The Revised Southern Strategy As Seen In The 2021 Election Cycle

The Revised Southern Strategy As Seen In The 2021 Election Cycle

Two African American children (rear row) are shown in a third-grade classroom of the previously segregated Webster school in Hillsboro, Ohio, Sept. 17, 1954. They were admitted under a new zoning system announced to combat overcrowding. (AP Photo)

During the 2021 election cycle, Republicans put education front and center and it showed throughout election night results. However, nothing on the ballot concerned improving education for Black children. Rather, education as an issue was used to manipulate white voters so that Republicans, in this case, could regain power.

Certainly, white parents storming school board meetings in protest of what they consider “critical race theory” and covid-19 protocols may seem like something unique to the all-too-normal political discord of our time. However, this isn’t the first-time public schools have been at the epicenter of political discontent.

After the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) decision, then-Virginia Sen. Harry Byrd penned his southern manifesto, an agreement to resist the Brown decision, following then-Virginia Gov. Thomas Stanley’s creation of a commission to defy Brown. White parents in Texas hung a Black effigy in protest of school integration. Entire school districts were shut down as private academies sprang up to avoid integration. White parents even protested school busing as politicians like then-Senator, now-President Joe Biden, opposed it.

Today, white parents fight to prevent schools from segregating. A podcast was created to showcase the efforts of white parents to keep white kids and Black kids segregated. The “new” fight is to keep white kids and the truth segregated.

Again, none of this is new. Detailed in an interview, Republican strategist Lee Atwater detailed how Republican politicians can win elections with his southern strategy:

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“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, ‘forced busing, states’ rights,’ and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract…

— Lee Atwater

Today, you say stuff like “CRT“, “1619 Project“, “mask mandates“, and “vaccine mandates.”

Republicans nowadays, as they did in the past, win elections by way of racism. In order to win, white people must turn out to vote and the way to get them to vote is by way of fear. White people see the demographic shifts: by 2045 the U.S. will be a minority white nation and already white students are the minority in America’s public schools. A majority of white people believe that non-white people will bring down American culture. 

Playing on these fears is how Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race in Virginia; he won 66 percent of white men and 57 percent of white women.

There is a lesson for Democrats if they’re willing to listen, however, past behavior says they won’t listen. The lesson is simply: history says most white voters will always vote for the Republican candidate, so stop begging for their votes and go after Black voters, the very voters who secured the White House for Democrats in 2020. Consider what happened in New Jersey. Phil Murphy narrowly won reelection as governor. But he won because of Black voters — 83 percent of all Black residents of New Jersey reside in the 10 counties Murphy won.

To secure the Black vote, you must secure voting rights to prevent the suppression of the Black vote. That means killing the filibuster. At the same time, you must commit to the issues that matter to Black people most — voting rights, addressing systemic racism in schooling, housing and employment, tackling police brutality, committing to reparations, and ending the school-to-prison pipeline. This will energize Black voters and non-voters alike. But Democrats must also make good on promises made to Black voters.

However, courting Black voters in this way would mean Democrats willingly acknowledge the revised Southern strategy. Sadly, history says Democrats will keep their heads in the sand. That’s a strategy Black people can’t afford. Yet we render our votes affordable. Why?

Rann Miller is director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ.