Statistical disparities among groups are the norm in every facet of human life, including those in which discrimination cannot possibly play a role.
In spite of this, however, perhaps the most prevalent pretext leftists have used for massive state coercion over the last 50 years is that disparities in outcomes between races, genders, or nationalities are de facto evidence of discrimination.
“Institutional” racism and sexism are the only possible causes of such disparities, the experts tell us. Society’s prejudices and bigotry are so ingrained that only by growing the leviathan state can these negative results be corrected, they insist.
Does Disparity Entail Discrimination?
But if such disparities do arise absent discrimination perpetrated by “society,” then assumptions about statistical disparities “lose their validity as evidence,” Thomas Sowell notes in his book Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality,
There are many decisions wholly within the discretion of those concerned, where discrimination by others is not a factor—the choice of television programs to watch, opinions to express to poll takers, or the age at which to marry, for example. All these show pronounced patterns that differ from group to group.
The bottom line, Sowell concludes, is that “Statistical disparities extend into every aspect of human life” and that “statistical disparities are commonplace among human beings.”
Problems abound with how academics diagnose even seemingly straightforward measures like income inequality and discrimination.
The real issue is not with income inequality itself but with the processes put in motion in hopes of eliminating inequality.
For example, Sowell contends most income statistics are crude aggregates. The implicit assumption that the mere existence of income disparities is evidence of racial discrimination is unsubstantiated. Simply examining the average age differences among different demographics can explain away a portion of the income inequality that intellectuals proclaim exists due to discrimination. Those races and nationalities with older average ages would naturally boast higher average incomes due to being more experienced.
Adding factors like education level and personal career choices explains much of the rest.
The real issue, Sowell concludes, is not with income inequality itself but with the processes put in motion in hopes of eliminating inequality, which involve damaging government intervention and welfare programs.
Color vs. Culture
Moreover, when evaluating the “disparities are proof of discrimination” narrative, we can compare the levels of economic success among people of color. After all, a racist society just sees people of color and does not differentiate based upon different backgrounds.
As Sowell wrote, “Blacks may ‘all look alike’ to racists, but there are profound internal cultural differences among blacks.”
As a result, comparing results for people of the same color but different culture is a valuable tool to provide an indication of other factors besides discrimination at work.
One source of data is a recent American Community Survey Report from the US Census Bureau that analyzes characteristics of selected Sub-Saharan African and Caribbean ancestry groups. Among these “ancestry groups,” 60 percent or more are foreign-born.
Culture unquestionably plays a role in income and poverty disparities.
For instance, in 2012 the US poverty rate for Jamaicans was reported as 14.8 percent, Ethiopians 19.7 percent, and Nigerians 12.8 percent. All the rates were significantly lower than the rate of 28 percent for blacks as a whole.
Furthermore, the median income for Jamaican males was $41,969 and $39,155 for females; $34,018 for male Ethiopians and $30,253 for females; and $50,922 for male Nigerians and $44,874 for females.
Two of the three of these male ancestry groups noticeably out-earned the median rate of $37,526 for black males overall, while the same two groups outpaced the overall female black median income of $33,251.
Additionally, these three ancestry groups had significantly lower rates of poverty and higher median incomes than the Hispanic population.
How were these people of color, often without the benefit of growing up in America, able to clear the “barriers” of a discriminatory “system” far better than other people of color? Culture unquestionably plays a role in income and poverty disparities, even in situations comparing people of color where “discrimination” can be ruled out.
The Disparities Narrative Is a Pretext for Greater State Control
Nobody is arguing that racial or ethnic discrimination has been eliminated. But to cling to a narrative that asserts racial discrimination as the only cause of statistical disparities in measures such as income and poverty turns a blind eye to reality and leads to harmful policies.
Perhaps making matters worse is the promotion of the narrative of an all-powerful “system” that is structured unfairly and creates a sense of helplessness among those labeled "victims" of said barriers to economic prosperity.
“Why study and discipline yourself in preparation for the adult world if the deck is completely stacked against you anyway?” Sowell asked rhetorically.
Progressives like to lecture us about embracing diversity but then also deny that such diversity lends itself naturally to differences in outcomes. Instead, they choose to play identity politics based on faulty assumptions in pursuit of greater social control.