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March 10, 2005

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If the police force is already 70% African-American, and if the city is also majority African-American, we already have a pretty good justification in place. See, J. Hart Ely and, IIRC, Adarand.

To be fair, "available" is probably a much better description than "in place."

I thought Grutter limited the diversity justification to higher education.

I'd like to see a little more background on the facts. If (and I don't know this to be the case) it is conventional for a newly elected DA to make a clean sweep of the staff and re-staff with his own people (a political appointee, rather than a civil service, model), and if (as the linked stories seem to imply, but don't unequivocally say) the staff of the prior DA was disproportionately white compared to the hiring pool, then I don't see that anything wrong necessarily happened.

Now, if new DA's in New Orleans don't usually restaff the office with their own people, then the firings are a real problem. Does anyone know?

"If (and I don't know this to be the case) it is conventional for a newly elected DA to make a clean sweep of the staff and re-staff with his own people (a political appointee, rather than a civil service, model), and if (as the linked stories seem to imply, but don't unequivocally say) the staff of the prior DA was disproportionately white compared to the hiring pool, then I don't see that anything wrong necessarily happened."

I can't agree with this because it wasn't as if he merely made a clean sweep (and of the office staff not the more political positions like assistant DAs) it wasn't a clean sweep of the office, it was a clean sweep of the white people in the office. And when hiring to fill the positions formerly held by the fired white people, the racial hiring rate was 64 of 69 which is 93%. If it is appropriate to consider statistical disparity in racial hiring cases, that number is relevant. But we don't even have to go to statistical disparity, because Jordan admits that he was making 'diversity hires'. Even if 'political' hiring is typcially allowed, 'political hiring by race' is a different animal.

What you're describing isn't affirmative action, it's racial discrimination -- the thing affirmative action is intended to prevent. Are you saying that because the DA uses diversity as his excuse, his hiring practices discredit affirmative action programs?

What you're describing isn't affirmative action, it's racial discrimination

They're the same thing in all cases, its only a question of degree.

SCT,

I don't see why you think the 70% figure is justification. A rough calculation suggests that 93% in a sample of 69 is statistically very significantly higher than the 70% you would expect on average, and that just refers to the hires of course.

The plausible defense is that:

These are normally patronage type jobs so it is customary for the new DA to bring in his own people,

and,

Jordan's political support is much more than 70% black, so it is not surprising that many more than 70% of the jobs went to blacks. In other words, the relevant hiring pool is not the city work force but that portion of it that supported Jordan.

Note that the second condition is highly plausible, even likely. About the first I don't know, except that having some familiarity with New Orleans I can say that it is not a city one typically looks to as a model of good government, so heavy use of patronage in hiring would be unsurprising.

Ugh: "What you're describing isn't affirmative action, it's racial discrimination

They're the same thing in all cases, its only a question of degree."

No, I don't think they are. To me, the difference is whether there's a good reason for what you do. Take college admissions, for instance: selective colleges do not admit students on the basis of "merit", if merit is defined as grades and SAT scores, or something. They have always tried to have a diverse student body in all sorts of ways. You have a better shot at getting in if, say, you ran a successful business in high school, or patented a biomedical device, or are a concert pianist. You also have a better shot at getting in if you are from a part of the country from which there aren't many students at the college in question, or are from an underrepresented socioeconomic class, or an underrepresented race. The reason for all of these things is the desire to create a diverse student body, and what I sometimes find frustrating in debates about affirmative action in college admissions is the idea that race is the only non-grade-and-test-score factor that ever comes into play. I don't think this is discrimination at all, any more than wanting to cast a female as Juliet is. In both cases you have a legitimate reason for taking race/gender into account, though in the college admissions case it's not decisive (as it would, legitimately, be in the case of casting Juliet, unless the director was trying to make some sort of point by deliberately casting a guy.)

I know nothing about the case Sebastian mentions other than that one article, so won't comment on it specifically. But there are clearly cases in which people don't adopt a thoughtful policy informed by legitimate goals, but instead just up and discriminate. These are (imho) wrong. But that's precisely because they don't have a rationale that makes sense behind them.

What you're describing isn't affirmative action, it's racial discrimination -- the thing affirmative action is intended to prevent. Are you saying that because the DA uses diversity as his excuse, his hiring practices discredit affirmative action programs?

Affirmative action is limited current racial discrimination to remedy past racial discrimination. The key is 'limited'. The question if you are willing to allow affirmative action at all (and I'll freely admit that I am inclined not to) is what that limit will be. For reasons which have not been well articulated so far as I am aware, our society has often allowed affirmative action in the hiring (and in some cases promotion) decisions but not in firing decisions. And even in those cases, we play lip service to the idea that affirmative action is supposed to be a slight positive factor instead of an overwhelming factor in the hiring decision. In other words you may choose to hire a black person who would, on whatever objective measure you have, seem slightly less qualified than a Japanese person also applying for the job. This case seems to be problematic both because it involves firing decisions (remember that whites and Hispanics were almost all of those fired) and because the plus (or in this case minus) factor seems overwhelmingly large.

(Note: I do not know any more facts than were in the linked articles. My limited point throughout is that they do not unequivocally establish wrongdoing -- it's possible that Jordan is a racist, but I don't see it as proven on the basis of those articles.)

93%, in relation to a hiring pool that appears to be 70% black, isn't all that far off, and I've seen only limited quotes from Jordan. If the racial thinking behind the hiring was "The prior DA's staff was disproportionately white -- by hiring my cronies (appropriate, assuming a base level of competence, in a political appointee context) I will bring the staff more closely into accordance with the diversity of the hiring pool," is that a problem? It seems compatible with the limited quotes I've seen.

I can't agree with this because it wasn't as if he merely made a clean sweep (and of the office staff not the more political positions like assistant DAs) it wasn't a clean sweep of the office, it was a clean sweep of the white people in the office.

I don't see it alleged that all or only white people were fired ("a clean sweep") -- just that many white employees were fired, and many of those were replaced with black employees. How many black staff members were there under the prior DA to have been fired, i.e., would firing a cross-section of the staff have necessarily involved firing mostly whites? Again, I don't know, but I don't see an answer in the stories linked.

Stepping back a bit, what we have here is one of the reasons that so many of the historic race discrimination cases have been brought and won by white men. When a white man makes a practice of hiring predominantly or exclusively white men, it's easy for that practice to be described in non-racial terms: people from the right schools, who the boss is comfortable with, etc... it is such normal, expected behavior that the people hiring can make consistently racially biased decisions without explicitly conceptualizing them in terms of race. Race is much more salient for minorities, and so a black man making a hiring decision is far more likely to expressly recognize, and allude to, the racial implications of that decision. Verbally unexpressed, business-as-usual, discrimination is very hard to fight, but god forbid someone should explicitly allude to the racial effect of a hiring decision, even if that effect is remedial.

Bernard:

I'm not arguing that what happened was OK; I'm arguing that we have good defenses of affirmative action that still say this is not OK. Thus, Sebastian is incorrect in asserting that finding this case wrong undermines rational support for affirmative action.

That said, LB is right - we'd need to know the facts.

Bernard probably has more familiarity than me, but living a hour away from the Big Easy a number of years ago, the level of corruption in the N.O. Police department was staggering. At one point IIRC, the whole police was directly supervised by the Feds. This is a quick link to some problems, here's a link to supposed improvements to the police force. New Orleans has also had a rather strong patronage system, so this is possibly linked to that, as Bernard notes. The local Times-Picayune has more details

In an apparent effort to stress the political nature of the office, defense attorney Ricky Ramirez on Wednesday asked LeBlanc if he had ever been told by a Connick staffer that he would be fired if he refused to campaign for Connick's picks for candidates in races.

"That's close to the truth, yes," LeBlanc said.

But Craig Petersen, another former investigator who is also a plaintiff, testified that no one had asked him to campaign for any of Connick's choices during campaigns.

Two more stories here and here

As an interesting trivia note (no conclusions are being drawn here) the former DA, Harry Connick Sr., just switched his party affiliation to Republican

he kept the white lawyers

For the record, no he didn't. Two friends of mine in that office, both white, were heavily encouraged to move on in the weeks following the election - essentially told that if they stayed, they would work only on the worst and most insignificant cases. These guys had been there for 5 years each, and had advanced to the point where they were prosecuting only top-shelf felonies, including capital murder cases. They both took the hint and left for the private sector.

By the way, also for the record, the lily-white character of the D.A.'s office prior to this purge was no accident, and the historical hiring practices of Connick and the office over time were also blatantly racist and unfair.

But that doesn't make the purge particularly noble.

To pick one person over another because of race is racial discrimination, even if you have a "good" reason for doing so.

I would not object to the comparison of affirmative action to picking people based on socio-economic status, or geographic location, or who their parents were; such information tells you nothing about the individual in question (other than it is likely that they had a different experience growing up than someone from a different state, class or race, but not necessarily so).

But to compare it to someone who is a concert pianist, or ran a successful business or patented a biomedical device says is wrong. Such things say volumes more about the person in question than their race, what state they are from, and what economic class they belong to.

What can you tell me about an individual if all the information I give you about them is that he/she is black (other than that he/she is not a member of some other race)?

Ugh: would you say that someone who considers race in deciding who to cast as Othello is engaging in racial discrimination?

And what SCMT said -- while the full facts may, as I argued above, show that nothing nefarious happened here, to the extent that something wrong did happen, it has very little to do with affirmative action.

This slightly OT, but picking people based on socio-economic status, or geographic location, or who their parents were; such information tells you nothing about the individual in question strikes me as wholly inaccurate. I'd bet that you can create a decent predictive model about a range of skills, abilities, and potential future successes based on just that information. If you're saying that we should really get to know people before we make decisions - well, that'd be great, but we generally don't have the time or energy to do that.

I don't think it's clear under current law that diversity alone is a sufficiently compelling state interest justifying affirmative action outside of the education context (pace Ugh's comment, above).

Assuming that race-conscious decisionmaking is allowable in this case, it's also not clear from the facts as given in the post that these personnel actions are sufficiently narrowly tailored to address the problem to pass legal scrutiny. So, right off the bat there are two good reasons to think this is not legal under current affirmative action law, which would tend to show that current affirmative action law is not as insidious as implied in the post.

Right; what SCTM and LB said.

st: By the way, also for the record, the lily-white character of the D.A.'s office prior to this purge was no accident, and the historical hiring practices of Connick and the office over time were also blatantly racist and unfair.

But that doesn't make the purge particularly noble.

Not noble, perhaps, but sounds fair.

If the people currently working in the office before this got their jobs by affirmative action (the usual kind, that biased towards white men), and have now lost their jobs because of affirmative action (the unusual kind, generally regarded by white men as very unfair) it sounds pretty even-handed to me.

"He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword..."

I'm partly devils-advocating here, I admit, but it does seem to me that there's a distinct refusal to acknowledge that the routine kind of affirmative action, which costs one person a job in favor of another based on race, generally goes on for years and no one ever protests or complains - so long as the race that's the "plus" in getting the job is white. And if you're white and you accept a job in an office that you know has pro-white racist hiring practices - if the available hiring pool is 70% black but the vast majority of people in the office are white - then you are working there because you are white: and if you then lose the job because you're white, isn't that just the whirligig of time bringing round its revenges?

The reason this is partly devils-advocating is that I do tend to think it's better to do these things by degrees than in one fell swoop. On the other hand, sometimes if you don't do these things in one fell swoop, they never get done. How many black people had failed to get jobs under Connick because Connick preferred to hire a less-qualified white person for being white?

The reason for all of these things is the desire to create a diverse student body, and what I sometimes find frustrating in debates about affirmative action in college admissions is the idea that race is the only non-grade-and-test-score factor that ever comes into play. I don't think this is discrimination at all, any more than wanting to cast a female as Juliet is. In both cases you have a legitimate reason for taking race/gender into account, though in the college admissions case it's not decisive (as it would, legitimately, be in the case of casting Juliet, unless the director was trying to make some sort of point by deliberately casting a guy.)

I think in the case of college admissions what is so difficult is the magnitude of "taking it into account". If the Michigan case is representative, race is an enormous factor--to the extent that labeling it "taking it into account" is a dramatic understatement. According to the Michigan guidelines at the time an underrepresented minority gets 20 points for that fact, while the difference between achieving the lowest score possible on the SAT and the highest score possible is only 12. (And when people talk about the SAT not being excellent at sorting, they mean that small differences in score don't sort well, not that the difference between a 400 and a 1600 sorts poorly.) This represents an entire grade point difference under the Michigan program. It represents half of the points allowable under non-academic factors. The most points available in the non-racial, non-economically disadvantaged, non scholarship athlete categories, non-Provost's discretion categories which make up personal achievement is 23.

So you're talking about whether the admissions criteria are sufficiently narrowly tailored to meet the objective, something which can be (and was) extensively litigated until we reach some final judicial result.

You're excluding academics from personal achievement there, right?

Ugh: would you say that someone who considers race in deciding who to cast as Othello is engaging in racial discrimination?

Good question. Another one like it is whether police officers, given the description of a suspect as black, can then act on that information or if that's impermissible racial discrimination by the government.

As for Othello, yes, racial discrimination. Illegal under title VII? Quite possibly (if you're going to apply the words of the statute as written). Morally wrong to the point of objecting to it? No. Same thing in considering race when casting someone to play Ray Charles or Winston Churchill (Extraneous non-serious comment: I would love to see Denzel Washington play Batman).

I don't know what to say about the cop situation, other than it might be a case where you pass strict scrutiny.

I guess you could say that I don't consider the Othello question morally wrong because the casting director had a "good" reason for the racial discrimination. I'll have to think more about that...

I don't think a lot of people get into Michigan with SAT scores of 400, no matter how minor their minority.

The people I'm describing got their jobs by graduating near the top of their classes at Tulane and working for free in the DA's office for almost 6 months. They both wanted to be prosecutors. There is only one DA in New Orleans. Where else were they going to look for and accept jobs? And please remember that the "available hiring pool" for district attorneys is not 70% black, as not 70% of law school graduates/licensed attorneys in LA or elsewhere are black.

I take your underlying point, (which should have been obvious enough, as I was the one who raised the caucasian character of the joint under Connick in the first place) but it is not accurate to demonize everyone who works in an office with a racist hiring policy as complicit in that policy.

(Extraneous non-serious comment: I would love to see Denzel Washington play Batman).

Wow. Me too. That voice.

And that would be one hell of a twist on the Batman legend - a black man who saw both his parents gunned down in an alleyway, grows up to be a vigilante for justice, fighting both criminals and the racist cops who ignored the murder of his parents... *grin* Anyone see any parallels here?

st: but it is not accurate to demonize everyone who works in an office with a racist hiring policy as complicit in that policy.

I don't believe I was demonizing anyone. Just making a point.

but it is not accurate to demonize everyone who works in an office with a racist hiring policy as complicit in that policy.

(Not addressing the specifics of what happened to your friends, which sounds as if it may well have been unjust.)

You can unjustly benefit from a racist hiring policy without being complicit in that policy -- perfectly innocent white guy goes in for an interview, gets hired, has no way of knowing that his race was a factor in his hiring. There's a good chance that I've gotten jobs under those circumstances (I'm white, and I've worked in a bunch of workplaces that were significantly whiter than the city I live in. Do I know that the hiring practices were racist? No. Would I be surprised? Also no.)

The fact that you're not complicit in the hiring doesn't mean that your hiring wasn't unjust, or that you now have some kind of meritocratic right to that job. Pointing out the injustice is not demonizing the innocent recipient of the benefits of the injustice.

"You're excluding academics from personal achievement there, right?"

You mean the University of Michigan, not me. And yes both hilzoy and I were talking about the non-academic side of personal achievement--see references to pianists and the University of Michigan guidelines which I link. I discuss the academic side personal achievement in the discussion of GPAs and SAT scores, also see above.

"Pointing out the injustice is not demonizing the innocent recipient of the benefits of the injustice."

Have we pointed out such an injustice in these cases?

St has asserted, on the basis of claimed personal knowledge, that the office was 'lily-white' under Connick and that the hiring practices under COnnick were racist and unfair. If true, that there is an injustice, dontcha think?

93%, in relation to a hiring pool that appears to be 70% black, isn't all that far off

As a statistical matter, in sample of 69, it's extremely far off. If you have a population that is 70% black and randomly draw a sample of 69 people the chance that 93% of them will be black is on the order of 1/100,000.

Right, but there are other factors (personal connections with the DA, for example) that would reasonably skew the results in that direction. My only point was that it was 93% as viewed against a baseline of 70%, rather than 50%.

I read st's comment about his friends as personal knowledge as opposed to the hiring practices. But this is an interesting problem.

Let's take as a given that qualified white people were hired under a racist policy. Does that fact justify firing them.

Where (and again, I don't know this to be true in this case) it would be conventional for an incoming supervisor to replace the old staff with their own people, and (again, I don't know this to be true in this case) the old staff were in large part hired due to a racist hiring policy, I think that it makes recognizing the fact that the racial makeup of the new staff will be less racially biased than the old staff unexceptionable.

Let's take as a given that qualified white people were hired under a racist policy. Does that fact justify firing them.

My last post didn't really answer your question. Firing them, for the purpose of replacing them with new employees hired on a non-racist basis, I would have a problem with -- the negative effects of being fired are significantly greater than not being hired in the first place, so better to solve the problem through attrition. On the other hand, if I knew that hiring was done on a racist basis, I personally would not have any problem with using race as a tie-breaker in a question of who should be laid off first -- if someone is to be fired, better it should be the person (regardless of the fact that they may be personally innocent) who benefitted from the racist hiring practice. I don't believe current law allows this, but I'd find it morally acceptable.

LB,

My calculation was against a baseline of 70%, not 50%.

Of course it is true, as I mentioned earlier, that on the assumptions these are traditionally patronage jobs and that Jordan's associates and supporters are more than 70% black, that the result is not really extreme. That's what I don't know.

LB - If true, that there is an injustice, dontcha think? Sure is. Do you think that future injustices were in any way prevented, or the general cause of racial equality was in any way advanced by systemwide explicitly race-based purges? Please do not extrapolate my comment to constitute a defense of Connick.

By the way, on topic, I disagree with SH's conclusion that this type of purge is some kind of meaningful extrapolation from Affirmative Action as it exists - AA is a program and can be administered; there in no reason, not even an intuitive one, to assume that such a program will naturally metastasize into Saturday Night Massacres like this one.

Jes: "He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword..." implies pretty strongly that the fired employees were themselves swinging the racist sword prior to their own destruction. That is generally unfair, and in these specific cases inaccurate. If I read too much into that quote, I'm sorry. Do I think that what happened to my friends was unjust? I don't really know - in a way yes, in a way, no. They were both fine prosecutors. One of them in particular risked his career a number of times under Connick to ensure fairness for black defendants he was prosecuting. Is N.O. and it's black population better off with him out of the DA's office? I don't think so, but I'm (obviously) biased.

On the other hand, perhaps this is best viewed from another, more local, perspective. To wit: this was an entirely unsurprising event to anyone who has lived in N.O. for any length of time. Due to Connick's longevity and (frankly mystifying) enduring popularity, the DA's office was the last city-wide office that was not filled by a black politician. These purges were, or could be seen as, a pent-up expression of the same political spoils system that operates in every city government regardless of racial or other demographic issues.

So, was what happened to them unjust? Maybe, maybe not. Did it suck? Yup.

LB - If true, that there is an injustice, dontcha think?

Sure is. Do you think that future injustices were in any way prevented, or the general cause of racial equality was in any way advanced by systemwide explicitly race-based purges? Please do not extrapolate my comment to constitute a defense of Connick.

Really, I don't think we disagree on much of anything -- I haven't got the local knowledge you do, and to the extent I've been defending what was done, I've been defending it as "not obviously wrong from the facts in the linked stories." Overall, my judgment of the situation totally depends on whether these were conventionally patronage jobs, and if the 'purge' when a new DA came in was, therefore, conventional. If your friends had a reasonable expectation of continuing to serve as ADA's after the DA who appointed them left office, then it certainly sounds as if they got unfairly screwed; even if they didn't have such an expectation, they have my sympathy. Getting fired for reasons unrelated to personal wrongdoing totally sucks.

If your friends had a reasonable expectation of continuing to serve as ADA's after the DA who appointed them left office
Yeah, that's sort of what I was driving at at the end - every ada's job, in any city, is kind of on the block when the DA's chair changes hands. Both of my friends knew they were in danger, but both wanted to keep doing the jobs they were doing. I am bothered by the scale of the purge, and the fact that the transition from Connick to Jordan was not from party to party, but from race to race (Conick and Jordan were both Democrats at the time). I don't know. As I said, no one down there was particularly surprised.

The two things I'm sure of are (1) I disagree with SH's construction of this incident as indicative of something fundamental about Affirmative Action, and (2) I have the flu and it sucks. Cough, cough.

My only comment on the thread is that anyone who is hired should be qualified for the job. If they're not qualified, that's wrong. I don't want my tax dollars paying for unqualified or incompetent civil servants.

(They don't necessarily have to be more qualified than the person they replace, as there can be other factors at play).

< off topic > You poor thing. This winter has been hell for colds and flu -- all the normal winter sniffliness seems much worse than usual. We haven't had everyone in the house healthy since November. < /off topic >

Affirmative Action -- originally intended only as a remedy because of the nasty effects of our history of racial discrimination. It is a lesser form of racial discrimination no matter how you look at it, so it has always been a less than perfect remedy. The hope has been that more good than harm flows from it.

From a Sebastian comment: Let's take as a given that qualified white people were hired under a racist policy. Does that fact justify firing them. No, but under affirmative action, it justified for a period of time hiring preferences for blacks in future jobs in order to remedy that discrimination.

As a remedy, it should be phased out over time as conditions improve, and its bad effects begin to outweigh benefits. We have been in that phase for a while now. Affirmative action has also morphed into a lesser form of racial sensitivity which is not as problematic -- so the same term ends up meaning apples or oranges to different people.

From the post: One of the interesting things about this case is that it represents the ascendence of the diversity justification for even extreme examples of racial decision-making. No, the New Orleans example has nothing to do with affirmative action except as the fig leaf justification offered by Jordan. You seem to be mistaking affirmative action as something that simply proscribes strict quotas.

Firing non-whites in mass to replace them with less qualified blacks is racial discrimnation, period. The 70% excuse is bull; and patronage hiring as the possible motivation (which, in fact, seems likely) still does not justify racial discrimination. Under that logic, governments in areas where blacks are practically non-existent could presumably do the same -- fire the few blacks to return the work force to nearly all white. If you think Jordan has a point, then you have to sanction the reverse.

Under that logic, governments in areas where blacks are practically non-existent could presumably do the same -- fire the few blacks to return the work force to nearly all white. If you think Jordan has a point, then you have to sanction the reverse.

Well, sure. If you've got an office in Vermont that's staffed by patronage hires, which have been hired in a racially discriminatory manner such that 80% of them are black, and after an election all the patronage hires are fired and replaced with white people (because the hiring pool in Vermont is, to within a decimal point or so, 100% white), I wouldn't have any problem with that. Would anyone?

"Ugh: would you say that someone who considers race in deciding who to cast as Othello is engaging in racial discrimination?"

I would say that discriminating between people on a basis of a perception of their "race" is discriminating between people on the basis of a perception of their "race." If "racial discrimination" means "discriminating between people on a basis of a perception of their race," then it seems to me difficult to not answer the question with a "yes." (And, practically, an actor is supposed to pretend to be another person; why there should be a specific set of limitations on this, but not another set -- only people who are 5' 7" can plausibly play someone who is 5' 7", everyone knows -- playing someone 5'6" would be obviously silly! -- or maybe not --
seems highly unclear, at best; I certainly can't see how measurement of degree of tan or melanin, say, or blood type, is relevant to ability to portray a role; of course, how convincing one finds an actor, and why, is entirely subjective.)

However, since there is no biological definition of these so-called "races," and "race" is a social construct constructed in past centuries by people holding false "scientific" beliefs, I'd emphasise that people can't discriminate by "race," but simply by their own perceptions (allied with self-identification) of Who Is What "Race." Such perceptions are, of course, necessarily considerably arbitrary.

More provocative, therefore, is the assertion that belief in "race" as other than a social construct -- an actual belief that there, in fact, exist actual simple categories of physiological "races" of human beings -- is a belief that cannot be held without believing a false, racist, concept.

On the other hand, that this concept has been long-established in our society historically, and acted upon, denying innumerable people fair treatment because of this racist belief, is undeniable. Repairing the damage wrought by these beliefs in physically distinct "races" that people might coherently be slotted into is a task made far more difficult when this belief is continued and maintained even by those attempting such repair. Trying to separate out the harm done by a belief while maintaining such a belief is hard indeed. It's impossible to coherently discuss "racial" issues without first backing up to this point.

"and after an election all the patronage hires are fired and replaced with white people"

But that isn't the question right? Isn't the question whether or not it would be ok to fire just the black patronage hires and replace them with white people.

"Repairing the damage wrought by these beliefs in physically distinct "races" that people might coherently be slotted into is a task made far more difficult when this belief is continued and maintained even by those attempting such repair."

This is why I suspect that a purely race-neutral policy from the government is better than a policy which allows for affirmative action.

"If you've got an office in Vermont that's staffed by patronage hires, which have been hired in a racially discriminatory manner such that 80% of them are black, and after an election all the patronage hires are fired and replaced with white people . . . I wouldn't have any problem with that. Would anyone?"

This is the crux of voting rights cases: can congressional districts be drawn to exclude/game the number of blacks (for example) if purportedly done so not because they are black, but because they are Democrats?

Also, isn't it illegal to fire public employees on the basis of political affiliation?

Gary-

Huh. While as a matter of biology what you say is perfectly correct, 'race' is a meaningful social concept, linked in a non-simple manner to inherited traits. In an ideal, non-racist world, race would not be a meaningful way of categorizing people, but in the world we live in, it often is.

I find myself made uncomfortable by calls for absolute color-blindness (not that I am certain that you are making such a call) for a reason I alluded to above. Racist assumptions and practices are smoothly enough integrated into our society that it is possible, even common, for a racist result to be achieved without any expressed racial animus. If race is eliminated as a express analytical tool while racist practices still exist, I have this picture of job-hunters thinking "I wonder why I didn't get that job, either. Funny, just like the last three places I applied, almost everyone already working there had straight hair and pale skin. Coincidences sure are peculiar, aren't they." Obviously this is overstated and silly, but you take my point -- racism is still possible even when 'race' is not an acceptable subject of discouse, but doing anything about racism gets much harder.

"Isn't the question whether or not it would be ok to fire just the black patronage hires and replace them with white people."

I think this is the question, and the problem is whether such a firing evidences that the ostensible political reason for the firing is really a pretext for an impermissible racial reason. I think the answer is (in either direction) yes, this is a problem. And unless it can be shown to satisfy strict scrutiny, it is probably illegal.

"I suspect that a purely race-neutral policy from the government is better than a policy which allows for affirmative action."

I think this kind of begs the basic question, which is what do you do when state action yields a state of affairs that is perceived as racially unjust. This is the question that affirmative action jurisprudence was designed to answer, and the reason why affirmative action programs are, for now, legal in this country. As a society we have determined that in some circumstances using race-conscious policies is in the public interest; the challenge has always been properly defining the appropriate circumstances and the acceptable means of addressing them such that justice is done to the fullest extent possible. We may be on the way to deciding as a society that race-conscious action is never justifiable, but we aren't there yet.

But that isn't the question right? Isn't the question whether or not it would be ok to fire just the black patronage hires and replace them with white people.

Whether it's the question depends on the details of what happened in the NO DA's office. Nothing I've seen says that only whites and hispanics were fired, and the linked story says that not all new-hires were black. The old DA's patronage hires were fired, and replaced by the new DA's patronage hires; if what st says about Connick is accurate, the new hires would be far more likely to be black than the fired workers, even if race were not at all a consideration for the new DA. Whether race was considered by the new DA in any wrongful sense (rather than merely noted as a desireable result of the removal of the old staff, hired on a racist basis) still appears to be an open question.

Just to follow up, I think that non-policymaking employees like administrative employees and clerks (and possibly investigators) cannot be fired for political affiliation reasons, which makes their firings on such a basis seem pretextual, which makes it seem like such employees could potentially win an employment discrimination case.

I really can't see my way to justify firing a competent employee of one race in order to fire domeone of another race. If that is what happened in New Orleans, then, in my opinon, the fired people should go to court and claim discrimnation.
That said, I am very much a proponent of carefully crafted, targetted affirmative action. 'For example, I teach in a highly multi-ethnic school system. There is no queston in my mind about the importance of having African American teachers, particularly men, teach here. Given the choice between two competent candidates, one black and one while, I would support the adminstrator who picked the black teacher.
There is a big difference between using the hiring policy to create a workforce that reflects the population, and firing people because of their race.

I don't know for certain in this case, but I think you're wrong about that -- in the absence of particular civil service protections applying to a given job, government employees don't have all that much more legal protection than private sector employees. Do you have a particular legal theory under which firing for political reasons would be impermissible?

Sorry, that was to travis, not lily.

I also think we, as a society, need to engage in a long discussion about race issues because the issues have changed and become much more complex than, say, fifty years ago. It isn't just that people have gotten more subtle about their expressions of racism. One of the changes is, simply, that racism isn't anywhere near as prevalent as it once was. Current problems can't be understood simply as "That's caused by rascism."

I meant "in order to HIRE someone". Damn it. I need to get my glasses fixed.

LB: I don't have any experience with this sort of thing and I may be wrong, but I was under the impression that government employees have a First Amendment protection from termination of at-will employment for politically-motivated reasons (unless the employees' duties relate to partisan political interests or policymaking or political affiliation is otherwise a reasonably appropriate requirment for the job). I think the rationale is that a patronage system tends to coerce the rank-and-file to compromise their beliefs or puts improper conditions on the receipt of a public benefit.

Could be -- I'm a lawyer, but everything I know about this is from law school rather than practice, so it's not much use. If the firing for political reasons was wrongful in itself, I'd have expected that allegation to be front and center in the stories on the lawsuit, though -- regardless of whether they can prove racial discrimination, when you fire 56 people the same day, it's pretty clear that you aren't doing it for individual cause.

"Racist assumptions and practices are smoothly enough integrated into our society that it is possible, even common, for a racist result to be achieved without any expressed racial animus."

Absolutely.

"Obviously this is overstated and silly, but you take my point -- racism is still possible even when 'race' is not an acceptable subject of discouse, but doing anything about racism gets much harder."

I don't quite agree, though, yes, I take your point. I do believe racism remains a critically important problem in our society, and that far more people act in unconsciously racist fashion than many other folk would believe.

I do, however, think it remains necessary to clearly and thoroughly disabuse ourselves of false notions of what "race" is as an essential part of fighting racism. I don't believe that racism can be fought while pretending it has been extinguished; I also don't believe it can be effectively fought while maintaing a false belief in what "race" is.

I'm also somewhat unimpressed when members of a majority express outrage when they perceive that fellow members of the majority are being oppressed, having failed to previously decry precisely the same venue when only members of a minority were oppressed, but that's a separate point. (As would be noting that the Fallacy of The False Mirror is commonly in play when majorities and minorities are discussed and falsely treated as if they were in the same straits and circumstances.)

You betcha -- if every discussion of race included the express caveat that it is incoherent as a biological concept, and only has meaning as a social construct, I would consider it an immense improvement from our current state of discourse.

"I think this kind of begs the basic question, which is what do you do when state action yields a state of affairs that is perceived as racially unjust."

This is, of course, not remotely what "begging the question" means. You mean some variant of "this asks the question," instead.

From what I understand about state employees, at least in Mississippi, the upper management of most departments are 'at-will' and can be replaced by the governor at any time. The rank and file however have a state personnel board to prevent political 'abuse'. Politicians are pretty adept at getting around rules to fire people they don't like however.

Nothing coming out of New Orleans surprises me anymore. But I would like to know how this story came to Sebastian's attention.

Oh, and if you want to see politicians abusing a system you should check out the Mississippi legislature's attempt at a budget. I don't think 'balanced' means what they think it means. It'll be interesting to see if they find a way to fund our medicaid system before it gets shut down. Did I mention the medicaid system shuts down from lack of funds tomorrow?

MS

"One of the changes is, simply, that racism isn't anywhere near as prevalent as it once was."

Almost certainly true, but also much racism simply isn't so overt as it once was, and in most cases also simply isn't so conscious as it once was; it's crucial not to confuse any of these three with one of the others.

"Current problems can't be understood simply as 'That's caused by rascism.'"

Except when they can.

Gary - I sit corrected. Serves me right, I never did know exactly what that means!

"You betcha -- if every discussion of race included the express caveat that it is incoherent as a biological concept, and only has meaning as a social construct, I would consider it an immense improvement from our current state of discourse."

This is why I feel compelled to make that clear as an opening breath to any discussion of racism that I enter into (not that I intend to say much more here; I don't have any easy and precise answers as to what precisely the One True Correct Policy regarding affirmative action is, though I lean towards the view that it has a temporary place while eventually leading to counter-productive diminishing returns; when precisely that point either has been or will be reached, in what area, I don't feel qualified to say).

Kevin Drum has gone over to the dark side re "begging the question". No link to evil descriptivism.

p.s. anyone know what the opposite (flipside?) of the Dark Side of the Force is named?

"Nothing I've seen says that only whites and hispanics were fired, and the linked story says that not all new-hires were black. The old DA's patronage hires were fired, and replaced by the new DA's patronage hires"

According to the article: "Eight days after taking office in 2003, Jordan fired 56 Connick holdovers — all were non-lawyers, such as investigators, clerks and administrative employees, and all but three were white. Over the next six months, Jordan hired 69 people, 64 of them black."

In the other article we find that 3 Hispanics are part of the suit, so I infer (with the caveat that I could be wrong about it) that they represent the other 3 people. Investigators, clerks and administrative employees are not what we normally think of when we talk about patronage hires that get fired when an administration gets turned over. Perhaps you get the impression that they were pure patronage hires because of 'holdover'? You should note that not all of the staff was fired--none of the black staff was. (Or arguably 3?) I infer from the percentages (once again journalists are bad with statistics so perhaps I shouldn't rely on them) that there were about 112 employees total.

Thats total employees of the class in question. I have no idea how many actual lawyers and such are in question.

It was claimed above there were no (in some sense of "no") black employees to fire...

That can't be true or adding 64 wouldn't triple the number of black people. That suggests there was about 32. (Exactly 32, but none of us think the reporter used 'triple' with mathematical exactitude right?)

Oh, and how this came to my attention seems like a very odd question to ask. I'm almost tempted to ask why you think it is important. But instead I'll tell you--a co-worker is from New Orleans and at least once a week he shows me an odd story about it. This story was this week's story.

Investigators, clerks and administrative employees are not what we normally think of when we talk about patronage hires that get fired when an administration gets turned over. Perhaps you get the impression that they were pure patronage hires because of 'holdover'?

More because the lawsuit doesn't appear, from the reporting, to allege wrongful termination as an alternative to the race discrimination claim. Maybe the claim was made, or maybe it wasn't for good reasons of the applicable law, but firing 56 people in a day is blatant enough that I assume that, in the absence of any discussion of the firings as intrinsically wrong regardless of proof of race discrimination, that it was probably a conventional occurrence when a new DA comes in. I could very well be wrong on this, and if I am wrong then that would be strong support for the race discrimination suit (as travis said above).

Figuring out the numbers is also difficult in the absence of specific knowledge of the workplace. While there seem to have been 30-ish black employees who weren't fired, given that Connick appears to have hired on racially discriminatory basis, there is a possibility that the black employees working under Connick were less likely to be Connick's loyalists or his patronage hires, and therefore less likely to have been actually members of the "class in question", those people who you'd expect to turnover under a new DA. I'm speculating here -- the wrongdoing you see may have occurred, I just don't see it as unequivocally established by the facts in the linked story.

To sum up -- you might be absolutely right to be outraged, but I don't think you have the facts to be certain of that yet.

No important reason for asking, I was just under the impression you weren't from the area and wondered if you'd seen it in a national story somewhere.

If you get odd stories once a week about New Orleans I bet you've seen some dosies.

It was claimed above there were no (in some sense of "no") black employees to fire... If you are referring to my "lily-white" comment, I was referring to the ADA's, not the staff in general.

hilzoy -

If you're still paying attention, above I said:

I guess you could say that I don't consider the Othello question morally wrong because the casting director had a "good" reason for the racial discrimination. I'll have to think more about that...

Well I've thought about it, and I guess it goes back to what I originally said: that affirmative action is racial discrimination, its only a matter of degree, which is the degree of harm inflicted by the discrimination.

For Othello, the number of people harmed is likely small, the harm itself is likely small (and the number of complaints about such a thing likely close to nonexistent), and even that can be changed by setting the play in such a way where Othello should be played by a member of another race. Obviously the question is a bit different for a biography of, say, Muhammed Ali. Not sure people would be too interested if Billy Crystal were cast (but who knows, maybe they would, he does a great Ali impression).

However, affirmative action in the university setting has ratcheted up the degree of harm. Now we have a much larger group of people harmed: every white (or Asian in some cases) applicant to the university. We can argue over the degree of harm (e.g. maybe its only the difference between going to your second choice instead of your first; maybe its much worse). It also presents the question of who's doing the discriminating, i.e. the state in lots of cases; generally considered worse than if done by private actors.

Finally we can ratchet up to Jim Crow-like segregation. Here the number of people harmed is gigantic, the degree of harm is terrible, and it is the state doing the discriminating (with private business either reluctantly or happily complying with the law).

So we have three scenarios of racial discrimination inflicting various degrees of harm. I would submit that in the latter two the harm is high enough that they should not be allowed. The harm in the Othello example is, I submit, benign enough to be ignored. Obviously people can differ on the amount of harm that is allowable, however I would argue that looking to the "good" the racial discrimination produces should not be a factor in determining whether the discrimination is permissble.

I would mention one other problem I have with affirmative action in particular. To me it is like saying you're fixing a leaky faucet by mopping up the water. You haven't fixed anything, you're just cleaning up the mess. Now maybe at some point you'll have mopped up all the water in the world and the faucet will stop leaking, but that's going to be a long, long time.

To play off your metaphor, if the water on the floor is part of the reason the pipes are rusting out, then mopping it up is part of addressing the underlying problem. If the overrepresentation of white people in positions of power is self-perpetuating even without active racial animus (nepotism, cronyism, hiring people you identify with), then affirmative action is a real solution to that problem.

This is why I suspect that a purely race-neutral policy from the government is better than a policy which allows for affirmative action.

In a culture with no prior history of racial discrimination, yes.

In a culture with a long history of rampant racism, then your ideal government policy is to do nothing about past wrongs, and allow the effects of it to perpetuate through future generations. That's a rather crappy policy.

As I said above, you should only use affirmative action to address those past wrongs, and phase it out as the remedy kicks in. Its defenders should not be trying to perpetuate it forewver -- although many do.
_____

Regarding patronage hiring and firing, you cannot use it as a cover for racial discrimination in hiring and firing. There is no patronage exception for racial discrimination in filling government positions (except for Congress, which exempted itself, although initially more for separation of powers reasons).

In a racial discrimination case, you always have issues of whether or not the reasons for a termination or hiring were racial or non-racial. Everyone accused claims a non-racial motivation, which is simply a pretext when actual racial motibvation is present. But if you are predominantly firing non-blacks and replacing them with blacks, your non-racial motivations start looking phony. It's even worse when you replacements are less qualified.

You could claim patronage to establish a non-racial motivation for hiring and firing, but Jordan's use of that defense does not pass the smell test. It seems clear that patronage is a motivation for what he is doing, but racial patronage is no different that racial discrimnation. It is and should be illegal.

But if you are predominantly firing non-blacks and replacing them with blacks, your non-racial motivations start looking phony.

This is in general, rather than in this specific case where we haven't got all the facts, but if the non-blacks were hired in a racially discriminatory fashion, there's no right to have that discrimination perpetuated. In New Orleans, you would expect a totally unbiased employer to hire 70% blacks for most positions -- just because the prior batch of employees was, e.g., 80% white, doesn't make it evidence of bias that a mostly white workforce was replaced by a mostly black workforce.

To play off your metaphor, if the water on the floor is part of the reason the pipes are rusting out, then mopping it up is part of addressing the underlying problem. If the overrepresentation of white people in positions of power is self-perpetuating even without active racial animus (nepotism, cronyism, hiring people you identify with), then affirmative action is a real solution to that problem.

A fair point, I was specifically thinking of educational affirmative action in my metaphor, which I think holds in that context (better to fix the underperforming primary and secondary schools than try to make up for it on the back end with affirmative action). Of course, that approach doesn't present the immediate and recognizable "benefits" that aff-act does.

"In a culture with a long history of rampant racism, then your ideal government policy is to do nothing about past wrongs, and allow the effects of it to perpetuate through future generations. That's a rather crappy policy."

No because for the most important issues--things like education and health care, you can fix them without trying to treat people differently by race. And I don't have any problem with anti-discrimination statutes. It isn't that you can't recognize race when forming policy--you just don't form policies that recognize race.

"No because for the most important issues--things like education and health care, you can fix them without trying to treat people differently by race. And I don't have any problem with anti-discrimination statutes. It isn't that you can't recognize race when forming policy--you just don't form policies that recognize race."

This statement actually gives a pretty good summary of the state of current law on affirmative action: the Supreme Court has explicitly rejected a broad assertion of societal discrimination as a justification for using affirmative action (Wygant, Croson). Remedying past discrimination is only allowable as a justification if it involves remedying past discrimination by the particular governmental entity itself. Trying to use affirmative action to remedy general societal discrimination is illegal.

"For Othello, the number of people harmed is likely small, the harm itself is likely small (and the number of complaints about such a thing likely close to nonexistent), and even that can be changed by setting the play in such a way where Othello should be played by a member of another race."

I'm not clear what either your position, or Hilzoy's positition, is here in regard to casting plays, but if either of you think that Othello, or any other part, should be cast on the basis of "race," I'd very much like to know what test, precisely, one would use to determine "racial" correctness or incorrectness. Is there some particular genetic code someone has in mind, or what? Is Othello deemed to be of any particular height, or level of melanin, or does he have a particular body part shaped in a particular way, or what? Is he deemed to be of specific descent from some specific tribe, and if so, how is his purebrededness determined? Is there a source in Shakespeare that delves into Othello's genetic structure? How about Romeo? Are all other Shakespearean parts "race"-specific?

Obviously, if either of you is not saying that casting must be done by first determining the "race" of the character, and then that of the actor, my questions are irrelevant. I simply can't make out whether they are or are not; pray forgive me. But if the above isn't saying that Othello should be cast with a "racial" test, what exactly is it saying?

Travis:

This statement actually gives a pretty good summary of the state of current law on affirmative action.

Exactly, whereas Sebastian's post assumes that current afirmative action policy is much more radical than it is, and uses the Jordan/N.O situation as somehow a typical example of that alleged redical policy. What he wishes for is in fact the current law.

Affirmative action law with respect to education is neither narrowly tailored nor well suited to respond to past acts of discrimination.

If you get odd stories once a week about New Orleans I bet you've seen some dosies.

Crock Pot
Dang, I shoulda figured out what your handle was all about. I believe damn Yankees refer to it as a slow cooker (though I was horrified to find that some damn Yankee corporation trademarked the name.) Please continue to hang around. How could anyone not love articles that have quotes like this

Rep. John Hines warned the House on Wednesday that Medicaid needs funding now.

"That's the sound of death knocking on your door," said Hines, D-Greenville, rapping four times on the lectern to make his point.

Of course, the headline story on the frontpage is "Bulldogs outplay Georgia". My Mississippi, always with its priorities in order.

I hope some of the powers that be could find an excuse to start a medicaid thread, as what is happening in Mississippi really highlights the problems. Also the charter school debate is fascinating.

"Affirmative action law with respect to education is neither narrowly tailored nor well suited to respond to past acts of discrimination."

Past discrimination is not the rationale for affirmative action in (higher) education. The rationale in education is diversity. So far, the academic interest in the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student/faculty population are still considered to be a sufficiently compelling state interest to justify the use of affirmative action. Thus, past discrimination is not (legally) relevant in this context. As for narrow tailoring, the precise program designed to implement an educational institution's diversity goals has been tough to get a handle on. Translating race into a number value that factors into admissions calculations is problematic when the number is large enough to be decisive among other factors, as you pointed out, Sebastian. The Supreme Court reached the same conclusion in Gratz, and ruled against that system. In Grutter, however, looking at a system with more individualized review (albeit looking at a much smaller candidate population), the Court found that the system was sufficiently narrowly tailored to attempt to achieve the compelling interest (diversity) without unlawfully infringing on others' rights.

Desiging these programs is hard; it's supposed to be. That's the whole point of strict scrutiny and the explanation for why the law governing affirmative action has evolved the way it has. The status quo is not necessarily stable; a change of one vote on the Court could drastically change the way the legal system views affirmative action. However, as the law currently stands, the difficulty in balancing the interests involved is reflected in the difficulty desiging an affirmative action policy in any particular context that will pass muster. There are strict, narrow limits on what is allowable, as there should be.

Short of banning affirmative action altogether, in fact, it is difficult to conceive of how more narrowly the boundaries can be drawn.

About Othello: in the play, he is described as a Moor, and as black. So his precise ancestral background is murky. However, that he is some version of darker-skinned non-European is important to the play -- it is, for starters, why he has to elope with Desdemona, and why he is not truly accepted in Venice, and lurks consistently in the background of his suspicions of Desdemona. I think that it is nuts to say that one has to overlook this fact in casting the play; as nuts (and in the same way) as thinking that it's sexism to insist on casting a man as Romeo, or a woman as Juliet, unless you're deliberately casting it differently to make some sort of point. (I mean, where would this end? Is it age discrimination to refuse to cast an eighty year old man as Oliver Twist? Or Arnold Schwarzenegger as the baby Jesus?) Sometimes there are good reasons to take ethnicity or gender into account, and (imho) the fact that these are less common that bad reasons to do so doesn't mean they don't exist.

About affirmative action in education: Travis is exactly right to say that the rationale is diversity. And I think this is a perfectly legitimate educational goal. I should add that I think ugh's comment about white students being 'harmed' by affirmative action is wrong. No one is entitled to a place at a selective institution, and if no one is entitled to a place, I don't see how they can be "harmed" by having that place "taken away from them". Selective colleges have always admitted people on grounds that are much more complicated than academic performance, for reasons that are completely clear to me: a student body made up of the top n students, measured by (say) tests and grades, would be much less interesting than one selected using those criteria and others, and more to the point, it would be a group whose members would learn a lot less from one another. (Who wants all geeks? Not me, and I am a geek.) This is why having real accomplishment in all sorts of odd pursuits has always counted in one's favor, why there are geographical preferences, and also why there's affirmative action. And I think this is completely legitimate. (And I think whether or not some factor reflects your own effort is irrelevant: again, people do not earn or deserve admission to a given college; colleges choose to accept applicants. And if they believe that their students would get more out of, say, a student body that wasn't all from the East Coast, or all premeds, or all white, that's their prerogative.) (About premeds: colleges do try not to have too many (or too few) premeds, and have been known to weight admissions accordingly. Which, of course, isn't "deserved" either. But for that matter, neither are athletic ability or intellectual aptitude.)

It doesn't follow that any amount of weight given to race is OK. (I don't mean legally OK: ianal, etc. -- but morally OK.) -- I don't know the Michigan system, not having worked there, but since it's such a huge school it doesn't surprise me that they'd be using points to score things. In the schools I've been at, it's much more individualized, and the admissions people select the students with a great deal of care and attention. And diversity isn't something colleges cooked up to make affirmative action look OK: it's something most of them have always tried to achieve, though racial diversity only entered the mix late in the game.

Sebastian: "This is why I suspect that a purely race-neutral policy from the government is better than a policy which allows for affirmative action." -- I'm not clear whether you're talking only about e.g. government hiring, but about affirmative action in general, I think: a lot depends on what exactly the body using affirmative action is trying to accomplish. Only given that knowledge can we say what is or isn't 'better.' (I mean, we need to know: better for what?) I tend to think that the legitimacy of affirmative action varies with all sorts of factors, including the history of the body using it, the degree of preference given, the reasons why that body's being ethnically diverse matters, etc. (To me, there's a much more compelling case for e.g. having an ethnically diverse police force in an ethnically diverse community than there is for having ethnically diverse telephone operators, say.)

LJ
If you are in Japan as your handle suggests you are about as far from Mississippi as you can get. As the knight said, "you chose...wisely".

To quote another fictional character "This is pretty f#$#$up right here".

Things are coming off the rails here. As you noticed the paper of record in Jackson doesn't do the best of jobs at covering politics. Mississippi has been basically paying recurring expenses with one time money for the last eight years and now it's finally caught up to them. We have a balanced budget amendment so the legislature can't just do what they've been doing the last couple of years. Namely, steal some cash from the huge tobacco fund we won and let that pay for the deficit they've run up because they refuse to raise taxes to pay for the services everyone wants. They can't do it anymore because they've exhausted the one-time funds.(OK, if they steal what they need for this years Medicaid there will be about 200Million left)

It's going to be real interesting to see how the legislature squirms out of this one. As I understand it, Mississippi's budget is around 3 to 3.5 billion dollars (actual state funds). Education and Medicaid are around 2 billion of that budget. Everything else goes into the rest but we have a deficit of around 900million. So think about that. Almost a billion deficit with 1.5 billion to pay for everything that the state does OTHER than education and Medicaid.

"About Othello: in the play, he is described as a Moor, and as black. So his precise ancestral background is murky. However, that he is some version of darker-skinned non-European is important to the play...."

Yes, perfectly reasonable that this is the character; however, this has nothing to do with "race," and everything to do with featuring a darker-skinned character.

a) There's no identifiable "dark-skinned race," but, instead, there are a vast number of clusters of people around the world who tend to have dark skins, in all different manner of genetic mixes, with great levels of difference occurring. Who is to know or say where an actor comes from, what her ancestry is or isn't, what their genes are or are not, and why would any of that matter, rather than the performance?

b) Actors wear make-up when they perform, no matter what.

c) The entire intent of acting is protraying someone other than who one is. Men portray women, and women men, at times; people play tall by putting on heels; people play fat by wearing prosthetics; people wear artificial scars, and endlessly more; acting is more in performance, however, than in trivial artifical aids. As in any other matter, actors are judged by results, not by adherence to some scientifically impossible, non-existent, test of their non-existent "race." As it is, thus should it be.

"...as nuts (and in the same way) as thinking that it's sexism to insist on casting a man as Romeo, or a woman as Juliet...."

Incidentally, who was it who played Juliet at the Globe Theatre? Who played the women in all of Shakespeare's other plays?

Man, he just couldn't get his own plays right, I guess. Good thing he made sure to import an African to play Othello, too.

Yes, perfectly reasonable that this is the character; however, this has nothing to do with "race," and everything to do with featuring a darker-skinned character.

'Nothing to do' is overstated, surely? While, as we agreed above, 'race' is a concept meaningful only in social, rather than biological terms, part of the subject matter of Shakespeare's play is Othello's race, as a social matter. For most possible interpretations of the play, it is important therefore to cast an actor who will be perceived by the audience to fall into the social category of 'black'. While amazing things can be done with makeup, it is also normal to, as one consideration in casting, consider how easily the actor can be made to resemble the director's vision of the character.

At that point, what's wrong with someone casting Othello saying "Given that we aren't doing a non-traditional Othello in which Othello isn't black, we need to cast a black actor for the part(or one who can effectively be made to look black)"? Just because 'race' isn't biologically meaningful doesn't mean that it doesn't have useful meaning in some contexts, like explaining the issues going on in the play.

"At that point, what's wrong with someone casting Othello saying 'Given that we aren't doing a non-traditional Othello in which Othello isn't black, we need to cast a black actor for the part(or one who can effectively be made to look black)'?"

What test does one apply to determine whether the auditioning actor is sufficiently "black"? A light meter? A match with a particular specified stereotype?

It's a serious question, and it's the key question. I don't know how it can be answered other than by prescribing a normative definition of what a "black" person is and isn't.

How one does that in a non-racist fashion I leave to others to explain.

Myself, I'd rather go with "let's cast the actor who is most convincing and moving in the role," and I'll leave enforcing "racial" correctness tests for non-existent "races" to others. They seem entirely unnecessary to me, as well as impossible (other than by catering to stereotype).

What test does one apply to determine whether the auditioning actor is sufficiently "black"? A light meter? A match with a particular specified stereotype?

It's a play. Casting is done (in large part) based on looks. In our society, people are placed in racial categories largely on the way they look. A director will be looking for the auditioning actor who (among other things) looks most like the director's vision of Othello -- given that in a traditional version of Othello, it is important that the audience perceives Othello to be black, the actor will probably be one who the director perceives as black. As racial categories are social rather than biological, being perceived as black is, to a good first approximation, being black.

It seems possible that you're concerned about a possible type of situation where a director might think something like, "Sione is clearly the best man for the part, he's a brilliant actor and has exactly the look I want. Damn, I wish I could cast him, but he can't play Othello because he's not black, he's Samoan." That would be racist, and would suck, and shouldn't happen. I don't think anyone here thinks that it should. Nonetheless, a director casting Othello is still, in most cases, going to for good reason cast a black actor, regardless of whether he conceptualizes the decision as 'casting a black actor' or as 'casting an actor which the audience will percieve as black.'

But mostly I'm just nitpicking because work has been slow all week.

"work has been slow all week."

Hey lb, do you know anything about interfacing C++ and python? I've persisted some C++ objects for use in my scripts but it seems to be a bit slow...

Sadly, no. You want legal advice, I won't give you that either, but I could. Programming I don't know anything about other than what I remember from the time I spent in the mid-80s fooling around with BASIC on an Atari 800.

I should add that I think ugh's comment about white students being 'harmed' by affirmative action is wrong. No one is entitled to a place at a selective institution, and if no one is entitled to a place, I don't see how they can be "harmed" by having that place "taken away from them".

There are all sorts of things individuals are not "entitled" to, from university admissions to driver's licenses to cheddar cheese at the grocery store. I submit, that if the state or the grocery store handed out driver's licenses or cheddar cheese to people based on their race, that those who are discriminated against would feel (and are) harmed by the process.

And yes the state may hand out cheddar cheese if it chose to do so, though I doubt the grocery store could hand out driver's licenses (though I could try, I suppose).

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Whatnot


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