Katharina Konarek is a political scientist at the Haifa Center for German and European Studies at the University of Haifa working on foreign policy, civic society and solidarity. She is currently conducting a research stay at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia .
The song “Georgia on my mind” earned the Jazz musician and Georgia native Ray Charles a number-one-hit in the 1960s and put the southern State on the world map.
60 years later, the world is focusing again on Georgia, but more with mixed feelings of curiosity and anxiety. Georgia is on our minds today. Who will win the tight race for the state’s two Senate seats? Loeffler or Warnock? Perdue or Ossoff? It is not just a political battle between Republicans and Democrats, between red and blue. It also a fight between establishment and newcomers, between elite and middle class, between white and black.
What we have observed in Georgia over the course of the last few months is a burning lens on American society. Since December, I have been conducting research at Emory University in Atlanta – right next door to the CDC – and this proximity gave me the chance to observe the current battle simultaneously from the close perspective of a resident, and the distant perspective of a visitor.
Two issues stand out: race and religion.
On paper, Atlanta’s population is divided almost in half: 51 percent are black, 40 percent are white. But when you move around the city, the impression is different: the cashier at Kroger’s supermarket is black. The server at the fast-food chain Wendy’s is black. The clerks working for the local Department of Motor Vehicles registration are black. Simply put, most front-line workers are black.
Encountering the white minority in Atlanta seems to happen mainly during Sunday walks at the Chattahochee river, on the University campus, or watching them in ambling golf carts in the elite Druid Hills golf club.
The yearly average household income in Atlanta is $60,000. If you look into the black neighborhoods such as West End or Midtown, the median household income drops to $31,000, while households in white neighborhoods such as Decatur or Druid Hills report an average annual income of $100,000.
A second striking observation is that besides the obvious social injustice of race, faith – especially protestant Christianity – is widely spread. Georgia is part of the Bible belt. In Atlanta, 48 percent of adults consider themselves religious – and among this group, 76 percent are Christians. Yet it would be incorrect to assume that at least in faith the people are united.
The Georgia Senate races reveal a deep rift in Christian faith in the United States. It is a clash between a white Christian tradition built on personal salvation, and a black Christian tradition built on social justice. Coming from Germany, we are used to the Christian Democratic tradition of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union. That is, we think of a Christian social ethics which emphasizes stability and consensus. It is a peculiar synthesis of liberalism and conservatism. That synthesis does not exist in the United States. On the contrary: Christianity is starkly divided between the white version of personal salvation and the black version of common relief.
So out of these two observations the following questions occur to me: Will Georgia be the game changer? Are the saviors of US sanity the voters of Stone Mountain?
Yes, Trump will soon be gone from the White House, but what can be expected to follow? It is hard to imagine that these deep cracks in American society can be overcome by Joe Biden alone. Even if his fellow Democrats will win in Georgia and take the two open Senate seats, it will require time, social justice, political education, and a common effort to get rid of the legacy of slavery and segregation: the fact that skin color still matters even today.
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