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I spoke with anthropologist Maxine L. Margolis about her research topics: gender and society and Brazil, with a focus on Brazilian immigran...

Monday, February 10, 2020

African American history for race science proponents: The Political Legacy of Slavery

Originally posted on my persona web site February 12, 2018

In 2013 the University of Rochester announced a working paper entitled: The Political Legacy of American Slavery in which the authors wrote (I reformatted for greater readability):
Whites who currently live in Southern counties that had high shares of slaves in 1860 are more likely to identify as a Republican, oppose affirmative action, and express racial resentment and colder feelings toward blacks...
...To explain these results, we offer evidence for a new theory involving the historical persistence of political and racial attitudes. Following the Civil War, Southern whites faced political and economic incentives to reinforce existing racist norms and institutions to maintain control over the newly free African-American population.   
This amplifed local differences in racially conservative political attitudes, which in turn have been passed down locally across generations. Our results challenge the interpretation of a vast literature on racial attitudes in the American South.
The paper concludes (again I reformatted):
The years during and after the Reconstruction period saw whites coordinating to provide an informal social infrastructure (and to the extent legally permissible an institutional one as well) to maintain as much as possible the economic and political power previously guaranteed to them under slavery. 
As affirmative support, we showed that greater prevalence of slavery predicts more conservative (for many years more Democratic) 
  • presidential vote shares, 
  • higher rates of radical violence, and 
  • decreased wealth concentrated in black farms in the decades after Reconstruction. 
We also showed that the long-term effects of slavery are smaller in areas of the U.S. South that were quick to mechanize in the early to mid-20th century. 
Finally, we also offered evidence that parent-to-child transmission could be an important mechanism by which attitudes have been passed down over time. However, we do not rule out that Southern institutions may have also played an important role.
And as we saw, slavery was a huge source of wealth to slave holders.

Areas of the South that were less dependent on cotton had lower rates of racial antagonism and white resentment.

But I think the authors of the Political Legacy paper missed another reason for the antagonism - the former slaves wanted - nay expected -  restitution. We'll talk about that next.