Blogs | Ethan Shorey

Is Rhode Island 'much more' racist than other states?

As a Massachusetts native who lived all over before settling down in Rhode Island, I've long been surprised about how frequently I hear racist language in the Ocean State. I guess that's why I wasn't overly surprised to read this week that this state is the only one in New England that accounts for "much more than the average" number of searches of the N-word on Google, according to a POST on the Washington Post's Wonkblog.

The post then makes a leap in calling Rhode Island one of "the most racist places in America."

Other than Rhode Island, residents in all New England states except for Connecticut and western Massachusetts search the N-word "much less than average," while those two areas search it only "less than average."

According to the Wonkblog, a study from PLOS ONE relies on methodology from data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, who’s used it to measure the effect of racist attitudes on President Obama’s prospects for election.

According to Stephens-Davidowitz, Google search data often correlates with other measures researchers use to study racist attitudes, though researchers concede that no studies are foolproof.

“It’s also important to note that not all people searching for the N-word are motivated by racism, and that not all racists search for that word, either,” states the post. “But aggregated over several years and several million searches, the data give a pretty good approximation of where a particular type of racist attitude is strongest.”

Some locals say the chart is indicative of what they've been saying for a long time, that racism is still pervasive in the U.S.

"The methodology is new, a 'with-the-times' approach, but that feels just right in its results," said Yamil Baez on Facebook. "I'm surprised Rhode Island isn't mentioned but racial bias is alive and well in the Northeast. Our whole country has a lot of work to do (to) change bias rooted in our systems."

Marco McWilliams called the graphic "deceptive" because "it creates the liberal illusion that there are racist and less racist parts of the country." He quoted Malcolm X in saying that "anytime you're south of the Canadian border you're in the south."

According to McWilliams on Twitter, "we must not allow ourselves to be maneuvered into the liberal argument that that racism (white supremacy) can be marginalized into pockets of the country. Freedom must be in totality."

Not everyone’s buying that Rhode Island is more racist than its New England neighbors. Shawn Laurent said on Twitter that he doesn’t think searches of the “N-word” are a “clear way to quantify racism," and he wonders why people would search that word to begin with. Justin Katz called the study “a bunch of baloney, mostly because of its assumptions about why people would search for that word.” Katz said he thinks “it needs to be proven, not assumed” that racists are googling racist things.

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