Presidential Politics in the New South

I am a southerner — born, bred, educated, and domiciled. I have been in many other places, both in this country and others, but my accent and worldview betray a deep southern bent. I was raised in a segregated world, educated in all-white schools, worshipped in all-white churches, ate in all-white restaurants, waited in all-white waiting rooms, drank at all-white fountains, swam in all-white public swimming pools, was policed by all-white police departments, and otherwise lived in a surreal world apart. The first African-American student matriculated at Furman University during my junior year there. I had a lot of catching up to do as a young adult.

I can remember seeing KKK cross burnings as I traveled throughout the south as a college student in the 1960s. As recently as 1982, as my family and I were moving to Louisiana where I joined the faculty at Louisiana State University, we drove past a cow field with smoldering crosses from the previous night’s Klan rally in Tangipahoa Parish.

Today we live in what we call the “new south”. Legal segregation has disappeared, fading into history. Klansmen either have died or moved west to populate white supremacy compounds where they feel safe from the black (and other) people they fear. In North Carolina, a black police officer can write a speeding ticket for a white motorist.

But memories can be long. Fear is fear. In the states of the old Confederacy, race is at the heart of virtually every political issue. Whereas my childhood memories are mostly of isolation from persons of different races, black folk have deep memories of violence and injustice and, for many, those memories are recent.

Not only am I a southerner, I am a Christian, a Baptist one at that. I was born and raised in the Southern Baptist Church. My idea of “other faiths” was Methodists and Presbyterians, those of questionable faith who sprinkled instead of dunked and wore robes when they preached. I met my first Catholic in the 5th grade when a boy entered my class after having moved with his family from a northern state. He was ostracized, looked at as though he had just stepped off of a space ship in my all-white protestant school. Poor kid. We know the same Klan foolishness that demonized African Americans was directed at Catholics and the many “others”.

Two things in this presidential election year resonate with my upbringing, especially during the Republican Party’s search for the perfect presidential candidate. First, we southerners kid ourselves if we do not face up to the fact that much of the rhetoric and vitriol directed toward President Obama has racial overtones. The nonsensical attacks are not only a southern phenomenon to be sure. We remember that the birther issue has no more vehement spokesperson than the Yankee, Donald Trump. But in the south, loud politicians, FOX Network personalities, radio blabbermouths, and a good number of country club and barber shop experts depict Obama as “other,” “non-patriotic,” “not like us,” “bent on destroying America.” But my southern ears hear all of that rhetoric as racial in nature.

We hear about mythical “voter fraud” and the imperative need for “voter IDs,” devotion to the 10th Amendment and “states’ rights,” a great concern for “pay checks, not food stamps,” calls for success based on “merit, not government handouts” and the claim that the 99% of us who question the demise of American egalitarianism are jealous, envious of the 1% whose merit clearly surpasses anyone not born to wealth and advantage.

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Perhaps it takes one with ears sensitized in the post-World War II South to hear the dog whistle of racism in those priorities. As a white southerner I hear it, and I recognize its false tune. It summons the racial anxieties of the past, and it is inappropriate for the New South.

Second, in addition to the race card, the “who is a REAL Christian?” card is played fast and loose. On Morning Joe, North Carolina evangelist Franklin Graham sat in judgment on that question recently. He glibly concluded that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are real Christians but that he could not say whether President Obama is or not. Graham said that President Obama cared more for Muslims in the world than the Christians who are being killed by Muslims. He said that President Obama had joined a church, but that Graham could not say that a real conversion had taken place in Obama’s life. He said that the Muslim world recognizes President Obama as a fellow Muslim because of the President’s father and grandfather who were Muslim. Graham neglected to mention that President Obama’s father had denounced Islam and that Islamic law considers anyone who renounces Islam as worthy of death. He let Mitt Romney off the hook when asked about his Christian bona fides by saying Romney would make a good president. Sure, Gingrich has had several marriages, and sure Romney shares a set of beliefs with his Mormon brethren that would befuddle most church-goers, but it is President Obama’s faith which is in question and is a disqualifier according to Graham.

Again, my southern ears hear Franklin Graham’s words clearly. If President Obama were white, or Republican, given the President’s lifestyle and statements of belief, his Christianity would not be questioned. I hear the dog whistle, Franklin. Put it away.

I see in President Obama a quintessential American man, a family man, a Christian, a devoted advocate of justice, a lover of this country, an educated person, a wise and knowledgeable man. I have not agreed with each and every action (or lack of action) he has taken as president, as I am sure is the same for you.

But when Franklin Graham and his ilk wax judgmental about President Obama from a warped religious and political perspective, or when someone seeking to take President Obama’s job or to otherwise unseat him does so by claiming that President Obama, my president, is un-American, anti-Christian, a foreigner…well, this southern boy wonders what in the world we have come to, and where in the world we are headed.

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Patrick Anderson is editor of Christian Ethics Today and lives in Cedar Key, FL and Beech Mountain, NC.

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Patrick AndersonPatrick Anderson is editor of Christian Ethics Today and lives in Cedar Key, FL and Beech Mountain, NC.View all posts by Patrick Anderson →

  • Daryl hartzler

    Ouch! Truth rising to the top. Thumbs up and hands raised.

  • Questioning

    I am a supporter of Samaritan’s Purse, but I believe he needs to stay out of politics… I see he has since apologized and should have. Southern, Caucasian,  and Baptist myself and I agree on all points.   

  • Pmpope68


    we southerners kid ourselves if we do not face up to the fact that much of the rhetoric and vitriol directed toward President Obama has racial overtones.”

    Thank you!  Actually, this should be true of anyone regardless of where they live if they only open their eyes to history and see things for what they really are.

  • Pmpope68


    we southerners kid ourselves if we do not face up to the fact that much of the rhetoric and vitriol directed toward President Obama has racial overtones.”

    Thank you!  Actually, this should be true of anyone regardless of where they live if they only open their eyes to history and see things for what they really are.

  • Lynne

    I am an African-American who does not agree with President Obama on everything, much to the consternation of my co-workers. But I agree with their frustration that many times when a black person points out that there are racial overtones in the some of the criticisms of the President, we are considered whiners.  It is good to know that someone with a different perspective (white, southern-bred) comes to the same conclusion.

    • Pmpope68

      As an African-American, I agree Lynne.  What I realized is that I used tot feel better or somehow vindicated when a white person would see it, like somehow their opinion validates it.  But I’ve come to a place in my life that I see things for what they are and believe what I do with or without anyone’s validation.  I am a strong, intelligent, mature person and just because others may not see what I see or deny it’s existence, doesn’t change reality.  My opinion is just as valid and does not need to be qualified by anyone.  

    • Doug

      Respectfully Lynne , he’s half white. He’d have trouble getting in the black panthers, Crips or the Bloods I’d imagine.

      • Pmpope68

        Yes, Doug, the President is half white but unfortunately there’s a sad history in this country going back decades that a person was considered black if they had a drop of black blood (ancestry) in them.  I say that’s unfortunate not because there’s anything wrong with being black, but because people used that as a reason to mistreat and continue to deny rights to blacks.  It was almost as if one had any black ancestry, they were somehow considered tainted.  It’s also unfortunate, because as with many things, that legacy has continued, if rather subtly.  No one that I know of is outwardly discriminated against for being bi-racial, but there is this subtle assumption that one is black and any other heritage is overlooked.  

        • Aaaaaaaaargh

          Yeah, the “one-drop rule” is so obviously racist because it regards any amount of African ancestry as sufficient to override everything else, and it was formulated in a time when that meant you were branded “inferior.”  African-Americans exist in a wide range of skin tones, even though we don’t use the old racialized terms “mulatto,” “quadroon,” etc. anymore. Obama is not noticeably “whiter” than his wife.  All people that look marginally African are lumped into the “black” category, and have been for centuries…almost a hundred years now since the “one-drop rule” came into place.  

          The American binary approach to “race” is all the more ridiculous when you consider the wide number of people who don’t fit in at all.  What about Mexicans?  Native Americans?  Greeks?  Turks?  Iranians?  Or my poor confused children, who will be half “white” (German/Anglo) and half Chinese?

          However, ethnic (or “racial,” whatever that means) enclaves will continue to exist as long as ideologies of domination persist.

  • Sonyata

    I like your article, Patrick.   To look at the race card in the debate over any issue is reasonable.  In fact, look at the race card played by Muslims, Christians, and Jews.  I think Obama was a perfect president for this time in America, and in the world.  We are at a critical point in time for the mediation of the issues in the Middle East – three large religions and “races” are converging over one city – Jerusalem.  What better president than one with a Muslim father and a Christian mother?  What better time for America to step up to the plate, first with best actor Denzil Washington, best actress Halle Barry, and PGA champion Tiger Woods.  These awards were milestones achieved by African Americans in the year 2000?  To see Obama become president sent a strong signal of hope to the world.  We are one people.  We live and share one planet.  The Christian religion needs to get on board with the other religions, and begin the peaceful discussion of faith.  If the religions come to peace, the rest of the world will follow.

  • John

    My opinion is that all the southern attacks on Obama has more to do with his party affiliation than his race.  I would be interested to hear what Franklin Graham thinks of Herman Cain or Alan Keyes.  Racism is alive and well in the south, I am just not convinced that is the main motivator in the Obama attacks.

    • Drew

      I agree in general, but there are several cases where the criticism has nothing to do with his party affiliation:

      - Challenging where he was born
      - Challenging whether or not he likes America
      - Challenging his religion
      - All the racism that has been directed towards him via the internet (mostly in the form of e-mails, which have gotten a lot of local politicians in trouble)

    • Natalie

      They are both factors – Republicans would challenge him no matter what, as he is a democrat, but I don’t think the birther movement would have quite taken off in the same way it has if the president wasn’t brown.

  • Anonymous

    I am a Christian.  I am young, not old.  I am from the North(east) not the South.  I am an independent, not a Republican (and I certainly wouldn’t vote for any of the candidates currently running in the GOP Primary).  All that to say, (I think that) I am not Franklin Graham’s type…

    I personally question President Obama’s faith in Christ; not because of his race, but because of his own words, votes, and policies.  If ANY other candidate (regardless of race, creed, gender, religion, etc…) made similar statements and had taken similar policy stances and had cast similar votes, then I’d question their faith in Christ also.  I honestly cannot comprehend how a Christian can go on record with these words (among others):

    Obama, Senate floor, 2001: Number one, whenever we define a previable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a – a child, a nine-month-old – child that was delivered to term. That determination then, essentially, if it was accepted by a court, would forbid abortions to take place. I mean, it – it would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an antiabortion statute.

    http://www.factcheck.org/2008/08/obama-and-infanticide/

    I understand the logic involved here, and even a bit of the background behind this vote, but how does a Christian bring himself to say/vote in this way?  I honestly cannot comprehend it.  You cannot reason your way around morality.

    I respect the Office of the Presidency, and I have prayed (and will continue to pray) for President Obama and his family.  If he is a Christian, he should repent for his support of abortion “rights”

    Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 12:33 ESV)

    • Natalie

      Newt Gingrich has been divorced twice. Do you question his faith in Christ because of these decisions? If not, what’s different?

  • Doug

    ‘Again, my southern ears hear Franklin Graham’s words clearly. If President Obama were white, or Republican, given the President’s lifestyle and statements of belief, his Christianity would not be questioned.’

    How do you know this ? Isnt that an argument from silence ? I know of many who question whether certain white conservative Tele-Evangelists are Christian.

    I think you’re assuming a bigotted audience and playing the race card yourself.

    • Jennifer A. Nolan

      Sorry to bug you like this, Doug, but I bow to the light of Patrick’s superior wisdom on this one. Plenty of “New Southerners” may very well live for “family, church, God, and country,” detest socialism and social wefare interventions of all kinds, and feel highly dubious about the political agendas that nonwhite activists insist on bringing to the table. But they would just as soon argue those positions down on their real demerits, rather than attacking the holders of those positions based on the old ethnic and religio-cultural slurs. I say let them have it their way; they are fighting real, long-standing demons. The old Confederacy will be a moral and intellectual backwater until that old dog-whistle falls out of fashion.

    • Jennifer A. Nolan

      Sorry to bug you like this, Doug, but I bow to the light of Patrick’s superior wisdom on this one. Plenty of “New Southerners” may very well live for “family, church, God, and country,” detest socialism and social wefare interventions of all kinds, and feel highly dubious about the political agendas that nonwhite activists insist on bringing to the table. But they would just as soon argue those positions down on their real demerits, rather than attacking the holders of those positions based on the old ethnic and religio-cultural slurs. I say let them have it their way; they are fighting real, long-standing demons. The old Confederacy will be a moral and intellectual backwater until that old dog-whistle falls out of fashion.

      • Doug

        Hi Jennifer, no you’re not bugging me, dont worry. Tell it as you see it Jennifer. God bless , Doug

  • Drew

    “I see in President Obama a quintessential American man, a family man, a
    Christian, a devoted advocate of justice, a lover of this country, an
    educated person, a wise and knowledgeable man.”

    I think this hits the nail on the head.  It’s one thing to question his policies or to question his character when relevant (Clinton).  However, this is a man who is having things come into question that should not be in question (his faith, where he was born, whether he likes America or not).

    “Sure, Gingrich has had several marriages, and sure Romney shares a set
    of beliefs with his Mormon brethren that would befuddle most
    church-goers, but it is President Obama’s faith which is in question and
    is a disqualifier according to Graham.”

    Again, this hits the nail on the head.  Romney would be the first president to not be a Christian and they don’t even seem to mind.  Just goes to show that there is a segment of the religious right that could care less about religion but rather they care more about promoting a political ideology cloaked in religion.

  • Ken Ribe

    Well said Patrick. I grew up in northern fundamentalism, and anyone who didn’t express their faith in our terms, or who baptized infants, were not REAL Christians like us.  We had a corner on truth, and anything other was false.  I remember when President Kennedy was running for office.  Our pastor preached a special sermon “What if we elect a Catholic President?”  and he talked about how a Catholic president would have to take orders from the Pope…It was pure fear mongering. 

    I hear the same sentiments when the right wingers talk about President Obama.  In my opinion, Franklyn Graham is a fear monger.  He thinks he has a corner on truth–I’ve been there and done that…until I discovered people from other Christian traditions, like Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans along with Catholics, who studied their Bibles, live their faith daily.  They couldn’t put a date to when they “made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” but they lived it out in their lives. 

    I guess what I’ve learned through the years, that people who think they have a “corner on truth” are arrogant, and self-righteous like the Pharisees.  I was one once, and it’s easy to slip back into that frame of mind.  However, I am grateful that Grace is a free gift to the undeserving, it’s not about “right beliefs” that’s works righteousness..God alone determines who is in and who is out.  I think most of us will be surprised. 

    Ken
     

  • murms

    I am confused as to why  when someone questions Obama’s policies, we are labeled a racist or not compassionate.  I find President Obama’s policies to be very divisive and very, very, very expensive.

    • Anonymous

      If people stayed on topic like you have done Murms, that’s fine.  I believe if a person has a problem with the President’s policies, then by all means, criticize them.  But when we go off topic and suggest he’s not a citizen, not a Christian, etc. that’s off-topic in my opinion.

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