Obstacles to the Dialogue on Racism: Personal Anecdotes vs. Statistical Data

Obstacles to the Dialogue on Racism: the use of anecdotes vs. the use of statistical data.

There’s a lot that could be said here, but simply, I think the problem is that both are necessary for the discussion and both can be used in misleading ways. A minority’s personal anecdote of their experience of racism is quite powerful story telling (I mean story telling in the non-fictional sense). And stories are necessary to humanize big data such as crime rates and policing stats. But conservatives will say that personal anecdotes are just that, personal (tragic, but personal) and they don’t demonstrate that there’s a “culture” of racism out there.

Conservatives like to lean on big data and claim that the data tells a story itself. That story usually sounds something like this: “studies show that regardless of race the most important factors leading to violent crime and incarceration are children raised in single parent households. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1965 80% of African American children were born into two parent households. Presently that statistic is reversed. As a result, we see young African American men committing violent crimes and resisting arrest at disproportionate rates compared to their white, Hispanic, and Asian counterparts.” (I think fatherlessness is a personal anecdote that needs no one to tell in order understand, which is another reason why conservatives generally don’t employ anecdotes).

Of course, liberals use big data too, such as the prison population as evidence of systemic racism. Liberals argue that the war on drugs is a policy designed to specifically target minorities. What is their reason for believing this? Systemic racism of the past and anecdotal narratives that validate that explicit racism has gone underground, become implicit-covert.

So which tells a better story, history and personal anecdotes and big data or big data and sociological analysis of factors leading to crime (e.g. fatherlessness)?

These are generalized depictions of the dialogue that I see. I think it’s important to understand the other side’s argument. You may disagree with my understanding. I’d like to hear how you see the discussion.


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