Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Text and Subtext in South Carolina Politics

Nikki Haley is likely to be elected governor of South Carolina, but to do that she has had to go through some hoops that reveal the actual nature of politics in South Carolina. Look at an article in the WSJ June 22, 2010: “Haley Keeps Taking the Southern Test.”

The article says that in order to pass muster with certain South Carolinans Mrs. Haley had to demonstrate that she identified with their “feelings” “about the state’s Civil War history.” In a debate with other Republican candidates she was questioned about her "compliance with conservative values." Mrs. Haley was, in fact, the only one to be asked “what she thought had caused the Civil War,” because she was the only one whose family had not been established in the state for several generations; she comes from a Sikh family although she now is Christian.

What startled me was the conception of the Civil War that stood behind this inquiry: “The South” here cannot mean the blacks of the south. Twenty-nine percent of South Carolina is black; the questioners had no interest in what those southern citizens "felt" about the Civil War. The Civil War: what could it mean to the blacks of South Carolina?

The “Southern Test” was of course a “White Southern Test”. A century and a half after the Civil War some people – white people -- in South Carolina are still fighting it. The subtext is race by another name.

If Nikki Haley is elected governor of the state it seems unlikely that she will represent the “feelings” of nearly a third of the state’s citizenry, the blacks whose “conservative values” will likely differ from those who demanded that she reconstruct the past into their particular image of it. The subtext of the past and of the present is, for these whites, the same.

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