Ignorant Rednecks, Shiftless Blacks, and Selective Videos
Dear Bill Maher and Alexandra Pelosi: The plural of anecdote is not data.
Bill Maher and Alexandra Pelosi created a firestorm with videos showing ignorant rednecks in Mississippi uttering racist statements. So, in the spirit of fairness, they’ve videotaped shiftless blacks in New York gaming the welfare system.
Here’s the first:
And the second:
I suppose Maher and Pelosi want credit for their balance here. But both of these videos are harmful hackery.
There’s an old saying in social science circles: The plural of anecdote is not data. It’s relatively easy to cherry pick examples that confirm your bias but, without systematic sampling to ensure that they’re reflective of the larger universe, they have little value.
It’s doubtless true that there are a lot of ignorant racists in Mississippi. Or, for that matter, anywhere. Similarly, some percentage of those collecting government assistance are doubtless slimeballs who are too lazy to work and have no shame at living off those who do. But sticking a camera in their faces to record the fact doesn’t shed much light on how representative they are of the population we’re attempting to understand. Instead, these examples reinforce existing biases, doing much more harm than good.
First and foremost, the relatively educated, affluent, metropolitan audience of the show can feel good about themselves, gaining additional data points confirming their own sense of superiority. Having little contact with the poor, these glimpses reaffirm what a bunch of ignorant, worthless people they are–and how virtuous those who have a college degree, a good job, and watch the right television programs are.
Additionally, and perhaps somewhat ironically, they reinforce the very behavior they’re spotlighting. To the extent they’re even aware of Bill Maher, “Real Time,” and HBO, the first video just adds to the sense of entitlement of the poorest inner city blacks to blame their condition on white racism. Similarly, the second video reinforces the notion that most of our welfare recipients are shiftless blacks–who are, naturally, being encouraged to game the system be a black president.