Aug 07

Beneath the Anti-Foreigner Violence, White Poverty Appears (updated)

The shootings yesterday at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin once again brings up the issue of gun control, as well as bringing to the surface the racism against Muslims (or in this case, those who aren’t Muslim, but are put in that category by people who don’t know the difference).  Not much will happen on the gun control front, as Nancy Pelosi already said, but even so, there is a deeper issue we should pay attention to, which is what kind of background brings people like the shooter, Wade Michael Page, to hate so much.

It has been found out that Page was a white supremacist, part of a skinhead group called “End Apathy” and that he tried to buy goods from a national neo-Nazi group called the National Alliance.  In a 2010 interview, Page said  he founded his band because “I realized … that if we could figure out how to end people’s apathetic ways it would be the start towards moving forward.”

Such wacko racism is not new to the United States, but why now, after all these years since the Civil Rights Movement, are people still blaming foreigners for their problems?  One reason is given by a 2009 news announcement by the Southern Poverty Law Center that hate groups had increased by 54% since 2000:

Extremists are also exploiting the economic crisis, spreading propaganda that blames minorities and immigrants for the subprime mortgage meltdown. Tough economic times historically provide fertile ground for extremist movements.

Some statistics support this…

I took the number of hate groups in each of the following states picked to cover a wide geographical range: (Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Pennsylvania, Washington State, California, Colorado, Texas) as listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center: 26, 8, 6, 34, 16, 84,15, 45 (respectively).  I divided each of those numbers by the percent of the total US population composed by each state, in order to get rid of population effects (the larger the population the more likelihood of having hate groups just by sheer numbers.)  I then did regression analysis, where I correlated each state’s poverty rate among whites with it’s hate groups/state pop. as a percent of total US pop.  I’ll call this “Hate Group Density.”  The correlation between the white poverty rate and hate group density was .52, a moderate correlation.  Not irrelevant, but hardly the whole story.   But if you take into account the percentage of the state’s population that is white, we see an interesting pattern.

State                 Number of Hate Groups (weighted for population)         White Poverty Rate   % of pop. White

Maine                                     14.29                                                                            14                            95

Colorado                                  9.32                                                                            11                            73

Pennsylvania                           8.37                                                                             13                            81

Michigan                                   8.23                                                                             15                            76

Washington (state)                7.44                                                                              12                            72

California                                 7.05                                                                              14                           41

Texas                                         5.6                                                                               12                           42

Wisconsin                                 4.4                                                                               11                           84


Not a perfect match, but an interesting pattern.  Maine has the highest density of hate groups, along with the highest percentage of whites and white poverty rate.  Michigan and Pennsylvania fit a similar pattern.  Colorado has more hate groups than it should based on the numbers.

But to try to make this more precise, let’s mulitply the % of whites who are poor times the % of the pop. that is white to gain a general idea of how much of a state’s poverty is white.   So for Maine it would be .14 x 95 = 13.3. The first number is white poverty (as a decimal) times % of pop. that is white (as a percent).   In parentheses is the hate group density.

Maine  13.3   (14.29)

Colorado  8.03  (9.32)

Pennsylvania  10.53   (8.37)

Michigan  11.4   (8.23)

Washington (state)  8.64  (7.44)

California  5.74  (7.05)

Texas  5.04  (5.6)

Wisconsin  9.24  (4.4)

Notice how a greater preponderance of white poverty in a state is rather close to its hate group density.  The correlation is actually .67.  A small sample size may be the reason for only a moderate correlation, but there is definitely a trend.

So what does this have to do with the shooting?  I don’t mean to address just the Wisconsin incident, especially since it is an anomaly in terms of having more hate groups than you would expect just based on white poverty.  However, it is important to note that Wade Michael Page had his home foreclosed in January of this year.  Obviously, this is not an excuse for violence, but it helps explain some of what may create people like Page.  In addition to concerns about gun control and anti-foreigner racism, we should be aware of what is festering in the white poor.  If I have time, I’d like to pursue these numbers more broadly.

In the meantime, what do you think?  What role is white poverty playing in anti-foreigner violence?



1 ping

  1. Focusing on Free Speech in Muslim World Misses the Point | Political Creativity

    […] Islamic extremism takes advantage of the concerns of the Muslim public, just as white supremacists take advantage of white poverty in the US.  I should add that there are no doubt grievances internal to many Muslim countries, especially […]

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