“Five to one, baby. One in five. No one here gets out alive.“ – Jim Morrison
This post is a bit different than what I have traditionally written, but as a social justice advocate at heart, I was recently inspired to write this based on the misinterpretation of some statistics posted on social media. The article to which I refer in this post is the following:
We all know that I’m too pretty to do math (yes, this is an odd thing for a feminist to say, but some truths just must be accepted). Speaking of truths, math seems to be a relatively universal one, in that it is the same in every language (a la Mean Girls), 2+2 always equals 4, and 1/5 is always proportionately the same, be it 1/5, 20/100, or let’s arbitrarily choose 12/60.
This article makes a fine point, “More whites are killed by the police than blacks primarily because whites outnumber blacks in the general population by more than five to one. The country is about 63 percent white and 12 percent black.” Unfortunately, in order to explore this further, the dreaded maths need to play a role. These numbers cannot merely be taken at face value. One must analyze what these statistics mean within the context of our nation’s demographics.
As stated in the article and according to the most recent US census, whites make up ~ 60% of the population, with blacks making up ~12% (hence, the black population is ~1/5 the white population, or there are ~5x more whites than blacks in the US). FBI statistics show that in 2014, the number of recorded African-American deaths at the hands of police was 233, while the number of Caucasian deaths was 414. Looking at these statistics alone, one could say that yes, more whites than blacks are killed by police, and by sheer numbers that is not incorrect.
However, ceteris paribus (yes, I just went full on economics on your ass), there is more to these numbers than meets the eye. All things being equal (in economic/population terms, not in terms of social bias, obviously), it would stand to reason that if there were not some other underlying factor at work, the proportion of deaths of blacks and whites at the hands of police would be proportionally equal to their respective populations (5:1). Glaringly, this is not the case. Just stick with me for another minute, people. We all hate math (though oddly, much like Tigger, economics is a wonderful thing).
Based on these 2014 statistics, whites were killed at 1.77x the rate of blacks. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if all things were indeed equal, whites would be killed at 5x the rate of blacks based on demographic proportion? Here we see statistically that blacks are ~3x more likely to be killed by police than whites (and some statistics show that black males are 21x more likely to be killed by police than white males). If we calculate the expected death rate based on the population proportion of 5:1 and baseline of 233 blacks (by a multiple of 5 per actual population proportion): blacks 233, projected whites 2,070 (conversely, using the baseline of 414 whites and dividing by 5 would put us at only 83 projected black deaths opposed to the actual 233). Hmmm…
Anecdotally, the kids in the cafeteria are consuming white milk and chocolate milk. Since the white milk is supplied at 5x the rate of the chocolate milk, one would think that the kids would be consuming 5x the amount of white milk than they are chocolate. However, in reality and for whatever reason (as the purpose of the exercise is to illustrate the indisputable disparity that exists and not the cause of said disparity, as that conversation would most likely take the rest of my natural born life), the kids are actually only consuming 1.77x the amount of white milk as they are chocolate. In other words, the chocolate milk is being consumed at a rate ~3x higher than expected based on cafeteria milk proportions. Thus, while the the quantity in units of chocolate milk being served may be less than the quantity in units of white milk, a much larger proportion of the much smaller chocolate milk population is being consumed.
I know that liberal math (otherwise known as “math”) as well as thinking critically can be confusing and scary. However, not taking everything at face value and employing these methods of analyzing data are vital to fully understanding the issues that this nation faces and the inequality that still exists, in the hopes of making this a better fucking place. Things aren’t always black and white (pun not intended), and we must work hard and work together to navigate the gray area that is our reality.
Mic drop. Just call me Moneyskirt. Perhaps economics is my true calling. Maybe a working girl can win…