Tag Archives: prejudice/discrimination

Inequality in the Skies: Applying the Gini Index to Airplanes

I’m on a plane right now, flying from Sacramento back to Albany. And sitting here I’m reminded of how air travel itself reflects the growing inequality of society in a trivial, but suggestive, way.

Planes have always had first-class and passenger cabins, at least as far as I know. If the Titanic had this distinction, I’m guessing it was in place from the beginning of commercial aviation.

But for most of my adult life, planes — at least the ones I usually fly on, from one U.S. city to another — looked something like this:

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Just roughing it out here, this means that 7% of the passengers used about 15% of the room, with the other 93% using 85% of the cabin space. Such a plane would have a Gini index of about 8. The Gini index is measure of inequality, a fancy statistical way of representing inequality in the income distribution of a country’s population. For reference, the U.S. Gini is about 48, and the global one is around 65.

Domestic airlines have pretty much moved to a three-tier system now, in which the traditional first-class seating is supplemented by “Economy Plus,” in which you get an extra three or four inches of legroom over the standard “Economy” seats. I, as usual, am crammed into what should really be called “Sardine Class” — where seats now commonly provide a pitch of 31”, a few inches down from what most planes had a decade ago.

In today’s standard U.S. domestic configuration, the 12% of people in first class use about 25% of the passenger space, the 51 people in Economy Plus use another 30%, leaving the sardines — the other 157 people — with 45%. That gives us a Gini index of about 16.

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Transatlantic flights, however, are increasingly taking this in-the-air distinction to new heights. Take, for example, the below United configuration of the Boeing 777. It boasts seats that turn into beds on which one can lie fully horizontal. United calls this new section of bed-seats “BusinessFirst.”

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Unsurprisingly, though, these air-beds take up even more space than a nice comfy first class seat. So if we look again at how the space is distributed, we now have 19% of the people using about 35% of the plane, 27% using another 25%, and the final 52% using the last 40%. The Gini index has now increased to 25.

It’s not often you see such a clear visual representation of our collective acceptance of the right of a small fraction of people to consume a very disproportionate percentage of resources. I wonder how much of the shift is actually driven by increased inequality, as opposed to improved capacity for price discrimination.

And it’s also worth noting that the plane above, while unequal relative to the old-fashioned three-rows-of-first-class-and-the-rest-economy layout, is still nowhere near the inequality of the U.S., or the world.

Elizabeth Popp Berman, PhD is an associate professor of sociology at the University at Albany.  She is the author of Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine and regularly blogs at OrgTheory, where this post originally appeared.

Against the Idea that Sex Selection is Culturally “Asian”

Flashback Friday.

New York Times article broke the story that a preference for boy children is leading to an unlikely preponderance of boy babies among Chinese-Americans and, to a lesser but still notable extent, Korean- and Indian-Americans.

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Explaining the trend, Roberts writes:

In those families, if the first child was a girl, it was more likely that a second child would be a boy, according to recent studies of census data. If the first two children were girls, it was even more likely that a third child would be male.

Demographers say the statistical deviation among Asian-American families is significant, and they believe it reflects not only a preference for male children, but a growing tendency for these families to embrace sex-selection techniques, like in vitro fertilization and sperm sorting, or abortion.

The article explains the preference for boy children as cultural, as if Chinese, Indian, and Korean cultures, alone, expressed a desire to have at least one boy child.  Since white and black American births do not show an unlikely disproportion of boy children, the implication is that a preference for boys is not a cultural trait of the U.S.

Actually, it is.

In 1997 a Gallup poll found that 35% of people preferred a boy and 23% preferred a girl (the remainder had no preference). In 2007 another Gallup poll found that 37% of people preferred a boy, while 28% preferred a girl.

I bring up this data not to trivialize the preference for boys that we see in the U.S. and around the world, but to call into question the easy assumption that the data presented by the New York Times represents something uniquely “Asian.”

Instead of emphasizing the difference between “them” and “us,” it might be interesting to try to think why, given our similarities, we only see such a striking disproportionality in some groups.

Some of the explanation for this might be cultural (e.g., it might be more socially acceptable to take measures to ensure a boy-child among some groups), but some might also be institutional. Only economically privileged groups have the money to take advantage of sex selection technology (or even abortion, as that can be costly, too). Sex selection, the article explains, costs upwards of $15,000 or more. Perhaps not coincidentally, Chinese, Korean, and Indian Asians are among the more economically privileged minority groups in the U.S.

Instead of demonizing Asian people, and without suggesting that all groups have the same level of preference for boys, I propose a more interesting conversation: What enables some groups to act on a preference for boys, and not others?

Originally posted in 2009.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

State Persecution of Sexual Minorities in 1950s Florida

It is only 50 years ago that the state of Florida was hounding lesbians and gays from their jobs in schools and universities. Their persecution is distressing on many levels, the most far-reaching of which is the power that the state can hold when it is allowed to harass its citizens for no other reason than their choice of lovers.

In this case, this power could be exerted because an unrepresentative group, The Pork Chop Gang, was able to form a state-within-a-state, known as the Johns Committee in 1956 (after Charley Johns, a state senator). They collaborated with police forces and sympathetic university administrators. University of Florida President J. Wayne Reitz’s dubious career, or example, included “purges of gay and leftist employees, students,” and at least 85 African-American students.

Lisa Mills and Robert Cassanello have produced a documentary on the Johns Committee, a trailer for which can be seen here:

In 1964, the Committee published a hateful screed that became known as The Purple Pamphlet (full text). The section “What to do about homosexuality?” reveals that 64 Florida teachers had had their certificates revoked between 1959 and 1964, and that legislation had been strengthened to ensure more such revocations. Convicted teachers could meanwhile look forward to compulsory psychiatric treatment of the kind that killed Alan Turing in the U.K.

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The lessons of this period remain potent in 2014, at a time when Texas Republicans are advocating “reparative therapy” for gay men. Such therapies could be a Trojan Horse for state power over gay peoples’ lives. They give hope to the politicians of today who would like to emulate the notorious feats of the Johns Committee which haunt our recent past.

Jonathan Harrison, PhD, is an adjunct Professor in Sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University and Hodges University whose PhD was in the field of racism and antisemitism. He writes for the History News Network, where this post originally appeared.

James Baldwin: “I Can’t Afford Despair”

The interviewer asks: “Are you still in despair about the world?” James Baldwin replies:

I never have been in despair about the world. I’ve been enraged by it. I don’t think I’m in despair. I can’t afford despair. I can’t tell my nephew, my niece. You can’t tell the children there’s no hope.

Stokely Carmichael: “The U.S. Taught Us Very Well How to Be Violent”

Stokely Carmichael, later Kwame Ture, was an activist and Civil Rights leader, rising to prominence in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party, and the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party.

He popularized the phrase “black power,” which he defined simply as “black people coming together to form a political force and either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs.” 

Ture believed in the value of nonviolence as a tactic, but did not identify as a pacifist. Violence was a tactic he believed in, too, when it was necessary. And it has, in fact, been a successful tool in the activist toolkit. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes at The Atlantic:

“Property damage and looting” — perhaps more than nonviolence — has also been a significant tool in black “social progress.” … [It's] a fairly accurate description of the emancipation of black people in 1865, who only five years earlier constituted some $4 billion in property. The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is inseparable from the threat of riots. The housing bill of 1968 — the most proactive civil-rights legislation on the books — is a direct response to the riots that swept American cities after King was killed. Violence, lingering on the outside, often backed nonviolence during the civil-rights movement.

What cannot be said is that America does not really believe in nonviolence… so much as it believes in order.

Black people may have to disrupt that order and return violence with violence, yet again. As Stokely Carmichael explains in the video below:

Existentialist philosophers talk about the executioner-victim relationship… The victims begin to fight and agitate for their liberation. They use all types of means to get their liberation… fighting for a position of equality.

After [the victim] tries a number of means and they do not work, he then begins to imitate the means by which his executioner has kept him down. That is usually through force and violence… breaking the one taboo that they’ve never been able to break: hitting back against the executioners.

So that you ought not to be upset if we are violent. The Unites States taught us very well how to be violent.

Watch him here:

Malcolm X: “We’re Nonviolent With People Who Are Nonviolent With Us”

In the 5min speech below, Malcolm X makes an argument in favor of violence when violence is called for.

Excerpts:

We are peaceful people, we are loving people. We love everybody who loves us. But we don’t love anybody who doesn’t love us. We’re nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us. But we are not nonviolent with anyone who is violent with us.

Whatever kind of action program can be devised to get us the thing that are ours by right, then I’m for that action no matter what the action is.

I don’t think when a man is being criminally treated, that some criminal has the right to tell that man what tactics to use to get the criminal off his back. When a criminal starts misusing me, I’m going to use whatever necessary to get that criminal off my back.

And the injustice that has been inflicted on Negros in this country by Uncle Sam is criminal…

Watch:

Angela Davis: “No Idea What Black People Have Gone Through”

From the great documentary, Black Power Mix Tape, Angela Davis puts violence in perspective. She’s being interviewed about the tactics of the Black Panthers. The interviewer asks: “How do you get there? Do you get there by confrontation, violence?” She responds:

Oh, is that the question you were asking?

She smiles to herself.

Because of the way this society’s organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere. You have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions. If you… if a black person lives in the black community all your life and walks out on the street everyday seeing white policemen surrounding you…

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very good friends of mine were killed by bombs, bombs that were planted by racists. I remember from the time I was very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street, our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times because of the fact that at any moment someone… we might expect to be attacked.

The… man who was at that time in complete control of the city government… would often get on the radio and make statements like: “Niggers have moved into a white neighborhood. We better expect some bloodshed tonight.” And, sure enough, there would be bloodshed.

In fact, when the bombing occurred one of the mothers of one of the young girls called my mother and said, “Can you take me down to the church to pick up Carol. We heard about the bombing and I don’t have my car.” And they went down and what did they find? They found limbs and heads strewn all over the place.

And then after that, in my neighborhood all of the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and patrol our community every night because they did not want that to happen again.

I mean, that’s why when someone asks me about violence, I just…. I just find it incredible. Because what it means is that the person asking that question has no idea what black people have gone through… what black people have experienced in this country since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.

She’s no longer smiling.

The interchange begins at 1min 40sec:

A SocImages Collection: Police, Black Americans, and U.S. Society

In lieu of a monthly update post, please consider this collection of SocImages posts related to the relationship between police, black Americans, and this country.  See, also, the Ferguson syllabus put together by Sociologists for Justice and this summary of the facts by Nicki Lisa Cole.

Race and policing:

Perceptions of black men and boys as inherently criminal:

Proof that Americans have less empathy for black people:

Evidence of the consistent maltreatment, misrepresentation, and oppression of black people in every part of American society:

The situation now:

W.E.B. DuBois (1934):

The colored people of America are coming to face the fact quite calmly that most white Americans do not like them, and are planning neither for their survival, nor for their definite future if it involves free, self-assertive modern manhood. This does not mean all Americans. A saving few are worried about the Negro problem; a still larger group are not ill-disposed, but they fear prevailing public opinion. The great mass of Americans are, however, merely representatives of average humanity. They muddle along with their own affairs and scarcely can be expected to take seriously the affairs of strangers or people whom they partly fear and partly despise.

For many years it was the theory of most Negro leaders that this attitude was the insensibility of ignorance and inexperience, that white America did not know of or realize the continuing plight of the Negro.  Accordingly, for the last two decades, we have striven by book and periodical, by speech and appeal, by various dramatic methods of agitation, to put the essential facts before the American people.  Today there can be no doubt that Americans know the facts; and yet they remain for the most part indifferent and unmoved.

- From A Negro Nation Within a Nation