A Question for #BlackLivesMatter: Which Ones?
If there’s one thing that drives me crazy with news media, it’s their varying use of base scales to present data. Take for instance, this article on the homicide rate in America which uses a base scale of per 100,000 people. Compare it to this article on the abortion rate in America which uses a base scale of per 500 people. And finally, compare both of those to this article on police killings of black males in America which uses a base scale of per 1,000,000 people.
The scales used to present the statistics are all over the place. But what likely sticks in most of our heads is the “number per”. So for murder we remember “5”, for abortion we remember “1”, and for police killings of black people we remember “7.3”. The practical result is that we step away from scanning our news feeds, and our minds rank the severity of these issues in the following order.
1. Police killing black people
2. People murdering people
But what happens when we examine the data using the same base scale?
As you can see above, converting the base scale to “per 100,000” reorders the numerical severity of the issues to the following:
2. People murdering people
3. Police killing black people
Am I opening the door for intellectually lazy (or even worse, intellectually dishonest) people to call me racist? Yeah, probably. A misogynist? Same. Do I care? No, not really. First, because math isn’t racist, misogynistic, xenophobic or any other Millennial/liberal/tolerant/Marxist bullying label you want to sling at it. Second, if math helps open people’s eyes and pricks their consciences to exert energy towards defending ALL BLACK LIVES, and not just the ones that are politically expedient, then so be it. Third, we’re approaching one quintillion users on Twitter, so the chance derisive comments and replies are just angry political operative bots trying to shout down reason and math for their own nefarious purposes, is becoming increasingly likely.
As I crunched the numbers and prepared this post, one thing has haunted me, namely, if the concern is preserving black lives, it reasonably follows that the leaders of the movement would expand their efforts to include the defense and preservation of all black lives. However, given that their documented outrage and historical activity is not commensurate with the math, what are we to make of their selective silence? Could it be that their primary concern is the accumulation of power and influence by divisively manipulating people’s heartstrings while seeking to draw a following of loyal acolytes after themselves? I sincerely hope that this is not the case, and that their silence is attributable to the fact their passion for justice has consumed so much of their time they simply haven’t had a spare moment to open their calculator app. How else could hundreds of thousands of black lives end every year without a peep or single tweet from them?
To be clear, yes, black lives absolutely do matter. However, the question an equalized base scale forces upon us is equally clear, if not, overwhelmingly demanding: how many of us are willing to defend the ones that are politically incorrect and don’t come with easily retweetable hashtags?
The morally correct answer to that question will require courage, resolve, and unfortunately, it appears, solemn inquiry into why 99.999327% of the black lives represented above are silently ignored by the very movement who’s name promises otherwise.