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South Dakota Keeping Its Racism Offline

Here's a low ranking in which South Dakota can find relief: South Dakota is among states with low participation in the white-supremacist hate forum Stromfront.

Stormfront participation by state, 2014. Source: Analysis of Stormfront U.S. user profiles by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
New York Times graphic, 2014.07.12 based on analysis of Stormfront U.S. user profiles by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Stephens-Davidowitz found 12 South Dakotans participating in Stormfront's particularly vile community of loathing of "the other." According to his data, South Dakota ranks 34th per capita, below the national average, on this metric. Nebraska has the lowest per-capita Stormfrontery in the area, with a ranking of 44th for the 18 profiles Stephens-Davidowitz found.

Stephens-Davidowitz, who writes for the New York Times and wields a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard, offers one other bit of hopeful data about South Dakota's online racism. In a 2013 paper, Stephens-Davidowitz found that South Dakota ranked 40th among states for Google searches including the n-word. Wyomingians, Minnesotans, and, interestingly, Stormfront-avid Montanans searched that term even less than South Dakotans.

I wonder: is casual Googling among the broader population a stronger indicator of racial animus than active participation in an online hate group? If we're feeling hopeful, let's interpret the Montana data as a demonstration that Stormfront is a fringe element with little impact on overall statewide characteristics, kind of like South Dakota's Constitution Party.


  1. SDTeacher 2014.07.17

    I wonder if the measure the good doctor used just didn't include South Dakota's particular brand of racism. I see that he refers to use of the "n word" but don't the majority of bigots in South Dakota generally reserve their race-based animus for American Indians?

  2. larry kurtz 2014.07.17

    Reading through the comments of the Rapid City Journal is a drive-through bazaar of racism, that's for sure.

  3. Craig 2014.07.17

    What the heck is going on in Alaska?

    I'll say this much about this ranking... it doens't mean South Dakota has less racism, it just means they are less organized.

  4. larry kurtz 2014.07.17

    One mystery is how many attacks are on Jews by the same people who support Israel.

  5. Chris S. 2014.07.17

    It's an interesting survey, but I wonder if there aren't methodological problems. For instance, I think it only surveyed people on Stormfront who openly identified what state they were from. If offering that information is optional, there could be plenty of "lurkers" from any given state who wouldn't be counted.

    Also, simply searching for the N-word online doesn't necessarily mean it was searched because of a racist motive. I mean, maybe/probably it was, but you can't say for sure. Maybe they're researching where that term is used, and in what context. Maybe they're searching for a passage from Huckleberry Finn. Again, probably not, but it's a leap to say that a mere search necessarily reflects racist attitudes. To use a similar example, a search for "breast cancer" doesn't mean that the searcher has breast cancer or is pro-breast cancer.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.07.17

    SDTeacher, I wondered what term or terms we might plug into Google Trends for that analysis. It seems harder to nail that down to one term like the n-word... not that I want to think too hard about how we might most succinctly express racism toward our Lakota neighbors.

    Chris, I agree that a Google search of n----- does not by itself demonstrate racism, just as searching for misogynist or homophobic or anti-semitic slurs may have benign intent. But suppose we grant that, say, 25% of people who Google n----- are doing so for benign purposes. If that percentage is consistent, then Stephens-Davidowitz's data still show the relative strength of racist sentiment among Google users in each state, just amplified by a third. Would there be any reason to believe that the percentage of benign searchers would vary from state to state?

  7. SDTeacher 2014.07.17

    Well, I guess I'm not particularly inclined to start throwing out the terms that are most likely to be used in derogation of our state's citizens. I think, Cory, that your question gets to the heart of the real issue, which is whether you can draw any conclusions about the extent of racism based on internet self identification and google searches. It seems to me that the answer is no. This is particularly so when you consider the most pernicious and common forms of racism- you know, the kind that comes with a wink and a nod rather than an overt display?

  8. Joan Brown 2014.07.17

    The other day I decided that from now on, even though I was born in America, I am going to refer to myself as a Scandinavian American. A couple of my friends are going to do the same. Our opinion is that as long as a person is born in America they should be AMERICAN.

  9. mike from iowa 2014.07.17

    Stormfront's largest increase in new signees was the day after Obama was elected.

  10. Roger Cornelius 2014.07.17

    I am of the Oneida and Sioux Nations, I was not given a choice to be an American, therefore my tribal designation is representative of who I am.

  11. grudznick 2014.07.17

    Perhaps Mr. C has a better example if I read him right. "Oneida", or "Lakota", or "Chippewa" might be simply a more accurate term if "American" doesn't apply. I have always thought of the "American" part of "American Indian" meaning the geographic North America or South America. But thinking about this more maybe in a similar vein "African American" doesn't fit. I suppose my granddaughter's daddy might be called "Eastern European American." Mr. Stranahan might have a little "Dwarf American" in him. The "American" thing does start to seem a bit redundant and silly, dinit?

  12. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.07.17

    The Southern Poverty Law Center is the leading expert on hate in the USA. Most is race-based, followed by religion.

    They create an annual hate map, listing hate groups by state and offering specific information on each group. This year SD has 3 identified groups: Midland Hammerskins, National Socialist Movement, and The Dakota Voice. (I doubt that's our guy. Doug?) Dakota Voice is tagged to Rapid City. The others don't include a specific location. (Doug?)

  13. Roger Cornelius 2014.07.17

    Not to bring on a discussion about the racist name of the Washington Redskins, but I'd guess that is a term googled the most.
    But this being South Dakota or Northern Mississippi, you could probably expect any number of derogatory terms.

  14. Anne Beal 2014.07.18

    A few years ago I had a CAT with diabetes. I bought syringes from Walmart, got the insulin from the vet. This prompted some googling, comments on Facebook, I don't even remember. Then I got phone calls. "Our records show a member of your household has diabetes." They wanted to sell me stuff, or to make contributions to charities associated with diabetes. Finally, I told one of the callers, "the CAT has died!" After that the calls stopped,
    There are problems with some of the data collection methods used here. I can imagine a young person in South Dakota, having never heard the N-word before, googling it to find out what it means.

  15. Anne Beal 2014.07.18

    How many South Dakotans google "stormfront" a few years ago when a new state flag was proposed and a whole lot of us objected because it looked like the emblem for Stormfront?

  16. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.07.18

    Several years ago I checked out 3-4 white supremacist websites because I thought maybe what I'd heard about them were exaggerations. I was very curious about their favorite made up religion, Christian Identity.

    What I'd heard about the websites was accurate. People really can be that cruel, stupid, and hateful. Christianity Identity is not Christian at all. They deform the Bible until it is unrecognizable so they can say that Jesus' first followers were not Jews; they were whites who eventually migrated to Europe.


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