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India,Nigeria top Map of the Most Racist countires in the World in Swedish Survey .

A fascinating


of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries


When two Swedish economists set out to examine whether economic freedom made people any more or less racist, they knew how they would gauge economic freedom, but they needed to find a way to measure a country’s level of racial tolerance. So they turned to something called the World Values Survey, which has been measuring global attitudes and opinions for decades.

Among the dozens of questions that World Values asks, the Swedish economists found one that, they believe, could be a pretty good indicator of tolerance for other races. The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society. (The study concluded that economic freedom had no correlation with racial tolerance, but it does appear to correlate with tolerance toward homosexuals.)

Unfortunately, the Swedish economists did not include all of the World Values Survey data in their final research paper. So I went back to the source, compiled the original data and mapped it out on the infographic above. In the bluer countries, fewer people said they would not want neighbors of a different race; in red countries, more people did.

If we treat this data as indicative of racial tolerance, then we might conclude that people in the bluer countries are the least likely to express racist attitudes, while the people in red countries are the most likely.

Update: Compare the results to this map of the world’s most and least diverse countries.

Before we dive into the data, a couple of caveats. First, it’s entirely likely that some people lied when answering this question; it would be surprising if they hadn’t. But the operative question, unanswerable, is whether people in certain countries were more or less likely to answer the question honestly. For example, while the data suggest that Swedes are more racially tolerant than Finns, it’s possible that the two groups are equally tolerant but that Finns are just more honest. The willingness to state such a preference out loud, though, might be an indicator of racial attitudes in itself. Second, the survey is not conducted every year; some of the results are very recent and some are several years old, so we’re assuming the results are static, which might not be the case.

Here’s what the data show:

• Anglo and Latin countries most tolerant. People in the survey were most likely to embrace a racially diverse neighbor in the United Kingdom and its Anglo former colonies (the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and in Latin America. The only real exceptions were oil-rich Venezuela, where income inequality sometimes breaks along racial lines, and the Dominican Republic, perhaps because of its adjacency to troubled Haiti. Scandinavian countries also scored high.

• India, Jordan, Bangladesh and Hong Kong by far the least tolerant. In only three of 81 surveyed countries, more than 40 percent of respondents said they would not want a neighbor of a different race. This included 43.5 percent of Indians, 51.4 percent of Jordanians and an astonishingly high 71.8 percent of Hong Kongers and 71.7 percent of Bangladeshis.

• Wide, interesting variation across Europe. Immigration and national identity are big, touchy issues in much of Europe, where racial make-ups are changing. Though you might expect the richer, better-educated Western European nations to be more tolerant than those in Eastern Europe, that’s not exactly the case. France appeared to be one of the least racially tolerant countries on the continent, with 22.7 percent saying they didn’t want a neighbor of another race. Former Soviet states such as Belarus and Latvia scored as more tolerant than much of Europe. Many in the Balkans, perhaps after years of ethnicity-tinged wars, expressed lower racial tolerance.

The Middle East not so tolerant. Immigration is also a big issue in this region, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which often absorb economic migrants from poorer neighbors.

• Racial tolerance low in diverse Asian countries. Nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines, where many racial groups often jockey for influence and have complicated histories with one another, showed more skepticism of diversity. This was also true, to a lesser extent, in China and Kyrgyzstan. There were similar trends in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

• South Korea, not very tolerant, is an outlier. Although the country is rich, well-educated, peaceful and ethnically homogenous – all trends that appear to coincide with racial tolerance – more than one in three South Koreans said they do not want a neighbor of a different race. This may have to do with Korea’s particular view of its own racial-national identity as unique – studied by scholars such as B.R. Myers – and with the influx of Southeast Asian neighbors and the nation’s long-held tensions with Japan.

• Pakistan, remarkably tolerant, also an outlier. Although the country has a number of factors that coincide with racial intolerance – sectarian violence, its location in the least-tolerant region of the world, low economic and human development indices – only 6.5 percent of Pakistanis objected to a neighbor of a different race. This would appear to suggest Pakistanis are more racially tolerant than even the Germans or the Dutch.

Update: I’ve heard some version of one question from an overwhelming number of readers: “I’ve met lots of Indians and Americans and found the former more racially tolerant than the latter. How can these results possibly be correct?” I’d suggest three possible explanations for this, some combination of which may or may not be true. First, both India and the U.S. are enormous countries; anecdotal interactions are not representative of the whole, particularly given that people who are wealthy enough to travel internationally may be likely to encounter some subsets of these respective populations more than others.

Second, the survey question gets to internal, personal preferences; what the respondents want. One person’s experiences hanging out with Americans or Indians, in addition to being anecdotal, only tell you about their outward behavior. Both of those ways of observing racial attitudes might suggest something about racial tolerance, but they’re different indicators that measure different things, which could help explain how one might contradict the other.

Third, the survey question is a way of judging racial tolerance but, like many social science metrics, is indirect and imperfect. I cited the hypothetical about Swedes and Finns at the top of this post, noting that perhaps some people are just more honest about their racial tolerance than others. It’s entirely possible that we’re seeing some version of this effect in the U.S.-India comparison; maybe, for example, Americans are conditioned by their education and media to keep these sorts of racial preferences private, i.e. to lie about them on surveys, in a way that Indians might not be. That difference would be interesting in itself, but alas there is no survey question for honesty.

REPLY: Painting India,Nigeria red:

Why the global racism map is wrong

The map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries. Image courtesy: Washington Post

By Lakshmi Chaudhry and Sandip Roy


The underlying data was culled by WaPo writer Max Fisher from the World Values survey which measures public attitudes around the world across a staggeringly broad range of issues, ranging from family values to political beliefs, from thoughts on women as single parents to taking soft drugs. The polls were conducted at different times between 1981 and 2008, and a number of questions were tested across many countries, while others were only polled in a couple of nations.   In this case, Fisher drew his map on the basis of responses to a single query (inspired by Swedish researchers who published a study doing the same):

The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, that also included “drug addicts”, “homosexuals” , “unmarried couples living together” chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races… the less racially tolerant you could call that society.

Fisher finds that more than 40 percent of respondents said they would not want a neighbour of a different race in only four of the 81 nations. These are India (43.5 percent), Jordan (51.4 percent), Hong Kong (71.8 percent) and Bangladesh (71.7 percent). And also this: Only 6.5 percent of Pakistanis objected to a neighbour of a different race, making them more racially tolerant than even the Germans or the Dutch.

Influenced by the expression of white racism in the West, they assume that preferring a neighbour of your own race — i.e. not black, Latino, Asian et al — is an accurate barometer of prejudice. AFP

The last is likely to prompt squawks of incredulity — Fisher dismisses it as an “outlier” — but it also points to the hazards of measuring a complex phenomenon such as racism in a cross-cultural context. Here are five reasons why we think Washington Post’s global map of racism doesn’t hold up to scrutiny — and why it is a fallacy to treat “racism” as a universal term.

One, what is ‘race’ anyway? In a nation where the chances of living next to someone of a different race is fairly remote, it is odd that we should hold such a strong opinion on the matter. This isn’t to say we are not bigoted, but the language employed by the survey question fails to capture the nature of our biases. For example, it is far more likely that Indians would prefer living next door to, say, a white expat than a person of a different religion. In fact, the presence of foreign tenants usually indicates a desirable neighbourhood. Unlike the West, ‘race’ is not a culturally charged term in India where differences of caste, ethnicity and religion are far more important. Indian respondents may have interpreted the term more broadly to include other categories of difference — but that still requires a leap of interpretation glossed over by the colourful map.

Moreover, both Fisher and the Swedes picked this particular measure of intolerance because of their own cultural bias. Influenced by the expression of white racism in the West, they assume that preferring a neighbour of your own race — i.e. not black, Latino, Asian et al — is an accurate barometer of prejudice.

Two, one size doesn’t fit all.  A question that merely looks at the kind of neighbours one might prefer is a rather clumsy and ill-fitting indicator of racism. India, for example, is full of housing societies of various persuasions. People who live in a Parsi housing society might prefer to have a Parsi as neighbour. Does that necessarily imply that everyone who lives in a Parsi housing society is ipso facto racist? Is a vegetarian housing society justified because it’s about a deeply-felt religious belief that cooking meat is polluting while an all-Brahmin housing society is not?  Is the Polish landlady in an old-style London house with poor ventilation being racist because she doesn’t want Indian tenants frying fish? But this matter of convenience could easily acquire a tinge of racism in a survey that just polled people’s preferences in tenants or housing association rules.

Three, to Chinatown or not to Chinatown? One man’s Chinatown might be another man’s ghetto, but the fact is people congregate with their own because it’s more comforting and just plain convenient thanks to little neighbourhood stores selling, say, little Mexican candies or Chinese flu medicines. Created by racist housing policies in many American cities, ethnic neighbourhoods, their Chinatowns and Koreatowns, are now flaunted with pride as bustling proof of their multicultural credentials, and touted as tourist stops, the  go-to places for an “authentic” taco or a bowl of ramen noodles.  And it’s a matter of regret when these neighbourhoods, whether its Brooklyn, New York or Japantown in San Francisco, become more integrated and therefore less “ethnic.” A city of many separate ethnic neighbourhoods could pride itself on its diversity but could well be viewed as a patchwork quilt of racism if its residents are polled in a survey like this.

Four, there’s race and there’s race. A catch-all option like “People of a different race” does not begin to capture the complexity of race relations and racism. It divides all races into two giant buckets – mine versus other. It has no way to measure what Indians think of a white neighbour as opposed to a black or Chinese neighbour. The real racism is revealed in our very different attitude towards different racial groups and the stereotypes we assign to them. As newly landed graduated students in the US, many desis are warned by perfectly well-meaning seniors in the Indian Students Association not to rent houses in the “black” parts of town — but no one ever warns them off predominantly white neighbourhoods. The survey does include immigrants/foreign workers as possibly undesirable neighbours, but fails to recognise that a “foreign worker” can be a diplomat or NGO worker in Afghanistan; Filipino maid or Indian labourer in the Middle East; a Latino farmhand in the United States.

Five, whatever happened to the Shias? If the ‘race’ option is problematic, so are the other options that were omitted. As we noted earlier, the choices offered to respondents often varied from one nation to another. The Indian version, for example, does not include caste as a criteria for exclusion. The survey does include specific groups as potentially undesirable neighbours but only in certain countries. For example, South Africans can pick blacks, Iranians can opt for Zoroastrians. Oddly, Slovaks, Spaniards, Czechs and Argentines along with Indians have the choice of nixing Hindu neighbours but Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans do not. More astonishingly, the options offered to Pakistanis do not include Shia neighbours — who only appear on the Iraq survey. Given the level of anti-Shia violence in Pakistan, and a historic Shia-Sunni divide, we can reasonably guess that the results would be less than heartening. Again, this does not mean that Pakistan is more racist than India. But its “outlier” status points to the need for culturally specific categories required to measure the level of tolerance in any given society.

A genuine cross-cultural survey of racism — or more precisely, intolerance — requires far more elaboration and care. Such a barometer would go beyond mere neighbour-preference and tap into active forms of bias. For example: questions linking violence to certain communities, be it in the form of riots or crime. The survey would take into account a nation’s specific racial, ethnic, or religious divisions, and the ways in which they find expression.

Until such a survey comes along, we can only assume what we already know about ourselves: India is a deeply biased society. We are notoriously racist toward black foreigners and our own fellow citizens from the North East. For instance, 43.9 percent of Indians are uncomfortable with neighbours of a different religion. But neither the World Survey nor Fisher’s map tells us whether we are more or less racist than the rest of the world. The so-called racism map is more egregious because it offers an alluring and misleading distillation of context-less data, painting entire nations as racist or liberal in one fell swoop. If we want to hand out scarlet letters for racism, we will need more than a paint-by-numbers palette.

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Replies to This Book Discussion

Going by the complicated survey it is very difficult to make out racism.History could be the best yard stick if one really needs to find out the truth.We need to look into so many things like religion,,socia cultural traits,geogrphical imbalances,man made rules and worst of all science advancement.Take for instance  on this planet there happen to dwell only ten racists, say 2 from Bangladesh,2 from India,2 from Nigeriaand 2 from Jordan.Would they not sink their differences and team up to live and cherish one another?Racism is something that grew out of history and its interpretation will always remain inconclusive so long each human being has suit.It is there in families,groups,villages,clans,states extending to nations.The surveyor could also be a racist who just decided to experiment on people he or she considers  offensive.Digging   further into this is a kind of trying to find out who is better than the other and the answer is none. 


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