29 April 2008

Everybody (okay, not *everybody*) knows a racist

From The Dilbert Blog (by Scott Adams), on the fact that most people are not racists but most people say they know racists, and how it affects the upcoming presidential election:
The other inference is something I call math. If there are ten friends, and only one is a racist, then it is true that 90 percent are not racists while everyone knows someone who is. It’s that one guy.
This isn't quite true -- if the average person has ten friends, and ten percent of people are racist, then the average person has one racist friend. But even if friends are randomly distributed, the probability that I have no racist friends is (0.9)10 or about 35 percent. And friends aren't randomly distributed. Most people tend to have people like themselves as friends. So the probability of having no racist friends is higher.

Still, it's a good point; we are not our friends, and our friends can believe different things than we do, and that's not a problem. (Incidentally, Barack Obama is not Jeremiah Wright.)

7 comments:

Ori Gurel-Gurevich said...

>if the average person has ten friends, and ten percent of people are racist, then the average person has one racist friend.

That's necessarily true only if you assume independence between friends distribution and racism.

Anonymous said...

'knows' implies 'friend'?? Or we could go to the biblical definition? ;)

michaeldcassidy said...

As implied in the posts first we would need to define 'know.'

I live in New York City it is hard to get a reading BUT I think Obama has a very good chance of being elected if he ties McCain to Bush.

Joseph said...

Anon: the problem statement puts it in terms of knowing, without mentioning friendship. The explanations refer to friendship, but not differentiated from merely knowing. The explanations merely used a different term for the relationship; that difference wasn't intended to be significant. So, you can safely treat them as interchangeable in this discussion, whether or not you agree with the premise that the relationships are equivalent.

Grossly over-simplified statistics like this really bug me -- like sitting in a class the first day and hearing the "look at the student on your left, and the student on your right; one of you will fail" nonsense.

Ben Allen said...

Incidentally, Barack Obama is not Jeremiah Wright.

This is the salient point for me. If you judge people by their single most distasteful friend, you'll have a negative image of pretty much everyone.

Let's try voting for people based on who they are, not who they know.

Efrique said...

I think a big part of the issue "Everyone knows a racist" is that we're a lot better at identifying racism in other people than in ourselves (and bad driving and ...).

Privately/anaonymously ask 20 people that all know each other who among that group is "somewhat racist"... chances are they'll nearly all mention a few names... but what is the chance they'll name themselves?

meep said...

And we cannot discount that there are real demographic effects going on.

It is probably the case that older generations are more racist (or considered more racist) than younger generations.... and most people do know older relatives. So it can be the case that everybody has at least one racist older relative, but this does not constitute a large portion of the population.