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by Peter Moskos

June 19, 2015

The math of American racism: blacks are outnumbered by racists

This is one of the few things that really stuck with me from my grad-school days. A simple mathematical analysis of racism in America. It was in a class with Professor Orlando Patterson.

I think of this math when people say we should be post-racial. Or say that we need to condemn anti-white racists as strongly as we do anti-black racists. To be clear, we should condemn all racism. But no, anti-white racism isn't the same problem as anti-black racism. It's not just about the hate. It's also about the demographics and the math and the very essence of what it means to be a minority.

Here's the math. There are roughly 320 million Americans. Of those, roughly 41.7 million are black. About 280 million Americans are not black.

Now ask yourself: what percent of Americans are racist? Of course it depends on how you define racism. But can we use 15 percent as a working figure? Maybe that's too high; maybe that's too low. I don't know. You can pick whatever percent you want. But let's do the math for 15 percent.

If 15 percent of all Americans are racists, that means about 6 million blacks who hate whites (or Asians, or whomever). Since there are 280 million Americans who are white or another non-black race, the odds that you, a non-black, would come across somebody who hates you because of your skin color are pretty slim. If you're not black, and you come across 100 Americans at random in a given week, maybe 2 of those 100 people will be blacks who hate you for the color of your skin. Also, and this matters, there are 46 of you for every one of them. So if there were some gigantic street brawl between all 6 million black racists and all 280 million targets of their racism, the racists would get crushed. When you are part of the majority, there is safety in numbers.

Now let's flip it around. If 15 percent of all Americans are racist, that means there are about 42 million anti-black racists walking around. There are more racist Americans than black Americans. Blacks are outnumbered by racists. Think about that. If you're black and come across 100 Americans at random in a given week, 13 of those 100 people will hate you for the color of your skin. When you are part of the minority, there is danger in the numbers.

Every time a black person leaves the house, there's one racist sonofabitch out there potentially waiting for him or her. If there was a big street brawl between racists and blacks, the racists would probably win. That's why we -- our society, any society -- need to be more concerned about minority rights. An attack on a minority group, any minority, is more dangerous because the group is a minority.

So even if you and your white friends aren't racist, that's nice. But it doesn't really matter. And it certainly doesn't mean that racism doesn't happen simply because you don't see it. It's like pointing out to police that a lot of people in their post aren't criminals. That's nice... but the good people are not the ones you need to focus on. It's the people out to cause harm that get your attention. And if there are more of them than there are you, then you've got a real problem.


Mordanicus said...

This statistic is shocking, I have no words for it.

matt said...

To be clear, we should condone all racism.

I know what you're trying to say. But this is still amusing.

Anonymous said...

Prof, what does this mean about policy prescriptions to influence the behavior (or even the beliefs) of the 42 million anti-AA racists? That's a pretty big voting bloc.

Also, these nationwide numbers don't necessarily reflect the math in urban areas, eg in Chicago which is about 1/3 each white, latino, and AA. In the city, whatever your ethnicity, if you step out your door, you face larger probability of encountering racists than the mythical average American of your nationwide stats.

And that even leaves out the "familiarity breeds contempt" hypothesis that people living among other groups may be more racist than people who know those groups only as abstractions...


Andy D said...

While the point is well taken, the actual percentage really matters for your calculations to matter, and I don't know how to put a number on, or even effectively define the type of racism you are talking about. If 15% of Americans are racist, sure, that is a problem. I just have no way of knowing if that is correct. Does racism mean OVERTLY racist? like people who get all bent out of shape just having to deal with a person of the despised race? I work in an area with deep racist roots, and the only person I have ever come across who I have ever felt was overtly racist is an Indian-American convenience store owner who feels the need to complain about "those F&8king N^&%$rs" on a fairly frequent basis when I am in his store.

As a nation we have trouble dealing with racism because racism is largely a matter of feelings and opinions that people largely keep to themselves. Your article seems to me to be an interesting thought project but nothing more, since the numbers feel more like Wild Guesses than Hypotheses.

Complaining about anti-white racism is pointless. I think it is just a knee-jerk reaction from whites who get tired of everyone and everything being denounced as racist. Anecdotally most whites I know just don't care. They only care about how people ACT. There is plenty of racism out there I'm sure. I'm not sure that talking about it constantly as the media likes to is actually improving things.

I will never defend people who are racist, but I do think that the constant cry of "racist! racist!" especially against cops, makes people deaf and blind to actual racism. Crying "wolf!" too many times is never a good idea for the sheep.

Moskos said...

It is a thought project. But the point that I think of lot of people (white people) don't realize is just because *most* white people may not be racist, the absolute number of horribly racist whites is still very large. And perhaps even larger than the total number of black people. And that certainly matter to a blacks if you're outnumbered by racists! Meanwhile whites can be oblivious to the threat simply because they don't see it among their friends.

Another point of mine (not mentioned in this post) is that yeah, like you say, constantly crying "racist! racist!" (even if it is true) doesn't do much good. It's easier to improve society than get rid of racism. Sure we can try and do both. But we can't wait to accomplish the latter in order to do the former. Cause we'd be waiting a very long time.

Anonymous said...

My good friend was pushed out of his job along with many others by his previous black boss, because they were not black. He was doing a excellent job and so were the others...Their work environment was made so purposely difficult, they just left.. one by one... until the desired effect... Then his previous boss hired black people to replace the previous employees. This is local government and it is racist.. If it were the other way around there would be lawsuits galore.. You can't beat racism with racism

Moskos said...

The whole equation does change when whites are in the minority. I don't know what to say about that.