How many “white scholars” are there on the Web compared to “black scholars”?

Matthew S. writes:

I have been reading your blog for several months and thank you for your writings. Something I have noticed through all of this Henry Gates to-do is the fact that he is so frequently, almost always, referred to as a “black scholar.” What is it that makes him a “scholar” instead of a “professor?” Is “professor” not enough? Is it not adequate? Is a “scholar’ a subset of “professor” and denotes the individual is more accomplished?

On a whim I googled “black scholar” and got over 1,980,000 hits. Supposing a considerable amount of this can be attributed to the Gates issue I did an advanced search and eliminated all articles/pages that had the word “Gates” and it came back with some 1,010,000 hits. I then Googled “white scholar” and got a little over 17,500 hits. While I’m unsure what to make of this I’m certain it isn’t that there are more than 57 times the number of “black scholars” in the world than “white scholars.” Perhaps the proper conclusion is that the title “scholar” is applied to more blacks than whites and if so, why. Are blacks more “scholarly” than whites? Are they more accomplished than whites? Or is there a pathological need to label blacks “scholars” in an effort to elevate them in society?

I found it curious and suspect you may as well.

LA replies:

Hah, that’s fantastic. I wondered about that myself last week. Does anyone get to be called a “white scholar”? Usually college professors are called uh, professors, not scholars, except in more specialized contexts. “Scholar” in Gates’s case is obviously a special honorific, like “Dr. King,” to enhance the importance of Gates, who is also frequently referred to as the “renowned black scholar” Henry Louis Gates.

And by looking it up you’ve proved the point. Unbelievable. Bottom line: there are probably several times more white professors than black professors, but there are 57 times more references to black scholars than white scholars.

Thanks for this, this is a terrific find.

I did the same searches as you to double check, and this in particular stood out.

I did “black scholar,” not eliminating “gates,” and got 1,980,000 results, like you.

Then I added “-gates” to the search parameters to eliminate gates from the search and again got the same number as you: 1,010.000.

Meaning that almost half of the references to “black scholar” are to Henry Louis Gates. Has this dude got the black scholar market cornered, or what?

I did “white scholar” and got the same as you: 17,500.

But I noticed something else: in the first pages of the “white scholar” results, almost all the articles (based on the brief excerpt of the surrounding text of each found article on the Google results page) were about black studies. Meaning that it was only when whites were being referenced in the context of black studies that they got called “white scholars.” What comes up over and over is a book called “A White Scholar & the Black Community.”

William J. writes:

A recent post on your blog discusses the fact that there are many more Google hits for “black scholar” than “white scholar” and implies that this is because the word “scholar” is used disproportionately to refer to black people. I think a more likely explanation is that, white being the majority race in most English-speaking countries, the fact that a given person is white is less salient than the fact that he is not white, and is therefore less likely to be mentioned explicitly. Similar patterns can be found for many other professions, and the pattern is more marked in fields with fewer blacks (“black engineer”: 37,300 hits; “white engineer”: 7,260 hits; “black physicist”: 1,170 hits; “white physicist”: 116 hits; almost no difference for “salesman”). For similar reasons, there are many more hits for “male prostitute” (437,000) than “female prostitute” (25,200)—not because that word is more often applied to males than to females, but because female prostitutes (like white scholars) are the default and are less likely to be explicitly described as female.

LA replies:

You’re making a good, commonsense point. But I don’t think it’s apt in this case. The issue here is not the frequency of “black” as affixed to the ordinary word for a profession, such as “doctor” or “engineer,” but the frequency of black as affixed to an unusual word for a profession. College professors are not ordinarily referred to as “scholars,” but as “professors.” But Gates is constantly referred to as a “scholar,” and relatively infrequently as a “professor.” So the question becomes how often are white professors referred to as scholars, and how often are black professors referred to as scholars. The problem, I now see, is that in many instances both a white and a black professor may be called simply a scholar, with no racial prefix. And there’s no way we can get at that information via a Google search.

I’m not sure where this leaves the issue. We’ll have to revisit it tomorrow.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 29, 2009 05:31 PM | Send

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