Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race

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PERCEPTIONS OF RACE AND REGION IN THE BLACK REVERSE MIGRATION TO THE SOUTH   1

Sabrina Pendergrass 

Department of Sociology and Carter G. Woodson Institute, University of Virginia

Abstract

This study examines how African Americans perceive and manage race and region as they migrate to the U.S. South—a region with a tenuous image of racial prejudice. The analysis is juxtaposed to literature that provides an inconsistent view of regional differences in prejudice. Some researchers argue that regional differences in levels of prejudice are now small, while other researchers argue that the South continues to be a place of much greater racial hostility. Guided by a spatial boundaries approach and using 127 narrative interviews with Black interregional migrants to Charlotte, North Carolina, results indicate that Black migrants focus less on levels of racial prejudice across regions and focus more on six dimensions of everyday racism they consider during migration. These dimensions include—the overtness/subtlety of prejudice, verbal and physical harassment, group economic opportunity, physical distance, racial symbols, and paternalism. Among these migrants, there is no consensus that the South is more or less racially hostile than other regions. They perceive most saliently that they are trading more subtle prejudice, higher levels of racial residential segregation, and greater constraints on Black economic opportunity in the North, for more overt prejudice, greater paternalism, and exposure to Confederate symbols in the South. Patterns also emerged in perceptions of regional boundaries based on class, motivation for moving, gender, and generation. Implications for theories of race and regionalism are discussed.

Keywords

  • Race;
  • Region;
  • Boundaries;
  • U.S. South;
  • Blacks;
  • Internal Migration

Correspondence

Professor Sabrina Pendergrass, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia, 322 Dynamics Building, P.O. Box 400766, Charlottesville, VA 22904. E-mail: sabrinapendergrass@virginia.edu

Sabrina Pendergrass is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and the Carter G. Woodson Institute of African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. She specializes in race, inequality, internal migration, culture, and regionalism. She has current or forthcoming publications on these topics in Poetics and the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. She is working on a book-length manuscript about the African American reverse migration to the U.S. South. Work from this project has received awards from the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the Association of Black Sociologists.

Footnotes

1   Thank you to Michèle Lamont, William Julius Wilson, Prudence Carter, Linda Burton, Carol Stack, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, William Darity, Mara Buchbinder, Jennifer Darrah, Michele Easter, Sonali Jain, Alison Jones, Ben Kail, Soohan Kim, Jundai Liu, Chinyere Osuji, Jessica Welburn, Hsinchao Wu, the Du Bois Review editors, and three anonymous reviewers for comments on previous versions of this paper.

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