Comparative Xenophobia, Part I

By Steve Saideman

Yesterday, the Washington Post put up this map based on World Values data and other information:


The variable shown is “share that answered ‘people of another race’ when asked to pick from groups of people they would not want as neighbors.” This makes it appear that India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Nigeria are the most racist countries. The article mentions a heap of appropriate caveats. Mine is this: I could not find this question in the dataset quickly as the dataset is vast.* Heaps and heaps of variables. So, I am going to be guessing a bit here, but as a xenophobia kind of guy, I have a few thoughts:

  • The first thing is that the question is not so much whether people are more or less tolerant of different races but that among the various factors that might shape one’s intolerance towards neighbors, race is the most cited. It may be that a place is very racist, but is even more homophobic or sectarian or whatever. There are many ways to hate or to target intolerance, so it may just be that a particularly hateful place is just somewhat more intolerant of groups who are distinct by a cleavage other than race.
  • Second, in some places, when one is asked this question, they may think of a single race; perhaps the Vietnamese think of the Chinese but not of other races. So, it may not be that the people are very racist in general — they just hate one group that is defined by race.
  • Third, living nearby is a moderate test of the question of tolerance. Can you work with group x? Can be friends? Can have in the family? Oh, yes, that is a tougher test of tolerance. Check out the figure of a series of questions asked of Romanians:


What this illustrates is there are varying degrees of tolerance. And I wonder from looking at the WashPo infographic whether we would have seen very different results if the question had been friends/family rather than live nearby. Still, given that the US did well on this despite much segregation, perhaps this question is a suitable test.

The larger point is that hate is a many, uh, splendored thing. Ok, not so splendored. But it is complex, so we cannot just look at it and say that Indians are the most racist folks. Race, as we have been reminded in the past week thanks to a particularly problematic dissertation, is a very fuzzy thing. So the WashPo graphic is interesting and provocative but not conclusive.

I will consider the second part of the article, the relationship between economic freedom and various kinds of tolerance, later (today or tomorrow).

Max Fisher, who wrote the WashPo piece responded to my tweets with more info about the data, so I may explore it further later today or tomorrow, depending on if I need to be distracted from the stuff that has actual deadlines. Yet more proof that Twitter rocks, as I would never have called up Fisher nor would have he have responded this quickly to a semi-random question.

Cross-posted at Steve Saideman’s personal blog.

  1. Isn’t political correctness the elephant in the room here? Sweden appears as one of the least racist countries according to the map, but 6% voted for the radical Sweden Democrats in the last election. The same goes for Britain and the BNP-UKIP axis. Rather than non-racism, the feature that comes to mind when I think of Britain and Sweden is political correctness, the desire to save face and not appear like an outcast in public. When it comes to public choices like voting, however, things are very different.

  2. I meant “when it comes to *private* choices”, obviously! I’m going to have to hire a proof reader for my online comments

  3. Thanks for the post. Your figure on questions asked of Romanians shows that, in Romania at least, homophobia is a much more accepted form of hatred than racism and anti-semitism. I wonder if there is internationally comparable data on this, My hunch is that this pattern is pretty much universal.

  4. Ian,
    I pretty much agree. In Romania, at least when I was doing research almost ten years ago, it seemed like the nationalist parties were moving down a checklist going from their favorite historical targets (Jews, Hungarians) to those that were still ok to target for their rhetoric (Roma, gays, Muslims).

    1. It’s a chilling thought but it strikes me that the perpetrators of hard core prejudice – whether that is violence aimed at women or gays or Jews or whoever – see these groups simply as convenient victims for their innate aggression. They don’t really ‘hate’ Jews or gays etc. They just enjoy harming others, and prejudice in society provides them with an opportunity to act out their violent nature. The basis of violence against women and minorities is then simply psychopaths grasping the opportunities that societies present to them. Same psychologically disordered minority – different manifestations.

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