Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Craics And Crackers

Razib has a great post up at Gene Expressions about Americans of Scots-Irish descent and their cultural influence upon our nation.
"Though the Scots-Irish are not “Pilgrim stock” in their length residence on the American continent, the majority were not immigrants to the United States, they were settlers of the American colonies. Their’s was part of the founding culture of the United States, and it still leaves its stamp on our society in its politics and mores, for good or ill (that depends on your perspective!). But one aspect of Scots-Irish identity is that to a great extent it has decoupled itself from any “Old Country” consciousness. A broad swath of the Eastern American Uplands is dominated by people who give their ethnicity as American. After 250 years they have only the vaguest recollections of the nature of their British antecedents."

As one of the commenters pointed out, it's rare to find an article/discussion about this fundamental piece of the American cultural quilt. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!


  1. Super interesting! The only thing I'd raise an eyebrow about is the !! of one particular group giving their ethnicity as American.

    Almost anyone I know whose family has been in the US more than two generations does that. I'll even remove myself from the equation (as my family has been here since the late 1600s on my mother's side and father's paternal side).

    I'm assuming this is because, for most of us, it's pretty much a jumble. If I had to give my encompassing ethnicity, it would take fifteen minutes.

    1. I understand your point about ethnicity, GOTS. However, is Italian an ethnicity? Is English? When boiled down, don't people tend to connect more with the national heritage of their ancestors than they do their actual "ethnicity?"

      Aren't a majority of your ancestors white? If that is so, then it wouldn't take fifteen minutes for you to list your ethnicity. It may take fifteen minutes to list the countries from which your ancestors came, but is that really ethnicity?

    2. I both agree and don't agree, Matt! When I say that my ancestors are English and German, yes it is pretty much the same. Anglo-English (which had so much Viking infusion). But the Welsh adds different genetics that changed how I looked. Or, rather, it should have. I heavily favor the Anglo side of things.

      Italian is not in my genetic make-up, but it would have changed the genetic markers that would have changed my appearance as well, having a much greater possibility for more melanin - and I am so severely melanin-challenged. :)

      When my mother had DNA testing done on her side of the family for genealogical purposes, it was discovered that there was Indian (subcontinent) in there. How it got in there, I have no idea, but once again - it is probably what led my sister to be the lone person in the family who has a darker complexion.

      I think there are swathes of "white" that are, for intents and purposes and because of a lot of genetic crossover, the same. But I don't think "white" is that all encompassing. The genetic testing done on both sides of my family has been absolutely fascinating. I look like I could have walked out of Ireland - and for many years that was the assumption that was made about our family on my mother's side, that we were of Irish descent. In fact, there is none.

      We are looking forward to doing genetic testing on my husband - not for divisive ethnic reasons (as an immigrant to the US, he considers himself ethnically American, which is not unusual for second generation Russian immigrants, either), but because he was born in a cultural crossroads. I'm sure that he'll have Mongol markers. And there is a difference in the two stereotypical Russians - the huge blonds who descended from Scandinavian crossbreeding with Rus, and those who are smaller and darker and are more directly traced to the Rus.

      AFG is tall and dark - so there must have been some interesting things happening there!
      And then there is his mother's claim of a family Semitic background (which we all doubt seriously) and the fact that his mother's family came from the Urals - could they be Bashkir?

      It's a story to me - like reading something by Edward Rutherford. And I've read ALL of Rutherford's books (Poland was my favorite). :)

    3. I like GotS's take - actual genetic ethnicity is fascinating.

      I usually give my ethnicity as "biracial - Anglo and Saxon" - but it's likely I've got some Celt in there as well.

      Matt - if you drive into South Boston (Irish) with a North End (Italian) parking sticker, you might very quickly find out that "Italian" is in fact a distinct ethnicity, even among "white" people.

    4. Try telling that to a liberal complaining about white privilege. Also, I don't recall "Italian" or "Irish" on any EEO form I have ever filled out.

    5. This article talks about exactly what you are saying, Matt.

      We've joked that if Mongol ancestry comes up in AFG's dna test, we'll totally put it on the kids' college applications for possible scholarships.

      Not really, but there is definitely an urge. College is expensive...

    6. Also, I have seen "white" broken down into European Ancestry and a few other categories, but still. Your point is well made.

      In regards to college scholarships, though, there are numerous ethnically based scholarships that break white down - Italian, Irish, etc. It makes me wonder -not that Snooki of Jersey Shore fame would ever go to college (and please forgive this example, but it is the first one I thought of), but she was adopted by an Italian American family from Chile. Does she qualify for the Italian American scholarships?

      Where is the arbitrary line drawn?

    7. GotS - that's the beauty of arbitrary lines - doesn't matter where they're drawn - they're arbitrary! ;)

      More seriously - it probably matters more to the drawer of lines that they exist, not where they are.

  2. I agree absolutely that people connect with the national culture of their heritage more than their DNA, though. If I didn't say I was ethnically American, I would be ethnically Catholic - as ethnicity has been used so interchangeably with culture.

    Those are the two groups that I most identify with, where I am most comfortable, and where I am most at east with knowing what is going on.

    Well, except for a few months last year when they changed the mass. That was crazy. The first time I remembered to say, "And with your spirit," without the cue card for the entire mass, I went out for a milkshake in celebration.

    In any case, I don't like that people seem to use culture and ethnicity interchangeably. They are not - which I think was the point you were making? And a very good point, at that.

  3. I'm enjoying reading your comments, G. I definitely appreciate and agree with your thought processes on this.

    Ethnically, I'm as American as can be. But culturally? Hmmm. That would be tough (and maybe even fun) to nail down. Lots of bits and pieces...with so many different cultures in the soup, I suspect that my ancestors fought like cats and then grudgingly settled on the stuff they passed down to the young 'uns, generation by generation. :))

    Another thought occurs to me: I think we all have cultural comfort levels; groups of people we instinctively feel more "a part" of. Personally, I've found my "friend or foe" radar has little to do with race or ethnicity, and A LOT to do with culture.