Sunday, November 09, 2008

When Is a Joke Racist?

Silvio BerlusconiWhether a joke or comment is racist or not, highly depends on who makes it. When Barack Obama tells a racist joke, journalists are laughing tears, but when Silvio Berlusconi tries to make a compliment (though as usual in his own peculiar way), they hang him in the highest tree.

When asked about the pet he was going to get his daughters when they move into the White House, Barack Obama answered on his first press conference after his election that his preference would be for a shelter dog. And added that «a lot of shelter dogs are mutts — like me.» According to unconfirmed sources, some pedigree journalist had to laugh so hard at this joke that they had to be carried out of the press room.

On the other side we have Silvio Berlusconi, and he is definitely not funny. Certainly not according to the same pedigree journalists. During a visit in Moscow, the Italian Prime Minister called Barack Obama «young, handsome and sun-tanned», a «racist remark» causing an outrage amongst Italians. Racist remark? I have no idea how Silvio Berlusconi, who is well known to care a lot for his own tan, could make a larger compliment than trying to relate the new president-elect to himself. And outrage amongst Italians? I bet most of them couldn't care less, but the media always like to pretend that the 0.1% of the Italian population that has literally nothing else to do than to try to interpret Silvio Berlusconi's remarks and comments in the worst possible way represents more than itself.

Of course, one could argue that Silvio Berlusconi could have said something else, and for once could have avoided to try to make a compliment with a joke, but my feeling is that no matter what Silvio Berlusconi could have said about Barack Obama's election, the journalists would have tried to make a racist joke out of it. If he hadn't commented or alluded to Barack Obama's race, it probably would have been racist too, just because then he wouldn't have commented it.

Silvio Berlusconi isn't right though when he says that those who didn't understand his joke are «imbeciles», because they aren't. They understand all too well what Berlusconi said, and that it isn't racist at all, but as always, any stick will do to beat the Italian dog. On the other side, Barack Obama isn't funny either, but the journalists like him, and therefore they laugh. And according to them, the rest of the world too. Even if a lot more racism can be construed in the Obama's «joke» than in Berlusconi's comment. After all, exactly what is it that Barack Obama meant when he said he preferred a shelter dog, a lot of them «mutts like him»? Doesn't he like dogs with a pedigree then, just because they aren't like him, or not enough like him? Sounds much more like racism to me, at least if that's what I want it to be. Barack Obama is lucky he isn't half a Berlusconi.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Racism in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections

Barack ObamaFor months, the media has been been whining about the Bradley effect that could have spoiled Barack Obama's victory in yesterday's presidential elections. Basically, the Bradley effect says that when there are two candidates, one white and one black, a significant number of whites intends to vote for the black candidate and says so too when asked by a pollster, but nevertheless, once in the voting booth they vote for the white candidate. Racism! But where's the outcry about 95% of African-Americans voting for Barack Obama, clearly a racist vote?

Let's just do the numbers and make some estimates. Historically, African-Americans have always voted for the candidate of the Democratic Party. In 2000, Al Gore received 85% of the black vote, and in 2004, John Kerry received the all-time-high of 90% of the black vote, both of them receiving more than Bill Clinton did in 1992 or 1996. If we take John Kerry's score as the baseline, i.e. 90% of the black vote, we would expect to see 45 votes for the Democratic candidate fore every 5 votes for the Republican candidate. That leaves an estimate of about 50% of the black vote for Barack Obama as primarily based on race.

These calculations do not account for another effect that might have played a role: black voters who otherwise wouldn't have bothered registering to vote this year primarily because of Barack Obama's race. A jump in the participation by the African-Americans in these elections compared to previous elections would indicate this.

Did this make any difference for the final outcome of the presidential elections this year? In order to check that, we can assume that the 50% of the black vote due to Barack Obama's race otherwise would haven broken into another 5% of the black vote for John McCain, and the other 45% going to Barack Obama. Even though the African-Americans represent 13.4% of the United States' population, they account for only about 10% of the votes in presidential elections. Therefore, if John McCain should have received 5% more from the black vote, it means that in total, he should have received 0.5% more than he did. I don't think that would have made a difference large enough to change the final outcome of this week's elections.

Anyway, even if it didn't influence the outcome of the elections, it seems clear that a large part of the African-American votes were primarily based on one of the candidate's race. Even if it isn't 50%, but only 40% or even 30%, these numbers are still huge. Therefore, I expect to see a huge outcry over this in the media the coming days, with lots of analyses about how racist some parts of the United States' electorate have become, maybe even some demonstrations and many strong condemnations from all anti-racist organizations all over the world. Don't you?

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