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Home > Business > Special

Racism and bigotry in the West

T C A Srinivasa Raghavan | February 16, 2007

A few days after the Shilpa Shetty affair, <i>The Economist</i> wrote an editorial about it. But it neglected, because it probably doesn't know, to mention the institutionalised racism that the British government practices. One horrible example of this is the direct air transit visa, which requires nationals of 47 countries (of which 44 are non-white) to obtain a transit visa even if they are only passing through a British port or airport. And now there is this doctors-in-training business. Denial is becoming harder.

The point that emerges, I think, is this -- while the British people are not generally racist, they also don't know that their government is.

It was in that context that a recent paper* by Vani K Borooah of the University of Ulster and John Mangan of the University of Queensland is worth reading. They presented it at a seminar recently at NCAER. The authors don't focus just on racism but bigotry as a whole, and they "propose measures for the amount of bigotry in a country". The paper is rich in both theory and empirics. Indian economists should certainly read it to see what they should be doing and how.

Borooah and Mangan have used the methods of poverty measurement and have suggested similar measures for prejudice in a country. The question they asked was, "Would you like to have a person from this group as your neighbour?"

If a respondent says no, it is taken to mean that he or she is prejudiced against members of this group. They used data from five groups: immigrants or foreign workers, Muslims, Jews and homosexuals.

They have then gone on to construct measures for the amount of bigotry. They have also ranked Western countries. They then analyse why this happens from a socio-economic angle, as well as whether "they are strongly bigoted, mildly bigoted, or bigotry-free". Finally, they try to identify the group -- Muslims, immigrants, and homosexuals -- against which the prejudice is maximum.

Some of their findings are as follows:

  • "Aggregating over all the countries, the highest levels of prejudice were against homosexuals and Muslims, and the lowest levels of prejudice were against 'people from another race'."
  • "The highest proportion of bigoted persons was in Northern Ireland and Greece � where, respectively, 44 and 43 per cent of respondents did not want persons from at least one of the five groups as their neighbours -- and the lowest proportion of bigoted persons was in Sweden (13 per cent), Iceland (18 per cent), Canada (22 per cent), and Denmark (22 per cent)."
  • "Under an equity-sensitive measure of bigotry, Germany joined Greece and Northern Ireland as the most bigoted of western countries."
  • "Women were less likely to be bigoted than men perhaps because the probability of being bigoted was greatest for homosexuals and smallest for immigrants."
  • "The young and the middle-aged were less likely to be bigoted than older persons; these differences were the largest for homosexuals and smallest for immigrants."
  • "Those who regarded themselves as left-wing politically were -- compared to those who were politically "middle-of-the-road" -- likely to be tolerant of Muslims, immigrants, and homosexuals to the same degree. Compared to those with a low level of education, better educated persons were less likely to be bigoted but, for both high and low levels of education, this inter-education level difference in the likelihood of being bigoted was not significantly different between Muslims, immigrants, and homosexuals."

There are several other conclusions. Having gone through them with great care, the following questions come to mind: do people become less bigoted if their governments take on the burden of bigotry? Alternatively, how can governments become more bigoted if their people aren't? What explains the divergence between the attitude of the British people and its government? Which is the cause and which the effect?

A survey, anyone?

*Love Thy Neighbour: How Much Bigotry Is There In Western Countries? December 2006.

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