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“Not a few” = 6?

In a discussion of the historic nature of Barack Obama’s election, Christopher Hitchens writes, “there were not a few elected black American representatives 40 years ago.”

This claim surprised me, so I looked it up. In 1968, there were 5 African Americans in the House of Representatives and 1 in the Senate. This sounds like only “a few” to me! Was Hitchens just confused here, or am I missing something?

P.S. Somebody pointed out that there were black state and local officeholders as well. I guess it all turns on what is meant by “not a few.” Blacks were certainly a very low percentage of all U.S. elected officials back then.

5 Comments

  1. Ben says:

    > P.S. This is about it for now, I think. Time to return to regular
    > statistics posting.

    What happened to this? We want more statistics posts!!!

  2. john says:

    Worse yet, Webster's online dictionary, admittedly not the highest-end of sources, defines "few" as "not many", so C.H. was saying "there were [many] elected black American representatives 40 years ago."

    Six doesn't seem like many to me…

  3. Barry says:

    It's 'lying with numbers'. 100 elected black representatives (i.e., office holders) in the US might be not a 'few', but it'd have been probably 1 out of 1,000, and less than 1% of the expected amount.

  4. Andrew says:

    I asked around and the consensus was that Hitchens was not lying so much as misinformed and didn't think to check. As they say, the problem isn't what you don't know, it's what you don't know you don't know.

  5. I wonder if by "not a few" Hitchens simply means "more than you would expect." Certainly 6 is more than I would have expected for 1968. In which case, Hitchens isn't lying, but neither is he saying anything useful, really.