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The Conversation

“You start out in 1954 by saying “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” – that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you are getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. ..”We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy

(Real Time with Bill Maher: What White People Want)

As she recalled waiting along the rail road tracks to moon the men working on coal trains passing through town, her facial muscles remembered a mischievous smile. Wrinkles chronicling the wear of time on her face were awash in the innocence of indelible childhood memories. Purposive play, the misbehavior she and her sibling indulged prompted the workers to throw lumps of coal at them. After the train passed, they gathered the coal to fuel the family’s stove and fire place.

This bitter sweet memory dissolved into one of distress as her thoughts turned to her mother battling breast cancer. Won on their kitchen table, the battle was waged with a sterilized butcher’s knife and a jug of moonshine. The thought of her mother suffering stilled and quieted her. A soft somber silence weighted with vicarious agony broke in a whisper beneath her breath. She repeated to herself a pledge never to forget the sound of her mother’s screams.

Mrs. Lillian Harris was my 4th grade teacher. During and after school she was one of three black teachers chaperoning the black kids bused over to North Greenwood to integrate Bankston Elementary School. On the weekend she was a friend and a neighbor who welcomed me into her home. In her living room, we digested in conversation our unique black experience. Through her eyes I, saw reflections of myself in the past as she glimpsed flashes of herself in a future imagined for me. I began each day towards that future reflecting on one of her most vexing advisories.

“Get out of bed in the morning and go out into the world. By 10 AM you will experience a harsh reminder that you are black.”

Boarding a bus in the black section of town destined for the hostile serenity of elementary school in an all-white neighborhood did not count as the harsh reminder. Mrs. Harris’ advisory warned of random encounters with white teachers, staff and students. It was the look of bother and disgust one risked with eye contact. Depending on the time or day, it was those black students sent to the gym where they showered to allay complaints about their odor or concern about an outbreak of lice.

On days homeroom was extended, we knew the school had received word that a federal inspector would make a“surprise audit”. After a headcount of the most integrated period of the day, many of the black kids were segregated from white students and placed in ‘shop’ class. Their parents’ signature on a bogus offer of “remedial assistance” exploited one of many loopholes in the administration of desegregation.

For the few of us that remained in class, every minute before Mrs. Harris’ 10 AM ‘dark skin’ advisory was an embrace of hope. It was hope that each day would be the day dark skin would not camouflage our humanity. On each of those days, hope withered to a resigned recognition of a micro aggression intended to grant the right of way to a reality structured around a peculiar idea of race. It was often as simple as sitting at a reading table in the library where Jamie told me that his parents would not want him reading with a black person. Excusing himself with the kind of charm that transforms the adjective south into a proper noun, he moved to a nearby table.

My McCallie Black Experience

The McCallie School worked with  Mrs. Lillian Harris, to turn her kitchen into a temporary designated testing center so that I could take the SSAT. Other options were made unavailable to me. Parents of some of the McCallie students from Greenwood implied a connection between their objections to my application, the enrollment of their sons and their participation in annual fund raising. 

Throughout the 70s and early 80s this experience of race and desegregation was the backdrop for a yawning yarn that Ronald Reagan began to spin in his campaign speeches (1976). He conjured a boogie woman that sowed resentment among conservative white constituents. The target of the resentment was a federal spending program benefiting lower income Americans, a majority of whom identified as non-‘Black’. Among other things, Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” was a malicious narrative of a trope that associated a lack of industry with dark skin. It was effective not because it was racist. It was effective because it scapegoated persons of color who were methodically coerced into achievement gaps demarcated by poverty lines. The majority of food stamp recipients has traditionally been white people.

Reagan’s caricature of people who receive “public assistance” was a blue print for public schools that divested black kids of an education.

Across the South, students in underfunded dilapidated black schools and most black students in white schools were not being prepared for a better future. At tender ages, their capacities and abilities were deliberately hobbled thereby subordinating their personal and professional development to an idea of race. This idea of race structured the reality of white Mississippians attending Reagan’s campaign rally at the Neshoba County Fair in 1980.

Speaking of ‘welfare reform’, Reagan told his all-white audience in Neshoba that he did not “believe people in need were on welfare because they preferred it” but because “bureaucracy has them so economically trapped that there is no way they can get away.” The same could have be said of the miseducation of the black kids that got up on Monday morning after Reagan’s Sunday speech to attend segregated schools or to be segregated in schools that under-educated them. His words echoed in the caverns of achievement gaps,created at the time by pugnacious public policy, in which the futures of my fellow black classmates were tied to the poverty line.

Like Reagan, Mitt Romney race baited the issue of Welfare.  Setting an example for Donald Trump (Birtherism), Mitt Romney’s Welfare Reform initiative was a well rehearsed tactical use of the idea of race to redirect the attention focused on his refusal to release tax returns.

Origins of the State-Federal Public Welfare Programs (1932 – 1935)

At the Neshoba County Fair, Reagan sounded a ‘rebel yell’ when he uttered the‘magic words’. “I believe in state’s rights”. He told a crowd of white Mississippians who were being forced to integrate and to extend the franchise that the “federal establishment” has been given too much power over functions and matters that properly belong to state and local communities. His words were music to the ears of local and state officials collaborating with school teachers and staff to stay one step ahead of the federal enforcement of Brown v. Board of Education.

Racism: School Segregation Then and Now 2018

Thirty-six years after Reagan amalgamated Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy with main stream conservatism, Donald Trump Jr held a rally for his father at the Neshoba County Fair in 2016. Trump’s presidential bid marked a qualitative transformation of the Republican party’s flirtations with the politics of race. The Republican Party’s political propagation of race base conservatism culminated in a modulation of disparate proclivities among white voters. The result was the convergence of three conservative vantage points that conspired to give the United States of America the government it deserves headed by President Donald J. Trump!

“Responsible Majority”: The First Vantage Point

The first vantage point is that of the “responsible majority”. Generally, these white conservatives favor free enterprise, private ownership and socially conservative ideas. Among them are those faith-based white conservatives who like to think of themselves as a ‘moral majority’. Demographically homogeneous, the ‘responsible majority’ is geographically heterogeneous. The ethos of the ‘responsible majority’ in former slave state is centered around a historically specific idea of race. A profile of the ‘responsible majority’ in Neshoba County appeared in a 1964 New York Times article titled, “A stranger In Philadelphia Mississippi” by Joseph Lelyveld.

“What is the responsible majority? It is the people who go to the better churches, live in the better homes and belong to the country club. Almost to a man, it voted for Barry Goldwater. It despises the idea of integration but cannot afford outright resistance. Most of its members never thought of joining the Ku Klux Klan, and never were asked to join. Its characteristic tactic is aloofness and avoidance. Its mood now is resentment.”

The Republican Party’s effort to turn the ‘responsible majority’ in southern states into a ballast of the conservative movement began before Ronald Reagan became the first presidential candidate to speak at the Neshoba County Fair. Republican strategist, Lee Atwater while working in the Reagan White House (1981), gave an interview in which he describe the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy.

“You start out in 1954 by saying “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” – that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you are getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. ..”We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy

In his 1966 California gubernatorial campaign, Reagan denounced open housing initiatives that sought to prohibit discrimination in the sale or rental of homes based on race, religion or national origin. In his 1976 campaign for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination he incited resentment among white voters with the myth of the “Welfare Queen”. Reagan’s narration of the “Welfare Queen” was based on the criminal misdeeds of Ms. Linda Taylor a career criminal and master con-artist. Making Taylor’s unique example the rule by which to measure the character of persons of color on welfare, Reagan framed political attacks on federally supported ‘public assistance’ as ‘greed’ in such a way that his was a personal attack on persons of color in need. By the time Reagan shared a stage in 1980, with a former Mississippi governor and George Wallace supporter, to address white conservatives attending the Neshoba County Fair, he had refined the tactics of the Southern Strategy.

The Truth Behind The Lies Of The Original ‘Welfare Queen’

According to 2013 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, 40.2 percent of SNAP recipients are white, 25.7 percent are black, 10.3 percent are Hispanic, 2.1 percent are Asian and 1.2 percent are Native American.

The point here is not that Reagan spoke to the community of white citizen whose social values, attitudes, interests, and goals staged the hunting down, apprehension and murder of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney. The point is that Reagan promised this community and others like it throughout the South politics and policies that fundamentally undermined the civil rights for which the murdered civil rights workers gave their lives.

Reagan told the ‘responsible majority’ in Neshoba County that “there are programs like education and others, that should be turned back to the states and the local communities with the tax sources to fund them.”

Reagan’s words were heard by white citizens who were at the time shorting the education of students corralled in all-black schools making the most of outdated textbooks handed down from all-white schools. While my parents and grandparents participated in my education by making unannounced visits to Bankston Elementary to ensure I was in class, state and local officials conspired to short circuit the Court’s decision in Brown v Board of Education. Reagan’s Neshoba County speech advocated releasing state and local officials from the control and intervention of the federal government’s attempt to enforce integration, extend the franchise as well as those rights and privileges of citizenship on which the claim of American exceptionalism rest.

The Three R’s—Reading, ’Riting, and Race: The Evolution of Race in Mississippi History Textbooks, 1900-1995 by Rebecca Miller Davis

Donald Trump’s nuanced equivocation denouncing racial violence in Charlottesville Va. prompted conservative columnist David Brooks to call him “the perfect snake oil salesman”. Writing in 2007, in contrast, Brooks defended Reagan’s appearance at the Neschoba County Fair against what he described as a “slur” from those on the left who wanted to demonize and simplify a complicated reality into a nursery tale of racism. The crowd in Charlottesville Va., consisting of “neo-Nazis, the alt-right and Trumpkins”, was one in a series of episodic paroxysm of racial tensions. Citizens in the white crowd at the Neshoba County fair were from the same community as the ordained Baptist minister who coordinated the murder of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney; the seventy men who attacked and beat members of Mount Zion Church in Longdale where they had hoped to find Schwerner; the Neshoba county Deputy Sheriff that arrested and later turn the civil rights workers over the Ku Klux Klan; and the court house that allowed the Ku Klux Klan to burn a cross on the lawn of the courthouse to announce a recruiting effort.

The point here is not that Ronald Reagan was racist. The point is that conservatism is girded with the idea of race. Racial girding of modern conservatism in the United States of America dates back to Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln subverted the idea of freedom by not granting it to persons within the purview of his power and authority at the time. Lincoln’s proclamation preserving and sanctioning chattel slavery in those states that did not secede from the Union seeded the idea of race as a tactic in the Republican Party’s power struggles for decades to come. The notion of freedom, justice and equality as a conception of what is perfect and suitable in a democracy has consistently given way to practical uses of the idea of race in pursuit of policy goals (small government, tax cuts, etc.,) and political power. Veins of the historical sedimentation of race relations in the United States course through the rock of Donald Trump’s support in Red States.

Criticism, on the right, of Donald Trump’s remarks in the aftermath of racial violence in Charlottesville, VA is rife with false virtue. Consternation over Trump’s remarks comes from those members of the ‘responsible majority’ who find themselves outnumbered by a coalition of Republican voters that include so-called ‘Evangelical’, affluent whites, and geographically distinct non-college white grievance voters. Trump has given “Evangelicals” sway over the Judicial branch of our government, affluent citizens a colossal ‘tax cut’ (Corporate Welfare), and non-college whites draconian immigration and law enforcement policy that targets persons of color.

In his critique of Trump’s remarks assessing the character of alt-right and white nationalist marching in Charlottesville, David Brooks warned against the temptation to “simply blast the neo-Nazis, the alt-right, the trumpkins and the rest for being bigoted, vicious and hate-filled. Brooks emphatically wrote about a Kafkaesque malaise of “those pathetic loons in Charlottesville” chanting “Jews will not replace us.” He said they were “living in an age of anxiety.”

“Many people live within a bewildering freedom, without institutions to trust, unattached to compelling religions and sources of meaning, uncertain about their own lives. Anxiety is not so much a fear of a specific thing but a fear of everything, an unnameable dread about the future. People will do anything to escape it.” How to Roll Back Fanaticism by David Brooks

Fifty-three years after Mississippi Burning, David Brook’s sympathetic humanitarian prose mimicked that of an apologist for the nature and motivation of the crowd Reagan addressed fifteen years after three civil rights workers were killed in Neshoba County.

Reverend Clay Lee speaking at a Rotary Meet in 1964, recognized in Neshoba County a white human condition that Brooks only bothered to see years later in Charlottesville Va.

“These people are just being eaten up by tensions. They are ready to fly lose at anything. Remember, they’re the products of a society that has said one thing to them from the very beginning right up through tomorrow and that is, ‘Never, never, never.’”

In other words, Rev. Lee first articulated in 1964 what Brooks opened his public’s eyes to in August 2017. This kind of optimistic oversight brings the conversation to the second vantage point.

“Silent Majority”: The Second Vantage Point

The second vantage point is that of the ‘silent majority’. For this conversation, the ‘silent majority’ does not refer to the elusive base of support that President Richard Nixon alluded to in his 1969 address on the War in Vietnam (The Silent Majority Speech). The ‘silent majority’, for our consideration is the majority of those white Americans who are not racist but who remain strategically silent on issues of race and the idea of race. The silence of this ‘silent majority’ is the benefit of Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy’s quieting of the issue and idea of race viz., the fine tuning of ‘dog whistle politics‘. Hear, again, the deliberate and methodical silencing of the idea of race in Lee Atwater’s crude formulation of what conservative politicians can and can’t say while playing the race card where and when it can be politically dealt.

“By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” – that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you are getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. ..”We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”” Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy

How The 1990s Paved The Way For Today’s Political Divide



Thanks for your patience, T.States


Curriculum Vitae

Tom L. States PhD Candidate

Fields of Interest: Political Theory, International Relations, Marxist Political Economy

Research Topic: eRacism - Conflicts of Difference

Education History: Williams College, BA Political Science; New York University, MA Politics; York University PhD Candidate

Languages: English, German

Hometown: Greenwood, Mississippi

Words of Wisdom: “IT” is what you are when you are young. Your youth mistakes certainty of the few things that you think you know for knowledge of things that it takes a life time to understand. With time and a few life experiences “IT” becomes the thing you pursue to give your life meaning. Somewhere along the way of having or getting “IT” you ask yourself, ‘Is this “IT”? Panic sets in when you realize that “IT” is your life. Fear and insecurity is that feeling you get when “IT” has not been worth a life time.


Harvey, David. Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference. New York: Longman, 1996.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press. 1967.

Cancian, Francesca M. Gender Politics: Love and Power in the Private and Public Spheres. Gender and the Life Course. Ed. Alice S. Rossi. New York: Aldine, 1985.

Sand, Shlomo. The Invention of the Jewish People. New York: Verso, 2009.

Lay, Shawn. The Invisible Empire In The West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.


Carothers, Thomas. Think Again: Civil Society. Foreign Policy Date, (Winter: 1999-2000).

Ober, Josiah. The original meaning of "democracy": Capacity to do things, not majority rule. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics. American Political Science Association meetings, Philadelphia, (2006).