Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More on Colorado's rural voters, this time focusing on race

Kirk Johnson of the New York Times reports today from Buena Vista, Colorado, population 2,195. Buena Vista is in Chaffee County, population 16,242. It is on the western slope, and its county seat, Salida, was the dateline for this post a few days ago.

The headline is "Living Apart: Hot Topic is Secondary in Part of Colorado," and the "hot topic" referenced in the headline is race. Here's an excerpt:
Black people are simply not in the picture in this part of Colorado. What that means, said many people in the nearly all-white corridor through Chaffee and Lake Counties along the spine of the Rockies, is that race is not on the table much when talk turns to Senator Barack Obama’s bid for the White House.

“Because there’s not any sort of daily interaction to sway us either way, to make us prejudiced in either direction, it makes it more of a candidate choice,” said Laurie Benson, 36, who owns the Buena Vista Roastery, a coffee supplier on Main Street, with her husband, Joel. “It’s more just who is the best candidate.”

Contrary to rural stereotypes (noted here and here, for example), Johnson's story suggests that rural people are not racist --or at least are not more racist than the rest of the country-- as a consequence of the stasis and homogeneity associated with rural places. Maybe that's because Chaffee County isn't really homogeneous or static. As of the 2000 Census, the county's population was almost 9% Hispanic, though very few were foreign born. Population churn is also evident, as about one-third of residents who lived in Chaffee County in 2000 did not also live there in 1995. Indeed, about 15% of the 2000 population were living in a different state (not only a different Colorado county) just five years earlier. The Census data on that is here.

The story's closing paragraphs circle around to the possibility that race is still an issue in these amenity-rich places, but suggest that if it is, it is a "covert" or "underground" one, "buried deep."

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