Alex Blaze

Where the Real Americans are

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 28, 2008 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: African-American, Catholic church, Christian beliefs, Greek Orthodox, indiana, Kentucky, protestants, real americans, south, US Census, West Virginia

In the 2000 census, Americans were asked to state their "ancestry." Here's a map of the most common answers in each county (most were pluralities, not majorities). The light blue throughout the north is German, the dark purple band in the South is African American, the purple in Utah and the northeast is English, the pink along the Mexican border is Mexican, and the yellow in the South is "American."

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I found the map the other day (since it's based on 2000 census data, I'm sure it's been going around for a while) and was surprised to see plain "American" on the list, as a group separate from "American Indian." Not only that, they make up the largest ethnic group in a significantly large part of the country, and are found almost all over. This map is a population density map of people who responded "American" to the same question:

American1346.gif

"American" as an ethnicity was considered a subset of the "European American" race (but America's not in Europe!). I'm guessing there are a lot of white folks out there who don't know where their families came from.

There isn't a particular problem with this. I think that "American" as a category would work well for someone like me, who, if I went back up each line of my family to when someone was living in the Old World, I'd have a majority of no single ancestry, and a plurality whose own background is unknown to me. Thinking of "American" as a trans-racial ethnicity could help people claim ethnic mixing and not caring (since people who left that question blank were classified as "American") as a valid ancestral category in and of itself.

But that's not what the map indicates; the category of people who said their were "American" is neither trans-racial nor very trans-geographic.

I'm wondering why these people are concentrated south of the Mason-Dixon Line, with the notable exception of Indiana, and east of the continental divide. In other words, the Old South and the states that were for a time on either side, Kentucky and West Virginia.

I'm sure there's a wonderful historical explanation for this, but to me it lends credence to the idea that the white race was a concept developed directly because of the presence of Black people, used to unify people of European descent against the oppressed population. Which makes sense to me - in France, there are no white people, just French people, English people, Polish people, Spanish people, etc. The white race is an American concept that must have come from our unique history of race in trying to create understandings of race that would continue to oppress Black people, as well as American Indians.

The creation of the unified, pan-European white race was meant to create a center in America, a Real American that gets used to flog the rest of us to this day. And since Real Americans always seem to be more conservative than the rest of us, it makes sense that people who don't even think about their ethnic origins would be concentrated in more conservative states. Either that, or questions along the lines of "Well, what kind of white are you?" aren't that important in areas where being white is all that matters.

This is probably intimately related to this:

The Revealer raises a troubling question about Texas exit-poll data.

19% of respondents id'd themselves as "Other Christian" -- neither Catholic nor Protestant. Really? This must reflect the huge Greek Orthodox community in Texas, right? Or is it possible that 19% don't know that their tradition is Protestant?

This is why we need to teach religion in public schools. I'm serious! Religious literacy is important for everyone regardless of their personal affilliation/convictions/lack thereof. And religious institutions clearly can't be trusted to contextualize their teachings.

Without knowing the place their specific sect has in the history of Christianity, it's easier to think that one is a real Christian, and all other interpretations of the Bible are aberrations from that norm.

In that sense, centralization and a sense of entitlement lends these people to be less compromising in their beliefs, since they are the Real Christians. And, like the Real Americans, that would make them conservative (I'm assuming that Texas has a higher population of Christian conservatives than normal).

All of this points to the importance of centralizing and normalizing one's identity for political power. I've seen enough of politics to know that people who feel that they're entitled to what they was are the ones far less likely to compromise their goals, and the ones far more likely to get what they want.

How this translates into gay rights politics, well, I'm not there yet. But I did find the maps interesting.


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Dragonslayer | December 28, 2008 5:02 PM

I am Portuguese/Dutch/German and Jew. Half is Portuguese which I consider to be latin or latino. I am as white as is possible with red hair, blue eyes and freckles, but I was the only light complected child of six, my siblings are Portuguese/Mexican and American Indian, most of my relatives are Mexican or American Indian and that is what I recognize as my heritage.

Hey, me too! Jewish, and my family went from Portugal to the Netherlands to Germany, where they stayed until 1935.

My paternal ancestry helped settle the Massachusettes Bay Colony and fought slavery and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Nathaniel Merrill immigrated from England 1610. Times were tough in the pioneer days and they were hard working cantankerous yankees, the half of the family I admire. I don't think they ever felt entitled because they were such hard workers. They put much emphasis on education. After many generations of teachers and Episcopalian priests, they gave up religion.
My mothers family were from the south, Southern Baptists, and typical southern racists due to religion. Southern Baptists split with the main Baptist religion due to slavery. They see themselves superior due to biblical teaching. Rick Warren is a prime example.

Myself coming from Indiana (with origins in Kentucky and West Virginia) and with some knowledge of both statistics and the history of the ethnic term "American" as applied to Census Bureau statistics, I preface my insight on the matter with this question--where are the "Real Americans" concentrated?

The highest proportions are found in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, southern Ohio, etc.--the Appalachians, except for Indiana, which was nevertheless heavily settled by folks coming from the Appalachians (all of my great-grandparents came from Kentucky/Virginia).

This area was settled by Orangeman Scots from Ulster, Ireland, a group now known as Scots-Irish. They were settled in Ireland by the Stuart monarchy, and at one time made up upwards of 30% of the Irish population. However, this was always somewhat uneasy, so they made the move to America in large droves, and largely picked the rural/mountainous South as their new home.

Appalachian culture as it is today is a direct descendant of the culture of these original Scots-Irish immigrants, and while about 4 million people directly identified themselves as Scots-Irish in 2000, it is thought that upwards of 90% of those who called their ancestry "American" are Scots-Irish but just don't quite get it.

Thank you for this fascinating post. You have given me a lot to think about.

Alex,
In the 2000 census I listed myself and my sons as American. Part of my family has been here for thousands of years and part has been in this country for nearly 200 years. I am not mostly anything. My ancestry includes French, Merrimack (Aboriginal American), African, Mexican, German, Irish, English, Scandinavian, and I am sure a whole host of other countries of origin. My ex-husband was mostly German with a whole bunch of other countries of origin too. Somewhere there was a Scottish ancestor named Campbell, LOL.
I don't know what to choose most the time and have at different times on different forms checked all kinds of things, except American Eskimo because I don't seem to have that in my ancestry.
I personally look mostly Irish, if you base it on looks. My oldest son is darker, hinting at the Mexican, Merrimack and African influences in my family tree but my youngest son looks like me. Most people assume they have different fathers, but they don't. I think they are both handsome as hell frankly.
My dad looks Mexican and my mom looks maybe English. My grandmother on my mother's side looked Merrimack and African and white mixed, my grandfather looked like David Niven. My father's parents both looked German, but my grandfather has the Mexican heritage.
If the areas reporting in as "American" or "United States" hadn't been the South, I don't think we would have thought much about it, and seen it as people coming to realize that we are, as Barak Obama noted of himself, a nation of mutts.
I don't know what to make of it since the majority claiming this are from the "South", I went and looked at the bigger version of the map on Wikipedia and see what you are trying to say.
I am from Nevada myself, and have fought for Civil Rights for most of my life, and raised my sons to believe in "All men are created equal" and to understand that their ancestry is wonderful and something new in the world.
I did find from the Census figures that the total number claiming to be of United States or American origin was 20,625,093 or 7.3% of the population.
I would hate to think that somehow their choosing to be American is that same as the meaning behind "Real American's" of Sarah Palin.

Me too!

I'm thinking I'm going to start identifying as ethnically American, for the same reasons you and your family does. There's no reason why certain people should have a monopoly on that, unless most folks were Native American (which was a separate category).

If "American" meant "diverse," I'd be happy.

I'm wondering why these people are concentrated south of the Mason-Dixon Line, with the notable exception of Indiana, and east of the continental divide. In other words, the Old South and the states that were for a time on either side, Kentucky and West Virginia.

I'm sure there's a wonderful historical explanation for this, but to me it lends credence to the idea that the white race was a concept developed directly because of the presence of Black people.....


I think you're making a little too much of this.

One reason Indiana, especially southern Indiana, follows much of the rest of the south is that southern Indiana was settled by people who came up from the Carolinas and Virginia via Kentucky (and sometimes Tennessee). Most of these people were not of the landed gentry of the coastal states, they were generally poor and moved into the interior for cheap land.

Most of these people are either Scotch, Scotch-Irish or English, but they may not necessarily know which especially since their ancestor came to America in the 17th or early 18th centuries. Thus they may not truly know their ancestry as many with German or French ancestry do. American then becomes a default answer.

One reason Indiana, especially southern Indiana, follows much of the rest of the south is that southern Indiana was settled by people who came up from the Carolinas and Virginia via Kentucky (and sometimes Tennessee). Most of these people were not of the landed gentry of the coastal states, they were generally poor and moved into the interior for cheap land.

Agreed, Lynn David. I think a lot of the "American" label is a lack of knowledge of their "pedigree."

I'd have said "American" too. I don't remember anyone who migrated to America for at least 4 generations back. I know from looking up my last name online, that it could be English, German, or Dutch. Big deal. Who knows what else was mixed in? I'm a mutt. I'm American.

I agree generally that a lot of people don't know, but there are plenty of people who wouldn't know in Pennsylvania or in upstate New York. Their families have been here just as long as any other.

That wouldn't really explain the geographic distribution.

Thanks for sharing these maps, Alex. As yet another American with multi-hued ancestry, they make me wonder what rocks some people are living under.

The concept of "the white race" may have served to unite racists in America, but as a concept it definitely wasn't invented here. Bear in mind that, in the South, some people considered only northern Europeans to be "white," while Spanish, French,Italians, Jews, Hindus, for instance, who had dark skin and hair, were not considered "white."

Religion gets into the mix too. The English took their concept of "white superiority" and Anglican Christianity to colonial India with them, where it eventually got them thrown out. Spain had a racist policy for some centuries, with blonde blue-eyed Castilian Catholics feeling themselves racially superior to Muslims, Jews and gypsies, which is why Spain moved to expulse all those dark-skinned people after the Reconquest in 1492.

Even today, Europe is starting to explode with anti-color racist feeling all over again, because of their own immigration controversies over dark-skinned immigrants from other countries, with other religions besides the ones Europeans are accustomed to, who are flooding to Europe in search of jobs and political refuge.

Rick Elliott | December 29, 2008 3:40 AM

My mother's family were German aristocracy. After a front page divorce in Hamburg newspapers, she came to the US with only the education of as lady of substance.
My father's family were Ulster Scots who came to North Carolina in the 1722s. Several of the family were signers of the Mecklenburg of Independence that predated the American.
My mother was a petite opera singer before marriage. She had dark brown hair, brown eyes and the kind of complexion in which she could stay out in the son as long as she wished and never burned.
Ladies of the Daughters of the American Revolution in the East Texas county seat I grew up in cslled on my mother about a group they were beginning for teen-aged girls. They'd found out that my father's family were signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration. They were excited because they had no one in their chapter related to Mecklenburg signers. Their thinking was my sister would make their chapter complete.
Mother said she's consult her daughter and her husband about the invitation.
In passing one of the ladies inquired whether or not my mother had relatives who fought in the American Independence War.
My mother replied she did. "He was the commander at the Battle of Trenton."
The ladies buzzed with excitement, "Then you're related to General Washington?," they asked with anticipation.
"No," my mother replied, "He was a Hessian."
Needless to say my sister received no further inquiries about the young women's DAR auxiliary.

Alex, have you got a link or other reference for the maps?

As has been alluded to above, I was immediately struck when I saw the map at the correspondence of the self-appellation "American" with the wave of former colonials who crossed the Appalachians and populated the likes of Kentucky, Tennessee, etc., in the early 19th century. Seems to me that, fresh from the revolution, they would have emphatically seen themselves as "American," and certainly not the Scots-English they had rebelled against. I think its a stretch to see any cause/effect with the institution of slavery -- if blacks were thought of at all, it was as 3/5 of a person. Reverberating down the generations, it doesn't surprise me that the descendants of these people would identify as "Americans."

As to the "Other Christian" in Texas, there is a variation of evangelical, based on models originating south of the border, that has taken hold of a large number of former Catholic Hispanics in recent decades. This could account for a good hunk of the self-identified Other Christian, as I don't think this kind of former Catholic would think of themselves as "Protestants," which is a gringo term.

For anyone who wants to investigate this, it could be verified by comparing to previous statistics, and seeing if % Catholics in Texas have been on a downward track and Other Christian up.

in France, there are no white people, just French people, English people, Polish people, Spanish people, etc. The white race is an American concept that must have come from our unique history of race in trying to create understandings of race that would continue to oppress Black people, as well as American Indians

Our history of race may be unique to a point, and it's certainly more virulent in some places than others. Also, we are an exceptionally young country which plays into this issue in a way not found in Europe. That said, racism and oppression of "the other" constructs exist worldwide.

(I'm assuming that Texas has a higher population of Christian conservatives than normal).

Who decides what a "normal" population of Christian conservates is? I would assume that you think that is the province of non-southerners?

I bring this up not to be confrontational, but to challenge what feels (to me) a bit of superiority in your analysis. It appears that to you it's a foregone conclusion that the problem lies specifically "elsewhere." This can be perceived, in a way, as a sense of entitlement too, in that you seem to imply there will is no compromise to made on "our" side.

Again, not confronting, just challenging. In my experience in the GLBTQ and liberal political community, I find we don't always question our own assumptions enough.

Good luck.

(I too would like the original link to the maps, to look at them better.)

You're right, I should have said "average" instead of "normal."

And I'm from Indiana, so I don't really have a sense of superiority about my home state. It's filled with churches too, although not as many as I saw on a recent trip to Mississippi.

The maps were from wikipedia, although I'm sure they originated elsewhere.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maps_of_American_ancestries

Hm forget what if anything I labled myself as but for the record.Im in the south Georgia to be exact.
Im Norse,English,French,Norman,Scottish,Irish,and Mohawk.

oh yeah my Moms family were here on the Mayflower and the Salem witch craft trails as a cousin got tried and convicted for witch craft. Proabaly one of the few real witchs in that mess. My Dad's family settled in a place called Yorktown Va. all well before 1700.My last name is Nelson take a look on the Declaration for a list of several cousins all from Virginia.

As others have pointed out, the map, in fact, obviously DISproves the accompanying "whiteness" analysis. The "American" designation applies in (largely majority Scots-Irish) areas that notably were NOT destinations for the post-Civil War waves of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe -- hence where the melding into a polyethnic "whiteness" has had a longer time to set in and prevail.

Conversely, at the time when Blacks were being promised 40 acres and a mule, my ancestors -- largely Russian Jews -- were still in Europe and weren't even allowed to own land. They came to this country for a better life -- not to oppress others nor to redefine themselves as "white" -- and if (upon their arrival) such a redefinition was then imposed as part of the bargain (for such a better life), they were defrauded as to the terms involved (and, needless to say, they certainly couldn't afford return fare).

The WASPs and other Northern and Western Europeans already living here should be held (and should hold only themselves) accountable for the results -- and should not get off the hook by race-baiting those who had nothing to do with slavery or with the origins of homegrown American racism. (This same retort could as easily come from descendents of those whose ancestors came from Southern Italy, Poland, etc. -- or, for that matter, from Asia.)

I find it interesting that the "whiteness" analysis is most often advanced by those who had ancestors in this country prior to the Civil War, and who seem intent on palming off responsibility for their ill-gotten gains onto other ethnic groups. Descendents of those later immigrants should meanwhile remember their own ethnic ancestry, and if they subsequently come to see themselves as polyethnic "Americans," should continue to be careful about where they point the finger of blame when race becomes an issue.