Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Reverse Discrimination or Employment Fairness?

Update: I should've place this a couple of days ago. But, better late than never, I hope. I learned watching Hardball with Chris Matthews that 2/3rds of the oral examiners were people of color. So at this point, I really, really hope the black officers just didn't study.

All right. Here goes.

I've been silent about the case of the 20 white firefighters suing the city of New Haven for essentially reverse discrimination largely because I didn't know what to think. I felt conflicted. I felt bad for the 20 white firefighters, especially the lead plaintiff, who has dyslexia. But, I won't like, race solidarity and awareness of racism made me wanna make sure I knew as much as possible. I've come to two basic conclusions.

What happened is this:

The 20 plaintiffs, one of whom is Hispanic and also identified as white, claim that the city's decision to scrap the examination results before any promotions were made violated their rights to be employed in an environment free from racial classification.

All 20 plaintiffs would have qualified for promotion to lieutenant or captain had the test, which the city purchased for $100,000 from a consultant, been used by the city civil service board. No blacks scored high enough to qualify for promotion. The test was divided between written and oral questions.
I wasn't too sure about the tests being thrown out. There are lots of issues surrounding test taking that go beyond the glib, "just study and you'll be fine." There is a such thing as stereotype anxiety, and it's real. Now, I feel absolutely sure about the questionability of the tests. Oral questions? That's what sunk it for me. Now. If there're records of oral examination that someone could go back and look over, and after getting some experts it's found that race didn't impact that section of the examination, fine. Until then, what's up with that portion of the exam. The problem I have with oral examinations is that it seems hard to get around the grading being subjective. And please don't make me go into how looking black and sounding black has a negative effect on the employment prospects of black people, cause without knowing exactly what happened, subjectivity equals racism.

My biggest apprehension with this case is that conservatives are trying and, not knowing how Justice Kennedy may side, may be successful at undoing all affirmative action legislation or policy. This is from the L.A. Times:

The problem is that some conservative justices clearly see the New Haven case as an opportunity to advance their plan to outlaw all race-conscious decisions by government. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. pressed that view during arguments last month when he wondered aloud what would happen if a city abandoned a test because black firefighters had scored disproportionally well. The implication was that taking race into account to advance minority participation is the moral and legal equivalent of Jim Crow laws.

That long has been Roberts' view. But for the full court to embrace it in this case would oversimplify the issue of racial equality and create new national standards from the unusual facts in one fire department. The court shouldn't use this hard case to make bad civil rights law.
And here's a suggestion. When it comes to resolving the conflict between "workplace diversity and the prohibition against race-based decisions in hiring and promotion": specifically prohibited the hiring and promotion of whites and males, yes, some people are both, on the basis of race or gender. The problem this country is facing is white supremacy and privilege. This is not a pro-black country. I think Pat Buchanan can relax.

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But Don't Jack My Genuis