Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wonkery of the Week

Maggie says:
This week, we layer the 2008 electoral map on top of an 1860 map of cotton production in the U.S. South. Notice how strongly the counties that voted for Obama correlate with 1860 cotton production.

Source: From Pickin' Cotton to Pickin' Presidents

What does this tell us?

First, we see that by and large, the folks who produced that cotton - by force, as we know - still maintain a presence in the area once known as the "Black Belt," both for its soil and for its forced labor. That density patterns of African-Americans in the South still reflect the same geographical pattern of 150 years ago is interesting, but probably no surprise to any of us. Today, the cotton counties are still largely rural, with small towns sprinkled throughout, and have a strong enough African-American presence to turn blue in a sea of red.

The layering of the cottom map with the electoral map provides, for me, an opportunity to reflect on race and change in our country. Like many of you, I see the election of Barack Obama as a reckoning a sorts, a statement of hope, a turning of a new leaf. In the context of last week's wonkery, this map is a powerful testament to me of a new way forward for the South. That the nation's choice for president is the same choice that Southern blacks made is progress in and of itself. By throwing out our old notions of Southern politics, it's possible to interpret that the South has spoken again, only this time, with different voices doing the speaking. This other population of the South - those victims of hate and structural oppression in the name of color - have not only spoken, they have been heard. 150 years later, who exactly is 'backward?'

To me, this map looks like a wave of blue hope. What do you see?