Last week Max Fisher published a fascinating piece of work in the Washington Post:

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.

This map is the result of his labour:

In particular in countries that are rich, have high levels of education, are peaceful and ethnically homogenous, people appear to be more willing to live next to someone who is considered to be from a different ‘race’. Fisher, fortunately, is wise enough to point to some caveats in compiling and interpreting this map:

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 thing andd some are several years old, so we’re assuming the results are static, which might not be the case.

We could add to that that the notion of ‘race’ is itself problematic for something like this. Because of different historical trajectories involving migration, diversity and ‘race’ people in different regions understand different things when they hear about race. For example in India the issue of race is not even put in the WVS.

One of the important things here is that infographics such as these are a very strong visual tool. Without looking at the data behind at it, the picture seems clear and indisputable; the have the capacity to transform (or should we say reduce) complex data into pictures that appear the be clear, credible and based upon solid research. Nevertheless, what certainly should you give you a clue that something is off in this map is the position of Burma / Myanmar. It appears to be more ‘racially tolerant’ then India, Bangladesh, Thailand and China. At the same time however the Rohingya Muslims in Burma suffer terrible atrocities. Watch the next video from Al Jazeera.


There are 400,000 Rohingya languishing in Bangladesh. For more than three decades, waves of refugees have fled Myanmar. But the government of Bangladesh considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants, as does the government of Myanmar. They have no legal rights and nowhere to go.

This is a story of a people fleeing the land where they were born, of a people deprived of citizenship in their homeland. It is the story of the Rohingya of western Myanmar, whose very existence as a people is denied.

Professor William Schabas, the former president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, says: “When you see measures preventing births, trying to deny the identity of the people, hoping to see that they really are eventually, that they no longer exist; denying their history, denying the legitimacy of their right to live where they live, these are all warning signs that mean it’s not frivolous to envisage the use of the term genocide.”

For more on the Washington Post racial tolerance map see also:
India may be racist, but the numbers don’t prove it by Rukmini Shrinivasan
Surveys gone bad – When “Yes” means “No” by Ashirul Amin
Hong Kong is NOT the most racist region in the world by badcanto
Comparative Xenophobia, part I – by Steve Saideman
The cartography of bullshit by Siddhartha Mitter
–> Daniel Drezner responds to Siddhartha Mitter: The cartography of peevishness
–> And Siddhartha Mitter replies: HERE.