During the housing boom, Henry County, a suburb of Atlanta, had its share of racial tension as more and more blacks joined the tens of thousands of others pouring in, creating a standoffish gap between the newcomers and the county’s oldtimers.It is a compelling counter-narrative to the received wisdom that economic hardship exacerbates ethnic tensions:
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But the recession has begun to erase those differences.
Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines.
At the Division of Family and Children Services, Keasha Taylor, 36 and black, helped explain the system recently to a white mother. Ms. Taylor, who was there because her family had been evicted, told the mother, who was in line for food stamps, that a child with acute asthma might be eligible for Social Security.The key to why this doesn't work as an allegory for the larger racial picture of the United States, though, is in this paragraph:
“Right now, a lot of white people are in this situation,” Ms. Taylor said, recalling the conversation later. “We’re already used to poverty; they’re really not.”
One reason blacks have not gained more political power is that they are not heavily concentrated in any single area in the county — the cul-de-sacs carved out of farmland and pastures in the last decade became racially mixed enclaves for the upwardly mobile.The trick is that "upwardly mobile" part. Just as we recounted during the Skip Gates imbroglio -- the issue here isn't race, it's class. The common language between the whites and blacks of Henry County is of the upwardly-mobile middle. The discovery that they have more in common than they thought is a significant one -- but the flip side of that coin is that each camp shares more characteristics with each other than the disadvantaged members of their own races.
That discovery, of course, goes unmade, since it doesn't quite fit with our country's larger racial narrative...