Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Numbers: Racial Diversity at the Utah State Fair (2011)

Markus T. Boddie
(image source)
The 2010 Utah State Fair advertisement campaign, featuring a soulful character in retro clothing singing sensual songs while stroking a pig, or eating funnel cake, shouldn't have come as a surprise--Jared Hess's directed works always carry a tone of charming irony. But the commercials never made it to the screen. The Fair Board decided they would use the audio from the ads for radio advertising, but argued that the video ads were too sensual and reached the wrong "demographic." Hess concluded that the board pulled the ads because the performer, Markus T. Boddie, is African American. Oddly, the radio spots (same content and lyrics) would have been sexier than the T.V. commercial ads, because in video form, the sultry lyrics are sung to an animal, or a deep-fried pastry, making the whole thing silly, rather than really sensual. Here's the statement Boddie made to KSL on the matter,

"That said to me, ‘Well, we don't want to see you but we can hear you,'" Boddie said.
[He] says the decision reinforces stereotypes about Utah, and people need to know that times have changed.
"There are black people here in Utah that aren't related to Gladys Knight," Boddie said. "If we embrace that, then I think that's the image of Utah we want to take forward."
He seemed to be suggesting that not only do non-Utahns see Utah as a white-power state, but that these Fair Board members prefer to see Utah that way, metaphorically pushing their unusually small black minority backward, behind the main stream--at least in matters regarding what kind of people they want to attract to the fair.

That led me to the question, to what extent do Utah's racial minorities participate in culturally "mainstream" events like the fair? I determined to go to the fair to find out.

At each of the various State Fair locations described in the bar graph below, I stood for a few minutes of time and made a tally mark for each participate, worker, and passerby I could see--putting them into the below-mentioned racial/ethnic categories (See my section titled, "Research Method" below, for a discussion on the accuracy of this kind of subjective study). Keep in mind, these are numbers of people counted, not percentages. Mouse over the colored sections for details.
Number of Persons Counted in each Racial Category at 11 Utah State Fair Observation Spots
September 17, 2011 (2:00-4:00 p.m.) (Note: My study takes into consideration the standards explained in the 2010 U.S. Census Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin report. Here are some things to notice. "Asian Indian" and "Other Asian" are separate categories. Persons of Middle Eastern origin are technically Caucasian, and considered "white," although I have distinguished them as a separate category on my chart. "Hispanic" is an ethnicity, not a race (that is, Hispanic persons can be of any race), so I do not have a Hispanic category. I do however, indicate two Latin American race groups: "American Indian (Latino)," which refers to those with indigenous Latin American roots, and "Mixed Race (Latino)," which refers to persons who appear to have a mix of European and indigenous Latin American roots.)

And here's the summative report, the percentages that resulted when I added my observation numbers together. Mouse over the colored sections for percentages.

Percent Representation of each Racial Category Observed at the Utah State Fair (of a total of 1,709 persons)
September 17, 2011 (2:00-4:00 p.m.)
Utah State Fair Diversity vs. Utah Population Diversity

Let's see how my State Fair stats compare to the demographic census counts for all of Utah:

Data from 2010 Census (Utah)

At the 2010 Census, 80.4% of the population was non-Hispanic White, 0.9% non-Hispanic Black or African American, 1% non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native, 2% non-Hispanic Asian, 0.9% non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, 0.1% from some other race (non-Hispanic) and 1.8% of two or more races (non-Hispanic). 13.0% of Utah's population was of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin (they may be of any race). (Wikipedia, see also U.S. Census Bureau)
Here are the numbers side by side:
at State Fair 74.9%,
of Utah Population 80.4% 
(Note: just as the U.S. Census Report does, I've included "Middle Eastern" persons in the "Whites" category here.)

at State Fair 1.4%,
of Utah Population 0.9%

American Indians (U.S. and Canada)
at State Fair 2.34%,
of Utah Population 1%

at State Fair 2.34%
of Utah Population 2%
(Note: My pie chart breaks Asians down into "Asian Indian," and "Other Asian." I have added the two categories together here.)

Pacific Islanders
at State Fair 2.34%,
of Utah Population 0.9%

Mixed Race
at State Fair 1.99%,
of Utah Population 1.8%

at State Fair 11.64%
of Utah Population 13.0%

(Note: My "Latino" group refers only to "American Indian," and "Mixed Race" Latinos (individuals with Latin American lineaments, but fairer skin), whereas the census statistic refers to all persons who claim Hispanic or Latin ethnicity, and who may be of any race, white, black, etc. That is to say, there may have been quite a few more Latino/Hispanic persons that I couldn't pinpoint as such because I included them in some other race category.)

at State Fair 4.15%,
of Utah Population N/A

(Note: The census does not need an "Other" category, because everyone is required to indicate race. My "Other" category indicates non-white persons whose races I couldn't confidently guess.)

The 1,709 Utah State Fair-goers I observed made up a significantly more diverse group than the Utah population. This came as a surprise to me. I assumed, originally, that because the State Fair is a celebration of rural culture, that the fair-goers would be even more predominantly white than the Utah population. Of course, I should have taken into consideration the fact that the State Fair is located in a very diverse Salt Lake City neighborhood. At nearby Northwest Middle School, for example, only 20% of students are non-Hispanic whites.

Northwest Middle School Student Ethnicities
Table taken from
Rows of empty seats during an afternoon
Fiesta Mexicana performance

There was one group that did not attend the fair as largely as one would have expected: Latinos. I stated above that there may have been white or black Hispanics that I did not account for in my study, and that had I been aware of their ethnicity, my count of "Latinos" at the State Fair would have been more comparable to the Utah population count, 13%. But regardless of the possible difference this information could have made, I was starkly surprised (and I think the Fair Board would have been, too) by the embarrassingly small number of afternoon fair-goers attending the Fiesta Mexicana at the large Grandstand Arena, a one-day-only, all-day event.
Research Method

When this research project was merely a brain-inkling, I briefly flattered myself that I might be able to get groups of fair-goers to fill out small race/ethnicity surveys. After-all, the most accurate diversity assessments allow individuals to indicate their own race. But I feared that the masses rushing from nachos to rides to games to cotton candy to the petting zoo would merely scoff at any attempt to slow them down. So I brought a pen and paper and made race-category tally marks for several minutes at each of the 11 fairground locations described in the bar graph above.

When reading statistics it's always best to become aware of the research process. Even though I'm presenting a set of relatively large numbers, please note that this is qualitative research, not quantitative. That is, the percentages are not based on a mathematically random sampling of thousands of attendees from the entire two-week stretch of the fair. Instead, it is the result of my best effort to count everyone I observed in only a few locations, on one day, over the course of two-hours.

Agriculture Show Auction, 2011 Utah State Fair
Here are a few of the factors that may have effected my counts: First of all, it's difficult to rapidly guess, and I most certainly may have made some incorrect guesses. I did, however, make a tally mark in the "Other" category each time I saw any person whose race I could not confidently guess. 

Secondly, some of the locations I chose were attractive to the general public, others seemed to attract specific groups. For example, The two areas I choose in or near the Grandstand Arena for the Fiesta Mexicana certainly had higher percentages of Latinos than other locations did. And certain places seemed to attract an especially high number of whites. The folk music performance tent was one of these (this makes sense given that folk music is a mostly white phenomenon), and so were a couple of very traditional (rural culture) state fair events: the Agriculture Show auction, and the Great American Cook-Off competition. I chose to made observations at many and various fair spots, to better represent the whole fair population. As I said before, subjective assessment is not the most accurate method, but taking a careful sample of 1,709 persons at various fair observation spots is, I believe, a respectable qualitative method.

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