Mary Marcus: What’s in A Word?

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According to this really chilling study in PLOS ONE I read about yesterday, while racism is very hard to measure, because of course, people lie about their racism, they are on the other hand, not so careful on their Google searches.

For this PLOS ONE study, researchers looked at searches containing the N word. People search for the N word as often as they search for “Daily Show” “Migraine” and “Lakers.”

The team at PLOS ONE then aggregated these results over several years and several million searches.

The results are hair-raising. A greater proportion of racist searches on Google are associated with an 8.2% increase in the mortality rate among Blacks. This does not mean after a racist does a search of one of his favorite words, he goes out and hunts down an African American. But racist attitudes can and do contribute to poor health and economic outcomes among black residents. I quote the authors of the study: “racial discrimination in employment can also lead to lower income and greater financial strain, which in turn have been linked to worse mental and physical health outcomes.”

I think of the N word and I think of the little ghettos that were everywhere, in my hometown of Shreveport. Not just one ghetto, but numerous little ghettos, from which the ladies came forth every morning and on holidays as well, to catch the nearest bus that would carry them to the gleaming brick and pillared houses where they toiled. It wasn’t until the seventies that the minimum wage for domestic workers was mandated. And ignored.

These ladies, among them my beloved Aline, left their run down shacks with their children playing outside, children I did not attend school with, though by the time I was growing up, it was against the law to discriminate. Enforcing that was quite another thing. The last time I visited my hometown, they were still there, these poor pockets of semi-hell whose denizens could presumably go to restaurants now and be served. Presuming of course, they could pay the bill. These same people can send their children to school but these days in places like Shreveport, Louisiana, middle and upper middle class white parents send their children to any number of private and church schools and not with the hoi polloi. Things have changed, yes, but the long arm of Jim Crow will take much longer than a few generations to sort out. Rodney King, remember Rodney King? That was a while ago. Ferguson, that was a couple of months ago. Baltimore: happening right now!


The article I read first appeared in The Washington Post. From Wonkblog By Christopher Ingraham, April 28, 2015

Mary Marcus

Mary Marcus is the author of The New Me and the newly released Lavina. Visit her website for more.

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