Archive for November 26, 2018

African-Americans don’t want to play baseball, like women don’t want to code: Both claims are false

I listened to few of my podcasts this summer with our move, so I’m catching up on them now. I just heard one that gave me a whole new insight into Stuart Reges’s essay Why Women Don’t Code.

In Here’s Why You’re Not an Elite Athlete (see transcript here), they consider why:

In 1981, there was 18.7 percent black, African-American players in the major leagues. As of 2018, 7.8 percent.

Why was there such a precipitous drop? David Canton, a professor at Connecticut College, offers three explanations:

I look at these factors: deindustrialisation, mass incarceration, and suburbanization. With deindustrialisation — lack of tax base — we know there’s no funds to what? Construct and maintain ball fields. You see the rapid decline of the physical space in the Bronx, in Chicago, in these other urban areas, which leads to what? Lack of participation.

Suburbanization drew the tax base out of the cities. With fewer taxes in the cities, there were fewer funds to support ball fields and maintain baseball leagues.

The incarceration rates for African-American men is larger than for other demographic groups (see NCAA stats). Canton explains why that impacts participation in baseball:

I can imagine in 1980, if you were 18-year-old black man in L.A., Chicago, New York, all of a sudden, you’re getting locked up for nonviolent offenses. I’m going to assume that you played baseball. I’m arguing that those men — if you did a survey, and go to prison today, federal and state, I bet you a nice percentage of these guys played baseball. Now some were not old enough to have children. And the ones that did weren’t there to teach their son to play baseball, to volunteer in Little League because they were in jail for nonviolent offenses.

There is now a program called RBI, for Reviving Baseball in Inner cities, funded by Major League Baseball, to try to increase the participation in baseball by African-Americans and other under-served youth. There are RBI Academies in Los Angeles, New York, Kansas City, and St. Louis.

So, why are there so few African-Americans in baseball? One might assume that they just choose not to play baseball, just as how Stuart Reges decided that the lack of women in the Tech industry means that they don’t want to code.

I find the parallels between the two stories striking:

  • Baseball used to be 18.7% African-American.
  • Computer Science used to be 40% female.
  • There have been and are great African-American baseball players. (In 1981, 22% of the All-Star game rosters, were African-American, according to Forbes.) There is no inherent reason why African-Americans can’t play baseball.
  • There have been and are great female computer scientists. There is no inherent reason why women can’t code.
  • Today, baseball is only 7.8% African-American.
  • Today, computer science is only about 17% female (in undergraduate enrollment).
  • There are structural and systemic reasons why there are fewer African-Americans in baseball, such as deindustrialization, suburbanization, and a disproportionate impact of incarceration on the African-American community. (Some commentators say that the whiteness of baseball runs much deeper.)
  • There are structural and systemic reasons where there are fewer women in computer science. There are many others, like the thoughtful posts from Jen Mankoff and Ann Karlin, and the heartfelt personal blog post by Kasey Champion, who have listed these far better than I could.
  • Major League Baseball recognizes the problem and has created RBI to address it.
  • The Tech industry, NSF (e.g., through creation of NCWIT), and others recognize the problem and are working to address it. Damore and Reges are among those in Tech who are arguing that we shouldn’t be trying to address this problem, that there are differences between men and women, and that we’re unlikely to ever reach gender equity in Tech.

Maybe there are people pushing back on the RBI program in baseball, who believe that African-Americans have chosen not to play baseball. I haven’t seen or heard that.

If we accept that we ought to do something to get more African-Americans past the systemic barriers into baseball, isn’t it just as evident that we should do something to get more females into Computing?

November 26, 2018 at 8:00 am 1 comment


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