Plain talk in the NYT

In the NYT on the 9th, a piece by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, “How Racist Are We? Ask Google”, reporting on his own research (“The Effects of Racial Animus on a Black Presidential Candidate: 
Using Google Search Data to Find What Surveys Miss”, here). The research design:

… many Americans use Google to find racially charged material. I performed the somewhat unpleasant task of ranking states and media markets in the United States based on the proportion of their Google searches that included the word “nigger(s).” This word was included in roughly the same number of Google searches as terms like “Lakers,” “Daily Show,” “migraine” and “economist.”

A huge proportion of the searches I looked at were for jokes about African-Americans. (I did not include searches that included the word “nigga” because these searches were mostly for rap lyrics.) I used data from 2004 to 2007 because I wanted a measure not directly influenced by feelings toward Mr. Obama. From 2008 onward, “Obama” is a prevalent term in racially charged searches.

Note that the Times here doesn’t shrink from printing nigger (and nigga). Not all the reports on the study have been so straightforward.

Here’s the treatment on Yahoo! Shine (“When it Comes to Politics, Are We More Racist Than We Think?” by Lylah M. Alphonse, June 11th):

He chose a common racial insult that starts with “N” and looked for searches that used the singular and plural forms of the word. “The most common searches including the epithet… return websites with derogatory material about African-Americans,” he writes in his study. “The top hits for the top racially charged searches are nearly all textbook examples of antilocution, a majority group’s sharing stereotype-based jokes using coarse language outside a minority group’s presence.”

… (searches for “n**ga” led mostly to rap lyrics, which he disregarded for this study)

(Hat tip to Jon Lighter on ADS-L, who noted that antilocution wasn’t in the OED. I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Here we get “a common racial insult that starts with “N” “, a fancy version of “the N-word”, and then an asterisked version of nigga. For the NYT‘s avoidance of such slurs on other occasions, see (for instance) here.

The bottom line on the research (from the author):

The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia. Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi.

… 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.

Now for antilocution, from Wikipedia:

Antilocution is a term defined by psychologist Gordon Allport in his book The Nature of Prejudice, 1954. Antilocution is defined as verbal remarks against a person, group or community, which are not addressed directly to the target. Generally referred to as “talking behind someone’s back,” the impact of this is often overlooked. However, because antilocution creates an environment where discrimination is acceptable, it frequently progresses to other more damaging forms of prejudiced behavior. It’s [sic] use is overshadowed by the more modern term Hate speech which has almost the same meaning.

On ADS-L, Larry Horn took issue with that last sentence:

I’ll have to differ with the Wikipedianist on this one; the meaning of “hate speech”, which is canonically directed at a listener, is far from “almost the same” as that of “antilocution”, which by definition isn’t (although presumably there may be an overhearer from the slimed group within earshot).  The latter is indeed something like “hate-speech-behind-someone’s-back”, and I think antilocution is a (non-ideal) label for a (sadly) useful concept.

I agreed, both on the rough gloss and on “a (non-ideal) label for a (sadly) useful concept”.

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