Book Club: Black Stats by Monique W. Morris

Welcome to the first of the #mtbos Social-Justice/Racial-Equity/Let’s-All-Read-a-Darn-Book-Club posts!

Be sure to join or pop into the twitter chat THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5TH 7PM CST, using #blackstats

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Seriously, we want you there. Even if you didn’t finish the book. Join!!! (Also, as I have never hosted one of these things, if you know how to do that or can give me some pointers… please do. I have no idea what I’m doing….but I’m excited nonetheless.)

Black Stats was not the easiest read for me, but it is full of things I did not know and probably should have taken the time to learn before now. Like the fact that “42 percent of Black children are educated in all high-poverty schools…” while “6 percent of White children” are. Or that while the attempted suicide rate for Black people is 60 percent lower than that of White people, estimates are that as many as 49% of Black transgendered people have attempted suicide. As much as these are depressing statistics, there are also uplifting and stereotype shattering ones: Black students are more likely than any other racial group to have parents checking their homework at night, and contrary to popular opinion, the proportion of Black people who use illegal and illicit drugs proportional to the Black population in the US.

When I say it wasn’t the easiest read, that’s not because Morris isn’t an eloquent writer, she is (and I’m looking forward to reading Push Out in a future book club). It’s that the book is basically a reference tome and I am not personally well suited to reading fact after fact after fact. Morris does an admirable job, however, of categorizing her research – laying out these facts to tell a story.

The book opens with a discussion of W.E.B. DuBois’s work attempting to use data to battle racial discrimination. He tried to combat stereotypes with facts, but “one white supremacist after another cherry picked Du Bois’s data on the Black poor and the ‘submerged tenth’ to justify racial oppression.” I thought about this a lot while reading Black Stats. As a math teacher, I am about as well poised as anyone to critically examine data. I routinely demonstrate to my classes how easy it is to tell two different stories with the same statistic. Morris reports that fast food makes up 21% of the daily caloric intake of Black adults age 20-39. Clearly, since Black people choose to make 1/5 of their diet unhealthy, they must not care about their health. Or is it that their environments force that choice upon them and there is inequity in access to healthy foods? I was glad Morris started the book with a discussion about Du Bois, because the interpretations of ANY fact can be shockingly disparate.

I often found myself tweeting out excerpts from the book as I read. Partially because it was interesting to me, moreso because I know people are more likely to read a tweet than a book.

A lot of the education stats are particularly uncomfortable for me to read. As a white teacher of mostly students of color, I’m increasingly uncomfortable about the history (that I do not know enough about) of teachers of color in our country.

We math teachers are really disproportionally representative of the population at large. I’m not going to even start to offer up suggestions on how to fix this here because frankly, I don’t know enough. Educating myself on the racial history of teachers in this country is a primary goal for me this coming year.

I can highly recommend the podcast. Really eye-opening.

In the end though, it would be hard to make it through Black Stats and deny the inequities Black people face in America. The sheer volume of the stats demonstrating racial discrimination is overwhelming. I’m hoping that during the twitter chat you all bring to light things you found that I glossed over, but since I’m leading this thing, we’re definitely going to discuss what I found as the most disturbing trend throughout the book. Over and over and over again Morris presented stats that White people think things are better for Black people than Black people do. Or White people are more accepting of practices that systemically harm Black people more.

  • “A national poll found that 86 percent of Black Americans and only 35 percent of White Americans felt that the shooting of Trayvon Martin was unjustified.” p. 81
  • “The percentage of African Americans who approve of a policeman striking a citizen who:
    • WAs attacking the policeman with his fists: 76% (compared with 92 percent of Whites)
    • Was attempting to escape from custody: 50 percent (compared with 72 percent of Whites)” p.62
  • “67 percent of Black people believe that the death penalty is applied unfairly. By comparison, 36 percent of White Americans and 58 percent of non-White Americans believe the same.” p.77

These stats didn’t surprise me, but they lend credence to the fact that we live in a White world that looks a lot different from White eyes than Black eyes.

Please leave comments below about what you’d like to discuss during the twitter chat, or heck, just start discussing below. A few more things I’m wondering about after reading:

  • How will many of these stats have changed already? Black Stats was published in 2014, and most of the stats are from 2012 at the latest. A…. LOT has happened since then.
  • Even within these pages, “White” is almost presented as the status quo.
  • It would be interesting to see visually how often the actual proportion of the population (about 14% of Americans identify as Black) was disproportionate to any given stat. If I can, I’ll make some visuals before the twitter chat.

Add your comments below. I need help parsing all of this information and I’m excited to learn from you all.

2 thoughts on “Book Club: Black Stats by Monique W. Morris

    • Hey Dan, Sorry about the delayed response – I missed your comment notification. It’s not too late to join in, although I won’t be hosting any other chats. I haven’t thought about doing a chapter by chapter chat, although that’s worth considering. I would highly encourage you to talk to @paimath @eajayi24 @dingleteach @lybryakebreab for ideas on this. They were vocal during the chat about the exact same issue. Next book club is “Weapons of Math Destruction” on Nov 11th.

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