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Disparities Don’t Always Equal Discrimination

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In today’s milieu, we are used to the concept of fairness and equality. Our politicians use it in their campaign platforms, we hear it on the news, we hear it in our classrooms and there are even people walking around in t-shirts that succinctly show the word “equality” on them. But, no matter the implications of such social displays, many of us seldom understand the facts and statistics behind inequality.

One of the most common explanations for instances of inequality is discrimination. For example, phrases like “the glass ceiling” are often used to describe the phenomena of the gender pay gap. People generally point to the statistic that women make “79 cents for every dollar a man makes”. Though there is a statistic published by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows this, this statistic is an univariable one. It simply takes the average amount a man makes compared to what a women makes. It does not consider education, experience, time off, or even the types of jobs women work.

This statistic has been labeled erroneous by a plethora of economists and social scientists and has been disproved numerous times. But despite this, the narrative that women make less than men somehow prevails.

Discrimination has often been used to explain disparate outcomes that occur among African Americans and very often these arguments are quite dogmatic. Though there are reasonable arguments to suggest that discrimination does cause some disparity and the history of African American discrimination should not be discounted, this logic is ultimately simplistic.

For instance, because the number of African Americans in prison is more than the distribution of African Americans in the US population, some argue that African Americans are discriminated against by police and the justice system. But this explanation leaves out vital information. According to the FBI, over 52% of all murder and 54% of all robbery in the United States are committed by the 13% of the US population that is black. Moreover, 89.3% of African American murders were committed by other African Americans.

Famous black Stanford economist Thomas Sowell compares this phenomena of using discrimination to explain crime disparities with the NBA. He says that you can use similar reasoning to suggest that NBA referees were racially biased because the proportion of blacks called out for fouls was greater than 13%, but this would omit the fact that the vast majority of NBA players are black.

There are, of course, legitimate instances of discrimination in our society and some disparate outcomes can be attributed to that, but the all too common act of disregarding facts and statistics for a subjective narrative is problematic. We need to get away from the impulse of letting our emotions and preconceptions of society control our judgements and embrace evidence driven arguments instead.

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