WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2, 2022
Is that a lot or a little?: A funny thing happened over the weekend as we read the Washington Post.
We stumbled upon a shocking statistic—a statistic which helped to highlight the street-fighting greatness of our current liberal / progressive tribe.
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," the late Joan Didion once alleged. The statistic in question helps cast a light on the story our liberal tribe is currently telling itself—and perhaps on the ways we misstate and mislead in our lust to Keep Story Alive.
The shocking statistic to which we refer appeared in a Washington Post report by Williams and Wootson. The report concerned the reactions of some black women to President Biden's nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.
Early on, one observer said she was "over the moon" about the nomination, in part because of the way the highly-qualified Judge Jackson wears her hair. Soon, though, the rubber hit the road—and we encountered that statistic.
The reporters quoted Taneisha Means, an assistant professor of political science at Vassar:
WILLIAMS AND WOOTSON (2/27/22): Means, whose scholarship has focused on Black women in the judiciary, notes that the path to the Supreme Court, narrow for any individual, is almost impassable for Black women. In modern times, most appointees to the court have come from the Ivy Leagues and have clerked for federal judges.
“If White men are overrepresented in the judiciary and they’re selecting who they want to work with in their offices, will they select people who look like them? Yes, unless they prioritize having diverse clerks,” she said.
Jackson clerked for Breyer, the justice she has been nominated to replace.
Supreme Court nominees also tend to come from the federal bench. Means said there are only 45 Black female federal judges out of more than 780 active federal judges. That’s in part because Black women are still fighting for equitable treatment in political parties and ideological groups, which tend to elevate the names for consideration.
Making a long story short, Means said the path to the Court is "almost impassable" for black women, in part due to their limited numbers on the federal bench.
According to Means, there are only 45 black female federal judges out of more than 780 active federal judges. Especially given the context, it was obvious how Post readers were supposed to react to those numbers.
Provisionally, our reaction was different. As we swung into action, we did the first part of the math.
Using the numbers the Post had provided (45 out of 780), we performed a basic calculation. As it turned out, black women constitute 5.8% of all federal judges—but was that a lot or a little?
It seemed to us that that might be close to proportional representation. Plainly, that isn't the assessment toward which the Post was directing its readers, but we decided to check it out.
Assessment becomes harder at this point. Given the complexity of American demographic sifting, it's hard to say, with perfect accuracy, what percentage of the population is black, let alone black and female.
The project becomes that much harder if you want to restrict your search to the portion of the population which, by the simple metric of age, would be eligible for a seat on the federal bench.
Some nations provide no racial / ethnic compilations of their populations at all. The presentations by our Census Bureau can at times be hard to sort out.
But just as a starting point, we'll offer this report from the Census Bureau. In this presentation, the Bureau is talking about non-Hispanic blacks of all ages:
CENSUS BUREAU (8/12/21): In 2020, the Black or African American alone population (41.1 million) accounted for 12.4% of all people living in the United States, compared with 38.9 million and 12.6% in 2010.
This is a basic way to unpack this riddle—a basic starting-point. This is the way USA Today limned the Census Bureau report when those figures were released last year:
QUARSHIE AND SLACK (8/12/21): The United States experienced unprecedented multiracial population growth and a decline in the white population for the first time in the nation’s history, according to U.S. Census officials, who released data Thursday revealing the most sweeping picture of America’s racial and ethnic makeup in a decade.
“These changes reveal that the US population is much more multiracial, and more racially and ethnically diverse, than what we measured in the past,” said Nicholas Jones, the director of race, ethnicity, research and outreach for the Census Bureau's population division.
The white, non-Hispanic population, without another race, decreased by 8.6% since 2010, according to the new data from the 2020 census. The U.S. is now 57.8% white, 18.7% Hispanic, 12.4% Black and 6% Asian.
Those numbers may be the simplest way to sort our nation's racial/ethnic blend. (The Census Bureau treats "Hispanic" as an ethnicity, not as a race.)
Having said that, the problem is this:
Using those numbers, black females are just over 6% of the American population—and they hold just under 6% of all federal judgeships. To the extent that there's any "under-representation" at all, the shortfall is rather slim.
Plainly, the newly performative Washington Post was attempting to convey a different impression in the passage under review. Plainly, the Post report conveyed the sense that black women were vastly under-represented on the federal bench.
Supposedly, this made it "impassably hard" for a black woman to get nominated to the Supreme Court. Unless there's something crazily wrong with those basic demographic numbers, the impression conveyed by the Post is very hard to sustain.
For the record, those numbers aren't perfect. On the one hand, the black portion of the population grows if you sift things a different way.
For example, this QuickFacts publication by the Census Bureau puts the black population at 13.4% of the total population as of July 2021. We assume that number includes Hispanics who identify as black, though the Bureau routinely makes little or no attempt to explain such basic matters.
On the one hand, black female under-representation grows by half a percentage point if we use that larger number. Black females are now something like 6.7% of the population while holding only 5.8% of seats on the federal bench.
On the other hand, our country's black population is disproportionately young. We'll guess that black women may not be under-represented at all if you restrict your comparison to the population which is qualified by age to sit on the federal bench.
Briefly, can we talk?
Rather plainly, the Washington Post floated a statistic which was intended to be startling. Out of 780 seats on the federal bench, only 45 are currently held by black women!
This performative newspaper's well-trained subscribers were supposed to gasp in surprise. This follows a basic precept of our newly performative tribe:
No racial complaint left behind.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep but quite routinely, our upper-end journalists just aren't stupendously sharp. Either that, or they're deeply committed to the prevailing Storylines / scripts of our self-impressed tribe.
This brings us to the tragic shooting death our journalists refuse to stop novelizing—and misrepresenting.
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," the late Joan Didion claimed. We also manufacture stories to show we belong to the tribe, and to prove our moral greatness.
We tell ourselves stories in order to craft our identities. Inevitably, we're the good, smart, decent people within the frequently dreamlike stories we insist on telling ourselves.
At present, the story we liberals tell ourselves is built around questions of race.
In the face of our nation's brutal history, you'd think we'd want to be respectful concerning the stories we tell. But when it comes to these treasured stories, we have an unmistakable tendency to leave amazingly few bogus claims behind.
Tomorrow: The candy stays in the picture