Friday, December 24, 2010

On Haley Barbour

I read the Weekly Standard article on Haley Barbour in its entirety, because I wanted to make sure that I was not feeding solely off of the commentary from sources that I generally appreciate.  I found it to be a very interesting read.  I long assumed that it must have been an interesting time to be a white southern teenager during the Civil Rights Movement, regardless of one's perspective on Jim Crow.  Barbour gave us a window into that sensibility with this interview, and I think that it is important.  Remember some of the key points that were in the article.  Barbour's mother voted for Strom Thurmond in 1948.  Barbour's brother announced that he was supporting Barry Goldwater in 1964.  The White Citizen's Council was an organization of businessmen who did good for Yazoo City.

All of these things are incredibly important when put into proper historical context.  There really was only one reason to support Strom Thurmond in 1948.  There was an important reason that a white Democrat from Mississippi would support a Republican in 1964.  Of course being white during the Jim Crow era would not have been particularly bad.  Life would have been simply normal.  But I cannot imagine that Barbour would have strayed too far his families politics growing up, and his older brother (though bucking the family's Southern Democratic political tradition) was right on the cusp of a trend that would run through a vast majority of the white South beginning in 1964 and holds firm to this day.  I just can't see Barbour being oblivious to the social and political realities surrounding him.

I know that people like to pretend that things in the recent past simply didn't happen, and some people particularly don't like it when black people remind the world that things were not so great less than 50 years ago (whining, seeking white guilt, you know the drill).  But history is important, it doesn't go away, and its effects linger.  I also wonder if the people who are quick to tell black folks to put the past behind them, are equally vigilant in telling that to folks who would attend a secession ball?  Now that I think about it, I wonder if one will happen in Mississippi on January 9th next year?  But that is an entirely different discussion.

What Barbour is doing now, in walking back his comments in that article, is being dishonest. I am confident that Barbour was more than comfortable with the status quo back in those days. Unfortunately for him, it's just not politically viable (nationally anyway) to be that honest.


Red Seven said...

But why not? Would everyone flip out if someone just said, "Obviously, it was a terrible time for many. But I was a white kid from a privileged family, and I was shielded from the reality of what was going on without me. All of my role models told me from the time I could walk and talk that I belonged to a superior race, and I guess I believed it for a long time. Of course, that was some fifty years ago, and I've grown a lot since then. I've met people who challenged my prior prejudices, and I continue to grow as a person and a politician." Done. I think people from all walks of life would shrug and think nothing of it.

Of course, that probably doesn't describe Barbour's real outlook. If it did, he never would have praised the Citizens' Councils to begin with. So there's that.

hscfree said...

Thanks for the comment Red Seven. I think that your last two sentences are key. I also think that the scenario you painted in your first paragraph is one that many people have actually experienced (whether privileged financially or dirt poor). However, I would imagine that it would be as difficult to admit feeling racial superiority as it is for many black folks to acknowledge slavery within their own families and all that means. It's tough across the board.