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That’s a lot of black folk

As an aside with my students in a couple of classes today, I asked them what percentage of the American population they thought was black. Here are ranges for the answers they gave

  • 60% +: 3
  • 50-59%: 3
  • 40-49%: 16 (the modal answer was “40%” with 10 votes)
  • 30-39%: 12
  • 20-29%: 9
  • 10-19%: 3
  • 0-9%: 0

The real answer:  12.4%

Considering the disproportionate influence of blacks in popular culture, it is understandable that Koreans would think the number is higher. The relatively high concentration of blacks in urban areas in the United States also helps. There was a lot more coverage of New Orleans than there was of the Mississippi gulf coast when Hurricane Katrina hit.

If much of the rest of the world has the same misconception as this (admittedly very small) sample of Koreans, it might explain some of the ideas floating out there about race relations in America.

In a somewhat related item, you can get your Rednecks for Obama gear here.

UPDATE:  Per a commenter’s suggestion, I have asked a different class of students what percentage of Americans they thought were white or Asian.

White:

  • 70% +: 4
  • 60-69%: 4
  • 50-59%: 5
  • 40-49%: 7 (modal was 40% with 6 votes)
  • 30-39%: 1

The real answer is between 66% and 74%, depending on how you count white people.

Asian:

  • 50% +: 1 (clearly an outlier)
  • 40-49%: 0
  • 30-39%: 4
  • 20-29%: 5
  • 10-19%: 9 (modal was 10% with 7 votes)
  • 0-9%: 2 (5% and 8%)

The census puts Asians at 4.4% of the total US population.

  • user-81

    Considering the disproportionate influence of blacks in popular culture, it is understandable that Koreans would think the number is higher.

    If you ask South Dakotan students instead of South Korean students maybe the modal answer will be 0-1%.

    The relatively high consentration of blacks in urban areas in the United States also helps. There was a lot more coverage of New Orleans than there was of the Mississippi gulf coast when Hurricane Katrina hit.

    Are you saying that there was more coverage because there were more suffering blacks? I think New Orleans received so much coverage because so many people died and because a major American city was underwater. In any other hurricane the Mississippi coast would have gotten a lot more coverage no matter how many blacks or whites there are.

    If much of the rest of the world has the same misconception as this (admittedly very small) sample of Koreans, it might explain some of the ideas floating out there about race relations in America.

    Which ideas about race relations do you think are inaccurately affected by an overestimate of the percentage of black people?

  • Granfalloon

    I’ve noticed this phenomenon as well, not only among my Korean students but even among non-American Westerners. Like Mr. Jackson, I would say it’s definitely media-influenced.

    Also, I think it’s an unforeseen consequence of the political correctness movement. On American TV, if you have any gathering of four or more people, one of them will be black. It’s become so ingrained, it’s cliche: the “token black guy.”

    Which is fine by me. I like diversity. I’d rather see blacks over-represented in the media than marginalized.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “Are you saying that there was more coverage because there were more suffering blacks?”

    It’s more likely that you’re begging the question.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “I’d rather see blacks over-represented in the media than marginalized.”

    Well, it depends how the media chooses to represent them, really.

  • erici

    I tested this on my wife. She also said 60% but when I asked a few more questions I realised she was including Central American,South American and Indian people as being black.

    I teased her and she said she doesn’t care how many people in America are black so that ended the conversation.

    She hasn’t been to America btw.

  • http://yeomso.blogspot.com/ The Goat

    If you ask South Dakotan students instead of South Korean students maybe the modal answer will be 0-1%

    Or in other words, if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle.

    yadda yadda at your second and third attempts. Gotta do better than that.

  • Bipolar Mindscrew

    Maddox The Pirate has already done this in his “9 things I learned about the world according to anonymous stock photo models” article… it was number 4: “At least 1 in 3 people chosen at random will necessarily be ‘African American,’ even though only 13% of the US population is black.” Whew, that’s a mouthful…

    Actually I never knew what percentage of the US was whatever ethnicity. If you judge by TV ratios, you’re looking at a pretty skewed reality anyway… for example, you’d assume 40% of New York was gay and at least three in four women were sluts…

  • http://orientem.blogspot.com/ The Western Confucian
  • JG29A

    I’d be interested to see the sum of different (statistically significant, demographically equivalent) groups’ median answers to what percentage there is of each census race category. I’ll bet it will add up to way over 100%. Come on, if it were their only question, do you really think they’d say less than 60% for whites?

    In other words, this may very well just represent a general issue with how the human mind predicts probabilities or ratios.

  • globalvillageidiot

    Maybe we should be looking at the fact that the race issue may not be such a big deal this time. That is progress, whether one happens to be on the right, left, or points in between.

  • Ladron

    I’m from DC and would have guessed closer to 25%, maybe more.

  • thekorean

    Very intriguing Andy.

  • Uri Onara

    Did you ask what percentage were Hispanic (or Mexican) and if they were more or less?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenheckman boshintang

    It could also be interesting to ask your students what percent of Americans are Asian, which according to the same US Census Bureau website, was 4.4% in 2006. I actually thought the number was alot higher than that, does that mean Asians are also overrepresented in the media? Maybe minorities in general are overrepresented, or in other words caucasians are underrepresented. Obama does seem to be getting alot more media attention… ;-)

  • thekorean

    @12,

    Koreans in Korea do not realize there are a ton of Mexicans in the U.S. For all they know, it’s white and black.

  • user-81

    The Goat:
    yadda yadda at your second and third attempts. Gotta do better than that.

    My second and third attempts at what?

    JG29A
    Come on, if it were their only question, do you really think they’d say less than 60% for whites?

    Ladron:
    I’m from DC and would have guessed closer to 25%, maybe more.

    In Washington blacks are a 55% majority so I think it’s like what Bipolar Mindscrew said about gays in New York.

    “Non-Hispanic whites” are 65% of the United States population which makes 60% a good guess. But what about the Hispanics and Asians? Koreans often forget those groups exist (besides their own relatives).

  • changguang

    Seems like this ad hoc survey really proves the lie of Nork propaganda. Those ratios cited are much higher than even in the US military. If USFK was an occupying force, then your average Korean’s estimation would be much more accurate and the standard deviation would be lower, too.

    As for the causes, don’t forget about sports.

  • New Zealander in Korea

    I’m not surprised by the pole. On Friday I went out with three educated Korean teachers. They said a black teacher had just started working at their school. They and the children were all very surprised how nice and friendly he is. “He is not like the blacks we see on TV”, one teacher said.

  • NetizenKim

    Rednecks for Obama gear here

    If by “redneck” we mean poor working class whites who just happen to also have the ability to think critically…why, there is simply no irony here.

    Read Joe Bageant. A sample of his prose

    Because America has become an ignorant bloated culture of comfort and consumption. Our religion is comfort and engorgement. Not all of us, but enough of us to keep it all rolling. Hell, even our churches preach a baptised version of the American Dream, which comes down to “anything I can get my goddam paws on and devour — fuck the environment and screw the starving millions. We are a nation of belligerent lard-asses willing to kill anyone and everyone to keep our cars running and the god dam Cheetos (which I openly admit that I eat when I am blind drunk and stumbling under the thundering of gins’ poisoned hooves) on the coffee table. Angry? Nope. Just the plain facts my Limey friends. You still think your guy Blair can partner up with a psychopath and ensure a supply of oil. Maybe even score one last ruddy-nutted English victory over the sand niggers you once ruled. Ya know, I don’t think you Brits understand that when the last blood of dinosaurs is drained from the Middle East, we will bomb the fuck out of you in the competition for the last drop.

  • user-81

    Ya know, I don’t think you Brits understand that when the last blood of dinosaurs is drained from the Middle East, we will bomb the fuck out of you in the competition for the last drop.

    Whoever wins I hope they start focusing more money on alternative energy so that by the time the last drop runs out nobody will care. The Saudis will be offering their oil to anyone in exchange for a little food and water, like that Twilight Zone episode with the gold.

    “Can you imagine that? He offered this to me as if it was really worth something.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rip_Van_Winkle_Caper

  • bumfromkorea

    I think it’s the media presentation as well, since I myself estimated the percentage around 20%. Then again, I may be compensating for the relatively low black population in Tempe by overestimating the number.

    @18
    Oh, I’m sure there’s plenty of other natural resources to have world-ending wars over. ;-) My money is on water.

  • http://www.jdlink.co.kr Linkd

    Uri Onara: click the “real answer” link in Andy’s post.

  • adeline

    I doubt this is relevant for Korea but those of us who live in the US are often fed, directly or subliminally, notions that minorities are taking over and that the whites will be outnumbered soon. I hear that last comment all the time. I believe that’s where the overestimation really comes from. Perhaps these racist notions are seeping into Korean thought (wouldn’t be the first time) or maybe it is as you say about the popularity of black culture.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “Whoever wins I hope they start focusing more money on alternative energy so that by the time the last drop runs out nobody will care.”

    There already feeling the burn. Oil prices have dropped 40$ per barrel in the last month because demand has slightly gone down. Imagine what will happen once we switch to renewal energy resources.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “Whoever wins I hope they start focusing more money on alternative energy so that by the time the last drop runs out nobody will care.”

    They’re already feeling it. Oil prices have dropped 40$ per barrel in the last month because demand has slightly gone down. Imagine what will happen once we switch to renewal energy resources.