Election 2008

Kentucky Explained in Black and White

Listen

Loading…

Our conversation this morning with a professor from Kentucky stopped a few Twitter listeners cold.

Donald Gross, who teaches political science at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, took a question from Mike Pesca about Hillary Clinton's 30-point lead over Barack Obama in polls ahead of that state's Democratic presidential contest.

Gross noted that Kentucky has a very small African-American community — the U.S. Census Bureau puts the figure at 7.5 percent of the population.

"I think in many parts of the state of Kentucky people are a bit uncomfortable with African-Americans," he said. "In a lot of the rural areas, literally a lot of these individuals have never seen African-Americans. They don't interact with them."

Gross continued, "At the university, I've had students come in and say they've never seen African-Americans personally, or talked with African-Americans 'til they came to Lexington. In some of the rural areas, sometimes there might be only one or two African-American families in the entire county."

Twitter listener @marilynm wrote, "i'm having a hard time listening to this interview...have NEVER SEEN AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN??" But listener @olevia could relate. She wrote, "i grew up in rural PA & had 1 af-am family. nearby towns had none."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

The analogy that Gross uses, "it's almost as if you took someone from a rural small town and you dropped them in the center of China, they're going to be a little bit uncomfortable with the people because they're not familiar with them, they don't interact with them, they don't perhaps understand them" doesn't really hold. Last time I checked African Americans speak English.

Seems disingenuous to me.

This country has a long way to go.

Sent by Sarah Goodyear | 10:40 AM | 5-16-2008

I grew up in south central Kentucky and attended a state-sponsored arts school one summer in high school. I met kids there from some of the Appalachian counties who had never seen black kids before. These kids were very receptive to learning about African-American culture, but there were many prejudices and discomforts that had to be overcome. I believe Mr. Gross's assesment is very accurate. This is the truth; it may seem odd to some folks or even unfortunate, but it's reality. This is where improvement can be made. This is where education needs to happen in the impoverished parts of our nation. Barak Obama, though I personally support the man, doesn't have a chance in Kentucky.

Sent by Mr. Forman | 12:15 PM | 5-16-2008

I was born in Denver City, Texas, a town of about 2500 people. I was about eight the very first time I ever saw a black person in real life as opposed to on TV. The idea that there are people who make it into their late teens without ever meeting a black person does not surprise me at all.

Sent by Stewart | 12:58 PM | 5-16-2008

"Last time I checked African Americans speak English." The cultural differences (real and percieved) are much harder to overcome than language barriers.

Trust me when I say this, (my high school had 1000 students, 2 of them black) people hold an irrational fear of the unknown. Gross' analogy is spot on, having seen the reactions of some of my classmates when we used to take trips into Boston. This country does have a long way to go, but not for the reasons you said it.

Sent by Leigh Cutler | 1:01 PM | 5-16-2008

OK, let me clarify my remarks, which I made somewhat heatedly (always a bad idea). I'm certainly not surprised that white people in Kentucky haven't met black people. I am, however, saddened by the idea that someone thinks black people and white people in this country, who share a language and hundreds of years of geographic and cultural history, can be said to be as far apart as Americans and Chinese people, who don't even share an alphabet.

That's all. Not judging, just sad.

Sent by Sarah Goodyear | 1:07 PM | 5-16-2008

I grew up in Northern Kentucky which as Gross stated has a more midwestern feel. However, I can imagine that there are people in rural Kentucky who have never met black people or have had extremely limited exposure to black people. I understand that most urban dwellers are surprised perhaps frightened to hear of this. Isn't that what Gross was saying. People are instictively weary and untrusting of things they are not familiar with. Some of the twitter reactions to this segment illustrate this.

Sent by molly | 1:23 PM | 5-16-2008

I hear so much discussion of Kentucky. Its sad because you hear so little about Oregon which has more delegates. It would seem to me that Kentucky presents a story the press just can't let die. "Barrack Obama can't win whites!" or "Whites are racist against Obama!" It's all about the same coverage. Meanwhile, were out here in the northwest-as usual-are totally ignored until someone does a fluff piece on an artist or a sympathy piece about some endangered species. This cycle, press just reels when they get it wrong and charge ahead with their assumptions. If Oregon is a determining state this time there'll be plenty of hand wringing like when they dropped the ball N.H. Then they'll come and do another story about some avant grade restaurant in Portland once a year like always and we'll fade back to obscurity. It would be nice to get a little love out here NPR!

Sent by Vincent Caldoni | 1:32 PM | 5-16-2008

Meh. The idea is not good or bad (or sad), it just is. You also have to remember that while it's been hundreds of years of geographic history, it has only been about 50 years of desegregation - time enough for kids to still have parents who remember such a divisive "culture".

The US culture is and always will be hetrogeneous. I think it is one of our strengths, not something to be marginalized. The issue is tolerance and understanding and it is too early in our history to expect either of those from everyone just yet.

Sent by Leigh Cutler | 1:36 PM | 5-16-2008

as a child of the 60's raised in Kentucky i saw and still see some of the most overt racism that makes me not only embarassed to be an african-american kentuckian, but embarassed to be an american. You can't change people who dont see a problem. they would go back to the 1800's in a minute if they had their way. In Kentucky they love their black folk the same way they did 100 years ago, and thats in the kitchen or out in the yard........

Sent by Robert | 9:14 PM | 5-16-2008

I moved to a small southeastern town in Kentucky when I was 10. There wasn't a single black family living in my county. More than a few of my peers had never seen a black person. MOST of the people in the county are racist. And if you aren't, you are thought of as an outsider.
If kids are raised in a bubble without diversity, taught to discriminate against people with different skin color, and never actually have to interact with these people they look down upon, then THAT is how racism stays alive.

Sent by James W Eaton | 2:21 AM | 5-17-2008

How easy it is to jump to generalized conclusions about Kentucky. I grew up in central Kentucky in the 60s. We lived with, played with and shared life with Black, White, Asian, Indian, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish kids. I know we where not an anomaly. Every state has pockets separations.

Sent by greg | 9:23 AM | 5-17-2008

It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact, that in 2008, whites in that state has never seen a black person. This is a sad agenda for America. All the more reason why we need a change in America. Hopefully, that state will join the rest of us in the real world.

Sent by Linda J. Williams | 12:38 PM | 5-17-2008

Left out of the discussion is the fact that people in Kentucky and elsewhere see Hillary as the better candidate-based on her experience and her accomplishments. As a social worker, I am impressed with Senator Clinton's record of working for children- all children. I resent the insinuation that my vote reflects racism. The assumption that a vote for Sen. Clinton is indicative of racism is conjecture. The people of Iowa and the other predominately white states who voted for Sen Obama may see him as the best candidate--not the black candidate.

Sent by Lynda | 2:18 PM | 5-17-2008

Living in northern Kentucky now, but with parents who grew up in central & eastern Kentucky, I don't think the comparison with a Chinese person works very well in this state. For one thing, the reason the population of African Americans is so small in Kentucky (when it was about 24% in 1865) is because they were run out of the state violently. The mindset in Kentucky is influenced more by racism than a fear of the unknown. Even people who have not met African Americans have learned what to expect from them from their parents.

Sent by cathy | 3:39 PM | 5-17-2008

Let me reiterate one thing that Professor Gross said about Kentucky. From North to South and East to West, you will find great differences. I grew up near Fort Knox military base, and I attended quite diverse schools. In fact, when I left to attend a prestigious college in the Northeast, I was shocked to find that race relations were not much better up North - in fact, in some ways, worse, as people assumed they were open minded and immune to racial prejudice while their own communities and circle of friends were markedly segregated.

It hurt me to hear such a generalization of my home state. It isn't what I knew. Even as I live in the metro DC area today, I often long for a bit of Kentucky.

Sent by Aimee Rose | 5:00 PM | 5-17-2008

i am sad that hillary appears to have become marginalized...not because i'm a racist but because i think she would have made a very good president...i like obama and will of course vote for him if he's the choice...sexism, racism, hate, fear is primarily about having no knowledge of other groups of people outside "your own"...it is quite possible to have lived an insulated life in which rumor trumped truth and reality. i hope we as a country are about to break down existing barriers and realize how much we weaken ourselves by the continuation of narrow minded, prejudicial thinking........

Sent by jan | 5:02 PM | 5-17-2008

WHY hasn't anyone in the media asked Obama: WHY did you Vote FOR the Cheney Energy Bill?

WHY isn't the TV media covering ONE OF THE BIGGEST Campaign ISSUES: Our ENERGY Future/The Cheney Energy Bill?

WHY hasn't any TV media person asked Obama If its true he has NO Experience "Bringing People Together" "Working Across the Isles" to make CHANGES?

Here are the REAL ANSWERS:

This Presidential Election is not about skin color/ "race", or gender, or liberal vs. conservative.

Its about MONEY .... BIG MONEY --- and 29 new nuclear power plants.

WHY has MSNBC/NBC, CBS (& FOX & CNN) been putting out PRO-Obama/Anti-Clinton PROPAGANDA...everyday all day long - since last November?

ANSWER: Because Obama is PRO-Nuclear & he voted FOR the Cheney Energy Bill; Clinton is NOT Pro-Nuke & Voted AGAINST the Cheney Energy Bill.

GE owns MSNBC/NBC, Westinghouse owns CBS ... & Thanks to the Cheney Energy Bill they are planning to reap BILLIONS in profits (Risk-Free) from building 29 new nukes AND from 30-40 years of HIGHER ELECTRICITY RATES.

(GE & Westinghouse have been pumping $Billions of ADVERTISING dollars for all their PRODUCTS - Into Every FORM of MEDIA, for generations.)

Other participants in Cheney's NExt Big
MONOPOLY POWER
---ENERGY RIPoff---
Excelon Corp. of ILLINOIS, Entergy (owners of many utilities in the Southern States); 3 consortiums of nuke industry corporations.

McCain voted for the Cheney Energy Bill & has already said on the campaign trail: "I have to remember to say ... its absoultely necessary for...us...to build nuclear power plants."

Cheney, GE, Westinghouse(NBC,MSNBC,CNN,FOX,CBS;The MEDIA); the nuke industry...Are running Obama AND McCain for President.

The only way we are going to get the NEW Clean Green ENERGY Technology/ECONOMY we need is the election of Clinton to the Presidency. We cannot afford to squander hundreds of $Billions on Obsolete 70-yr ofd nuclear power plants.

Last week's NEWS: The governor of South Carolina is refusing to allow the Federal govt. to ship 30 tons of plutonium into South Carolina---until the Feds provide him with a written agreement that the Feds will --REMOVE-- the plutonium from South Carolina---in the event their plans to produce nuke reactor FUEL are unsuccessful.

Looks like the govt. wants to move 30 TONS of plutonium from the western states to South Carolina to locate it closer to the 29 nukes to be built in many of the Eastern & Southern states.

(See Map at NY Times LINK:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/31/washington/31nuclear.html?_r=1&oref=slogin )

(BTW a microscopic particle of plutonium, once inhaled, will kill you from lung cancer in about a week.)

Plans to build those nuclear power plants are well advanced - with licensing hearings already scheduled for the first few.

If you think nukes are ok... just
GOOGLE: Rocky Flats Denver plutonium, and, Hanford WA nuclear waste.

OBAMA = NO Experience Getting CHANGES made,
His whole campaign is based on ONE Big LIE:

Obama claims 7 years experience in the Illinois legislature - Working Across the Aisles, Bringing people together to get good CHANGES passed -as exemplified by 26 good bills with his name on them.

A Chicago reporter says all 26 bills were passed in ONE Year and they were NOT Obama's.

http://wweek.com/editorial/3418/10516/

EXCERPTS:
But what's interesting, and almost never discussed, is that he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year.

Republicans controlled the Illinois General Assembly for six years of Obama's seven-year tenure.

Then Emil Jones Jr. (became the Senate Majority leader), He became Obama's kingmaker. Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.

During his seventh year in the state Senate, Obama ... sponsored a whopping 26 bills including many he now cites in his presidential campaign when attacked as inexperienced.

Working Across the Aisles/
Making CHANGES = ZILCH

Taking Credit for Other People's
Work/INTEGRITY = ZERO

Obama's book "Audacity..." confirms those 26 bills were passed in the last year Obama was in the Illinois legislature--when--Democrats had a majority.

Quote:
"After two terms during which I labored in the minority, Democrats had gained control of the state senate, and I had subsequently passed a slew of bills, from reforms of the Illinois death penalty system to an expansion of the state's health program for kids. I had continued to teach at the University of Chicago Law School, a job I enjoyed, and was frequently invited to speak around town."

PLEASE Pass the Word. Since the TV "News" has now become nothing but Obama Propaganda, its up to We The People to get the Real News out.

Sent by elme | 11:06 PM | 5-17-2008

Having been born and raised in an all white county in rural western Kentucky, I can tell you that there is nothing disingenuous about Gross' commets. And I am not talking about 1950, I started school in 1980. There were no African-American kids in the school system there til after I graduated in 1993, and those kids were biracial. I wish I could tell you that comments were exaggerated but that would be disingenuous.

Sent by Lori | 4:21 AM | 5-18-2008

Born and raised in Woodford County, Kentucky, I now live in Menifee County, in eastern Kentucky, and I am proud to be voting for Barack Obama on Tuesday. And as for the prejudices that pervade these parts (and so many others across the US), mainstream media carries much of the blame. TV coverage of Katrina, for instance, insidiously framed African American victims as looter-thieves; primetime news hardly ever mentions an Arabic name without the smear "Islamic terrorist" epithet; the entire, diverse continent of Africa is continually re-presented as merely poor, conflicted, and helpless. The bigotry found in Kentucky is not just Kentucky's. Moreover, admirable people and communities are working to overcome racism and sexism here, and do not deserve to be written off in a generalization. In fact, the stereotype of the ignorant hillbilly is as destructive (and ignorant) as any other prejudice. It is time for real change, and many people here in Kentucky are ready for it and already working toward it. YES WE CAN!

Sent by Garrett Graddy | 7:54 PM | 5-18-2008

I live in Kentucky. I'm not saying Obama would be likely to win Kentucky if he spent more time here, but I certainly think he would do better in the state than he is expected to do on Tuesday.

Sure, I realize there's some discomfort with African-Americans, particularly among the rural voters of the state, but the writer gives too little credit to Kentuckians' ability and willingness to analyze the candidate, and come to an independent judgment.

Assuming Obama is the nominee, he should not write-off Kentucky, in terms of the general election. I think Kentucky people, in general, are more interested in what a candidate can do for them than the candidate's race or gender.

Sent by Harry Toder | 11:30 PM | 5-18-2008

I currently live in Seattle, but was raised in South Central Kentucky, so I was excited to see my home state featured on TBPP. As I listened, I found myself shocked and then severely annoyed to hear such a distorted description of my home state. Professor Gross failed to emphasize the huge popularity of Bill Clinton in the state, which he carried in both 1992 and 1996, even as the state underwent a major shift from almost entirely Democratic to majority Republican. This factor, more than any other, is the reason for Hillary Clinton's lead. I have no doubt that racism is, unfortunately, the cause of some people's unwillingness to vote for Obama, as it is in other parts of the country as well. However, that statement is a far cry from the assertion that Clinton's lead can be ascribed to some citizens having never seen a black person. There's not a holler deep enough in the commonwealth for that to be true.

Sent by Lindy Honaker | 1:34 AM | 5-19-2008

I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH SARAH.AFRICAN- AMERICANS ARE IN EVERY ASPECT OF AMERICAN LIFE.DOES THE PROFESSOR MEAN THAT KENTUCKY GETS THE GRAND OLE OPRY 3 WEEKS LATE.HARD TO BELIEVE.

Sent by JESSE | 10:23 AM | 5-19-2008

I grew up in Ashland, Kentucky, a place dotted with hometown heroes, patriotism, coal-mining and blue-collar workers. Looking back, there were only two black students in my high school (which was coined the "county" school) and were always seen with friends/acquaintances throughout our school hallways and community and given respect and support by many. It is a shame that many in the U.S. will never understand the hate that is perpetuated through racism and other forms of prejudices because that was their learned behavior. I'm a firm believer that hate and/or love is passed down through our teachers- family, educators, media, etc., and a combined lack on knowledge about one's cultural/ethnic/socioeconomic background. Fortunately, this presidential election can provide a jumping-point to teach our youth about the character and morals one can provide/inherit rather than the exterior they possess. Regardless of any comments made, I have been blessed to see much of our beautiful country with the knowledge and openness my parents afforded me in this little town.

Sent by Kyle | 3:13 PM | 5-19-2008

I grew up in Eastern Kentucky (nice to see someone on here from Menifee), and unfortunately racism is still at large in many of these counties. I know one county high school that still has a confederate flag on the floor of their high school basketball court. No doubt in my mind, I believe that Obama would win the KY primary if his name was John Smith and he was white. It is a shame, but I have hope. Each passing generation is becoming more accepting.

Sent by BP | 8:40 AM | 5-20-2008

Are you kidding me??? We, rural Kentuckians, voted for Hillary not because we don't like the color of Obama's skin. WE JUST DON'T LIKE HIM! By the way, check your history and find out who was the last person to go to the Whitehouse without KY support... KY has helped send the winner of the GE to the Whitehouse 100% of the time, for over 40 years. Not such a bad track record, huh. Especially for us ignorant hicks, that merely have a BS in genetics. Not everyone from KY is an idiot, impoverished, or a racist... We are just a better judge of character than most of our counterparts!!!!

Sent by Judy | 5:49 PM | 6-25-2008

I am too hard time for me by listening this interview.Its a great agenda to Americans. I hope this state will join the rest of us in the real world.
=======================================
caroline16
Addiction Recovery Kentucky

Sent by caroline16 | 11:15 PM | 7-15-2008