Racist bigotry is “predicted by a lack of interaction with people of other races.”

Racism (or what I would call racist bigotry, the most blatant kind of racism) is “predicted by a lack of interaction with people of other races”, according to Nate Silver’s TED Talk.

Transcript of Nate Silver: Picking apart the puzzle of racism in elections via dotSUB – Any Video Any Language (emphasis mine):

I want to talk about the election. For the first time in the United States, a predominantly white group of voters voted for an African-American candidate for President. And in fact Barack Obama did quite well. He won 375 electoral votes. And he won about 70 million popular votes more than any other presidential candidate, of any race, of any party, in history. If you compare how Obama did against how John Kerry had done four years earlier — Democrats really like seeing this transition here, where almost every state becomes bluer, becomes more democratic — even states Obama lost, like out west. Those states became more blue. In the south, in the northeast, almost everywhere but with a couple of exceptions here and there.

One exception is in Massachusetts. That was John Kerry’s home state. No big surprise, Obama couldn’t do better than Kerry there. Or in Arizona, which is John McCain’s home, Obama didn’t have much improvement. But there is also this part of the country, kind of in the middle region here. This kind of Arkansans, Tennessee, Oklahoma, West Virginia region. Now if you look at ’96, Bill Clinton, the last Democrat to actually win, how he did in ’96, you see real big differences in this part of the country right here — the, kind of, Appalachians, Ozarks, highlands region, as I call it. 20 or 30 point swings from how Bill Clinton did in ’96 to how Obama did in 2008. Yes Bill Clinton was from Arkansas, but these are very very profound differences.

So, when we think about parts of the country like Arkansas, you know. There is a book written called, What’s the Matter with Kansas? But really the question here — Obama did relatively well in Kansas. He lost badly but every Democrat does. He lost no worse than most people do. But yeah, what’s the matter with Arkansas? (Laughter) And when we think of Arkansas we tend to have pretty negative connotations. We think of a bunch of rednecks, quote, unquote, with guns. And we think people like this probably don’t want to vote for people who look like this, and are named Barack Obama. We think it’s a matter of race. And is this fair? Are we kind of stigmatizing people from Arkansas, and this part of the country?

And the answer is, it is at least partially fair. We know that race was a factor, and the reason why we know that is because we asked those people. Actually we didn’t ask them, but when they conducted exit polls in every state, in 37 states, out of the 50, they asked a question, that was pretty direct, about race. They asked this question. In deciding your vote for President today, was the race of the candidate a factor? We’re looking for people who said, “Yes, race was a factor; moreover it was an important factor, in my decision.” And people who voted for John McCain as a result of that factor, maybe in combination with other factors, and maybe alone. We’re looking for this behavior among white voters, or really, non-black voters.

So you see, big differences in different parts of the country, on this question. In Louisiana, about one in five white voters said, “Yes, one of the big reasons why I voted against Barack Obama is because he was an African-American.” If those people had voted for Obama, even half of them, Obama would have won Louisiana safely. Same is true with, I think, all of these states you see at the top of the list. Meanwhile, California, New York. We can say, “Oh we’re enlightened,” but you know, certainly a much lower incidence of this admitted, I suppose, manifestation of racially-based voting. Here is the same data on a map. You kind of see the relationship between the redder states of where more people responded and said, “Yes, Barack Obama’s race was a problem for me.” You see, comparing the map to ’96, you see an overlap here. This really seems to explain why Barack Obama did worse in this one part of the country.

So we have to ask why. Is racism predictable in some way? Is there something driving this? Is it just about some weird stuff that goes on in Arkansas that we don’t understand, and Kentucky? Or are there more systematic factors at work? And so we can look at a bunch of different variables. These are things that economists and political scientists look at all the time — things like income, and religion, education. Which of these seem to drive this manifestation of racism in this big national experiment we had on November fourth? And there are a couple of these that have strong predictive relationships — one of which is education. Where you see the states with the fewest years of schooling per adult, are in red, and you see this part of the country, the Appalachians region, is less educated. It’s just a fact. And you see the relationship there with the racially-based voting patterns. The other variable that’s important is the type of neighborhood that you live in. States that are more rural, even some of the states like New Hampshire and Maine, they exhibit a little bit of this racially-based voting against Barack Obama. So it’s the combination of these two things. It’s education and the type of neighbors that you have, which we’ll talk about more in a moment. The thing about states like Arkansas and Tennessee is that they’re both very rural, and they are educationally-impoverished.

So yes, racism is predictable. These things, among maybe other variables, but these things seem to predict it. We’re going to drill down a little bit more now, into something called the General Social Survey. This is conducted by the University of Chicago every other year. And they ask a series of really interesting questions. In 2000 they had particularly interesting questions about racial attitudes. One simple question they asked is, “Does anyone of the opposite race live in your neighborhood?” We can see different types of communities that the results are quite different. In cites, about 80 percent of people have someone whom they consider a neighbor, of another race. But in rural communities, only about 30 percent. Probably because if you live on a farm, you might not have a lot of neighbors, period. But nevertheless, you’re not having a lot of interaction with people who are unlike you. So what we’re going to do now is take the white people in the survey and split them between those who have black neighbors or really, some neighbor of another race. People who have only white neighbors. And we see in some variables in terms of political attitudes, not a lot of difference. This was eight years ago, some people were more Republican back then. But you see Democrats versus Republican, not a big difference based on who your neighbors are.

And even some questions about race, for example affirmative action, which is kind of a political question, a policy question about race, if you will. Not much difference here. Affirmative action is not very popular frankly, with white voters, period. But people with black neighbors and people with mono-racial neighborhoods feel no differently about it really. But if you probe a bit deeper, get a bit more personal if you will, “Do you favor a law banning interracial marriage?” There is a big difference. People who don’t have neighbors of a different race are about twice as likely to oppose interracial marriage, as people who do. Just based on who lives in your immediate neighborhood around you. And likewise they asked, not in 2000, but in the same survey in 1996, “Would you not vote for a qualified black president?” You see people without neighbors who are African-American were much more likely to say, “That would give me a problem.”

So it’s really not even about urban versus rural. It’s about who you live with. Racism is predictable. And it’s predicted by interaction or lack thereof with people unlike you, people of other races. So if you want to address it, the goal is to facilitate interaction with people of other races. I have a couple of very obvious, I suppose, ideas for maybe how to do that.

I’m a big fan of cities. Especially if we have cites that are diverse and sustainable, and can support people of different ethnicities and different income groups. I think cities facilitate more networking, and casual interaction than you might have on a daily basis. But certainly not everyone wants to live in a city, certainly not a city like New York. So we can think more about things like street grids. This is the neighborhood where I grew up in East Lansing, Michigan. It’s a traditional Midwestern community, which means you have real grid. You have real neighborhoods and real trees, and real streets you can walk on. And you interact a lot with your neighbors, people you like, people you might not know. And as a result it’s a very tolerant community, which is different, I think, than something like this, which is in Schaumburg, Illinois. Where every little set of houses has their own cul-de-sac and drive-through Starbucks and stuff like that. I think that actually this type of urban design, which became more prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s, I think there is a relationship between that and the country becoming more conservative, under Ronald Reagan.

But also, here is another idea we have — is an intercollegiate exchange program where you have students going from New York abroad, But frankly there are enough differences within the country now where maybe you can take a bunch of kids from NYU, have them go study for a semester at the University of Arkansas, and vice versa. Do it at the high school level. Literally there are people who might be in school in Arkansas or Tennessee, and might never interact in a positive affirmative way with someone from another part of the country, or of another racial group. I think part of the education variable we talked about before is the networking experience you get when you go to college where you do get a mix of people that you might not interact with otherwise.

But the point is, this is all good news. Because when something is predictable, it is what I call designable. You can start thinking about solutions to solving that problem. Even if the problem is pernicious, and as intractable as racism. If we understand the root causes of the behavior and where it manifests itself and where it doesn’t, we can start to design solutions to it. So that’s all I have to say. Thank you very much. (Applause)

It appears that by “people of other races”, he means African Americans; by “mono-racial neighborhood”, he means a neighborhood without African Americans; by “racism”, he means anti-black racism; and by “white” he means non-black. Leaving aside the erasure of people of color who are not black, the othering of African Americans, the idea that black and white are opposite races, and the white lens that is pervasive throughout this TED Talk, the data is interesting.

10 Responses to “Racist bigotry is “predicted by a lack of interaction with people of other races.””

  1. Chris Diaz Says:

    Disclaimer: I am Chicano. In my opinion, Whites in the northern and northeastern states are kidding themselves. Liberal racism (look up ‘aversive racism’ to find out more) is, in some ways, more frustrating than the good ol’ boy kind(granted at least the liberal kind does not involve being beaten). This is the kind where people know just the right things to say (e.g. “I denounce prejudice”) and, oftentimes, actually believe that they practice the egalitarian values they preach. Of course, the lower the percentage of darker-skinned people living in your state or region, the easier it is to do. When you’re in a “White” state it is easy to denounce the southern states and feel superior, even if you don’t realize that your attitude toward minorities is paternalistic, a sort of “help the need children” approach. If you don’t hate me by now and wish to learn more, you can read some of Tim Wise’s (a White man) writing at his website TimWise.org I think he does a pretty good job of representing the feeling alot of people of color have.

  2. Restructure! Says:

    I’m a person of colour living in a liberal city, and white liberal racism is the most common type of racism I encounter.

    Nate Silver himself (the guy in the video) is one of those white liberals who work hard to figure out why other white people are racist (i.e., conservatives), being pretty ignorant of his own subtle racism. For example, by “people of other races”, he means “African Americans”; he assumes the “we” are all white people and the “other” are African Americans. He says that racism is “predicted by interaction or lack thereof with people unlike you, people of other races.” Once again, he assumes that everyone who is watching/hearing him present (the “you”) is white; this is the white lens, white subjectivity framed as detached objectivity. Moreover, he mistakes African Americans as people who are unlike him. He also collapses non-black PoC into the category of “white” as if non-black PoC cannot be the recipients of “racism”, also assuming that racism is anti-black racism.

    I was hesitant to post this video because of his extremely simplistic understanding of what “racism” is, but I also like the data and TED Talks. I can see why posting this video makes me look white.

  3. Chris Diaz Says:


    I don’t think it made you look White at all. We all have to keep communicating and analysing form different angles. I really don’t have any problem with the speaker and always try to support White people who are trying to reach out. Nonetheless, Silver does need a talking-to. He has not yet reached a stage in development where he can speak on these matters with any authority. I’m sure it doesn’t help when White audiences admire him for his “heroic” efforts. Someone just needs to break the bad news to him and see if he’s gonna go back and reflect on the baggage he carries. I’m gonna try to be humorous here to sort of sum up how I feel about his talk. If I were to give a lecture about the shortage of women small business owners and said “I think we need to appropriate funds to help these poor little things so maybe they can open up their own little shops to bake cookies and stuff…”, yeah, that’s kinda what Nate Silver is doing to minorities.

  4. Elton Says:

    Thanks for posting this and for your analysis, Restructure!.

    I am an Asian American born and raised in Arkansas whose college studies took him to many different places around the country, including Amherst, Massachusetts, and Bloomington, Indiana.

    I’m not sure how prepared I would be to decently summarize the plethora of racial interactions (or lack thereof) I’ve seen around the United States, or even within Arkansas–a state with several diverse regions. If other commenters have questions, I will do my best to answer them.

    I agree with Restructure! that in reading the transcript, I am baffled by why someone with such an unexamined, hypocritical outlook (condoning the use of the term “opposite race,” which I have never heard before, lumping Obama in with all blacks while denouncing others’ racism, cautioning against stigmatizing Arkansans and then doing it himself) would be called upon as an “expert” for a TED Talk. Why don’t they ask any one of the incredibly insightful, intelligent bloggers of color who write about racism and then live it every day? If they have to have a white man so the audience can “relate,” then yeah, Chris Diaz, they should hire Tim Wise.

    I think this has been a long time coming, and someone has needed to say it: TED Talks are elitist in the worst possible sense. They put themselves forth as meritocratic–they pretend to invite only the most qualified speakers. The Nate Silver (who?) lecture suggests that they instead invite speakers who are sufficiently full of themselves to fool the exclusive TED management into letting them have a pulpit from which to preach without the slightest analysis or criticism. TED is elitist in the George W. Bush sense–using connections to get oneself to the top and claiming one’s qualifications to be self-evident from their position, covering up the fact that one is probably the least qualified person in the room.

    This kind of uncritical, even anti-critical thinking lies at the core of why racism exists even today.

    Probably less people read these anti-racism blogs than worship TED Talks, but I thank the internets that I am able to put my voice out there for a few others to read, analyze, criticize, and think about, even if I’m not some high-falutin’ TED speaker.

  5. Restructure! Says:

    I think TED Talks jumped the shark. They used to be really good, but a lot of the talks are crap now. It’s like they used up all the good Talks, and now they have to keep pumping out Talks on a regular basis of mediocre quality. They have people who talk about things that they are not academically qualified to talk about.

    They had Amy Tan once, and I didn’t really like that one either. Amy Tan, an author of fiction, is not qualified to talk about creativity, a subject of psychology.

  6. Restructure! Says:

    LOL. Nate Silver profile on TED:

    Why you should listen to him:

    In the 2008 election season’s closing weeks, throngs of wonks and laypeople alike were glued to FiveThirtyEight.com, a habitforming political blog. Red and blue bar charts crowded the scrollbars as the pulse of exit polls crept along the site’s latest projections. It seemed almost miraculous: In a year of acute turns of favor, the site’s owner and mouthpiece, Nate Silver (who blogged anonymously as “Poblano” until outing himself on May 30, 2008, as a baseball numberhead), managed to predict the winners of every U.S. Senate contest — and the general Presidential election.

    Besides being just-damn-fascinating, Silver’s analysis is a decidedly contrarian gauntlet thrown before an unrepentant, spectacle-driven media. The up-and-coming pundit, who cut his teeth forecasting the performance of Major League Baseball players, has a fairly direct explanation of why most projections fail: “Polls are cherry-picked based on their brand name or shock value rather than their track record of accuracy.”

    Silver’s considerable smarts are already helping local campaigns build constituencies and strategize. Look for his two books from Penguin in 2009.

  7. thordaddy Says:

    Elton asks,

    Why don’t they ask any one of the incredibly insightful, intelligent bloggers of color who write about racism and then live it every day?

    Because they don’t really exist and why would they want to if they don’t have to? If one is to take the position that PoC “live” racism “everyday” then it would be clear from the outset that the person pushing this “truth” was actually a radical demagogue.

    If “racism” is to mean anything then it must mean a loss of freedom and yet it is self-evident that virtually all PoCs in the “white” Western world enjoy a free conscious and the ability to make their beliefs known to a global audience.

    Your second mistake is to be guilty of exactly what you claim others are guilty of, namely, you think it unremarkable that some whites just might be hestitant to have their homelands changed into foreign lands. Why are you unable to see from another perspective?

  8. Kathy Says:

    On the plus side, the guy didn’t parrot, but the opposite race idea? I do think white people who are trying to solve racism do wonder about why other white people do the things they do or think in an attempt to offer solutions, he doesn’t seem to be distancing himself from his privilege, however, as you say, why is he given so much stature, when there are so many great bloggers out there?
    I think his idea is sort of old, school integration has been attempted on and off for about 50 or 60 years now. What school integration does accomplish might be comfort level, but certainly does not raise awareness of racism or how to solve it.
    I also believe that the reason Obama won has more to do with Palin than because people wanted a black president. In addition to the fact that a lot of women did not like Palin, there was also the problem of the rallys Palin had that were openly hateful and racist, most color blind fake liberal progressives would most likely distance themselves from that type of behavior.

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