Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Would The US Be Different If Women, Or People of Color, Or Blind People Had The Power Of White Males In Our Society

I've often spoken to my friend L about what it means to be blind.  The human-created world is designed by sighted people.  What would be different, I asked L, if blind people had designed things?  She was uncharacteristically silent.  She'd never asked herself that question despite being a blind activist.

And I think we should start thinking about how the world would be different if women had the power of men.  Or African-Americans had the power of whites.  Or a coalition of people of color.  Or atheists.  How would things be different?   A thought experiment if you will.

Let's be clear.  Despite the fears of evangelical Christians that they are being discriminated against and despite the fears of white middle class workers that their cultural identity is disappearing, white males, are still firmly in power.

Let's just look at some numbers.  (Except for presidents - one Catholic and the rest Protestants - I couldn't easily tease out the religion information.  It won't be as stark as the president numbers, but I'm sure the vast majority of the people in these top positions are Christians.)

White     Other     Male      Female
US Presidents 98% 2% 100% 0%
US House 79% 21% 81% 19%
US Senate 90% 10% 79% 21%
Fortune 500 CEOs       96% 4% 94% 6%
US Population 77% 23% 49% 51%

Sources:  House and Senate, Fortune 500 gender, Fortune 500 race, US Population

The numbers come from different years, but they give us a stark example of how white males overwhelmingly hold the top positions of power in the US government and in the largest corporations.  Only the US House of Representatives is close to matching the population race statistics, and even there it's a four to one advantage for whites. (I'd guess that gerrymandering people of color into packed districts plays a part here.  Black Reps often get 60-90% majorities when they are all packed into a few districts, thus wasting votes for Democrats that could have made other districts more competitive.) It's also four to one for males even though females make up slightly more than half the population.

I understand that most white males probably don't feel that powerful.  And they aren't.  They can't find a job, and if they have one it doesn't pay as much as it should.  They're kids don't listen to them.  Even Trump must be complaining about his lack of power to do things.  Individually most Americans don't feel too powerful.  But look at those numbers!   The people in power in this country have been white males since the beginning, and the rules have been made by people who see the world from a white male perspective.  If the average white male doesn't feel powerful, just think how the average female and the average person of color, or the average non-Christian must feel.

Would women earn as much as men if the top positions gave them the high level power men have  now?   Would birth control costs not be covered in many health insurance policies while viagra is?  Would there be universal child-care?  Or would men stay home and take care of the kids?

Would prisons be populated disproportionately by people of color if they sat in these top positions of power?  Would black wealth be equal to white wealth?

People these days don't have much alone-without-a-screen thinking time.  But I'm going to challenge you to imagine how the world if different groups of people had controlled the top positions of government and business the way white males have.  What laws would be different?  How would our lives be different?

Perhaps we all feel so powerless because the gap isn't so much about gender or race as it is about class.  For a while we had a viable middle class and the gap between the salaries of those at the top of the organization weren't nearly as extreme as they are today.  And with that money, the wealthy can use sophisticated advertising techniques to convince white males it's about race and gender, not about class.

Perhaps the biggest fear of white males as they feel power slipping away (though the numbers show that their perceptions are quite different from the facts) is that people of color and women will treat white males the way white males have treated people of color and women.  That is a scary thought isn't it?

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