Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Rampart Dilemma: Social Scientists in Search of Parsimonious Racism on Google and in The New York Times

Once more, we have empirical evidence which suggests that racism is a social fact, as opposed to an illusory and/or imagined opinion.

The last few weeks have offered a nice bounty of data in this regard. Brown University's Michael Tesler demonstrated that white racial animus is a powerful indicator of how respondents view policy in regards to President Obama: in seemingly neutral and benign examples, white folks who possess high levels of anti-black animus "flip" their opinions on matters of policy when the President is mentioned. This week, The New York Times has doubled down by highlighting the promising research by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz which supports the claim that (now) President Obama's "blackness" cost him support among white voters during the 2008 campaign.

Apparently, the much discussed Bradley effect is not a poltergeist. The core thesis, that white racism hurts black candidates, and that white people lie about their vote choice when queried, remains largely intact.

I would suggest that Seth's methodology is more powerful than the finding. There are several studies which already support the argument that race was no friend to President Obama. As I have stated many times, if one grants that white privilege and white supremacy are governing superstructures for the Racial State, how can being a black or brown person provide a substantive, long-term advantage in any area of public (or private) life in such a society? The math and logic do not add up:
Barack Obama won 52.9 percent of the popular vote in 2008 and 365 electoral votes, 95 more than he needed. Many naturally concluded that prejudice was not a major factor against a black presidential candidate in modern America. My research, a comparison of Americans’ Google searches and their voting patterns, found otherwise. If my results are correct, racial animus cost Mr. Obama many more votes than we may have realized... 
Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote. In other words, racial prejudice gave John McCain the equivalent of a home-state advantage nationally. 
Yes, Mr. Obama also gained some votes because of his race. But in the general election this effect was comparatively minor. The vast majority of voters for whom Mr. Obama’s race was a positive were liberal, habitual voters who would have voted for any Democratic presidential candidate. Increased support and turnout from African-Americans added only about one percentage point to Mr. Obama’s totals. 
If my findings are correct, race could very well prove decisive against Mr. Obama in 2012. Most modern presidential elections are close. Losing even two percentage points lowers the probability of a candidate’s winning the popular vote by a third. And prejudice could cost Mr. Obama crucial states like Ohio, Florida and even Pennsylvania.
In all, Davidowitz's article is one more brick in the wall of common sense that slayed the "post-racial" lie which many young Obamabots, naive multiculturals, and neoconservative colorblind racists were drunk on during the 2008 campaign.

[If you want a glimpse inside of the white racial frame look at some of the comments at The NY Times, and how some folks excuse-make, claiming that it is common to google "nigger." Thus, the model is incorrect because Davidowitz's conclusions proceed from a false premise of assumed white racism. Maybe I am an outlier? But, I do not routinely search online for racial slurs. Call me crazy...or naive. To this tired set of eyes, the construct validity seems pretty damn high.]

Students of public opinion have long understood that people lie, misrepresent, and mislead pollsters.

Evidence that white racism operates in the backstage, in private, and outside of "public" eyes, is validation of what most intelligent people already know. This is also a site of one of the main disconnects between social scientists and the general public--many of the former are excited when their research validates social reality. The latter simply answer "Duh!" "Of course we knew that!"

There is real power when data neatly mates with theory generation and pushes us past conjecture and mere hyperbole. Those in academia need to do a much better job of explaining the broader social value of such rare moments.

As social scientists, we/us/they look for parsimonious answers, the neat hypothesis and solution to the puzzle that tells us something we otherwise would not have known. The puzzle is the thing. How you resolve it, and your ability (as well as opportunity) to communicate the "so what?" to a larger audience, is what separates superstars like Davidowitz and Tesler from the rest of us.

I have not indulged in a politics of popular culture moment in a while. The great movie Rampart, starring Woodie Harrelson (playing a corrupt LA cop), is a perfect fit for problematizing what I like to call "neat" racism. The real world is messy. People hold conflicting and contradictory views on any number of issues. While there is a common disciplinary vocabulary among social scientists--our Esperanto or Lengua Franca--how do we confront the inconveniences of the "real world?" 

Or stated differently: what do we do about the "asshole problem?" 

In Rampart, Harrelson is a garden variety jerk, a broken and corrupted man, and a piece of human debris. He is also other things too. Borrowing from the film Nurse Betty, Harrelson's character in Rampart is a garbage man of the human condition. Given his existential condition, a career as a cop is a perfect union of form and function.

Harrelson and Ice Cube's exchange is also a beautiful example of racism denying and deflection--the former's character has sex with black women, provocatively offers up an "apology" for slavery, and makes it clear that he has no use for brigands of any color. Ice Cube rebuts, bobs, and weaves. He is pissed; but does not score any blows. Revenge will apparently come later...though not too satisfying in the moment.

For an astute viewer, the joke is readily transparent: both characters are playing Los Angeles police officers; police blue trumps black or brown. If structural racism is real, then the "blackness" or "whiteness" of any given cop is superseded by his or her allegiance to a racist set of social institutions and practices.

Are are all racists assholes? Or do some assholes just happen to be racist, and the first personality trait trumps the second? Is there no room for a neat model of racism, one that actually tells us something about flawed, confused, complicated people living in the "real" world, one where such independent variables are not so cleanly separated?


CNu said...

ni-nis = (no education, no job, no prospects)

All ni-nis are assholes.

ni-ni-ism is real.

All other human possibilities are superseded by the ni-nis allegiance to his instinctual, killer-ape tendencies and practices.

ni-ni-ism dominates hood culture and is totally incompatible with civil society and the productive culture in which it is embedded.

Anonymous said...

"Are are all racists assholes? Or do some assholes just happen to be racist, and the first personality trait trumps the second?"


Anonymous said...

The extent to which racism permeates the American electorate is not surprising to anyone who has been paying attention. The surprising thing is that this electorate, mostly white people, elected a black man in the first place. That portion of prejudiced whites that opposed Obama on racial grounds will always oppose him. The sad part of the Obama administration is that he betrayed the trust of those open minded whites who elected him. These recent deconverts from the Obama delusion are not racists. They oppose the same thing they opposed under Bush, war and creeping fascism. Far from being racists they are the true patriots.

bruto alto said...

CNu...your right write off that generation. Start over with your own kids and make a master race of blacks that cast out the world to make it a better place. Stop with the whining and pick up a shovel and build. Richard Pyor's trip to africa changed his life and his use of the N word. Maybe a life change could do you good.

Sorry CD I really meant to send my last comments to CNu.

Aadonis219 said...

Racists willingly ( and some times unconciously) defy logic, abandon convential wisdom, as they often live/thrive/die under a sun, gravitational forces and set of corresponding physics unique to their particular microverse. Much of racism is deeply rooted in fear ( or colour arousal depending on whom you ask ty Field Negro) and this fear is often brought about via self loathing/insecurity ultimately giving rise to a facade of self entitlement/importance. Months ago you likened the mind of the white racists to that of the spoiled birthday brat. What kind of adult does he or she typically grow up to become? An asshole.

Aadonis219 said...


CNu said...

uh, Bruto Alto....,

I ain't write the daily exercise in racism-chasing. I commented that ni-nis are a universal burden - whether one is racist or not.

Is there something specific in that comment with which you disagree?

Anonymous said...

Same old cirle of self hate rants from CNU..Always there to be the racial contrarian on this site..

What drives this pathology of Blacks folks like CNU always on the march to demonize Black people for the audience of white folk..

One can count on CNU to validate and seek affirmation ffrom the white chatter class whenever CD provides a great narrative on the nature of white racism etc..

Clearly CNU is contaminated with the pathogen of white racism it has reduced him to articulate everything that he posts on this site to a simple minded state of being a Black apologist aka Uncle Tom..WTF

CNu said...


I LOVE IT when the rock hits and the dog yelps!!!

Game recognize game.

No education, no job, no prospects - KNOWS when you call its name - and furthermore - KNOWS when the jig is bout to be up!

Sal Baje said...

are all racists assholes? not in my experience and observation. i've met plenty of "real nice" people (such as advisors, professors, employers, in-laws, etc) who have said all kinds of racist shit to me with the quick addenda, "no offense," or "i don't mean you/you're different". many times they say have said these things without a second thought; since i seem to clean up so well (i'm a credit to my race!), i think these "real nice" racists think i'm just a browner version of themselves.

on a totally practical level, i prefer asshole racists as they are so much easier to spot and avoid. it's far easier socially (and physically) locate a racist skinhead than to express righteous indignation at some racist word or deed done by your partner's grandfather or some well-intentioned-but-nonetheless-clueless groovy white liberal.

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. I would love to see a fight between you and Anon in the octagon or a steel cage. alternatively, we could do the Chuck Norris Missing in Action with hat in bag with rat trick too. Who would win?

@bruto. That was Pryor's greatest moment. They don't make them like him anymore.

@Adonis. You are onto something there. Many would like to think that racists are unhappy miserable people. They are not. Most I would surmise are pretty joyful in the reality they made for themselves. That is an empirical question too--what does the psychology literature/research reveal about white racists and their measures of self-esteem, success, etc.?

@Sal. I cosign. I have done some pieces on liberal racism--see how the dogs howled over at the Daily Kos and wanted to ban me for telling the truth--but I am starting to wonder if the conservative racist is that much different from the liberal one as I reflect on these questions over the years.

Anonymous said...

Kickin CNu's is probably a boring excercise...

CNu said...


Can you blame racism or cobble together a racism excuse for the behavior UBJ describes?

Anonymous said...

Boy are you confused about what racism is. smdh

CNu said...

But I'm clear as all get out on what incompetent, unscientific, undisciplined, and essentially useless activity is, and, what the consequences of such activity will be - b'lee dat!!!

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. You know I have no use for ign'ts--that includes ign'ts who pass on their ign't culture to their spawn.

In reality, it is the Willie Lynch letter! Had to make that joke...funny, how many folks believe that piece of agitprop is real.

I believe that there are multiple factors at work. The lowest elements always seek out their own kind; but there is a social context where some group's bad behavior is protected and subsidized and allowed by the State (see the white suburbs and the litany of foul behavior their which is covered up) and others put on blast--see poor black people in particular.

Anonymous said...

"But I'm clear as all get out on what incompetent, unscientific, undisciplined, and essentially useless activity is, and, what the consequences of such activity will be - "

Yeah, if you call being loud "clear".

CNu said...


text could only be loud in the "mind" of a pure-dee-pure jiggaboo!!!

CNu said...

The lowest elements always seek out their own kind; but there is a social context where some group's bad behavior is protected and subsidized and allowed by the State

Useless and stupid shit perpetrated by the untalented tenth has been marketed to the world as black culture. Jiggaboos would be precisely that group of black folks weak and pathetic enough to adopt that useless and stupid shit as shine - and - its untalented tenth purveyors as exemplars of black culture.

bruto alto said...

@ CNu
So let me get this right...you blame black culture on the "untalented tenth"? So what of the talented tenth? Did Bois's idea of the black intellect pass us? I think your just getting older and you've lost touch with the youth. Like the rants of the old guy that yells for kids to get off his yard and to pull there pants up. The kids know the old guy won't do crap so they don't listen. Now if the same old guy was involved with those same kids. They would have respect for him and his lawn. Keep yelling because without change no one really listens.

CNu said...

you blame black culture on the "untalented tenth"?


read s.l.o.w.l.y b.r.u.n.o..,

Useless and stupid shit perpetrated by the untalented tenth has been marketed to the world as black culture.

So what of the talented tenth? Did Bois's idea of the black intellect pass us?

Those folks and a great many others collected the civil rights movement dividend - moved out and up - and abandoned you where you sit.

Now if the same old guy was involved with those same kids. They would have respect for him and his lawn.

lol, no one is obligated to raise someone else's stank ass bastiches. Shoot the uselessly eating ni-nis in the head and be done with it. Saves on nuisance and taxpayer expense - and in a collapsing economy - is pretty much an inevitability.

everything else is conversation...,

Aadonis219 said...

I have a sneaking suspicion we may just have Uncle Ruckus personified in our midst.

CNu said...

lol, the typical untalented ni-ni/jiggaboo WOULD mistake Eli for Ruckus....,

CNu said...

Here's what the real Uncle Ruckus thinks about you....,