The only time my life was even moderately endangered when I worked in the Obama White House was at the first meeting of the HIV/AIDS strategy development group. Someone had noted that the African-American female infection rate was far greater than the White female rate, and proposed that the President’s strategy try to eliminate the disparity.
I said that I thought that was a bad goal.
For an anxiety-ridden moment, there were death stares facing me around the table. But once I explained my reservations, everyone agreed. The point I made was that the disparity could be eliminated if the rate of White female infection quadrupled and the rate of African-American infection only doubled, an outcome that would leave us all in tears. We therefore shouldn’t be pursuing disparity reduction per se, but reduction in absolute amounts, i.e., the goal should be to reduce the African-American female infection rate.
This came back to me as I put together some data on Black and White women’s levels of imprisonment. If you had set the goal in 1985 to reduce the disparity (It was 7 to 1 then) you could declare victory in 2015 (Disparity dropped to 2 to 1) today because both groups are far more likely to be in prison, it’s just that the growth in the White women’s rate has been faster.
More on these data in my piece in Washington Post today.