Statistics and Privilege

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012 the American Community Survey showed that, based on race, 77% of working artists were white, 8% of working artists were Hispanic, 8% of working artists were black, 4% of working artists were Asian, and 3% of working artists were another ethnicity.

The Wall Street Journal chalked most of that up to the fact that 11 of the 15 most expensive universities in the country are art schools, and therefore white privilege is supposedly to blame for the numbers expressed by the survey quoted.

The problem with making such a claim without looking at other facts is that it gives a skewed view of the statistics.  In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012, 63% of the population was white, 17% of the population was Hispanic, 13% of the population was black, 5% of the population was Asian, and 2% are another ethnicity.

General Population v Arts Population
In other words, while it’s true that most of the artists working the arts are white, it’s also not an outrageous fact.  The percentages aren’t as out of line as the Wall Street Journal implies with its claim that the greater percentage of whites working in the arts is due to white privilege and the luxury of higher education.

What does seem to emerge is the fact that one’s choices regarding employment is a much greater influence on where one works than ethnicity is.  And let’s keep in mind that statistics can be made to reflect whatever the person manipulating the statistics wants them to reflect.

When the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published its report in October 2013, the lowest paid people were Hispanics who earned $568 per week on average.  This was followed by blacks who earned $621 per week on average, whites who earned $792 per week on average, and finally Asians who earned $920 per week on average.  Does this mean there’s actually Asian privilege going on, or is this a case that job choices are dictating the average weekly income?

Average Weekly Wages in the U.S.
The point of this is that statistics and percentages shouldn’t determine whether someone has a chance of making it as a working artist.  Passion, talent, skill, determination, and business savvy are what should be the determining factors.

And if you happen to be an ethnicity other than white, don’t buy into the argument that you are less likely to succeed in your endeavors.  The percentage of white people working in the arts isn’t much more than the overall total percentage of white people in the general population.  Don’t let numbers and armchair statisticians determine if you have what it takes to make it as a musician or an artist or an author based on manipulated numbers and your ethnicity.

Be the kind of person working in the arts who is the master of his or her own fate … who sails towards his or her version of success … who isn’t afraid to be true to who he or she truly is.  That’s the kind of person working in the arts who finds contentment with their career choice.

Elyse Bruce


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