reading response 1/16/13


Race, Gender, and Discrimination at Work, by Samuel Cohn. 

pg 3 para 2:

“Few things in the world are more boring than definitions. However, on controversial topics in which inflammatory language is common, developing a common agreed-upon language can take the sting and insult out of “buzzwords” and allow for calmer, more consensual discussion.”

This made me lol just a titch because John and I totally worked out some “buzzwords” with our marriage counselor a few years ago in order to better navigate disgreements. It was actually really helpful, and it’s one of those common-sense things that sound so pop-psychology that it’s almost embarrassing when it works. Anyway, I liked that they spelled out this out right at the outset. One of the definitions they use is:

Ascriptive Status is a feature that one is born with. Gender, race, and ethnicity — and in some cases, religion and sexual preference — are attributes one can be born with.

I like the term acriptive status instead of the clunkier, “traits determined by genetic lottery,” that I’ve been using. I think this is a somewhat limiting definition as it seems to conflate gender and sex when they are not necessarily the same, and it equivocates the inborn nature of sexual preference by putting it on the same level with religion (a “choice”). This book, however, was originally published in 2000, or over 10 years ago, so I guess the prevaricating is explainable in that context.

pg 3 para 5:

“Establishing racial or gender inequality in income or employment says nothing about the causes of this inequality. It also says nothing about the social desirability of this inequality. In a hypothetical society where French people earn all the money and Germans earn none, it could be that none of the Germans wants to work and everybody’s happy. The mere presence of inequality says nothing about sexism, racism, or any other underlying social property. What causes inequality in each case has to be assessed individually.”

In other words, correlation does not equal causation.

pg 4 para 2-4: I read these aloud to John because they were fascinating. The gist is that due to economic and societal pressures, very prejudiced people may not actually practice discrimination. The flip side, though, is that due to economic and societal pressures, very progressive people may in fact have very strong discriminatory practices. The example used is that if a small business owner who happens to be a KKK member lives in a predominantly black town, they will hire black people because they need to in order to run their business. They may be extremely prejudiced against black people, but if the economic situation requires them to hire black people, they will. In the same way, if someone is extremely sexist and believes all women should stay at home caring for the children advertises for a position and the only respondents are women, the sexist will hire a woman because that’s what the economic situation demands. Generally speaking, most discriminatory actions (racist, homophobic, and sexist) are the result of subconscious assumptions and market demands.

“Economic and social realities often prevent prejudiced people from acting in a prejudiced way, or encourage nonprejudiced people to engage in active discrimination.”

pg 6 para 1-3 has us looking at economic trends and employment/ unemployment of blacks. This section reminded me of the New York Times article outlining the benefits of a college degree during the recession, which says,

“Among those whose highest degree was a high school diploma, only 55 percent had jobs even before the downturn, and that fell to 47 percent after it. For young people with an associate’s degree, the employment rate fell from 64 percent to 57 percent. But those with a bachelor’s degree started off in the strongest position and weathered the downturn best, with employment slipping from 69 percent to 65 percent. (The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded a similar decline, about four percentage points, among all people over 20, at any education level.) Similarly, in all three groups of young adults, wages fell for those who had work, but the decline was spread unevenly. People with four-year college degrees saw a 5 percent drop in wages, compared with a 12 percent decrease for their peers with associate’s degrees, and a 10 percent decline for high school graduates.” — New York Times,  Richard Perez-Pena, pub. 1/9/13

To compare, the class reading  has tables tracking the employment and unemployment rates for the U.S Male Civilian Population over the age of 16 according to race. The tables show data from 1950 – 1997. The white employment rate stays fairly steady, ranging from 73.2% at the lowest (in 1990) to 79.4% at the highest (1960). The black male employment right varies widely depending on the economic situation at the time. Their highest employment rate is in 1960, when we were doing fairly well as a nation, economically speaking — 73.5% of black males were employed. The lowest employment rate is in 1980, during that recession. Only 60.4% of black males were employed during the 1980 recession. That’s an employment gap of 13% by race. The unemployment table shows a similar picture; in which white males average 4.48% unemployment, but black males average a rate of 9.43% unemployment. That’s pretty insane.

I like the quote that prefaces the data tables:

“The issue is not that quantitative data are all screwed up and that anybody can make anything look like anything by cooking numbers. Actually, the statistics are relatively consistent and hard to manipulate. The issue is that some aspects of American life show persistent discrimination and some show extraordinary reductions in discrimination. There has been progress on some fronts but not others.”


I wasted too much time typing up my reading notes from last night. If the reading instructions are correct, I’m supposed to read this whole 170 pg book by Saturday and choose specific statistics to update. My seminar paper, annoyingly, has to be printed off and brought to class, which is a pain in the ass because printers are all made of the devil and exist to thwart and tease us all. (translation: Our printer cannot maintain a connection with any computer it’s hooked up to because printers are made of the devil and exist solely to incite mankind into a homicidal war so machines can take over the earth.)


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