Friday, August 22, 2014

Race and the Vote in the Pacific Northwest : Part I

Post Ferguson, pre-election: Let us discuss Race and the Vote in the Pacific Northwest.

Technical for this post is here . -RMF
One bright Farmer's market Saturday morning two weeks ago, when downtown Bellingham seemed almost unbelievably hip, sunny, and organic all in the same breath, I stopped to chat with a group supporting farm worker rights in WA. They talked about their struggles to form a union, receive adequate housing on local farms.  I asked how many farms are unionized in Washington State?  Only one other at this time, was the answer. However, Latino and Hispanic peoples have a long history in WA. We are full  of talk about community in Bellingham, WA.  Most of the time the community concerns are those of a white community.

Racial divides are often not what people think of first when contemplating Washington State. Our endless rain and Microsoft's endless success assure that when most of the nation thinks about us, it isn't in terms of racial conflict. Historically, if wasn't too long after Lewis and Clark had returned from their expedition to the Northwest that the nation was busy crafting the Missouri Compromise. During the civil war era, Washington was a remote outpost, not achieving statehood until 1889. For all municipal purposes, Washington remained for a long time a bastion for escapees, Utopians  and frontiersman. For the devotees of a "White Homeland", eastern Washington still holds this type of promise.  It comes as a shock to a native of Oakland, Ca to see such separatist web sites.. But then advertisements on the local bus system in Oakland while I was growing up promoted the possibility of a separate homeland for African-Americans created from the Southern states. I don't expect the concept of either black or white separatism will ever find much acceptance.

It is unlikely that the future of Washington state will retain anything segregationist,remote or frontier like about it. Positioned as the gateway to the Pacific Rim, bordering some of the fastest growing and heterogeneous cities in both the U.S. (Portland, Oregon)  and British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), Washington state is home to one of America's most impressive and growing urban centers (Seattle). Washington state is poised to become not only a serious immigration destination, but an international economic engine. What will be the racial composition of this state in the future? Below, I use CVAP data ('Citizen Voting Age Population') from the 2008 - 2012 American Community Survey to look at the state of Washington as a whole and Whatcom County specifically. Here are the 2012 estimates of citizens and the voting age population by race/ethnicity:

Total 6,258,320 4,737,840
Not Hispanic or Latino 5,713,835 4,466,845
White Alone 4,788,925 3,840,125
Hispanic or Latino 544,500 270,980
Asian Alone 352,720 263,595
Black or African American Alone 209,164 152,309
American Indian or Alaska Native Alone 81,860 59,515
American Indian or Alaska Native and White 66,875 47,280
Asian and White 78,738 35,736
Remainder of Two or More Race Responses 46,695 24,124
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander Alone 34,113 23,322
Black or African American and White 49,048 16,871
American Indian or Alaska Native and Black or African American 5,696 3,942

I have divided the racial composition of this chart into red and blue parts  because I think the red categories show something inevitable and historic about the ephemeral distinction we call race. In a global world of more than seven billion people, skin color and ancestry are antecedents to a very big and active mixing pot. The concept of race and racial identity, is curious for many of us in America who have traced our so called "European" ancestry. For long native West Coast Americans like myself, our ancestors have been emigrating to America and creating post European, post old World hybrids for generations out of a potpourri  of races and ethnic backgrounds. If anything symbolizes America, it is the hybrid vigor of our 'melting pot'.

I can trace as far back to the early 1500s, my first New World ancestor. He was an 'Escobar' famous for writing a historical passage that described Hector Cortez' escape across the mountains whilst being chased by the Aztecs who were attempting to retrieve their stolen gold. Centuries later, my Castillian progenitors were very 'mestizo' in appearance including one Marcelino Escobar, a land grant holder and reputedly the first mayor of Monterey, CA. Still proud of her Castillian heritage more than 250 years later, my Irish/Castillian grandmother would regale me with stories of 'Cita' and 'Mama Cita' and my other 'Castillian' ancestry. But in truth, 'mestizo' would have probably remained my skin color had not those same progenitors intermarried Irish, Portuguese, English,  Polish, Italian, and Dutch immigrants in Oakland, California at the turn of the 20th century and post WWII.  In tracing my ancestry, I have concluded that it is so extensively heterogeneous that laying claim to any specific trait (except for maybe 'hybrid vigor' :-))  would be foolish.

I think for many of us whose ancestors have been here for generations, the concept of race or ethnicity is the last thing we would want to define us. For some of us living in the "anthropocene" era of seven billion peoples whose nation states seem continually in political conflict over dwindling resources, the concept of race should be seen as a cosmetic externality ;  a phenotypic "feature" of our species in a complicated, global economy where we all have much more exigent worries on this small planet called Earth. But this is not the case in today's world. The concept of race is still politically bound to culture, natural resources, religion, geopolitics, economic stature, educational levels, family resources, health and quite a few other important components of prosperity, happiness, and well-being.

For example, it is relatively chilling to hear the United States attorney general Eric Holder describe his own personal profiling experiences with police linked to his race.  Indeed, the conflict in Ferguson reminds me so much of our overseas conflicts I wonder if we are simply not importing a fundamentally racist war on terror to the homeland. Is there a uniform vote from 'people of color' in an imperialist, militarist America?  That's hard to know, but in an economy where the rich are increasingly richer and whiter and the poor are not such, the possibility of  racial conflict looms for many towns both big and small. A shrinking American dream in an increasingly competitive global economy is apparently no safe place for a "melting pot".

Below are some charts which plot 2012 ACS (Census) for estimates of "Citizens" and "Citizen Voting Population." The data is from the Census and has error margins. It is also two years old. Still, I found the charting of this data useful. The Y axis scale differs with every chart, with  maximums ranging from nearly 2M to 12K.  Click on these charts to enlarge. The spelling of the counties of Washington are cut off a bit. They are:

[1,] "Adams County, Washington"       
 [2,] "Asotin County, Washington"      
 [3,] "Benton County, Washington"      
 [4,] "Chelan County, Washington"      
 [5,] "Clallam County, Washington"     
 [6,] "Clark County, Washington"       
 [7,] "Columbia County, Washington"    
 [8,] "Cowlitz County, Washington"     
 [9,] "Douglas County, Washington"     
[10,] "Ferry County, Washington"       
[11,] "Franklin County, Washington"    
[12,] "Garfield County, Washington"    
[13,] "Grant County, Washington"       
[14,] "Grays Harbor County, Washington"
[15,] "Island County, Washington"      
[16,] "Jefferson County, Washington"   
[17,] "King County, Washington"        
[18,] "Kitsap County, Washington"      
[19,] "Kittitas County, Washington"    
[20,] "Klickitat County, Washington"   
[21,] "Lewis County, Washington"       
[22,] "Lincoln County, Washington"     
[23,] "Mason County, Washington"       
[24,] "Okanogan County, Washington"    
[25,] "Pacific County, Washington"     
[26,] "Pend Oreille County, Washington"
[27,] "Pierce County, Washington"      
[28,] "San Juan County, Washington"    
[29,] "Skagit County, Washington"      
[30,] "Skamania County, Washington"    
[31,] "Snohomish County, Washington"   
[32,] "Spokane County, Washington"     
[33,] "Stevens County, Washington"     
[34,] "Thurston County, Washington"    
[35,] "Wahkiakum County, Washington"   
[36,] "Walla Walla County, Washington" 
[37,] "Whatcom County, Washington"     
[38,] "Whitman County, Washington"     
[39,] "Yakima County, Washington"

This first chart below gives us the Citizen and CVAP ACS data from 2012. Notice that there are many smaller counties in Washington. The visual representation here gives us the concept that the larger the county, the larger the gap between the number of citizens and the number of citizens that are not of voting age. This most probably indicates that the most populous counties not only have the most children nominally (under age 18), but the largest percentage of children per citizenry.

This is chart below for the Census category "White Alone". This is by far the largest 'racial' category in Washington.

The chart below gives us Hispanic or Latino populations.  This population, from a visual perspective, has the largest gap between the number of citizenry and the number of voting age citizenry. I find this gap so different visually than the other races that I am perplexed. Logically, it would mean that Hispanics have a much younger population than other races. But the results are so consistent across counties, I would like to investigate further. Keep in mind, these are citizens; not visa holders or undocumented workers.

To my mind, the racial group 'Asian' is not very specific. What useful can come of a category that lumps in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Vienamese, Laotion, Phillipino, etc into one category? Nonetheless, whatever the Asian category specifies, it is very dominant in King County.

The dominance of King and Pierce counties for the census category "Black or African American Alone" is clear in this graph. Clearly, most of the small counties of Washington do not have extensive Asian or Black populations.

Native American population are clearly much smaller than either Hispanic, Asian, Black populations in WA state. But the Native American populations are also spread more evenly across the various counties they live in.  A small population with a more even distribution (and linked leadership) could, in theory, present an important asset to any party that wants to capture that vote in WA.

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