The Hand that Writes the Question Rules the World

It’s difficult to measure the degree of injustice in a society just from anecdotal evidence. You might be unlucky enough to meet the only racist in the village. On the other hand, society is not egalitarian simply because your neighbours greet you politely, from time to time, or are friendly in the post office queue. Although that helps.  

Structural inequality is apparent in the material, countable things that racial minority groups have restricted access to: becoming a respected professional, moving to an affluent neighbourhood, sending your children to a good school, having the financial security to train as an actor or write novels. Here, discrepancies between racial groups can be proved by statistics. 

But the decision to crunch the numbers in racial categories encourages tribal segregation. The people who pose the question wield the most power. They are imposing their assumptions on respondents and encouraging the answers they want to hear. If you look at the difference between the salaries of black and white men, you are predicting a problem, and you will discover differences in the salaries of black and white men, but not of gay and straight men, or men and women or experienced versus new employees, none of which will be identified as problematic.

And these discrepancies can be less significant than the research implies. Fewer people of colour may be the CEOs of major British companies, but hardly anybody is the CEO of a major British company, so the sample size is small (thus susceptible to anomalies) and many many other groups will also be excluded. Most importantly, the vast majority of the group you identify as privileged (white men, in this case, I suspect) will never get even a sniff of the boardroom. Being a CEO is not a characteristic of white maleness. 

In the absence of overt, intentional, personal racism, other questions, generating other sets of statistics and other solutions than just identifying systemic racism, might be fruitfully asked. What is the relationship between levels of general inequality and racial inequality? What is the relationship between xenophobia and racism and what do British people fear about immigrants? Does it correlate to job security? Where is the worst housing stock, who inhabits it and why? What factors correlate with death from the corona virus? Perhaps most importantly, what is the relationship between government policy and these issues?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s