Monday, June 23, 2008

30% ? Really?

The Washington Post reported this weekend that "3 in 10 Americans Admit to Race Bias." It's fairly amusing to watch this little piece cycle through the news channels today.

Some of the reporters are saying "30% of Americans admit to race bias" like this: "Oh. My. God. There are RACISTS in this country! This is NEWS! We must let the people know that this VERY WELL MAY affect the UPCOMING ELECTION! Man your stations, journalists!"

Others are reporting the same story like this: "Well, yeah, 30% of Americans SAY that they have race bias, but we all know the real deal here. Americans just know better than to ADMIT to race bias. I mean, like, duh."

I demand a recount.

ADDENDUM: I suppose things could be worse. Fellow blogger Petya recently posted on the first-ever Gay Pride Parade in Sofia, Bulgaria this weekend, which is laboring under serious threats of violence from right-wingers there (who are calling for a repeat of similar violence that accompanied the parade in Belgrade). You can also read more news about this on Professor Grady's blog.


Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Why are you putting pictures of terrorist hand signals on your website? Not that I, or any of my colleagues at Fox News, are among the 30%...

Bill O.

(logging in under my buddy Ideas Man's account).

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Dr. J,

I apologize. Bill O'Reilly is not my buddy and I don't know how he got my password.

Ideas Man

kgrady said...

about two in 10 worry he would overrepresent the interests of African Americans

This is the part that gets me. I would really be interested to find out what the person who wrote this question had in mind. What exactly is the (not horribly offensive) intuition that matches this concept?

Chet said...

isn't the point of the line that u quote, kyle, that these individuals feel there is no way that they could objectively represent the interests of minorities without engaging in a kind of reverse racism?
that, to me, is interesting and poignant, speaking to the conundrum of race, that we are being asked by our better judgment to treat minorities according to the values that we ourselves espouse, but knowing at the same time that these values cannot correspond to those minorities. I take this to be the same problem that gays encounter when wanting the protections that the institution of marriage offers, but at the same time not wanting to reify the institution of marriage for all types of "partnerships" or romantic relationships

kgrady said...

chet: Well, yes, thats exactly the point, and that's exactly what I'm objecting to. The question presupposes that the political "interests of African Americans" are somehow distinct from those of other Americans, in a way that suggests that those interests are determined primarily by their race, rather than by their rational, political agency.

I know you like to say you don't believe in rational agency, but electoral politics is premised on it.

Can you imagine the analogous question being asked about a white candidate, without that question being tantamount to an accusation of racism?

What exactly are these "values that we ourselves espouse...knowing at the same time that these values cannot correspond to those minorities"? I am earnestly asking for an example that has anything to do with issues related to the office of the president.

DOCTOR J said...

I think that the "intuition" behind the line that Kyle quotes (about 2 in 10 worry that he will overrepresent the interest of African-Americans" is simply, and quite-straightforwardly, that because Obama identifies (and is identified) as African-American, then 2 in 10 people worry that he will "favor" the interest of that demographic perhaps more than is justified (hence, the qualifier "over-represent").

The problem I see with this worry is not (primarily) that it assumes Obama will overrepresent his own demographic--which, in a way, we expect elected officials to do to some extent, at least inasmuch as we expect them to represent the demographic that elected them (and, presumably, share their interests) "over" whatever competing demographic-representative does not get elected. Of course, this seems particularly problematic when one figures said "demographic" as "African-American" and not, say, "democrat" or "progressive" or "anti-war" or some other such demographic category the we can perceive as being defined by rational agency.

So, the problem here is that at least 2 in 10 people believe that there is some monolithic "African-American interest"... when the truth is that the demographic "African-American" can not be so simply represented, much less "over"-represented.

What I would like to have seen--you know, just for the fun of it-- would be a followup question that asked the 2 in 10 to articulate what the "interests of African-Americans" actually are or are perceived to be. Then, we could ask the sorts of questions about those putative "interests" that rational agents are supposed to ask, namely, are they really factional interests? or are they interests that interest people beyond the (racial) demographic to which we are assigning them?

DOCTOR J said...

In my comment above, I should have bolded and italicized "seems" in the following sentence:

"Of course, this seems particularly problematic when one figures said "demographic" as "African-American"..."