Good morning Hank, it’s Tuesday.
I want to talk about racism today, but I’m already pretty nervous, because, one, I am
definitely not an expert and, two, racism is big and complex and nuanced and the Internet
— god bless it — doesn’t really specialize in nuance.
But a bunch of recent surveys have shown that about 75% of white Americans do not think
that there is racial bias in the criminal justice system, and a slight majority of white
Americans don’t think that racism is a significant problem in America. But so far as I can tell,
Hank, whether systemic bias against African-Americans exists in the United States is not really
a debatable point, so I want to look today at some data.
OK, let’s begin with the criminal justice system. So last year, the US Sentencing Commission
released a report showing that African American men’s prison sentences were, on average, 20%
longer than white men’s prison’s sentences when they were convicted of similar crimes.
And in fact, in the past decade, the racial gap in sentencing has been widening.
Also, black people and white people use illegal drugs at almost identical rates, but black
people are three times more likely to be arrested for drug possession.
Also, African Americans are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, at least
in the jurisdictions that keep good records, even though, in many cases, the contraband
hit rate — the chance that an officer will find something actually illegal — is higher
among white people. By the way, there’s links about all this stuff
in the dooblydoo. But there’s just so much, Hank, I mean, people
convicted of crimes and then later exonerated by DNA evidence are disproportionately black.
Black kids are more likely to be tried as adults than white kids and more likely to
be sentenced to life in prison, and even after release, black former inmates are less likely
to get callbacks from potential employers than white former inmates, regardless of the
crime committed. Speaking of which, let’s turn to the job market.
So one of the things that makes it so hard to isolate race when trying to study it is
that so many other factors are at work in systemic injustice, right? Like, there’s class
and health and wealth, none of which are fully separable from race. But — OK, so a large
2004 University of Chicago study submitted thousands of resumes to a huge variety of
employers, and all the resumes were completely identical — except for the applicant’s name.
It could be Emily or Brendan or Lakisha or Jamal, and Lakisha and Jamal got 50% fewer
callbacks than Emily and Brendan, despite having literally identical resumes. Hank,
I’m pretty sure that’s about race. In fact, studies consistently show racial
bias in employment and hiring in the US, and also around the world, but I only have four
minutes, so links in the dooblydoo! In education, again, the evidence of systemic
bias is pretty overwhelming. For instance, among American high schools with mostly black
and Latino students, only 74% offer Algebra II as a class; just 66% offer chemistry…
the percentages for mostly white schools are much higher.
When it comes to healthcare, you could write a book about racial bias, and in fact, people
have, but I’ll just quote from an American College of Physicians report from 2010:
“Overwhelming evidence shows that racial and ethnic minorities are prone to poorer-quality
healthcare than white Americans, even when factors such as insurance status are controlled.”
And as the reports point out, by some measures, including life expectancy, which is really
the ultimate measure, the disparity has been increasing for decades.
Now, Hank, I want to be clear that most of this research establishes correlations, which
isn’t the same thing as causation. Like, certainly the tremendous economic inequality right now
in the United States is a factor in racial disparities. But then of course, race also
factors into class and economic status. Like, for instance, much of the racial wealth
disparity in the US is due to inheritance: white people are far more likely to inherit
money and land than black people are, and that’s due in large part to the fact that
for almost all of American history, it was basically impossible for African Americans
to accrue wealth. Now, Hank, I’m obviously just scratching the
surface here, but to deny the existence of systemic racism is to deny a huge body of
evidence indicating that racial bias affects almost every facet of American life.
Hank, the last thing I want to say is that, while I think statistics and data are really
important, I also think it’s important to listen to the voices of the people who have
been affected by racism. Data is cold in a way that humans are not, and to really understand
these statistics, and their impact on the real lives of real people, we need to find
ways to listen to those people. Hank, I’ve put together a playlist and some
links in the dooblydoo as a start. Hank, I’ll see you on Friday.