Massachusetts racism: My blue state has a pink stripe

The map showing areas across the country where people changed their party vote from four years ago is very telling. It designates shifts with shades of red and blue. The shift showing Kerry to McCain votes this year has a not totally surprising red and pink stripe through Appalachia. With pink indicating slightly more people voting Republican in this election, there’s a pink stripe from southeastern Massachusetts through the center of the state to its northern border. Could this be due to racism in our reliably blue state?

To view the map CLICK HERE and click “Voting shifts”.

Almost all Massachusetts towns and cities went for Obama, some with over 80% of the vote. Not surprisingly, but still a disappointment, my own town of Middleboro went for McCain as did a number of surrounding towns. Middleboro was a hotbed of support for George Wallace when he ran for president.

Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same sex marriage. We have the second black governor ever elected, elected with 56.6% of the vote in a four way race. In this election a statewide referendum made possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable by up to a $100 fine. We have Senators Teddy Kennedy and John Kerry. We have Barney Frank and every other one of our House of Representative members is a Democrat.

There are only two reasons I can see for Kerry getting more votes anywhere in this state four years ago than Obama got this year. One is that some Republicans voted for Kerry because he was a favorite son. Truth be told, our popular senator is Teddy Kennedy. We respect John Kerry but few Massachusetts Democrats were ever thrilled with him as a presidential candidate.

The only other reason I can think of for the pink stripe is disturbing.

Could these voters have cast their ballot based on race?

Personal anecdotes can’t be used to make such a judgment, but here are some that may surprise you in that they come from one of the most, if not the most, liberal and progressive states in the union.

A wealthy but liberal cranberry grower in his 70’s was talking to another rich grower about politics, and this other farmer, a former board member of a large corporation and a deeply religious man, commented bitterly that he can’t stand the thought of “niggers in the White House”.

A few days before the election I was talking to an 85 year old woman who is considered a loving and accepting member of the community. I brought up a state senator named Dianne Wilkerson and her getting arrested by the FBI for taking $20,000 in cash bribes. The woman responded with distain that of “course Deval Patrick will make sure she gets off.” As I noted above, Patrick is our African American governor.

A man who is also well thought of in the community was talking to a friend of mine the day after the election. Out of the blue he asked “ever wonder why all of a sudden when Obama started running the TV stations ended up having 135 black people on?”

Just today one of my swimming buddies at the Y told me that he was getting a haircut yesterday. Three men were lamenting the outcome of the election as if it came as a total surprise.

These people assume that if you’re white and live in a blue collar town you probably agree with them. So as my friend was leaving one of them asked him what he thought.

Not wanting to argue he said something like he wanted to wait and see how Obama did. One of the men said “my God how can you say that, this guy wants to take all our money and send it to Africa.”

I’m glad I live in Massachusetts. I’d still suggest that readers of this column who are burned out trying to fight the good fight in deeply red states move here, or vacation in our beautiful Berkshires (72% Obama), the great big little city of Boston (77% Obama), on Cape Cod (only 56% Obama due to rich Republicans – but Provincetown went 88% Obama) or our Cape islands for rest and restoration.

Two years ago the vast majority of Massachusetts voters sent the racists a message named Deval Patrick. Unbeknownst to us at the time, he was a friend of another African American destined to be the 44th president of the United States.

I am heartened by this. I know we can’t obliterate racism. But when I look at that New York Times map and see how much of the deep south that still went for McCain are colored blue, I can’t help but feeling disheartened about Massachusetts.

We all have compelling images in our minds of Barack Obama and his family from what we seen over the past few days and you can look at any news website and see him. But after seeing an article in The New York Times about the Lincoln exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, I thought this photograph was one of those “picture is worth a thousand words” images to use as an addendum to this column.

My previous columns on racism:

Oct. 19, 2008
Powell provides poetic justice to racists”

Oct. 18, 2008 “Racists will be thrilled if McCain wins and Obama ends up on food stamps”

Read “Miss Martin’s rules for classroom manners” for rules and guidelines for commenting on this column.


  1. claypigeonbx

    Freedom and Justice for All!

    Hal wrote: “What difference does the answer to the question “Can you?” make? I doubt Obama can field dress a moose but I believe he has much more true understanding of what it’s like to be poor than Palin, she of the incredible shopping sprees at high end clothing stores.”

    I didn’t address this question in my first response. I want to try to now. Again, the answer goes to very real differences in the ways people perceive their own worth. College educated people, like myself, and probably most of the people on this blog, tend to value ourselves based on how are able to use our mental knowledge and skills to address life’s problems. Most of us use some kind of specialized knowledge to earn a living.

    The skill and knowledge sets of Appalachian natives are different and they are, for the most part, acquired in a different way. Many of them are not currently marketable in the 21st Century. (I have dreamed of the possibility that some of them might be in an eco-friendlier future.)

    Therefore, the “work” for which most such people end up being paid tends to be “unskilled” and “repetitive,” clerking, driving, operating machines, “following orders.”

    Rarely, is anyone here paid for doing something which actually enhances their self-esteem. (Nurses and teachers are an exception to that generalization, but most of the other “skilled positions” around here go to educated “outsiders.”)

    Nevertheless, people take pride in the things they know and the things they know how to do. And one of the things that many men around here learned how to do when they were about 12 or 13 was how to hunt and field dress game, especially deer. (We don’t have moose.) Venison is an important part of many local diets, including mine. (My Bronx associates give me a very hard time about “eating bambi,” but I really do prefer it to “dead cow.”)

    Another example, when my sister was the mayor of this village, one of her responsibilities was to participate with other mayors of the county in the “milking contest” at the County Fair. She won. It was a big deal…another common skill among the people of this area many of whom, before the rise of the corporate agribusinesses, were farmers. If you’re over forty, you probably still know how to milk a cow, or a goat, for that matter.

    Such skills are irrelevant in the corporate world, but they are very relevant here. People tend to be respected for the things they know how to do, more than they are for the things they know how to talk about. (My sister (not the mayor, another one) just fabricated a window for me and I installed it after I discovered that there was no business in the area, including Home Depot and several smaller “window” distributors, who had or was able to get or make what I needed. They all wanted to replace all my existing windows with nice “tip-in” aluminum-framed ones, but I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on “new” windows that I knew would be nowhere near as well-made as my old ones.)

    Why was it important to many of the people around here that Sarah Palin could field dress a moose? Because that single fact seemed to them to be an indication that maybe she had some appreciation for the kinds of knowledge and skills that enable many people around here to hold up their heads and do what they have to do, knowing that they are neither stupid nor unskilled, regardless of how limited their knowledge of “politics” may be.

    What we are talking about here is a cultural divide that may be even more difficult for us to bridge than the racial one has been. Our village is gradually becoming interracial and that process seems to be moving forward fairly rapidly and without incident. But it seems to me that the key to overcoming barriers between groups of people who have real cultural difference is respect…mutual respect.

    Unfortunately, too many Americans, including well-educated ones like the “Neocons” we are currently trying to chase out of Washington, seem to have a hard time respecting people who are different from themselves and who really don’t want to be just like them.

    Some people blame that tendency on “religion,” but I don’t think the problem stems from religion. In the case of the Neocons, I think the problem stems from greed. But for most of the rest of us, the problem stems from fear. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, computer wiz or quiltmaker, all of us take comfort in the belief that “our way” is “the best way.” We will only be able to relate to one another in mutually supportive ways when we learn to be comfortable with the fact that while “our way” may certainly be the “best way for us,” “your way” is probably also “the best way for you” and we can afford to let other people be who they are and maybe even benefit from the fact that we have very different sets of knowledge and skills.

    After all, when the power grid breaks down, knowing how to milk a cow or clean a bass or make dandelion wine may turn out to be very important.

  2. gazelle1929

    In microcosm, Hal, your map of Massachusetts doesn’t look all that horrifically pinkening (wonder if there is such a word, I know there’s bluing but that’s what mom put in the wash last century). I don’t think it’s all that important in the big scheme of things (but I don’t live there either!)

    But look at the map as a whole!

    Take a gander at Arkansas. They went redder than just about anywhere else in the country, but the really interesting thing is what happened just across the state line in Missouri and in Mississippi. Red shift on one side of the line, blue shift on the other.

    There’s NO bleed through. What was going on in Arkansas that made the people on one side of a state line turn sharply to the right while the people on the other side turned moderately towards the left? Does anyone have a clue? Definitely not a regional thing, is it?

    And I am reading a book that I will be talking about here. The Way We’ll Be, by John Zogby, the polling guy. This is an IMPORTANT book, one that everyone who reads CHB should rush to their library and demand a copy. Or else buy it. What he talks about through the first third of the book, which is as far as I’ve gotten, is the sudden shift towards the center, driven primarily by a huge shift towards the left on the part of our younger voters, age 18 to 29. Borrow this book. Steal it. Buy it. Stand in the bookstore and go through it. But READ IT! You will not be dissatisfied.

  3. Hal Brown

    Well said. You have the makings of a book or long magazine essay here.

    I think some of this is what Obama was getting at with the remark about people in these areas clinging to their guns and religion. Not unexpectedly, first Hillary Clinton and later the Republicans took portions out of context because out of context they sound so dismissive and, yes, elitist.


    “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

    Clinton knew exactly what Obama meant, but she was smart enough to realize that the voters she needed weren’t interested in sociology. So she came out with comments like “people of faith I know don’t ‘cling’ to religion because they’re bitter” and “people embrace faith not because they are materially poor but because they are spiritually rich” and “people don’t need a president who looks down on them. They need a president who stands up for them.”

    Then she started getting photographed downing beer and a shots of whiskey, which did a lot to enhance her image among people who believed this made her one of them. Not exactly field dressing a deer or moose, but it worked for her in several primaries.