With the whole Henry Louis Gates affair there has been some talk about how racist Boston is. This is a joke. I am aware that the North has a checkered history, from busing in Boston in the 1970s to Bensonhurst in the 1980s. But calling Boston the Alabama of the North is an insult to our intelligence. Part of the issue here I think is that it is easy to show how racist the North is, and how far the South as come, by using as a counterpoint a cartoon model of race relations as a function of geography which never existed. It is a fact that in much of the North blacks were excluded from settlement either de jure or de facto (several “Free States” attempted to ban black migration explicitly by law). But Boston was also the scene of riots when escaped slaves were caught and dragged off in chains by the law. Southern politeness is such that whites no doubt did not, nor do not, always behave like cretins to colored people.
But I was curious, how different are the North and the South on social issues? I used the GSS and combined some of the regional categories so that there were two classes, North and South. The distinction was based on Census Divisions, so one could quibble on the margins. I also limited the sample to whites, since blacks and whites may have very divergent views, especially in the South. Finally, I plotted the attitudes as a function of time to see if the two classes were tracking each other, diverging or converging.
On race relations there seems to be convergence. In contrast on other issues there is simply tracking, or no difference. Finally, on religion it seems that there has been some divergence.