America is undeniably one of the least racist countries in the world. However, this doesn’t mean we have a stellar record when it comes to race-related issues. Every time a black person is shot by police or a Muslim mosque is defaced, everyone clamors to remind us that, “America is racist!” But is this really the case? I crunched the numbers looking for the truth, and what I found might surprise you.
First, we must define what we mean by racism. For the purpose of my investigation, I defined racism as an institutional bias toward one ethnic group, although I also looked at gender. I determined that the best measure of institutional racism would be to look at an average American job, paid an average American salary, in an average American town, and determine whether the racial breakdown of job holders was skewed in a way that no data could account for. This would seem to indicate racist hiring or firing practices. Also, to simplify our search, we will center our research on black and white statistics.
America is a very large country both in area and in population. Its regions are very different in ethnic makeup, crime rates, and most popular jobs, so taking data from the nation at large is an inefficient way to find answers. It also doesn’t allow us to control for certain variables that I’ll call cultural variables: the values and incentives instilled by certain ethnic groups into their children. Since we needed to have a good representation of the demographics of America without all the messy regional divides, I went looking for the perfectly “American” city.
By looking at the demographics of America as a whole and comparing them to individual cities, I was able to find the closest possible match. After comparing data of race percentages, workforce involvement, and even the average per capita salary, I determined that Oklahoma City, OK, was the closest to being a mini America statistically.
To get a good idea of what this mini America is like, I looked deep into the data available on crime and police. Believe it or not, the percentage of police officers in Oklahoma City compared to the total population almost perfectly mirrors the percentage of police in the nation at large. Oklahoma City’s rate of reported crime incidents is higher than the state at large at 4,722 crimes for every 100,000 people. America’s national rate is 2,870 crimes per 100,000 people. The national crime rate has not been as high as Oklahoma City’s current rate since 1997.
In a city that is, in almost every other way, statistically identical to the entire nation, why is the crime rate so high? The answer may lie in an unexpected place: abortion levels. The only other major statistical difference between Oklahoma City and the United States is the percent of pregnancies that end in abortion. Oklahoma City’s rate is just over 8%, while the nation’s is more than double this at almost 17%. The abortion laws in Oklahoma state that it is illegal to purposefully terminate a pregnancy unless the life or health of the mother is at stake.
While it may be a divisive subject, there is strong evidence that abortion helps deter crime. The women most likely to seek abortions – poor, often black, teenage mothers – are the very women whose children, if born, are at the greatest risk of becoming criminals. This is not to say whether or not abortion is acceptable from a moral perspective. I am just stating facts. Oklahoma’s abortion rate is nearly half of the United States’ and its crime rate is more than double. Because of this statistical aberration, we can control for the seemingly high crime spike.
Now that we have the seemingly perfect statistical representation of America, we need to find the perfect statistical representation of the average American job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80% of all jobs are in the service sector, which narrows the field quite a bit. Also, as reported by the Social Security Administration, the average yearly salary for an American worker is $48,098.63.
Using this information, as well as keeping in mind that the job in question needed to have reliably available data, I chose to use the job of police officer for my research. According to the Oklahoma City Police Department website, police annual salaries range from $43,388.64 for a new recruit to $52,972.56 for an officer, putting the salary nearly right at the national average. Also, because police officers are hired and work for the government, there is plenty of reliable data on demographics and ethnic breakdown.
The Oklahoma City police department consists of roughly 1,000 officers, broken down by race as follows: 85.5% white, 4.7% Hispanic, 6.7% black, and 0.8% Asian. Compare these percentages with the totals for each race in the entire city’s population: 62.7% white, 17.2% Hispanic, 15.1% black, and 4% Asian. As we can see, there is a big aberration in the data.
For Asians, there is a -3.2% difference between total population and police force percentage. For blacks, that number rises to -8.4%. For Hispanics, there is a -12.5% difference, and for whites, the difference is a staggering +22.8%. The fact that these differences exist is not surprising and does not necessarily indicate racism. However, the amount of the aberration between police force and total population can help us determine whether or not institutional racism, as defined above, exists.
One further variable to control for is what I have called the cultural variable: the values and aspirations ingrained into children of certain ethnic groups by their ethnic culture or parents. For example, let’s look at the race breakdown of each sector of the workforce nationwide. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total percentages for each sector are as follows:
Management, professional, and related: 37.9%.
Sales and office: 23.3%.
Production, transportation, and material moving: 11.9%.
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance: 9%.
The racial breakdown for whites is nearly identical to the total (not surprising, since whites make up the majority of both the population and the workforce):
Management, professional, and related: 38.7%, or +0.8.
Sales and office: 23.3%, or 0 (no positive or negative percentage points from the total).
Service: 16.6%, or -1.3.
Production, transportation, and material moving: 11.7%, or -0.2.
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance: 9.8%, or +0.8.
The racial breakdown for blacks:
Management, professional, and related: 29.5%, or -8.4.
Sales and office: 24.6%, or +1.3.
Service: 25.5%, or +7.6.
Production, transportation, and material moving: 14.8%, or +2.9.
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance: 5.6%, or -3.4.
The racial breakdown for Hispanics:
Management, professional, and related: 20.6%, or -17.3.
Sales and office: 21.3%, or -2.
Service: 26.3%, or +8.4.
Production, transportation, and material moving: 16.9%, or +5.
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance: 14.9%, or +5.9.
And the racial breakdown for Asians:
Management, professional, and related: 48.5%, or +10.6.
Sales and office: 20.3%, or -3.
Service: 18.4%, or +0.5.
Production, transportation, and material moving: 9.3%, or -2.6.
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance: 3.6%, or -5.4.
From these data, we can conclude that the most likely race to be found in management is Asian, in sales and office is black, in service is Hispanic, in production and transportation is Hispanic, and in natural resources and construction is Hispanic. As such, whites are no more or less likely, on average, to go into any given sector compared to other races.
If we isolate the service sector from the others, the BLS reports that women are more likely than men to go into service-related jobs in every race. However, the makeup of the police force is only 12% female, indicating that not many women are encouraged to become police officers. Thus, the data for service sector jobs is unnaturally skewed towards women and does not necessarily provide an accurate rule for estimating fair hiring and firing practices.
We can also see that Asians are encouraged to go into management and deterred from natural resources and construction. There is no significant difference from the total percentage for service jobs. Hispanics are on the whole incredibly unlikely to go into management jobs and much likelier to participate in service. Blacks are similarly unlikely to be found in management and likely to be found in service, although the differences from the mean are not as stark.
Many of these racial differences are due to cultural values. For instance, Asians are highly encouraged to go into professional fields, often math, science, and business. This explains why they are so disproportionately overrepresented in management. Blacks are encouraged to go into sales and service, and are more likely than whites not to hold a high school diploma or GED. This leads to overrepresentation in the food service subindustry and the relative scarcity of blacks in management. It is important to note that a high school diploma or GED is required to become a police officer. Also notable is the fact that, among adult men, blacks are the least likely to participate in the workforce.
As of June 2012, 80% of the workforce were either white or Hispanic (many sources note that those reported as Hispanic are often of other races or mixed race), and 12% were black. Of these, only 5% of whites did not hold even a high school diploma, while 13% of blacks did not hold a diploma or GED. Thus, 76% of the workforce are whites that are eligible to become police officers, while only 10% of the workforce are blacks that are eligible.
Now let’s go back to the actual percentages of the Oklahoma City police department and compare these to those members of each race that participate in the workforce and are eligible to become police officers.
White (OKC police dept.): 85.5%, or 999 (0.03% of total whites in labor pool)
White (OKC labor pool %): 76%, or 330,647
Black (OKC police dept.): 6.7%, or 78 (0.01% of total blacks in labor pool)
Black (OKC labor pool %): 10%, or 43,506
These numbers are much closer than the total racial percentages of Oklahoma City would predict. In fact, there may actually be a small bias against white hires. The difference between the numbers (when controlled for population, unemployment, age, and cultural variables) is so small as to be virtually nonexistent. Thus we can safely conclude that there is no institutional racism in the Oklahoma City police department.
There is not enough data in existence to deny institutional racism outright, nor have I tried to do so. However, the data I found clearly contradicts the premise of racism in the most representative job in America, in the most representative city of America. So it is fairly safe to extrapolate this finding in general to the country at large. America is not racist.