American Ancestry and Identity
(And a Postscript on Recent Discussion of the South)
First, as I noted the other day: maps are cool.
Second, it is striking that the dominant color on the map corresponds with German ancestry, not English. Indeed, it is not just that the number of counties are dominated by descendants of Germany, but according to the census data used to create the map: “By far the largest ancestral group, stretching from coast to coast across 21st century America is German, with 49,206,934 people.”
The second largest is African-American (41,284,752). English is actually fifth (26,923,091).
First, the only part of the country with a large number of counties dominated by persons claiming “American” ancestry is concentrated in southern states (although not exclusively former CSA) states. This choice of self-identification is intriguing, and reminds me of Sarah Palin’s reference to “pro-America areas of this great nation” (a statement made at a North Carolina campaign stop). The write-up with the map notes this in the following way:
The surprising number of people across the nation claiming to have American ancestry is due to them making a political statement, or because they are simply uncertain about their direct descendants. Indeed, this is a particularly common feature in the south of the nation, where political tensions between those who consider themselves original settlers and those who are more recent exist.
I must confess, my inclination is to interpret the identification of American ancestry as a statement of political identity, although more actual study would be needed to confirm this. This is the part of the country that tends to be the most patriotic and conservative.
Second, these are also the states (and in this case predominantly former CSA states) which have large number of counties dominated by African-Americans. Those who claim that things like the confederate battle flag are simply “symbols of southern heritage”* are rather baldly ignoring huge swaths of the population who live in southern states and live where they live now because their ancestors were brought to the locations in question as slaves. The dark purple on that map corresponds to the Black Belt, a section of the US that has dark soil that is amenable to agriculture, including cotton cultivation (this is still a common term in Alabama, where the local weatherman will take about storms “across the Black Belt” and so forth). It has taken on a dual meaning because these areas are clearly now also areas heavily populated by African-Americans. Flying a huge battle flag on I-65 (just on the northern edge of the Black Belt) is pretty much a huge middle finger to a large percentage of the local population and certainly supports a view of “southern” heritage that excludes them.
Back to the identification of “American” as noted above. It is a bit ironic that in the part of the country that have a concentration of persons who self-identify as having American ancestry we also have people seeking to claim symbols of a rebellion as their own.
*Like a commenter on this thread who was quite insistent on this issue.