Race and the Myth of the Liberal Consensus

Race and the Myth of the Liberal Consensus

In Gerstle’s article, Race and the Myth of Liberal Consensus, he argues that the perceptions of the way Northerners and Southerners felt towards black people in the 1960s may have been incorrect perceptions. Gerstle spends the article pointing out certain cases in the North that could easily e mistaken for race cases in the South.

The North was supposed to be a place of equality, liberation and tolerance post-1945. The average perception was that the North was the place for black people to make it and be equal; the South was where they still were subject to racism and hardship. Gerstle argues that this perception is in fact a myth. There are race cases that he points out in Chicago, Detroit and eludes to the fact that many more cases in other cities that have yet to be examined in the way that Hirsch and Sugrue investigated Chicago and Detroit.

This idea that the North was a liberal place that would fight for equality may be false. Just because blacks were in the North didn’t mean they were welcome or thriving. There were many, many cases of them suffering, maybe even worse than some blacks in the South.

More specifically they argue that it was the working class whites in the North who may have been close in similarity to blacks economically that treated them poorly. The cases they cite include housing areas and the workforce. Out of the housing and the workforce it is the whites that lived and worked around blacks that tormented them. Gerstle’s article is trying to prove that the North wasn’t a sanctuary for blacks. Middle and upper class whites may have tried to speak out politically for racial integration, but they were just giving off a façade and did not represent the entire northern region.

The article argues that the idea of the north being in a liberal consensus for racial equality and integration was in fact partially mythical. Gerstle says that, “the South was regarded as a backward region that did not truly represent the United States.” He is trying to prove that we lived with this ideal, but in fact the South was not that separated from the North in their actions and ideologies.

This article does quite a bit to shape my perceptions differently. I’ve been living with the “myth” that the North was the place to be if you were black in the 1960s. We have all heard the stories and watched movies such as Mississippi Burning and A Time to Kill, where racial issues are concentrated in the South. Rarely do you hear about Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Boston and northern cities whose events didn’t fit into this liberal consensus of equality and integration. Previously I had the ideas that the North fought, even in the 60s for black rights and that the North was just educated and liberal enough to feel this way.

The arguments make sense that most of the events brought about in this article came from the working class population who may have felt threatened by the black people coming into their neighborhoods and workplaces. If they are working hard for what they own and real estate agents are convincing them that blacks moving in will lower property values that is a scary situation. Middle and upper class liberals didn’t have to worry about this though. They could fight for the rights of blacks without the worry that unsuitable blacks would soon become the majority in their fancy neighborhoods or take their corner office jobs.

This idea that the middle and upper class people are usually the ones speaking out liberally and trying to help doesn’t seem like a new concept to me. It remains the same today. Rarely is it the working class that holds expensive fundraisers to raise money for medical conditions or research. They don’t have the time or the resources because they are the working class.

Obviously the North wasn’t the picture perfect sanctuary for black equality that it seemed to be and the South wasn’t as backward and separated from the rest of the nation. There was racism and race crime everywhere, especially in the volatile 1960s, not just the South and the specific cases and stories brought forth in the Gerstle article prove just that.

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