Why being a minority sucks: Power in numbers.

Suppose that there is a population of eleven people on an island and they are all equally racist.  There are ten whites who hate blacks and one black who hates whites.  If they all express their racism by hurling stones at the other race, the whites are each going to suffer 1% as much as the black.  If they each hurl ten stones, the black guy will get hit 100 times whereas the whites will only get hit once each on average.

Fortunately our society isn’t that racist, but we all know there are a few bad apples out there who are horribly racist.  Suppose that one percent of all people, black and white, are horribly racist and everyone else is colorblind.  If there are ten times more whites than blacks (which has been fairly close to the racial mix in the US for most of US history), then racist whites are likely to have 100 times more impact upon every black person than the racist blacks would have upon white people.  Even though in this scenario the blacks and the whites have an equal tendency to be rabid racists, blacks will feel under constant siege from racism whereas whites will rarely see a problem.

This is why racism is harder for a minority.  Blacks would have to have 100 times greater propensity for racism to make the hurt equal between blacks and whites.  For example, suppose there are 100 white people and only one is racist (only 1%) and there are ten black people who are all racist (100% which is 100 times the percent of whites that are racist), then each person in the community would feel the same amount of racism from the other race! That would merely equal out the amount of harm that each person feels from the other race!  

I live in Bluffton Ohio where there are about 4,000 residents. I’m not sure how many residents are black, but it is a small minority and let’s suppose 40 residents are black. Even if there are only 1% hard-core anti-black racists in Bluffton, that means there would be almost 40 racists in town. The 40 black residents are going to know exactly who a lot of those guys are! I wouldn’t know because I’m not black, but minorities could easily feel like Bluffton has a major problem when they are almost outnumbered by hard-core racists who go out of their way to be mean.

This is why racism is a much bigger problem for minorities than for a majority even if only 1% of the population is racist.  And 1% of the population being racist seems like a minimal guess.  In 2008 when Obama was elected, Stephens-Davidowitz found that “one in every hundred Google searches that included the word ‘Obama’ also included ‘KKK’” or the n-word” and 1% dramatically understates the true percentage of racist people searching on Google because most racists undoubtedly used some other racist search term.

Racists are likely to move to areas where there are fewer blacks which will exacerbate the problem for blacks living in those areas where they are a small minority. Even if only 1% of Americans are hard-core racists, few of the whites who choose to live in highly integrated neighborhoods are going to be extreme racists because the hard-core white supremacists are going to choose to move to mostly white areas.

That is also probably true of police officers. White-supremacist cops are more likely to want to work in police departments that are mostly white and those kinds of police departments are mostly located in majority white districts. And even if only 1% of cops are racist in total, because there are about ten times more white cops than black cops, blacks are going to feel under siege by racist cops whereas the whites are probably never going to experience a problem because black individuals will experience 100 times more problems from racist cops than white individuals even when there is the same incidence of out-group racism across all races.

Ian Gent gives another example showing a thought experiment with similar dynamics for a minority gender in a field like computer science:

Let’s say that we have 20% women and 80% men in Tech.  And that 20% of people make inappropriate remarks or other sexist moves towards people of the opposite gender.  So 20% of men make sexist remarks to women, and 20% of women make sexist remarks to men… The mean number of sexist remarks per man is 0.35, while for women it is 5.6.  There’s a gender disparity of 4:1 but the disparity in experience is 16:1. Men are no more sexist than women in this thought experiment, but women’s experience is sixteen times worse than the men’s.

The maths that explains this is simple. With 20% women the gender ratio is 1:4.  So there are 4 times as many men to make sexist remarks, so 4 times as many sexist remarks are made to women as to men. But there are 4 times fewer women to receive sexist remarks, so each individual woman is four times as likely to receive a given remark than an individual man is.  These effects multiply, so in this example the mean number of sexist remarks per woman is 16 times the number per man.  This holds in general, so with a gender ratio of 1:r, women will receive r2 times as many sexist remarks as men.

In this scenario, most men receive zero sexist remarks whereas nearly all women receive multiple sexist remarks and some women an overwhelming number as shown in Ian Gent’s illustration of the scenario where arrows represent attacks.  (If you reload the page you can see this picture animated.):


White racism is a greater problem than black racism because whites are a majority and that creates power.  A democracy is effectively a dictatorship of the majority and whites have been a majority in both political parties for most of American history and will continue to have a plurality for the foreseeable future. On top of majority power, whites have greater average economic power (wealth and education) too.  As a minority that must inevitably have more experiences of racism, blacks should be more resentful about racism even if whites are no more racist than blacks on average.  Although everyone has some power over other people, being part of a larger social group brings extra power over minority groups, ceteris paribus and with power comes responsibility.

This is the same model as Lanchester’s square law of combat in which the power of a combat force is proportional to the square of the number of individuals. So, if instead of merely hurling sexist remarks, as in the example above, men and women were shooting at one another and there is a ratio of 4 men to every 1 woman (20% women), then there would be 42=16 times more shots coming in at the women than at the men!

This law generally describes the maximum theoretical disadvantage of different sized forces, and at the other theoretical extreme there is still a linear power advantage of having a bigger army in which a ratio of 4 to 1 would only have four times the power. Empirically, the numerical advantage of combat force size tends to be somewhere in between the two extremes with an exponent of about 1.5, so a ratio of 4 to 1 individuals would yield a real power difference of about 41.5 = 8 to 1, ceteris paribus.

In the realm of racist or sexist acts, I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual power difference is more than squared because of the way norms can reinforce behavior. For example, in Nazi Germany, it was nearly impossible for Jews to treat Nazis badly because they would be severely punished if caught whereas all Germans were encouraged to treat Jews badly and antisemitic actions rapidly spread amongst formerly tolerant Germans after the Nazis rose to power.

Similarly, the KKK had hundreds of thousands of members and held annual public rallies and marches in cities across the country in order to promote racism. Black people couldn’t have gotten away with anything like that. In 1915 KKK supporters created a Hollywood movie called Birth of a Nation which promoted the KKK. It was the first movie to be shown in the White House and it was the the most popular movie in history until Gone with the Wind overtook it in 1939. (Ironically, although it was a lot less overtly racist, the KKK loved that movie too.) Black people were hardly even able to get any roles in movies in those days. The KKK and other white-supremacist groups were able to achieve economies of scale that African-American groups were incapable of achieving because white-dominated law enforcement prevented African-Americans from organizing. the FBI was even trying to shut down purely pacifist African-American civil-rights organizations and activists like Martin Luther King.

Below is a photo of a KKK march in Washington D.C. down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capital to the White House in 1927.

So the racist majority was able to achieve organizational economies of scale that levered their numerical superiority even more than Lanchester’s square law would imply.

Because majorities inherently have more power than minorities, majorities have more responsibility to use their power with noblesse oblige.

Would it be racist if black murderers killed twice as many whites as blacks?

Black murderers DO NOT kill twice as many whites as blacks, but even if they did, that would NOT be a sign of racism.

The mental experiments above described a world where there are two teams that are deliberately attacking one another. But even in a world without any bias, minorities might still feel persecuted.

Again suppose that there is a population of eleven people on an island and there are ten whites and one black and nobody has any racist animus.  If they all hurling stones randomly, the whites are each going to suffer the same as the black, but the black guy will get hit by whites and if he is thinking about race, he might logically wonder if white people are out to get him. Meanwhile all of his victims are going to be whites, so a casual observer might suspect that the black guy is racist as well. But nobody is racist in this example–they are all just throwing rocks randomly.

If there were 1 million whites and 100,000 blacks, the numbers would be similar. Each black person would be hitting about ten times more whites than blacks and each black person would be hitting ten times more white people than black people.

This explains why minority groups like to cluster in places where they are not a small minority as in Schelling’s segregation model.  Schelling demonstrated that people will become highly segregated even if they are not racist at all, but merely if they do not want to live in a neighborhood where their ethnic group is less than 1/3 of the population. Not only are minorities more likely to feel persecuted when they live in a place with a low ethnic density, but they will also have a harder time finding ethnic foods and people to share cultural practices.

Minorities who live in places where their ethnic density is low suffer higher rates of paranoia. Perhaps it is partly because those minority individuals are singled out a lot more than in places where their ethnic group isn’t a small minority due to higher ethnic density. Even if there is no racism at all, there is always going to be random interactions with jerks and inevitable misunderstandings and hard feelings. When one is in a minority, those negative interactions will mostly be with individuals from the majority group and so it might be hard not avoid wondering whether the negativity is due to racism rather than randomness because humans brains are hardwired to infer causation from correlation.

My sister believes that there is rampant anti-white racism among blacks because blacks are more likely to kill whites than whites are to kill blacks, but the actual evidence shows just the opposite. Blacks were 12.4% of the population in 2020, so if blacks were colorblind, then they should be killing seven times more non-blacks than blacks. That would be race-neutral. In order to be racist, blacks would have to kill more than seven times more non-blacks than blacks. But the reverse is actually happening.

Black people mostly kill black people and white people mostly kill white people This is because:

You are the most likely to be shot by the people you know.  The more time you spend with someone, the more likely they are to shoot you.  The biggest danger is that you will shoot yourself. There are more than twice as many suicides as homicides just about everywhere in the world.  The next highest danger is being shot in the home either by accident or by a temporarily homicidal family member. The next most dangerous people are your friends.  Strangers are the least likely to try to kill you.  Of course, there are a lot more strangers out there than acquaintances, so family members only account for about 25% of all known murder victims and known murderers who kill their acquaintances only account for about 54% of the total.  (Caveat: 44% of murder victims have an unknown relationship with their murderer mostly because the murders are unsolved.)

Suppose there is an island with 10 white guys and one black guy but they are all blind and every person throws rocks randomly at every other person without any racial discrimination.  Now, the black guy ‘s attacks will still appear to be racially motivated because he is only attacking whites whereas only 10% of the white attacks will appear to be racially motivated in attacking the black guy.  We should expect similar statistics in the US if we had a colorblind society.  Because about 12% of the population is black and 63% is white, there are over five times more whites than blacks.  Therefore, in a colorblind society, both races should be murdering five times more whites than blacks.  In reality, in 2014 the FBI data for the murders in which the race of the victims and perpetrator is known shows that whites killed 13 times more whites than blacks and blacks killed 5 times more blacks than whites.  So neither race is colorblind.  Whites prefer to murder white people and blacks prefer to murder black people.  If whites were colorblind and didn’t prefer to murder other whites, then they would be killing twice as many blacks as they have been.  Even more strikingly, blacks would need to kill 26 times more whites (holding black-on-black homicide constant) to be colorblind in their homicidal tendencies!

So don’t believe Fox News’ race baiting about anti-white racism. Instead, you should be more worried about your friends and family!

Posted in Medianism

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