Black Privilege? Female Domination?

by Don Boudreaux on August 27, 2018

in Data, Myths and Fallacies

Yesterday I happened across this graph from the Centers for Disease Control.

What to make of it? The most obvious point to draw from the graph is a happy one: Over the four decades from 1975-2015, Americans’ life expectancy at birth has increased. Another less-well known and especially interesting point is that the rate of improvement in life expectancy for black females and for black males increased in the mid-1990s while that for white females and for white males did not.

But in the spirit of Mark Perry, let’s not draw some lessons of the sort that people who interpret statistical trends as reflecting intentions too-often draw.

I’ll here call such people “naive intentionalists.”

Naive intentionalists explain all observed statistical differences between races – when these statistics are better for allegedly favored groups (such as males) than for allegedly unfavored groups – as reflecting the evil or unsavory intentions of members of allegedly favored groups toward members of allegedly unfavored groups. For example, naive intentionalists are quick to allege that statistical differences in the pay of women and that of men reflect bad intentions – namely, male chauvinism.

So what lessons would an intellectually consistent naive intentionalist draw from the above data supplied by the CDC? The answers are clear. One lesson is that Americans are biased against men and in favor of women. (How else to explain that both white and black females have higher life expectancies than do either white or black males?)

Another lesson is that we Americans are slightly more prejudiced against white males than we are against not only white females but also against black females. Who knew?!

Of course, no one this side of the extreme alt-right believes that prejudice in America today is less against blacks than it is against whites, or less against women than it is against men. And therefore no one with as much as a half-ounce of sense would attempt to explain the data shown above by shouting “prejudice” or “bad intentions.” Yet explanations equally as naive as this one would be are commonplace in the mainstream and progressive media when the data show that allegedly favored – “privileged” – groups are performing better in some statistical category than are allegedly unfavored groups.

And so, finally, note this: it would make no more sense to interpret the recent slight downtick in life expectancy of black males as reflecting increased prejudice against black males as it would to interpret the consistently lower life expectancy of men (compared to women) as reflecting a consistent pattern of prejudice against men.


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