Friday, January 11, 2008

Who is the Underdog?

CNN today made the argument that African-American's have a harder time getting elected than women. The fact was presented that, in the U.S. Senate, there are 16 women senators but only 1 black senator. I'm ashamed to admit that I almost bought this blatantly fallacious argument.

Comparing the raw numbers of senators is an absolute comparison and is completely bogus. To determine if a segment of the population is under-represented, we obviously have to compare the number of senators that belong to that segment to the segment's size in the overall population.

According to the 2000 census, 12.3% of the U.S. population is African-American. Without any more complex statistical segmentation (into pockets of greater concentration such as South Carolina), that would imply that there aught to be 1-2 black senators. 50.9% of the population are women, which means 50-51 senators aught to be women!

Whereas African Americans are currently, if we're generous, under-represented by 50%, women are underrepresented by 68%. Of course, it would be more accurate to say that African-Americans have been switching between being statistically under-represented by 100% and fully represented since Edward William Brooke was elected in 1967. In the last 41 years, there have been a total of 20 years without a black senator. In the last 15 years, 6 years had no African-American senator.

My argument here is not that African-Americans have an easy time getting elected to the Senate. Until at least 2 African-Americans serve in the Senate at the same time, such an argument cannot be made. My argument is that women still have an even harder time getting elected! This is very relevant given the current arguments surrounding Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's presidential candidacies. It seems as if each candidate can, strangely enough, take advantage of portraying themselves as the underdog.

We can with quite great certainty say that both groups have a disadvantage over white males. But to claim women have broken through the glass ceiling more than there is a racial bias due to the raw numbers is completely erroneous. Frankly, the fact that people make that argument is yet another example of how patriarchal our culture remains.

No comments: