James Heckman and southern racism–updated

James Heckman is a great economist who spent two years as a teenager in the late 1950s in racist Southern States of America and returned in 1963 and in 1970. His parents when they arrived received a delegation of neighbours to explain Southern ways.

There was organised segregation in 1963 when he visited again. His 1963 visit with a college roommate from Nigeria was monitored by the local sheriff.

In Birmingham, they stayed at the black YMCA. The people there were frightened to death because he was breaking the local Jim Crow laws. Shops closed in New Orleans to avoid serving them. Heckman and his Nigerian college mate were brave young men.

In 1970, Heckman re-visited New Orleans as an academic, going back to the same places. They were completely integrated, totally changed. This rapid social change fascinated him.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 broke the control of segregationists over their political and legal institutions.

The racial segregation collapsed because it could no longer rely on Jim Crow laws and the private violence and boycotts through the White Citizens Councils which police turned a blind eye too when they were not actively involved.

Unlike the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens’ Councils met openly and was seen as “pursuing the agenda of the Klan with the demeanour of the Rotary Club” by “unleashing a wave of economic reprisals against anyone, Black or white, seen as a threat to the status quo”. In Mississippi, the State Sovereignty Commission funded the Citizens’ Councils.


Deputy sheriff Price and Sheriff Rainey at their trial, 1967

Timur Kuran in “Sparks and Prairie Fires: A Theory of Unanticipated Political Revolutions,” suggested that political revolutions and large shifts in political opinion will catch us by surprise again and again because of people’s readiness to conceal their true political preferences proclivities under perceived social pressure.

Those ready to oppose racism or who were lukewarm about it, kept their opposition private until a coincidence of factors gave them the courage to bring their views into the open. In switching sides, they encouraged other hidden opponents to switch.

Fear changes sides. Genuine supporters of the old older falsify their publically professed preferences, pretending that they support the new order.

These are late-switchers. Do not trust them. These opportunists will just as easily switch back.

Plenty of people have had personal experiences of this in the 1980s and the 1990s when there was rapid changes in social and political attitudes about racism, sexism and gay rights. A few people had to stand up for what was right and a surprisingly large number quickly joined their side.

Back in the day, an old University mate of mine, Rodney Croome used to be (very bravely) protesting about reforms to the criminal law.

  • Rod even went into a police station and confessed to abominations against the order of nature, as the Tasmanian criminal code called it. It was a gender-neutral prohibition.
  • The police said they could not prosecute without the other party coming forward as the witness. He did.
  • The Tasmanian DPP then declined to prosecute on public interest grounds.

These days, Rod is campaigning for the right to marry. All inside one generation! What a great country is Australia.

I often use the rapid social change such as this with gay rights when I must listen to someone drone on telling me how preference and social roles are socially constructed. They missed the 20th century, and the 60s and the 70s at least.

When I was growing-up, racist sentiments were common. Good friends, decent upright people, disgraced themselves to go along with the crowd. I could not understand why someone would want to be so cruel just to be popular. Times have changed, thankfully.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim Rose
    Aug 03, 2015 @ 14:38:12

    Reblogged this on Utopia – you are standing in it! and commented:

    Some pay too much credence to opinion polls and not enough to basic history known to anyone, as illustrated by this tweet and an old blog of mine.

    Like

    Reply

  2. Trackback: The erosion of Jim Crow laws by the market process in the southern states of America in the 1940s and 1950s | Utopia - you are standing in it!
  3. Trackback: The role of the courts in end of life choices for the terminally ill | Utopia - you are standing in it!

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