Race + Politics: Southerners? Still Mad

By Arturo R. García

State-by-state breakdown of racist tweets surrounding President Barack Obama’s re-election. Courtesy floatingsheep.org

Sure enough, the re-election of President Barack Obama just got people mad enough to express themselves on Twitter in the vilest of ways. But a state-by-state analysis of the activity by Floating Sheep, a group of geo-coded data analysts, reaffirms just how sad some people in the South still are:

Given our interest in the geography of information we wanted to see how this type of hate speech overlaid on physical space. To do this we aggregated the 395 hate tweets to the state level and then normalized them by comparing them to the total number of geocoded tweets coming out of that state in the same time period [2]. We used a location quotient inspired measure (LQ) that indicates each state’s share of election hate speech tweet relative to its total number of tweets.[3] A score of 1.0 indicates that a state has relatively the same number of hate speech tweets as its total number of tweets. Scores above 1.0 indicate that hate speech is more prevalent than all tweets, suggesting that the state’s “twitterspace” contains more racists post-election tweets than the norm.

So, are these tweets relatively evenly distributed? Or do some states have higher specializations in racist tweets? The answer is shown in the map below (also available here in an interactive version) in which the location of individual tweets (indicated by red dots)[4] are overlaid on color coded states. Yellow shading indicates states that have a relatively lower amount of post-election hate tweets (compared to their overall tweeting patterns) and all states shaded in green have a higher amount. The darker the green color the higher the location quotient measure for hate tweets.

The results? The three worst offenders–Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia–came from southern states.

Mississippi’s high score probably doesn’t surprise people because of its history. But Floating Sheep’s analysis did provide an exclamation point for the ugly scene that developed at Ole Miss the night Obama beat Mitt Romney to win his second term in office:

It’s important to note that, even if there were hundreds of people on the streets in anger, there were also students taking a stand against that kind of behavior. And, as Jessica Luther pointed out Monday, even if there are allegedly 60,000 Texans suddenly keen on seceding just because a black man sits in the White House, there’s more than 25 million who are not, including some who were energized by the chance to exercise their own participatory rights:

As we talked about shortly after Romney’s “47 Percent” video in September, what we’re seeing is the anger of a (hopefully dwindling) population so distraught at the thought that it might not be the American default setting for that much longer–at least at the street level–that it’s willing to hurt and kill loved ones. If the overall election results–a more diverse Congress, victories for marriage equality in four separate ballot measures–paint a bigger picture, it’s of more people being willing to at least listen to not just one but multiple visions of what it can mean to be “American.” It’s exhausting, in the wake of the seemingly never-ending waves of ugliness–not to mention the media outlets willfully feeding into them–but it’s a hope to hang on to, and to continue to push for.

And, hey, if it means leaving Bill O’Reilly verklempt again after the midterm elections? I’m willing to work for that.