By: Glen Browder
Reviewed by: Colin Crews
NewSouth Books, 2009
Dr. Glen Browder’s credentials in Alabama politics are as impressive as his unique new work The South’s New Racial Politics: Inside the Race Game of Southern History. The former United States congressman gives a firsthand account of the South’s most enduring and troubling issue and offers an original thesis. Browder displays an uncommon style and approach to this scholarly topic early in the introduction when he refers to Martin Luther King Jr. and George Wallace as “these guys.” But his informal style helps make a sensitive subject more accessible.
Browder details the old race game where whites “provided themselves with the blessings of democracy at the expense of black Southerners.” His new thesis of racial gaming demonstrates that cooperation has been achieved through the desire for mutual goals such as education reform rather than a cathartic change of the social dynamic.
Browder also draws a distinction between his experiences in Montgomery and Washington, D.C. Despite the long history of bigotry and discrimination in Alabama, the different political factions have achieved a “peaceful coexistence” by finding common issues that brought them together. As Browder moved up the political ladder to the U.S. House of Representatives he found a different paradigm that was not as productive. He documents his frustration with the cliquishness of the racial caucuses within the national Democratic Party.
In The South’s New Racial Politics, Browder journeys from his congressional service in the mid-nineties to recent Alabama elections where he finds that the “most flagrant retro race gaming” has occurred in contests between African American candidates. He explores the Birmingham mayoral election of 2008 where both leading African American contenders vigorously questioned the other’s credibility within the Black community.
In his final chapter, Browder turns to the election of President Barack Obama. Despite the South’s being the only region to see gains for Republicans, Browder contests the assumption that it was due to an African American heading the Democratic ticket. He postulates a different conclusion that the conservative bent of the region is based more on political ideology than in the overt bigotry of the past. Furthermore, he illustrates through statistical analysis that the most segregated cities in the United States are not in the South but in Northeastern and Midwestern metropolises.
Browder concludes with a call for President Obama to come to Alabama, “the crossroads of civil war and civil rights,” and begin a frank and fresh discussion of race in America. Glen Browder has begun this important discourse with a unique and revealing book. Aug 2009
Colin Crews is a freelance writer in Irondale, Ala.