The U.S. might be a melting pot but, as we’ve seen before, pockets of distinct populations exist. This time, it’s about the regional differences in America and the culture that’s been nurtured and maintained since the first settlers made their homes here.
Along these lines, pop culture might assume an “East Coast”, “Midwest”, or “Southern” culture. And some of these regional distinctions, according to the ahead information, hold up. But as is so often the case, things are more nuanced than most people think.
Author Colin Woodard writes in his new book, American Nations, that there are 11 Americas. Using America’s attitudes toward violence as a focal point, he writes in his synopsis:
“Our conventional way of defining regions—dividing the country along state boundaries into a Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest—masks the cultural lines…”
For instance, “The South” is actually split into four different cultures. Check out his map:
YANKEEDOM. Founded on the shores of Massachusetts Bay by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, Yankeedom has, since the outset, put great emphasis on perfecting earthly civilization through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, and assimilation of outsiders. It has prized education, intellectual achievement, communal empowerment, and broad citizen participation in politics and government, the latter seen as the public’s shield against the machinations of grasping aristocrats and other would-be tyrants. Since the early Puritans, it has been more comfortable with government regulation and public-sector social projects than many of the other nations, who regard the Yankee utopian streak with trepidation.
THE MIDLANDS. America’s great swing region was founded by English Quakers, who believed in humans’ inherent goodness and welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies like Pennsylvania on the shores of Delaware Bay. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands spawned the culture of Middle America and the Heartland, where ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate. An ethnic mosaic from the start—it had a German, rather than British, majority at the time of the Revolution—it shares the Yankee belief that society should be organized to benefit ordinary people, though it rejects top-down government intervention.
GREATER APPALACHIA. Founded in the early eighteenth century by wave upon wave of settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands, Appalachia has been lampooned by writers and screenwriters as the home of hillbillies and rednecks. It transplanted a culture formed in a state of near constant danger and upheaval, characterized by a warrior ethic and a commitment to personal sovereignty and individual liberty. Intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers alike, Greater Appalachia has shifted alliances depending on who appeared to be the greatest threat to their freedom. It was with the Union in the Civil War. Since Reconstruction, and especially since the upheavals of the 1960s, it has joined with Deep South to counter federal overrides of local preference.
DEEP SOUTH. Established by English slave lords from Barbados, Deep South was meant as a West Indies–style slave society. This nation offered a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many. Its caste systems smashed by outside intervention, it continues to fight against expanded federal powers, taxes on capital and the wealthy, and environmental, labor, and consumer regulations.
(Read about the remainder of the regions from Woodard’s article.)
More than just a lesson about American society, this piece also brings to light how we stereotype. Humans stereotype to make sense of their world. There’s nothing innately bad about it. In fact, it helps us out a great deal in our analytical pursuit of things. But this research reveals how broad our default labels trend. After all, aren’t people from Kentucky like people from Georgia like people from Louisiana?
Indeed, breaking North America into these 11 portions is an exercise in stereotyping itself, but at the same time, this map improves upon most Americans’ understanding–not just of divisions in the country, but of how cultures, once established, tend to persist. “Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities”, says Woodard.
The other interesting part of this research is turning the examination inward. Being from Minnesota, I hadn’t typically paralleled my state with those from the Northeast, but the data collected encourages it. And what about the labels we hear about the Midwest? Here, we see the Midwest–like the South–split into four.
We can observe and reflect on ours and others’ behaviors and beliefs within this context. We can gain a higher understanding of ourselves–and of people in general–if we can appreciate how are we influenced. And the clearer we understand, the more patience and appreciation we tend to have for each other.