RACE RELATIONS; Honest Dialogue

The Florida Times Union, January 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

RACE RELATIONS; Honest Dialogue


First of two parts

Examine the major issues facing Jacksonville - crime, housing, transportation, employment, education, health care - and one major theme runs through them all.

Race.

It's the issue that people don't want to talk about, especially in polite company.

Jacksonville Community Council Inc., which serves as a local opinion leader, has been trying to put the issue on the community's table in recent years.

Now that Mayor John Peyton has asked community leaders to examine crime prevention programs, a healthy examination of racial issues must be a part of that discussion.

A new book by Matthew Corrigan, associate professor of political science and director of the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida, is a useful addition.

Race, Religion and Economic Change in the Republican South uses Jacksonville as a case study for the entire region.

THE NEW SOUTH

The South 50 years ago had a "stagnant political system" with one major political party dominated by racial segregation, Corrigan writes.

"The South of the 21st century is quite different," Corrigan writes.

African-Americans hold more than 5,000 elected positions in the South. The South's economic growth is "stunning," fueled by a rising middle class.

Yet, he writes, "the political system of the South is still unwilling to confront racial differences and economic poverty."

Southern politics has been "resegregated" with the Republican Party being dominated by white conservatives and the Democratic Party the home of African-Americans.

Moderates have been shut out.

In fact, almost one-third of whites and one-half of African-Americans believe the opposing party is worse than wrong; it's sinful.

"After years of progress since the mid-1960s, attitudes of blacks and whites are further apart on racial issues than they were 15 years ago in Jacksonville," Corrigan writes.

A key issue is jobs. Without the base of a good job, many of the other issues cannot be addressed.

Corrigan poses these questions:

- Can white Republican leaders move beyond their slogans of small government and put together a coherent strategy to address racial disparities?

- Can African-American Democrats engage white Republicans in meaningful and constructive ways?

In fact, the controversy over the community center built by former Jacksonville Jaguars player Tony Boselli was an example of a seemingly easy issue - a public, private partnership - that became embroiled in emotionally charged debates. …

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