Typical White Reasoning
Posted on: 2008-03-25 00:27:25
By Randall Hoven
Senator Barack Obama said in his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, "The arguments of liberals are more often grounded in reason and fact." Yet he also claimed that to fear a black person on the street more than a white person is a racial "stereotype", "bred" into us.
To the contrary, such a fear is actually "grounded in reason and fact." When the numbers are crunched, a black person is almost six times more likely than a white person to be a murderer. Senator Barack Obama in his Race Speech said his white grandmother "once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street". In a follow-up interview he clarified that remark by saying,
"She is a typical white person who, you know, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know, there is a reaction. That has been bred into our experiences that don't go away and that sometimes come out in the wrong way." He described such feelings as, "racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."
It is true that Jesse Jackson confessed to the same fear. More importantly, that fear is a rational one, borne out by "reason and fact". The data are available.
The U.S. Justice Department provides a breakdown of homicides by the race of both the victim and offender. Looking at the data for 2005 (the latest year available), we find that whites committed 48.0% of all murders and blacks committed 51.2% of all murders.
However, whites outnumber blacks in the population. In fact, non-Hispanic whites are about 69% of the population and blacks are about 13%.
These statistics alone, that blacks are 13% of the population but commit 51.2% of the murders, indicate that blacks commit a seriously disproportionate number of murders.
What we would like to find specifically is the likelihood that a given person is a murderer. The Justice department also provides overall murder rates. In 2004 (last year of available data), 5.9 people were murdered out of every 100,000. Since some of those were multiple murders, let's assume that only 5 people of every 100,000 were murderers. That is, the chance that some person you see on the street will murder someone this year, knowing nothing else, is about 5 in 100,000.
From all this data, we can use either Bayes' theorem or a table of relative frequencies to answer our question of "What is the chance that a person is a murderer (or will murder someone this year), given we know that person's race?"