9.5 percent, the middle fifth by 11.7 percent, the second-wealthiest fifth by 12.2 percent and the top fifth by 13.6 percent. Poverty fell by 1.1 percent.

    Reagan’s tax cuts did not enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Federal income taxes fell by 9 percent for the top fifth, by about 10 percent for the middle three-fifths, and by 275 percent for the bottom fifth (amount is over 100 percent for illustrative purposes — many poor families not only were excused from liability for all federal taxes, but received federal funds through an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit).

    Between the fourth quarter of 1982 and the fourth quarter of 1988, 16.7 million new jobs were created. 32 percent of those jobs went to blacks and Hispanics, although blacks and Hispanics at the time together constituted only about 19 percent of the labor force.

    Unemployment rates for blacks and Hispanics in 1989 were 11.4 percent and 8 percent respectively, down from 20.4 percent and 15.3 percent at the end of 1982. Between 1982 and 1990, black unemployment dropped by 9 percentage points and Hispanic unemployment by 7.3 percentage points while white unemployment dropped by 4.9 percentage points.

    Between 1982 and 1987, the number of black-owned business firms increased by 38 percent, while the number of firms in the U.S. in total rose by 14 percent. Receipts by black-owned firms rose 105 percent during 1982-87 while the average inflation rate was 4 percent per annum.

  6. Hey Rob:

    Great comment with some insightful points; I think it would be difficult to wholly challenge all of them. I do want to add that I do not think Reagan was a racist; however, I do know that a number of black Americans feel this way. To me, that is a very strong ideological term that should never be tossed around.

    Some do contend that the tax cuts of the 80s stimulated the economy, however, much like that of what will happen with Obama — it was and will be a cyclical event. I do not buy that, though.

    My question to you: Why do you suspect there is a difference in numbers regarding the 80s and factors that deal with class and race? Is it more political and less historical? I suspect we could continue to find data that contradicts data. Hence, as I have noted in my classes: we must always be cautious of what is historical and what is not. Often it is a matter of point of view.

  7. Carson –

    I am pleased you find the labeling of others as racist “a very strong ideological term that should never be tossed around”. However, you do implicitly paint Reagan as such. As believers, we find strict admonition to not slander others cavalierly (see Titus 3). I hope you, in your position of influence over impressionable students, would continue to consider this instruction.

    Regarding the variance in data, I tried to demonstrate a much broader range of economic progress to all and then specific to blacks and minorities to refute your more narrow scope on the effect on bottom tenth of society. Jesus taught us “the poor will always be with you” (Mt 26:11) thus no economic formula will completely eradicate the problem. Reagan’s policies were not perfect but clearly the right tonic (ie. stimulus) for our economy as a whole and to teach otherwise is political and perhaps disingenuous.

    I have my reservations about it being a cyclical event but hope you are right about Obama. Otherwise, our economy is going to look like Greece with unsustainable debt.

    • Rob, you should be careful throwing bible verses around, because in addition to the admonition of Titus 3, believers are also told that slaves are a blessing from the Lord and that they should be chosen from foreigners as property. This same source of “admonition” gives permission for fathers to sell their daughters as sexual slaves to other men and stipulates that a rape victim is to be forced to marry her rapist for life.

      My point here is that your moral reference point is lacking when you read more than one verse especially since Carson said only that, “…black folks did not embrace Reagan. Better yet, he was seen as a racist(by the black folks who did not embrace him).” Additionally Carson points out that Reagan equated those who were on welfare as being African-Americans as an additional point to his previous statement as to why African Americans may have seen him as racist.

  8. Rob

    I guess I am seeing this post in a different way than you are. I did not see it as Reagan the racist according to this blog’s author. I must agree in that there is a perspective towards Reagan and his conservative tactics towards minorities during the 80s that earned Reagan this image. You will not find too many minorities who are educated that do not hold a postion of dislike towards Reagan’s aggressive conservative approach.

    A number of years back at the AHA (annual meeting of historians which I believe Mr. Carson is a member of as any noted academic of worth would be) held a forum on this topic. The outcome of the work presented there validates what is expressed here.

    I think my religious views are different from yours, but it sounds as though you hold a very negative view towards the issue of the poor and poverty. According to what I think you ae saying, I should keep my money and let the poor “get over it.” You attacked the author here, but you my friend seem to have a very serious position regarding your perspective. Is it that one must share your historical view to be correct or to share it with others? I read this post seeing that the author realized the various perspectives and presented them as such.

    • Jaylon –

      Please reread my initial comment as I noted that poverty actually was reduced under the Reagan policies and that blacks and minorities benefited in several economic areas. The second point was poor and impoverished (unfortunately) have been present in every society throughout history. To expect Reagan’s policies to eradicate them or to do more than they did considering the state of the economy coming out of the 70s is unrealistic. The liberal policies heretofore certainly have not solved these problems either. Many would agree they’ve exasperated them. I’m really not sure how you take from that I have a ‘negative view’ of the poor but you are off base regardless. Third, regardless of how many disagree with his conservative policies, Reagan was not a racist and to bandy about that incriminating label implicitly or explicitly is unwarranted. If you view that as rigid, so be it.

  9. Rob:

    I am pretty cautious in my approach to teaching about historical actors; sure, as is the case of most, I am biased and try to make that very clear to my students. As a teacher and an active historian, part of my job is to reflect in the most anthropological way the impact historical actors either have or have had on various groups in society; I would never portray Andrew Jackson as a friend to the American Indians, though there are some who contend he was not anti-Indian, just pro the expansion of American businesses.

    Reagan did lots of great things. The purpose is to showcase a historical trend as it relates to race and politics. There is a reason Americans are divided along racial lines when it comes to politics. I do believe that is what I stated above. Moreover, it is a historical fact that certain groups have a sense of distrusts for those that share a different point of view.

    I will take a look at Titus; however, I must disagree with the thought that my intent is to slander. I am very critical of the historical processes and those that shape the American identity. Nationalism is good, yet it can be risky without comptrollers sharing a voice that might be seen as unpopular (value of living in a democratic society) Trust me, I teach on a campus in which [some of…]the population will have many believe that if one does not read the “right” kind of history, teach what “they” believe history should be, or pledge an oath of loyalty to one particular political party and/or ideology, your faith is to be question. As a Christian academic, I have an obligation to a number of things. My job from day to day is far more difficult than say if I were at a top tier nonsectarian private school with a heavy emphasis on just the academics. But, I love that you are willing to challenge me; I try to inculcate that into each of my students. I should be challenged in both my faith and my historical pov.

    As for Jaylon: Yes I do recall that conference. But, I think you read too much into what Rob is saying.

  10. Hey Eddie,

    Teaching in conservative realms can present opposition from those that view courses such as History or English in a particular way. We all have a thought one way or the other. I am blessed in that I do not face what you face. Here, as you do know, it is all about diversity of thought and ideas. I know that exists there too, but not like here. There is an expectation that we have an elite faculty of different views.

    Being an English teacher and your typical white guy, I do see the racial divide when it comes to politics. I must admit that your post has really educated me on the why. I went to Ohio University. We are elite. I never got this explained to me there or during my “so called” fancy private school days before college. I do want to hear more about the Cold War debt you mentioned in relation to New Deal programs. That is interesting.

  11. I caught the end of Stephen A. Smith’s sports radio show this morning, and he was irritated that a few black callers were telling him (a black man) not to ride Tiger Woods too hard (because he is black). Smith felt it was hypocrisy to treat a black athlete different than a white athlete. An “us vs. them” mentality was not helping the black community, be it in sports or politics. He also pointed out that voting only for Democrats means one party takes the black vote for granted while the other party no longer makes the effort because they are brushed off.

    Historically, it is understandable why there is a black voting bloc. In the year 2010, is voting in the same pattern more emotional or objective? There will always be an element of both, but is it bad to go too much one way?

  12. Matt S:

    I am with you and Smith; blacks have allowed Dems to take then for granted knowing they will vote a particular way; I think some of it is emotional, however, many feel the alternative is not better. Case in point: many black Americans viewed the 2004 election as a hard place and a rock. That is, sure they voted for Kerry but felt he was not that different from Bush; I do think the two are very different, but Kerry professed more progressive views regarding race. Now, you will find that with the rise of a black middle class, many blacks have inched to the right of the ideological spectrum.

    Socially, many black folks are very religious and have issues with gay rights. Economically, many do not want to be taxed more. Thus, there is a shift in the works in which you are finding whites and blacks of the middle class starting to join the same ranks. I do think we need another 10 – 15 years to see if and how this unfolds.

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