Friday, April 20, 2018

Weekend Reading, 4/20/18: Black Maternal And Infant Deaths, Capt. Tammie Jo Shults And Richard Cohen on Reverse Discrimination

1.  This is an excellent and upsetting article on the high black maternal and infant death rates in the United States.  The problem is not a new one, but not much seems to have been done about it.  Recent research has been able to rule out poverty, lack of access to prenatal care and different levels of pre-existing health problems as the only explanation that would matter.  Something else also matters, given that affluence, good access to prenatal care and high education levels do not seem to equalize the white and black maternal or infant death rates.

The first article I link to suggests that the combination of racism and sexism might be that missing explanation, both in the way black women have to live with both of those and in the way the health care system treats them*.

This is a problem we, as a country, must solve.

2.  The airplane accident with Southwest 1380 could have had an even worse outcome if not for the skill of its pilot.  Capt. Tammie Jo Shults, a former fighter pilot with the U.S. Navy:

"She has nerves of steel, " one passenger, Alfred Tumlinson, told the Associated Press. "That lady, I applaud her. I'm going to send her a Christmas card — I'm going to tell you that — with a gift certificate for getting me on the ground. She was awesome."
Another passenger, Diana McBride Self, thanked Shults on Facebook for her "guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation." She added that Shults "came back to speak to each of us personally."
"This is a true American Hero," she wrote. Others on social media agreed, comparing Shults with Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who glided his US Airways plane to safety in New York's Hudson River in 2009.
And yes, the copilot also did a fantastic job as did the all of the staff on that plane**.  But it's not out of order to call Shults a hero, because if you share my vice of visiting misogynistic websites you will soon learn that some people think women can't do anything right. 

Focusing on Shults' heroism balances that conversation a little.  Besides, had the plane crashed on landing, what do you think those misogynists would have said about female pilots?

3.  Richard Cohen has written an opinion piece in the Washington Post  about the dangers of reverse discrimination.  Against Himself, largely.  My response really should be a far longer post, because of a difference between me and Mr. Cohen:

I have spent decades thinking about these questions, while the impression I get is that he has not.  Perhaps a few hours of talking over a beer or two?

But I am tired, so this must suffice:

First, compare this quote to the biography of Tammie Jo Shults from the previous micro-post:

Once I was passed over for a newsroom position I very much wanted. “We needed a woman,” an editor told me. I said nothing, although I seethed.
Shults was explicitly, and often,  told that her sex disqualified her from becoming a pilot.  When she persevered and managed to get into the Navy,  she was assigned to various support roles as women then were not allowed to fly combat missions.

That is a different level of being passed over, especially as the editor who told Cohen that the newsroom needed a woman just might have been nice to him.

Second, Cohen seems to implicitly assume that current hiring decisions are based on nothing but merit, that no corporation or institution today would have any kind of bias against any demographic group, such as women:

All this is by way of saying to women: I’m on your side. But when I see op-eds, such as the one recently in the New York Times that states in the headline that the Metropolitan Museum of Art should not have appointed “yet another white, male director,” I recoil. That’s just another way of saying that white and male is a disqualification. Diversity in the workplace is an overdue goal, but it can amount to a quota by another name. Choose a woman because she’s a woman and you’ve eliminated a man because he’s a man.

But if women in the past were excluded on grounds based on gender, how can we be so certain that this is no longer the case?  Such bias would probably be subconscious, after all***. 

A long list of white male directors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art could be because they were, and are,  the best possible choices for a particular job, of course.  But it could also mean that applicants from other demographic groups were not really considered.  At the least this suggests a need to scrutinize the process by which the institution finds its applicants.

So.  Still, I fully agree with Cohen that we must not rule out applicants just because of their gender, the way the Catholic Church does, for instance, or the way Capt. Shults was treated.

*  The first can be a life-long gantlet run and could "weather" a woman's body in ways which make pregnancy and giving birth more dangerous.  The latter might be like the experiences of many female patients where whatever we say appears inaudible to some health care providers, except far worse, because it would not be based on just subconscious sexist assumptions but also on subconscious racist assumptions and the way they intersect.

**  Several comments threads I quickly read seemed to be in the business of taking Shults down a peg or two.  That would be perfectly fine if the same had been done to Capt. Sullenberger.  But I suspect it was not, as his fantastic save cannot be used in "the battle of the sexes" (a term I detest).

***  Several audit studies and experimental studies show that the assumption of pure merit-based hiring is not valid, at least in some cases.