Today, on a Very Special Episode of this blog/website/whatever this is, a brief thing about why you should be skeptical of what I expect will be a flurry of academic papers and studies coming out in the months following the midterm elections, declaring Americans to be increasingly racist.
Since I lost my job a while back, I've been looking without success for a new one, of course. While one continues to fail to materialize, I'm putting food on the table by doing under-paid piecework online, through places like Prolific and Mechanical Turk. I'm basically a full-time freelance transcriptionist, nowadays, but sometimes the wrists need a break, so I go do other stuff for thirty minutes.
It's probably not inaccurate to say that I am a professional survey-taker. I know all the attention-check questions by heart. I curse infertility on people who use essay-writing as a distractor task. "Strongly agree, agree, somewhhat agree..." haunt my dreams.
Some surveys, I genuinely have no idea what they're about, or what they're testing for. And some, I'm sure, I guess wrong on. Good survey designers work very hard to mislead and confuse the participants, so as to avoid some types of bias in the responses. But some surveys, in increasing numbers as time goes on and the elections near, are clearly about racism. "Please answer some demographic questions, and now rate your approval/disapproval of thirty neo-Nazi talking points."
The problem, and the reason I'm writing this page, is because a lot of the surveys aren't quite that cut-and-dried. Where some just come right out and ask if you think citizenship should be restricted to Christians of European heritage, some try to be a little more abstract. And therein lies the problem, I fear.
The problem as I see it is that an overwhelming majority of these surveys use an ambiguous term in their questions: "groups."
They don't qualify it. It's not "ethnic groups." It's not "religious groups." It's not "minority groups." It's just... "groups." How much do you agree or disagree with a bunch of statements about "groups"?
And so what I fear is going to happen is that the people running these surveys are going to interpret respondents' answers as being about race, and declare America increasingly racist as a result, based on questions that are not actually explicitly about race.
One common example: "Members of some groups are inherently less intelligent than other groups." Strongly agree, agree, somewhat agree, et cetera?
If you're not a racist, your knee-jerk reaction is probably "strongly disagree."
Ten years ago, mine would have been, too.
But now we live in a world with neo-Nazis. A world with anti-vaxxers. A world that still has sincere flat-Earthers on it. A world that still has the Westboro Baptist Church. A world that still has Ray Moore suppporters in it. A world that still has supporters who believe that Daesh is "remaining and expanding."
So... I answer "moderately agree", because it's hard to escape the conclusion that some groups of people really are dumber than others. (MENSA is a group of people as well, after all.)
And so it goes with the twenty or thirty other questions these surveys usually ask. Yes, I do agree, at least a little bit, that it ought to be possible to deny employment to some people for being part of a specific group. The problem is, when I answer "slightly agree" to this question, I'm not thinking of muslims, or latinos. I'm thinking of anti-vaxxers. Call me crazy, but I'd prefer the person making my sandwich at the deli today be grounded in reality vis-a-vis, y'know, communicable diseases. I really, really don't think that's too much to ask.
But there's no room on these surveys for any sort of nuance. I'm a bit of an asshole, and I'm kind of intolerant of willful stupidity. But I'm not a racist. (Or a sexist, ableist, etc.)
And if the researchers declare that people are becoming "less tolerant", I shan't complain. Fair's fair, and I think that's almost certainly true, and likely a fair interpretation of the sorts of studies I've been participating in.
But I worry that researchers, either due to ignorance or impure agenda, are going to interpret a lack of tolerance as synonymous with "racism." Hence this webpage.
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