Demographics of Punditry

This is a response to this blog.

Second, pundits don’t look like me. None of them. Not even the two or three brown ones you’re about to cite in the comment section. From a material intersectional perspective (I am specific for a reason, i.e. structure), my class-race-gender-status-power position is not reflected in the pundit class. There may be women but how many are black? There may be black women but how many are dark? There may be dark black women but how many are fat? There may be fat women but how many are from public colleges? These combinations could go on and on and I suspect you’d not be able to name too many professional performance thinkers that share my social location. As a critical sociologist those kinds of absent archives are what I listen and read for.

So, I took a little exception to this. Not offence as such, but rather it didn’t seem to sit right. On the one hand facts don’t change by what race you are. So why, ultimately should it matter what colour (or size, or gender) the mouth is? Does this not just reinforce the false importance of race (though there’s a definite shift against ‘colour blindness’ amongst Tumblr-style activism, which I don’t understand)?

Why might there be a lack of fat, black (super-black, extra black, dark black, black-plus if you will), women from community colleges as pundits on news shows? Is it just bias or is there something more foundational as a reason as to why this might be?

If we just looked at demographics and if all other factors were even we would expect to see around 13% African American pundits (12.6%).

But the other factors aren’t even.

OK, let’s assume a ‘population’ of 100 pundits in our pool.

  • Let’s take our demographics and plug that in. 13/100 are going to be black. Not sure what ‘dark black’ meant and it seems subjective and hard to quantify. This is more generous anyway, so let’s go with this.
  • Half of that’s going to be female. So that’s 6.5/100. We’ll round up again to be generous. 7/100.
  • Fat? Well, ‘better’ news there given the rates of obesity in the US (fat is again, subjective, but we have to use something and this is an impartial measure for all the problems BMI is acknowledged to have). It’s roughly 1/3rd according to the CDC. We’ll round up again to be optimistic, 3/100.
  • So, that only leaves us with 3/100.

Other contributory but hard to quantify factors would include:

  • Relative rates of poverty (27.4% blacks versus 9.9% whites).
  • Relative rates of university education (30% whites versus 17.4% blacks).
  • Different educational choices by gender, race etc (this is part of the reason you are more likely to see women punditing gender issues and racial minorities punditing racial issues – though theoretically there’s no reason my a man or a white person couldn’t do those either).
  • Political affiliation may be an issue in some media channels. A right wing channel is likely to have less black representation (unless they’re trying to refute accusations of racism) simply because, what was it, 74% of black voters voted Democrat in the US’s 2004 election cycle? Contrariwise you might expect to see a genuinely left wing or self-identified progressive channel over-representing various groups.

I would guesstimate then, that you would only expect to see, probably, less than 1/100 pundits meeting the author’s description in the mainstream media. Purely on terms of demographics without bringing any anti-woman, anti-black or anti-fat perspectives into it.

There are failings, but they are in wealth redistribution, the provision of decent public education and so forth. It’s not so much racial as socio-economic and a few token pundits aren’t going to change that. Even if there were an absolutely level playing field, we wouldn’t expect to see that many people, like her, as pundits. There is an argument to be made for ensuring there’s broader representation in order to provide role models, relatability and so on, but this is to bow to the irrational and is like expecting your junker to go faster because you painted it corvette red, rather than dealing with the engine, transmission and tyres.

What does it really matter anyway, so long as the punditing data is accurate and sound? That’s what actually matters, right? That’s a much, much bigger problem too – especially on Fox.

Notes

1. As with so many things the UK and US seems to be divided by a common language. I take ‘Pundit’ to mean an expert whereas Americans tend to talk more about political pundits. Stephen Hawking, for example, is a pundit when he’s brought out to talk about physics or aliens or whatever. What Americans seem to call punditry I would identify more in terms of ‘editorialising’. Still, I don’t think this undermines the point about ‘all things being equal’.

2. When examining the data – such as you can readily get hold of – like this, one often gets kafkatrapped. Questioning the claim is, apparently, proof of the claim. The claim is self evident without having any evidence presented in its support or in support of the reason why it might be so that the other person presents. Dissent is not allowed. Asking questions is not allowed. Debate is not allowed. Asking for data is ‘derailing’. Being skeptical is ‘derailing’. Quoting a respected thinker’s opinion on trolls (that it must mean more than ‘someone who disagrees) is asking for derision. Yet these are the same people who – out of the other side of their mouth – call for ‘respect’ in absolutist terms for anyone and everyone else. This is especially frustrating when you ostensibly support ‘the cause’ but want it to proceed on good data.

Incidentally. I found one.

Fat

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