The New York Times columnist Charles Blow has recently included FBI hate crime statistics in his opinion pieces. These columns have caused me to re-think these statistics and what they can tell us about racial relations.
Although I consider hate crimes to be a very serious issue and I have even briefly studied white supremacist organizations (the spawning ground for a number of the people who commit racially-motivated hate crimes), I have been reluctant to discuss hate crimes. Hate crimes tend to reinforce the view that the issue of racial discrimination is about just a few crazy, bad apples. In 2007, there were less than 5,000 hate crime victims against all racial groups by the FBI racial categorization and likely a smaller number of offenders. In comparison, possibly ten times that number of blacks only were victims subtle and not-so-subtle biases in our criminal justice system. Maybe hundreds of thousands of blacks faced discrimination in the workplace--much of which they were probably not aware of, and millions of black children went to separate and unequal schools. The impersonal, bureaucratic institutional discrimination in the society greatly dwarfs the few-bad-apple hate crimes.
There are other problems with the FBI hate crime statistics. They likely significantly undercount the number of hate crimes. Many people may not report being a victim of a hate crime. Police officers for a variety of reasons may intentionally mis-categorize a hate crime as some other type of crime. Some police agencies simply do not report hate crimes. (For more on these points see "Understanding Hate Crimes" by the Prejudice Institute.)
On the other hand, even hate crimes are sociological phenomena. A hate crime is a crime against a socially-recognized group motivated by a culturally-shared narrative about a group. The narrative may not be believed by a majority or even a large number, but it is none-the-less shared. So, hate crimes may provide a type of a hate index of the society.
In different societies, racial hate crimes are likely disproportionately directed to different groups based on the specific history of racial relations of that country. Hate crimes also would depend on specific criminological factors. Some countries would likely have factors that lead to more or less hate crimes, and also more or less hate crimes against specific groups. It is not clear what conclusions can be drawn from relative rates of hate crimes, but it is worth pondering.
With these thoughts in mind, I decided to take a preliminary look at the hate crime statistics of 2007 to see who is "hated"--in the hate-crime sense--in America. The simple number of hate crimes by racial group does not tell us much since different groups make up different shares of the population. What is interesting is the percent of racially-motivated hate crimes relative to the share of the population. If a group were to make up 10 percent of the population and were victims of 10 percent of the racial hate crimes then there is nothing unusual there. If a group were 10 percent of the population but victims of 90 percent of the hate crimes then the group is a particularly "hated" group.
Before I go into my findings, I have to address the question of which groups count as a racial group. I have written at length about this issue in my book Achieving Blackness. The official Census racial categories do not get at the way people think about race. Just as in many cases people are not economically rational, people's racial categories are not consistent, discrete and logical scientific categories no matter how much scholars of racial relations wish that they were. It is clear to me that Jews, Muslims and Hispanics are sometimes thought of as racial groups by people in general and, importantly, by people committing hate crimes against them. This may not be the case in every hate crime, but I'll nonetheless include these groups as racialized groups. Since the Census Bureau does not follow this scheme, individuals will be double-counted. An individual can be a black, Hispanic Muslim and be counted in all three categories, for example. My racialized groups are whites, blacks, Asians and Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Alaska Natives, mixed-race people, Jews, Muslims and Hispanics.
For simplicity, the figure below shows findings only for whites, blacks, Jews and Muslims. Although in absolute number, there were more anti-black hate crime incidents in 2007 than incidents against other racialized groups, blacks were not the most "hated" group. Relative to their share in the population, Jews were nearly eight times (7.94) more likely to be the target of a hate crime. Jews make up only 2.2 percent of the U.S. population but 17.5 percent of the racialized hate crimes were targeted at Jews.
Blacks and Muslims had the misfortune to come in second and third respectively. Relative to their share of the population, blacks were almost four times as likely to be targets of racialized hate crimes; Muslims were 3.5 times as likely. Of all the groups examined, whites were greatly under-represented among racialized hate crime targets.
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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.
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