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. 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.

  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. 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.

  4. DejaVuAllOver

    Almost all the states seem to have a rural “red streak” in them. My theory is that the GOP has done such a magnificent job of lying to the sometimes not-too-terribly-bright working class. I still find it mind boggling that the word “liberal” as a political label has ALWAYS meant someone who supports LIBERAL rights for the WORKING class, ever since 1835 or so. How did the Reaganites turn it into a dirty word? The GOP has been screwing workers ever since McKinley. If working people knew ANYTHING about political history in the West (Europe and USA), they would NEVER vote GOP under any circumstance. How has the right lied so well, so consistently? I think it must have a lot to do with The Church, that other bastion of distortion, misrepresentation and slander. There are a LOT of these in the country, I’ve heard…….

  5. toggle

    Not to bash too hard on Middleboro, but . . . the majority of my wife’s family lives in Middleboro.

    With only a handful of exceptions, they are all college educated: a doctor, a few nurses, a teacher, small business owners. Just a typical, middle-class Massachusetts family.

    And racists, every last one of them. Not the hood-wearing, cross-burning, epithet-tossing kind of racist. The liberal kind. The kind that want to think they’re beyond it, but deep down, wish the world was the way it used to be, you know, whiter.

    The kind that will become enraged when Okajima walks a batter, allowing “Get that damed Jap off the mound” to escape their lips before they realize what even happened.

    The kind that will refer to the Portuguese as “those people” without even hearing themselves.

    The kind that will fight long and hard and earnestly for the civil rights of people, as long as those people find other neighborhoods to move into.

    No surprises here. They have always been kind to me, but then again, they’re pretty used to me. I’m different. I’m family.

  6. Hal Brown

    Small world, toggle. I had to change some of the potentially identifiable information in my examples but I doubted anyone who even heard of Middleboro would read this. Go figure.

    I’m Jewish… I think there are about six Jews in Middleboro… some day if we meet I can tell you a few stories.

  7. claypigeonbx

    Freedom and Justice for All!

    I was born and bred in Appalachia, in upstate New York…and I still call it my home. I don’t want to believe that the people here are racist, but I look at the election returns, and the county did go for McCain AND for a very right-wing congressman. How can they do that? I ask myself. I love these people. They are my kin…brothers and sisters, even a son. My life is quite different. I work in the Bronx. I work primarily with African-American people and in a very multicultural environment.

    Are these people stupid? No, I have lived with them all my life. I know for sure, they are not stupid. Are they petty and hateful? Well, yes, sure, some of them are, but that group are a very small minority and most of them could be classified as “mentally ill.”

    But what about the rest of them? What is their excuse? How can they possibly support the failed policies of Bush, the McCain/Palin ticket? The answer, in one word? Fear. FEAR! The same thing Bush used to turn what could have been an opportunity that began on 9/11/01 into a catastrophe.

    Everybody in the world was on our side on that day. If Barack Obama had been President then, imagine what might have happened! But no, we had George Bush: “Be afraid, be very afraid. They hate us for our liberty! And now, take your mind off it, go shopping!” Damn!

    People in Appalachia have to fight and struggle for everything they get…food on the table, a roof that doesn’t leak, decent clothes to send our children to school in…and if we don’t get it…their classmates will laugh…at them…and at us, but we’re doing the best that we can…the best that we know how to do.

    People in Appalachia tend to fear what they don’t know. If we are to survive, we must be ready to fight…with the elements of nature, with our neighbors, if necessary, even with our families, if need be. Survival! It’s all about survival.

    Most liberals don’t understand that. They have had the luxury of “going to school.” They don’t know what it means to wonder how we’re going to make it through the winter if we can’t get the money to pay the gas bill. College? Are you serious? College? Waste all that money when we don’t have it, can’t get it, need it to pay for the mortgage, gas, electric and taxes and food? Yes, food. We do need to eat after all.

    Pork? What you call pork, we call “bringing our tax money back to the community.” Do we have time to consider all the ins and outs of the political debates? No, we are too busy trying to get our kids to the babysitter so we can get to work so we can pay the rent or the mortgage so we can pick up our kids and feed them and put them to bed and get up the next morning to do the same thing over again.

    One thing we know for sure. All politicians are liars! So, we’ll vote for the liar who seems to have the most in common with us…who speaks our language. Sarah Palin? Well, at least she can field dress a moose. Can you?

    It’s all about fear. It’s all about survival. It’s all about defending ourselves against those who see us as “the enemy” or who, even worse, see us as “expendable”.

    I voted for Barack Obama. I voted for Eric Massa. I understand that people who are very different from me are no less human, no less deserving, than I am. But understand, my liberal friends, please understand, the poor and working poor folks who come across as racists, who are racists, are either mentally ill or scared…and the ones who are scared have a right to be scared. You’ve kept them at the verge or extinction for the past half century. (Yes, that is how long “depression” has been “reality” in Appalachia.) But then, of course, you will say that that has been OUR fault.

    And you still wonder why we don’t trust you?

  8. Hal Brown

    Really good insights claypigeonbx, but if the “you” that people stuck in the poverty and lack of opportunity of the regions of Appalachia refer to in this statement:

    “And you still wonder why we don’t trust you?”

    … is “you liberals” I wonder why they trust right wingers.

    Since FDR it seems to me it was Democrats who did more to provide opportunities for Amercians to move out of poverty than Republicans, and to offer all kinds of social programs to assure at least a minimally decent standard of living.

    I would hope that more voters can revisit the notion that all politicians are equal liars willing to say anything for a vote and thus it makes sense to “vote for the liar who seems to have the most in common with us…who speaks our language. Sarah Palin? Well, at least she can field dress a moose.”

    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.

  9. claypigeonbx

    Freedom and Justice for All!

    Hal, I’m just going to offer this to you from where I sit. I’m not sure I’m right and I really don’t have an agenda. I’m trying very hard to understand all this, and, I confess, I’m not sure I do. But it seems to me that at least part of the reason that people here find it easier to accept elite Republicans than Democrats who probably actually represent their interests better has to do with the fact that elite Republicans have very little to do with the working poor of Appalachia except during elections. Then, they represent themselves as being “just like you,” in the mode of Palin. The bureaucracy of many of the “helping” organizations, on the other hand, tend to be Democrats. These educated people, the poor of Appalachia do have contact with, and, too often, their benefactors come across as considering themselves “superior.” In some senses, they are superior. They have more education. They make more money. But, compared to the kind of jobs that most of the “rednecks” do, these “superiors” have “never done an honest day’s work in their lives.” There is an “us” and “them” thing that develops between the poor and near poor and their would-be benefactors that produces what can only be accurately described as “contempt” for the “outsiders” who “think they know what we need better than we do ourselves.” It has to do with self-respect. And I have never figured out how to solve that conundrum except on a personal level.

    P.S. I am sixty-eight years old. In my lifetime, most young people who have wanted to provide more than a subsistence living for themselves and their families have had to leave this village in order to find work. I myself would have been locked into a subsistence life, probably with a half dozen children to provide for, had I not experienced the extremely rare good fortune provided by the award of a National Merit Scholarship.

  10. Hal Brown

    If you solve it, write a book! I saw the same thing a few times from a different perspective when I worked at a pretty tough teen drop-in center in Lansing, Michigan. For example, one time we had a professor come down to interview some of our kids for a paper he was writing and he wore a jacket and tie. We had to ask the guys to be nice to him. He’s lucky he didn’t have his car stolen.

    My boss and I really had to prove ourselves. I had a pistol pointed at my head once. Our other two staff were “from the hood” but still were tested a lot. We had two VISTA volunteers who came in. They both did a good job but really had to prove themselves. One was named Chris Kerr the son of this man and this woman.

  11. DejaVuAllOver

    I think fear has a lot to do with the right wing here in Montana. The education level here ain’t nuthin’ to write home ’bout, and people are VERY intimidated by intelligent people. I’ve had several conversations about Obama where that very topic came up. Intelligent conversations here are short AND scarce.

    Also, my county is exceptionally white-Christian, and it went 59% for McCain. Although, maybe we’re making progress: 2004 went for Bush 73%!!!!! This was almost entirely the Christian-wrong’s influence.

    I’d love to get the Hell out of here. It’s pretty as all git out, but talk about self-righteous idiots……

  12. zuzumamu

    I too live in Montana Dejavu, and am very disappointed by the outcome of the election here. I in fact was watching it pretty carefully and actually think some votes were shifted to Ron Paul from Dem votes. I’d love to have a recount here. Nevertheless, Obama won,as did Schweitzer, so whatever. It’s been pretty encouraging here in Ennis, we now at least HAVE a Democratic Party here, not many, but some. Unfortunately, a lot of Montana’s extra turnout,were scared angry white dumbasses voting against the black man. The ads worked here, as does Rush Limbaugh, and Fox Noise…the socialist thing worked,Sarah Palin, the lack of education (always one of the prizes of Republican rule),did too;the Christian crap, mostly linked to AA in guys, and community works in women, were also susceptible to the Republican propaganda.
    I love the land, the space, the relatively low population, and I’ve lived in other remote places where the populace’s “lack of education” was by far less tolerable, but there are a lot of people here that I’m praying are heading for Alaska!

  13. acf

    What the heck, I’ll jump in here, too. I grew up in Boston, went to the school now known as UMass Dartmouth when classes were still held in New Bedford, have friends who lived in Middleboro, and have been through there 100s of times. Who da thunk three of us would be frequenting a political blog originating in a small town in the Blue Ridge of VA?

  14. Hal Brown

    Amazing. Most people reading this never heard of Middleboro (see Wikipedia) before let alone UMass Dartmouth. Of course if our town ever gets the planned but not yet built giant Mashpee Wampanoag casino anyone who’s heard of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun will know about us, if not by name, at least as home to the one of the nation’s biggest casinos.

  15. Hal Brown

    Zuzu and DejaVu, I know Montana is a huge state, but wouldn’t it be a happy coincidence if you lived reasonably close to each other and could meet up some time?

    As far as the great religious migration to Alaska, that’s what the fundies there have proposed in preparation for the End of Days. Maybe Alaska will declare independence and Palin will be declared Empress and given the ermine robe and crown with REAL jewels she’s always wanted.

    Then they can join togther in vast 21st century wagon trains of RVs and pick-up trucks with gun racks and Confederate flags and NoBama bumber stickers and head north to Alaska.

  16. keith

    It is clear from the results of Tuesday’s election that, while they still present a formidable force, the racists, homophobes and bigots in our land are now dying in ever-increasing numbers. And they are taking centuries of arrogant intolerance and seething hatred toward anyone who is in any way different than themselves to the grave right along with them.

    The truth is that ours is an ever-more diverse (and younger) nation. The old prejudices of race and ethnic origin that divided us prior to and during the Nixon era (and which Karl Rove and company have used to their advantage ever since) are now dying right along with that portion of our population who espouse them.

    For example, for my teen-aged daughter, race and ethnicity issues just aren’t on the radar. She has a multitude of friends from a myriad of ethnic and religious backgrounds. And they all seem to get along just fine.

    Now, granted, it may very well take another generation or two before the majority of people who have known nothing else but to perpetuate their racial and ethnic hatred (and its associated baseless bigotry) to completely disappear from our land.

    I frequently like to quote Professor Doctor Max Planck, winner of the Nobel Prize for physics and one of the greatest physicists of the early 20th Century who once said that, “Innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and the growing generation is familiarized with the innovative ideas right from the beginning.”

    I think Tuesday’s election gave us one of the best indications yet that the bigots ARE now losing whatever electoral clout they once had. So, in that sense, Mr. Obama’s message of “change” is now coming true in more profound ways than just “changing the politics in Washington”.

  17. Hal Brown

    One of the few pluses of growing old for me is knowing that when I die a multitude of racists from my generation will die with me.

    I’ll die as a citizen of a country where the majority of the population will be of non-white or of mixed ethnicity.

    When Bush won in 2004 I thought to myself that I’d be turning 65 when the next president took over, and that if it was another George Bush I couldn’t stand the thought of entering my official senior years facing another four or eight years of Constitution shredding.

  18. Kibitzer

    Moving stuff here…

    Thanks, claypigeonbx; and thanks, Hal, for providing the forum where such folks as have chatted here can meet, and shoot the breeze.

    As for your basic point, Hal: Small town Americana. Change will come – because the times they are a’changing – but in the meantime, something of value to the inhabitants – an old shoe, comfortable way of being – is being threatened. A way of life, which has served for a good while now. And now that world is disappearing, before our very eyes…

    I feel that it was this that Obama was trying to address when he was caught out talking to that crowd in San Francisco, and his words were carried out to other audiences, who took umbrage at them. I really don’t think he meant it the way it was played. No disrespect intended. Just an attempt to show he understood why blue-collar white Americans from small-town America might feel threatened by his candidacy. He stood – stands – for a fundamental change in America’s image of itself. And because he has shown that he understands this, I have hope that he will be perceived in time by ‘them’ as who he is, not as what he is.

    Just as you have been able to make friends in your home town with white Christians, even though you are a Jew. Because it’s Hal Brown they have learned to relate to: a good man.

    And therein lies the answer, I think: it’s what you know, as opposed to what you don’t, yet, know. Takes time. In the meantime, have a beer. Now what was that you said yesterday, about that article you read, on the ‘internet’ – whatever in blazes that is….