White and Black: the only race categories used when polling about Trayvon Martin

Apparently. Despite the fact that Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic.

But what about the views of Hispanics? They were heard. The methodology statements of Pew and Gallup both state that they conducted interviews in Spanish when necessary. But they were not reported. In transforming data into a story line, the media only reported the “black” and “white” perspectives. What might be called the “brown” perspective was wholly obscured.

I asked the pollsters why. Pew told me that it had interviewed 1,000 people, including 732 non-Hispanics and 109 non-Hispanic blacks, meaning it also polled 159 people who didn’t fall into those categories. Of those 159 people, Pew told me that 64 identified themselves as Hispanic, with the remainder classifying themselves as Asian or Pacific Islander, Native American/American Indian, mixed race, or other or refusing to answer.

“Only the sample sizes for non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black were large enough to be meaningful,” Pew told me.

The collective viewpoint of Hispanics and others who don’t identify as white or black wasn’t “large enough to be meaningful” — even though they were more numerous than the African-Americans whose views were reported. It’s hard to think of a more clear-cut example of how the American media “privileges” the political narratives of blacks and whites over those of Americans who are neither.

13 thoughts on “White and Black: the only race categories used when polling about Trayvon Martin

  1. This is an important point, but it raises another issue: that the categories of Hispanic and Latino tend to be conflated with race, when in fact they are ethnic forms of identification. The way racial constructs intersect with conceptions of Latinidad is very complicated, because these racial constructs operate differently in Latino cultures. It is important to use the plural here in order not to conflate the cultural backgrounds of Mexicans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, etc, and how they relate to notions of race. Most “Hispanics” in fact do not identify as such, but in terms of their country of origin.

    A key question about the Zimmerman case is how he identify himself and not how WE identify him in terms of race and ethnicity.

  2. Yes, indeed. The article touches on this complexity, but doesn’t actually do all that great a job with it.

  3. Yes, but your overall point is necessary, it calls attention to how the mainstream media in the US treats such issues exclusively through a black and white prism, pun intended.

  4. Assuming we can actually make sense of the difference between race and ethnicity…

  5. Your complaint demonstrates a lack of understanding of statistics. The reason the poll didn’t report the other race categories is, in fact, because they did not have a large enough representative sample for the results to generalize to the broader population. This is a basic tenet of statistics. Also, it is not the case that “…they were more numerous than the African-Americans whose views were reported.” There were 109 non-Hispanic African-Americans, enough to achieve significance. There were only 64 self-identified Hispanics, and 95 individuals distributed among the remaining categories that were used. Presumably all of the other numbers were <64.

    I understand the complaint that these viewpoints are not represented, but Pew's reasoning here is fully in line with basic statistical reasoning. Perhaps that indicates that they should have taken a larger sample for their pool, however doing so would involve greater expense, and there is the very real possibility that doing so would not have generated a more representative sample of Hispanic respondents. To draw & publish conclusions about Hispanic viewpoints based on the non-representative sample which they did acquire would be irresponsible since, without a representative sample, the findings are unlikely to generalize to the broader Hispanic population.

    My biggest complaint with this blog is, and ever has been, that you write and publish knee-jerk reactions to news stories without taking the time to understand the topics you are writing about. If you have the most read feminist philosopher blog in the philosophy world, you have a responsibility to represent other feminists as thoughtful reasoners. When you do otherwise, you only add to the already dominant negative stereotypes of feminist philosophers that we work so hard to overcome.

  6. Dee, I think you misunderstood this:

    “…they were more numerous than the African-Americans whose views were reported.”

    By ‘they’, Morley pretty clearly means the ‘other’ category, including Hispanics but also Asian and Pacific Islander, etc.

    Also, why do you say that the sample of Hispanics is non-representative? It may be, but I wonder how you know.

  7. Gentle reader (trying to channel Miss Manners here), we post things precisely in order to learn from our readers, who have a wide variety of different sorts of specialised knowledge. So thank you for your input on statistics. We’d appreciate further such input. In the future, however, please observe our “be nice” rule.

  8. Jamie, i think ‘non-representative’ just meant that it didn’t meant the criteria for being statistically representative. This could be another mistake, of course.

  9. Thanks Anne. Now if only someone will explain to me what ‘statistically representative’ means. (I am a Bayesian, so please explain it slowly.)

  10. Jamie, my knowledge derives mainly from finding out how extremely difficult it can be to get a representative sample of faculty opinions. I think the basic requirement for a representative sample are pretty simple and clear. One statement is here, and google will happily give you hundreds.

    Somehow I doubt that I can actually answer a question from a philosopher as good as you by linking to google’s first example. So I’m suspecting your response comes with a challenge I’ve missed.

    Actually, I’ve in effect been attempting to explain what others are saying. I think it best to turn the discussion over to them.

  11. Anne, those are ways that a sample can be unrepresentative, but that’s just why I was asking Dee what reason there is to think that the Pew sample of Hispanics is unrepresentative. There’s no more reason to think that their sample of Hispanics is unrepresentative than to think their sample of non-Hispanic African Americans (e.g.) is unrepresentative.

    As I hinted, I think one reason I’m having trouble might have to do with doctrinal or ideological differences: Bayesians don’t like some of the concepts of mainstream statistics (a la Fisher).

  12. As I understand it, Hispanics were dropped from the Pew poll not because their sample was a biased estimator of the population mean, but because the sample was too small to yield a reasonable confidence interval (or credible interval in Bayesian terms). Pew and Gallop no doubt have internal manuals that say things like “no confidence intervals greater than +/-3% @ alpha = 0.05”. Meaning, in frequentist terms: don’t report the results of surveys where, if repeated many times, the sample statistic will differ from the population statistic by more than 3 points more than 5 times in 100. Or, in basically equivalent Bayesian terms: make sure that the probability that the sample statistic lies within said interval is >= .95.

    The Bayesian/frequentist debate has little to do with it: it’s just a problem of sample size. This seems like an awful lot of hay to make of Dee’s slightly heterodox (but clear in context) use of “unrepresentative” to mean “having high variance” instead of “biased in the estimate of the mean”.

  13. Oh, right, I didn’t mean to suggest that the Bayesian/frequentist debate had anything to do with it. My only reason for mentioning my own religion was that I was worried that it was contributing to my lack of understanding. (I don’t grasp the Fisherian concepts like a native, but have to translate them.) But I do understand confidence intervals.

    As I mentioned, I believe the point of the Salon article was not that the group of Hispanics was larger than the group of non-Hispanic African Americans, but that the remainder group (not caught in the African American and White non-Hispanic categories) was. And of course the Gallup poll included 239 Hispanics, whose views were not reported in their story.

    I don’t know if it’s true that this is a good example of the media privileging the narratives of white and black Americans in contrast to Hispanics and others, but if it’s wrong it doesn’t seem to me to be wrong on just statistical grounds.

    Also, apologies if I was making “a lot of hay”. I didn’t mean to be.

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