Monday, February 22, 2016

Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics and Even More Statistics

I think I have found the most absurd figures yet used to mislead.

In an article attempting to argue whites were being maligned by being portrayed as slave owners in the antebellum South, I saw the following statement. Only 5% of whites in the South owned slaves, while 40% of Jews did. Now, I suppose this is meant to convey the idea that Jews,often blamed for creating the slave trade -- oddly enough by both white supremacists and black nationalists -- were somehow also the majority of slave owners int he South.

Sound a bit suspect? It should.

Now, I admit, there were Jews in the South, some quite prominent. The first Jewish cabinet appointment was made by the Confederacy (Judah Benjamin, Secretary of State), so obviously there were prominent Jews. The problem is, they were largely limited to a few large population centers in the South as in the North. But, while the North had very large populations in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston, the South had just two real Jewish centers, Charleston and New Orleans.

Now granted, in 1800, Charleston had the largest Jewish population in the US, but it numbered only 2000.  But the numbers never really grew much greater. Even today there are fewer than 3000 Jews in South Carolina, and, at the outbreak of the Civil War, despite supporting the Confederate cause, Jews provided only 182 soldiers, suggesting a very small population.

The New Orleans population was even smaller, especially as at various times before joining the US the Jews were expelled and had to flee elsewhere. So, at best, there may have been 2000 Jews in New Orleans as well, if that.

Even if these numbers are relatively low, let us double them and more, and say there were 10000 Jews in the antebellum South. The 1860 census gives a figure of about 7.5 million free persons in the South, presumably almost all white. (We can exclude a few freemen and Jews, but say at least 7 million whites, to makes these numbers excessively, absurdly fair.) If 5% of that 7 million owned slaves, that is 350,000 slave holders, while the "40% of Jews" would amount to, using our generous numbers, 4,000.

Thus, it seems, even if these figures are right -- and I am not convinced they are -- the fact is, because Jews were so few in number, the huge majority being white means, even if only 5% held slaves, there were still far more gentile white slave owners than Jews.

But, then again, the bare percentages do paint a nice, misleading picture, do they not?


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