Virginia and the Racism Index

How does one measure racism? It’s a tricky question. Public opinion polls reveal very little overt racist sentiment. Racism has not disappeared, some pollsters think, it has just gone underground. People don’t want to sound gauche, so they don’t admit to racist sentiments in opinion polls. However, Harvard professor Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has come up with an interesting proxy for racism — Google searches employing the “N” word.

In a study aiming to to guesstimate how many Americans voted against Barack Obama for president because he is black, Stephens-Davidowitz compares the difference in votes for John Kerry in 2004 with votes for Obama in 2008 and generates correlations with the frequency of the “N” word in Google. He makes a number of assumptions that readers may or may not find plausible but his presidential election analysis is not what interests me. His findings on the frequency of the use of the “N” word are what intrigue me. Always on the look-out for fascinating sociological insights into the Old Dominion, I was particularly fascinated by his state-by-state breakdown.

Stephens-Davidowitz argues that use of the “N” word is a predominantly white usage, hence a valid gauge of racist attitudes, as opposed to the African American usage, “nigga.” The red chart at the top of this post shows a breakdown by media market. The area corresponding to Virginia is a center of relatively low use of the word compared to surrounding regions. Darker areas show higher search volume using the “N” word. Here is a state-by-state breakdown:

So, where does Virginia fare on the Racism Index? Not as well as I’d like, but not as badly as I feared. We are 29th in the country — the lowest ranked of all the Southern states. Interestingly, West Virginia, which seceded from Virginia during the Civil War fought over slavery, is the most bigoted by this measure. Perhaps most interesting of all, those bastions of Yankee liberalism and enlightenment — New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — have more frequent recourse to the “N” word than Virginia.

Heh! Heh!


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One response to “Virginia and the Racism Index”

  1. interesting…. there are other proxies available. a more/better/comprehensive meta index could be generated

    I do not worry that much about racism per se anymore – at least overt expressions of it but I am convinced – as the author of the study seems to be that there is a (perhaps significant) level of racism involved with the current President but it’s disguised…. sometimes thinly veiled / dog whistle.

    it translates into things like narratives that imply “he’s not one of us” and on issues like racial employment and college preferences and urban schools… and welfare/entitlements – that Obama “supports”, things that were not big deals during Bush.

    You heard this just recently from Newt G who talked about “kids” who never knew work… I wonder just what “kids” he was talking about? oh…the ones that live in “projects”.

    and I have a theory that the Koch brothers supported Herman Cain because they KNEW he was such an idiot and wanted to show the world what a black Presidential candidate really COULD look like.

    Mr. Caine done a tremendous disservice to his race… and reinforced some powerful stereotypes in the process IMHO. It’s been painful to watch.

    OR.. you can believe the Koch brothers themselves are idiots for supporting him… without properly vetting him first.

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