Saturday, March 18, 2017

Wives, Nannies, and Perceptions of Racism

Most people are now aware of the BBC interview of political science professor Robert Kelly that was crashed by his children. A woman speeds in the room and pulls the children away. Early commenters guessed at the woman's identity. Some guessed (correctly) wife, and some guessed (incorrectly) nanny. And, of course, what with the civility that pervades the Internet, each side was calm and reasonable about the other side's guess. LOL, j/k, it because a major point of argument.

Is there an argument for guessing the woman is a nanny without necessarily being a racist? Let me point some things out:

  • Prof. Kelly very much appears to be Caucasian in the video.
  • Most children of Caucasians are Caucasian.
  • The video quality being sub-optimal, and his children's race therefore not being obvious, there is room to assume that his children are Caucasian.
  • The video quality being sub-optimal, and the woman only being in the background and trying to be as unobtrusive as possible (and only for eight seconds), I would argue her race is also not obvious. Ladies with dark hair exist in every racial group. I think the assumption that she is Asian (here a correct assumption) is influenced by Prof. Kelly's declared location: Busan, South Korea. If this interview had been happening from, say, Lansing, Michigan, I think an assumption that the woman is Asian is less-supported guess.
Okay, so now we have an (assumed to be) white guy in Korea with (assumed to be) white kids and an (assumed to be) Asian woman who is a caregiver. With this information, we are guessing as to the relationship between the guy and the woman. Is it racist to guess that the woman is a nanny?

I say no, and here's why. How many white guys with kids, in Korea, are married to Korean women? How many white guys with kids, in Korea, have Korean nannies? While obviously both groups have a lot of guys in them, I think the second group is larger. Some white guys are married to Korean women, sure, but some are married to white women. However, I would bet that the number of white guys in Korea with a non-Korean nanny is practically zero, since nannies are more-likely to come from the local population. So whether or not the woman is statistically more likely to be a nanny or a wife depends on likelihood that a white guy with kids, in Korea, has a nanny at all. I see the assumption that the woman is a nanny as based on the assumption that he has a nanny. When I lived in China, I knew white guys with Chinese wives and white guys with white wives, but provided the family had a nanny, it was always a Chinese nanny.

Notice how many assumptions this is all based on. There's a reason they say assuming makes an ass of "u" and ming. But I don't see a racist reason behind the wrong assumption. It would be just as presumptuous to assume she was his wife. "What, only a wife can be in the same house?! Maybe she's a sister, or a friend, or who knows what?! Jeez!" The point is, we all presume lots of stuff, all day long, because information gathering is not costless. Assumptions are only racist if they are made on race-based assumptions. Assuming she's a nanny because, say, white guys aren't attracted to Asian women, or Asian women are less-desirable to have as wives, or whites and Asians shouldn't marry--then THAT would be a racist assumption. But assuming she's a nanny because we're assuming there's a higher probability that a white guy in Korea has an Asian nanny than that he has an Asian wife might be WRONG (I don't know statistics for these groups), and it was wrong in this case even if it does have a higher probability, but it's not a racist assumption.

Personally, what did I assume? When I showed this video to my wife that morning, I said, "A woman comes in the room." My wife said, "Is it his wife?" I said, "I don't know. It could be his wife or a nanny." And for me, the data I needed before I assumed one way or the other, was their ages. If they were of relatively similar ages, I would assume wife, and if they were of quite-distinct ages, I would assume nanny.

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