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January 07, 2007

Comments

But… but… racism is dead!

I swear I've heard about the "white felon > upstanding black citizen" result much more than a year ago, and my conclusion was similar to your, but stated with less eloquence, and probably more swearing.

You know, I'm having a "discussion" about the incident with a white manager who was hanging a noose in his area, who said it was for "black employees"...and people saying there was absolutely nothing racial about it.

I find it deeply disheartening too. As I've said before, I was fortunate enough to be raised in a family where I really had no concept of race. Until I was about 14 I really believed that Grandma Kimi was my grandmother even though she was obviously Japanese. Race just isn't a catagory that has ever made sense to me.

But because of that, when you write this: "I think of it as adding some injustices and subtracting others as a means of getting this whole class of injustices to dwindle away. Affirmative action means that some whites will not get jobs they would have gotten in a perfectly fair world, but it also means that some blacks will get jobs they would have gotten in a perfectly fair world, but would not have gotten in the world we actually live in had affirmative action not been around." I can't agree.

This method isn't likely to cause it to dwindle away. It is likely to cause the white people who believe (rightly or wrongly) that they were denied on the basis of race to become resentful. So what? Many people seem to think that is some kind of cosmic justice. Of course it is exactly the opposite of cosmic justice, you take one person's sins and assign the punishment to someone else on the basis of similar skin color.

Additionaly, it causes people to suspect that black people who are successful are not successful on the basis of merit, but rather on the basis of affirmative action. I've heard a ridiculous number of otherwise liberal people in San Diego say that they wouldn't trust a black surgeon on them if they had other choices.

Affirmative Action extends the injustice, it doesn't fight it.

I would like to see tests in which the person doing the hiring is AA or Latino.
I've witnessed this situation go both ways when even though the interviewer was AA that the chances of winning the position for a white candidate was also higher. IOW, are AA also predisposed to hiring whites?

I have a friend who is Latino and works at Latino managed offices. She said that they are much more likely to hire another Latino than either an AA or white person.

It may not be racism in all cases, it may be closer to familiarity by association or possibly a subliminal bond that may be racial in nature, but not necessarily racist.

This is not to claim that racism does not still exist, because I'm certain that it does, but that it could be to less of an extent than the study would suggest.

Is it important to the moral calculus that race-based policies of an organization or government implicate all the employees or citizens in whatever injustices are caused by the discrimination, whereas actions by individual racists don't?

This method isn't likely to cause it to dwindle away. It is likely to cause the white people who believe (rightly or wrongly) that they were denied on the basis of race to become resentful. So what? Many people seem to think that is some kind of cosmic justice. Of course it is exactly the opposite of cosmic justice, you take one person's sins and assign the punishment to someone else on the basis of similar skin color.

Additionaly, it causes people to suspect that black people who are successful are not successful on the basis of merit, but rather on the basis of affirmative action. I've heard a ridiculous number of otherwise liberal people in San Diego say that they wouldn't trust a black surgeon on them if they had other choices.

Affirmative Action extends the injustice, it doesn't fight it.

This is what I hear a lot. However, it raises a question of what method to pursue. Remember, affirmative action was not the first remedy tried. And the other remedies tried before that left the entire effects on the parties that were discriminated against, with none of the burden elsewhere.

And I think affirmative action DOES fight the injustice, because people who are actually in contact with the people (if no one else) can see and judge for themselves how competent the people are.

I think it's more of a matter ofwhat does the least harm and extends the injustice least, which is where the balancing act comes in.

Sebastian: It is likely to cause the white people who believe (rightly or wrongly) that they were denied on the basis of race to become resentful.

Quite possibly. Are you saying that it's worse for white people to become resentful than it is for black people to remain resentful?

The current administration has been neglectful of its responsibility to foster tolerance and acceptance of others.

The elimination of racism in any society is not taught once, and spoken of on a few occasions, and then considered dealt with. Limiting unfair racist biases in our society is an ongoing process. Each generation must be informed about the biological similarities and advocate respect for cultural differences; but the basis for any of this to occur is leadership's and each person's responsibility to promote respect for each other no matter what skin color, age, sex etc.

To accept torture as our government has done is to deny the existence of human dignity. When we do not advance respect for each other and recognize our dignity; it then becomes possible to torture each other, or if not ourselves then the sadists we pay to do it for us.

When leadership ordains that "some" people deserve to be tortured, while accepting the reality that some of those people could be innocent, demonstrates a lack of respect for human beings that is deeply disturbing.

How are people supposed to be different from their leaders, who behave in racist and other unacceptable ways to divide the nation, and promote the idea that it is justified to satisfy their ambitions?

Hilary got it right: "Affirmative action means that some whites will not get jobs they would have gotten in a perfectly fair world, but it also means that some blacks will get jobs they would have gotten in a perfectly fair world, but would not have gotten in the world we actually live in had affirmative action not been around."

All I have to add is the definition of racism I learned in a People's Institute workshop: "Racism is a system of discrimination based on the perception of race." It's helpful to recognize that we all live in a SYSTEM that must be changed, and every one of us has a responsibility to do what we can to change that system. People can snipe at Affirmative Action all they want, but until we have something better that we can put into action TODAY, it's necessary. It's that, or the status quo. Clearly, the status quo is NOT ACCEPTABLE, and in my world the s.q. is more unacceptable than Affirmative Action. Thanks, Hilary, for bringing this to more people's attention.

It's called 'positive discrimination' in the Netherlands, and I think calling it that, or affirmative action, is wrong. It does not show that the intend is to *equalize* the (dis)advantages. Because the starting point is not that all are equal, the starting point is that white males have an unjustified advantage that should somehow be balanced.

Seb: Jes got there before me. It's not as though there would be no injustices (or: fewer injustices) if affirmative action were absent, and thus it's not as though there would be no resentment. Also, it's not as though in the absence of affirmative action, people who had done nothing wrong would not be penalized because of the color of their skin. If that were the case, I'd be first in line condemning it.

Personally, I think that if we want affirmative action (the program) to vanish in the right way, we should all take affirmative action (as individuals) to remove the need for it -- where this means going out of our way to do what we can to make it unnecessary.

Add to the secondary effects of hiring discrimination that it reduces the payoff to blacks from investing in their human capital. The incentives to pursue education, etc., are less than for whites.

(I think this was initially pointed out by Gary Becker).

Affirmative action exists for another reason that is not supposed to be one. The fact is that those who are discriminated against in a "free" society deserve fairness, and this fairness can only come through opportunity. Otherwise it is just lip service. Life is unfair, but thoughtful people can and do mitigate unfairness on their own behalf, and may or may not do so for others.

"Quite possibly. Are you saying that it's worse for white people to become resentful than it is for black people to remain resentful?"

Nope.

I'm saying that affirmative action is a systemic method of perpetuating the illegitimate idea of race-based decision making when we should be fighting the idea of race-based decision making.

If you want to believe that it is otherwise good to redistribute the harm from one set of innocent parties to another, and defend on that grounds, so be it. But the idea that it is fighting racism is an unexamined hope which makes very little sense.

" Also, it's not as though in the absence of affirmative action, people who had done nothing wrong would not be penalized because of the color of their skin."

No, but with affirmative action you have government systems assigning who gets harmed based purely on illegitimate racial classifications. That perpetuates illegitimate racial classifications, it doesn't fight them.

I'm saying that affirmative action is a systemic method of perpetuating the illegitimate idea of race-based decision making when we should be fighting the idea of race-based decision making.

Ideas?

There's an interesting article in the NYTimes about Asians at UC Berkeley that relates to this.

To back his claim, he cites a 2005 study by Thomas J. Espenshade and Chang Y. Chung, both of Princeton, which concludes that if elite universities were to disregard race, Asians would fill nearly four of five spots that now go to blacks or Hispanics. Affirmative action has a neutral effect on the number of whites admitted, Mr. Li is arguing, but it raises the bar for Asians. The way Princeton selects its entering class, Mr. Li wrote in his complaint, “seems to be a calculated move by a historically white institution to protect its racial identity while at the same time maintaining a facade of progressivism.”

I think that strikes at the heart of the notion of affirmative action, which is that it was a course that is supposed to be generally neutral in terms of its impact on whites, so it can't be considered 'punishment'. However, that is no longer viable when what is sought is (or is perceived to be) a shrinking commodity (university places, civil service jobs, housing) which then permits those steps to be (or to be spun as) punishments.

That sort of topsy turviness is illustrated by the etymology of 'to grandfather'. It is now a perfectly respectable word to discuss how people on an old system should be taken into consideration when the new system is installed. But its origin is from the Reconstruction, to try and deny voting rights to blacks while keeping them intact for whites. That a term that originated in a racist attempt to retain privilege has morphed into an acceptable word for dealing with change suggests the trajectory we are dealing with.

I've linked to Keith Ellison's op ed before, but let me link to it here and give a quote

In America today, we are encouraged to believe in the myth of scarcity - that there just isn't enough - of anything. But in the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus, who the Muslims call Isa, found himself preaching to 5000 (not including the women by the way) at dinner time, and there didn’t appear to be enough food. The disciples said that there were only five barley loaves and two fish. We just have to send them away hungry. We simply don't have enough. But Jesus took the loaves and the fish and started sharing food. There was enough for everyone. There was more than enough. What was perceived as scarcity was illusory as long as there was sharing, and not hoarding.

The idea here is not that there is a boundless supply of everything. Such an idea leads to waste and dispensability of everything. But the idea is that there is enough.

While I love the sentiment behind this, it seems to me that we are in an era of perceived scarcity, and calls to change that are not going to get anywhere because it is too easy to invoke scarcity, even where none exists.

Also of interest, since Bernard brings up Becker, is the discussion on Malcolm Gladwell's blog concerning the car salesman study by Ayres. The discussion is spread out over three or four blog posts, and Steve Sailer shows up. I think this plugs into the notion of scarcity, because what the thrust of the arguments against Gladwell's point is that the salesmen have access to limited information and have limited time, so are justified in discriminating (note there are a lot of other arguments floating around this discussion, including the notion that black men like to pay more for cars and that Gladwell's hairstyle indicates an identification with African Americans. Yes, as far as I can tell, Sailer thinks these are serious arguments) In this context, forcing salesmen to add extra information to their evaluation of the prospect of a sale is impinging on their sense. This quote, taken from Richard Posner's review of Gladwell's Blink seems to be based on that.

It would not occur to Gladwell, a good liberal, that an auto salesman's discriminating on the basis of race or sex might be a rational form of the "rapid cognition" that he admires. If two groups happen to differ on average, even though there is considerable overlap between the groups, it may be sensible to ascribe the group's average characteristics to each member of the group, even though one knows that many members deviate from the average. An individual's characteristics may be difficult to determine in a brief encounter, and a salesman cannot afford to waste his time in a protracted one, and so he may quote a high price to every black shopper even though he knows that some blacks are just as shrewd and experienced car shoppers as the average white, or more so. Economists use the term "statistical discrimination" to describe this behavior

I think there are a number of ways to look at this, and none of them seem to be too satisfying for people who want discrimination to be reduced in the future. Because financial success increasingly relies on a successful margin, it becomes a legitimate argument to invoke this sort of scarcity. Racial profiling can be seen as another natural outgrowth of this system. You can see this in the debate over predatory loan practices, practices that then spread out to target others at risk.

As for ideas, I think that we need to reexamine the societal consensus that we should avoid punishment for these sorts of behaviors and begin to seek some sort of enforcement based clearly on punishment of the offenders. Of course, this is strong medicine, and I can understand there are numerous objections, but it seems that American society needs something to break the logjam.

And so Sebastian continues an unbroken streak of criticizing imperfect but temporarily useful solutions because they are not perfect, while offering none of his own, providing the actual answer to his question, "What do conservatives do in society?"

Oh, I meant to add an apology for bringing up AA at universities, but forgot to add it. I do think that the whole phenomenon is related to scarcity, either actual or invented, but apologies if that was a threadjack and apologies for not apologizing.

If you want to believe that it is otherwise good to redistribute the harm from one set of innocent parties to another, and defend on that grounds, so be it.

"Innocence" is not the issue (or not the whole issue), "privilege" is. In the study, all the job-seekers were equally innocent, but the white one was *privileged* -- he received an advantage he did nothing to earn.

AA would be one way to eliminate that privilege, to give the non-white applicants an unfair advantage to compensate for the unfair advantage the white applicant already has.

White resentment about AA is resenting having something taken away (privilege) that you probably don't perceive and didn't explicitly ask for -- but that fact the most whites don't see how they're privileged doesn't mean that it's unreal, any more than air is unreal bcaus it's invisibl.[guss which lttr on my kyboard just stoppd working. arrrrrgh.)

Sebastian: I'm saying that affirmative action is a systemic method of perpetuating the illegitimate idea of race-based decision making when we should be fighting the idea of race-based decision making.

That would be just fine if race-based decision making was neutral - if white people were as likely not to get a job because of the color of their skin as black people or Latino people. But, as this is not the case, your assertion that neutralising white affirmative action with black/Latino affirmative action may cause white resentment, suggests strongly that you think future white resentment is much more important than present black/Latino resentment. You can't fight the idea of race-based decision making if you're determined not to make racist white people resentful: a racist white person is going to think they were done out of a job by a black person whether or not affirmative action is practiced.

Speaking here as a life-long white male, I'm inclinedto say that my kind are prone to a really pathetic level of whining and that it is long past time for us to suck it up, face the reality of deeply entrenched privilege, and be prepared to deal with others on an equal footing, including sometimes losing out to a more or less equally qualified competitor of other race and gender. No other group in our society has anything like our level of advantage, and our complaints are far out of proportion to the occasional slight we might suffer.

I am admittedly grumpy tonight, but still.

Jes, in between "racist" and "not racist" I'd add the category of white man who has been systematically lied to about the real situation and the consequences in practice of changes to it, just as there's the category of American who's been lied to about the realities of universal health care. Some of these victims of institutional deceit may well be racist, classist, and the like, but many also shift in a good direction as more of the truth gets to them. I consider them mostly interderminate.

That perpetuates illegitimate racial classifications, it doesn't fight them.

it gives people a chance at careers that they might not otherwise get. maybe AA's not curing racism, but it's a step towards alleviating one of it most problematic symptoms.

One point that, as another straight white male, always bears repeating is that: in a situation of unequal status -- or privilege, wealth, opportunity, whatever -- equalizing status necessarily means that those who are currently advantaged under the present system will become relatively disadvantaged under the new system. This doesn't mean that they will actually be disadvantaged, i.e. suffer status below the median, which is a common misperception.

[Things get a lot stickier when you start talking about aggregates, e.g. racial classifications, but that will have to wait until my sinuses equalize.]

maybe AA's not curing racism, but it's a step towards alleviating one of it most problematic symptoms.

IMO, the only known method of curing racism is precisely the alleviation of its most problematic symptoms. It's not a panacea by any means, but it's the only place to start.

It may be useful to think of AA as restoring equity in hiring, rather than taking privileges away from one group only to hand them to another.

If there are lots of equally qualified applicants, then the selection ought to be random. But as the study shows, it isn't. So suppose AA merely restores the black applicant's chances. If there are three essentially indistinguishable applicants, one of them black, the black applicant ought, in fairness, get the job one third of the time. If that doesn't happen, and AA can make it happen, I see no inequity at all.

Wow. That was exactly the point I was trying to make, only done correctly. Thanks, Bernard!

After reading this conversation, I find myself wanting to contribute but also feel relatively uninformed. I don't trust the internet on questions like this, so I'll ask here.

Whenever Affirmative Action is mentioned, inevitably someone brings up the fact that minority applicants who are less qualified are accepted instead of more qualified applicants who are, for example, white and male. Is this just a myth, or is that how AA works?

Bernard nails it.

BY: that was also the one of the points I was trying to make, only not nearly so well. I was trying to acknowledge that over the long run, the people who win or lose under AA are not always the very same people who would win or lose in a fair system, which is where the 'some injustices cured, some created' part came in.

Seb: I suppose a lot of this gets down to the question: do you (generic 'you') think that if more blacks have the kinds of jobs they'd have in a fair world, and live the resulting sorts of lives, that will make the business of working, shopping, etc., alongside blacks normal for whites, thereby eliminating some amount of racism? I do.

Here I'm speaking as someone who probably benefitted from AA, in getting my first job. The department that hired me had never before hired a woman for a tenure-track job, and was coming under real pressure to do so. The reason they had not hired a woman before was, imho, that a significant number of them had never had a female colleague before, and seemed to have all sorts of peculiar ideas about what this would be like. (Note: this is not all of my colleagues. One was a total hero.) Probably the best short version would be: many of them thought it would mean literally having someone just like their mother in the department, and these were, in general, not guys who had very good relationships with their mothers.

Luckily for me, I am, for whatever reason, not someone who tends to play into people's stereotypes about what having a woman as a colleague will be like. Also, they liked me. (At least in one case, this was for a completely unfair reason: one of my ex-colleagues was, um, let's say a narcissistic snob, and he was very impressed by the Fact of Dad and His Old Job.) I could feel, even in the interview before I had any idea what was going on, this palpable collective sigh of relief: oh thank heavens she's NORMAL, not one of THOSE women!

(Did I mention they had poor judgment?)

Anyways, the point of this is: just by being there, and by not living up to their worst fears, I managed to make having a woman colleague a normal thing. I didn't have to work hard at it (well, not too hard); most of it just involved not actually being (literally) their mothers. Maybe the fact that I tactfully refrained from smearing menstrual blood all over the office helped. Who can say?

Having me around also helped a lot with women students: for instance, when I arrived I suspected, without having any actual evidence, that something involving sexual harassment might be or have been an issue, and since I really really didn't want either to have to deal with that or to have it continue without my dealing with it, I made sure to say, completely casually, and early enough in my time there that I couldn't possibly be construed as referring to any actual anything, how much I loathed sexual harassment, how wrong it was, how I had been through it, and how very clear it seemed to me, in retrospect, that I ought to have turned some of the people who did it in. This had the desired effect, namely making it clear that if I ever did find out about this I would probably turn them in, and also that any comments that presupposed that dating/having sex with one's students was even remotely OK would not go over well. I believe this actually had an effect, which (if true) would have prevented actual future damage.

The point is just: I didn't have to try very hard or make a big deal out of it, but just by being there I made something normal that wasn't normal before, and I believe that that did in fact help to get my department over a significant chunk of its sexism -- to the point that it went on to hire more women with much, much less drama.

Speaking broadly, one difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals are the ones who believe in bad luck. Liberals believe in a social safety net because they believe people tend to end up in bad circumstances through no fault of their own, while conservatives believe such things occur through bad choices that the individual should take responsibility for.

On the one hand, you might think this explains conservative opposition to affirmative action. But on another level, it seems like a total contradiction to me. Apparently, through hard work and dedication you can overcome any obstacle in life - except, apparently, for government-sponsored affirmative action, which is completely insurmountable.

Why are minorities expected to suck it up and work even harder to overcome systemic disadvantages, but the idea of asking the privileged classes to do the same is unthinkable?

I can understand affirmative action as a way to equalize opportunity and offset the effects of racism. What I have trouble understanding is how institutionalizing a system of racial classifications can ever lead to a society in which race isn't used to discriminate between people. I guess the argument is that it's important enough to address the injustice some people are experiencing now that it outweighs the damage of perpetuating, or at least extending, the period of race-based discrimination.

I remember a long time ago hearing Nelson Mandela saying something about how South Africa was the only country that had race built into its laws and thinking not only that that wasn't really true but that the United States was one of the ones that did. I'm not of course saying that affirmative action is at all equivalent to apartheid, just that it's very troubling that they have that in common. Not that I have an answer.

What I have trouble understanding is how institutionalizing a system of racial classifications can ever lead to a society in which race isn't used to discriminate between people. I guess the argument is that it's important enough to address the injustice some people are experiencing now that it outweighs the damage of perpetuating, or at least extending, the period of race-based discrimination.

Seriously? When the problem is over, you stop affirmative action. People throw their hands up all the time and talk about how long affirmative action has existed, and how intolerable it is to think that it's going to exist forever. But if most decent people didn't think that positive racism against blacks (for example) was still a significant problem, there wouldn't be much of a consitituency for affirmative action, and it would go away. Positive discrimination against the Irish was a problem. It isn't now. And no one advocates affirmative action for those of Irish origin.

KC: "What I have trouble understanding is how institutionalizing a system of racial classifications can ever lead to a society in which race isn't used to discriminate between people."

Darn; I guess my little story didn't serve its purpose.

Affirmative action is a band-aid. It's applied in the face of resistance from not a few people. It is, in fact, overtly unfair. It's value, as has been noted, is in offsetting other overt unfairness.

I actually don't have any particular problem with affirmative action as a pragmatic countermeasure to the bred in the bone racism that is common in the US. It is, however, no better than than a pragmatic band-aid solution to a problem that has much, much deeper roots.

The problem is this: in this country, people who are not white are not treated the same as people who are white. Period.

There is a sort of continuum of "not whiteness", where being Asian is almost as good as being white, being south Asian is next best, being Middle Eastern next best, being Hispanic next, and being black is dead last. Especially if you're American black, which is perhaps even worse than being Caribbean black. But, no matter what, the lighter you are, the better you will be treated.

It's hard to say what it will take for society to become, actually, color blind. It's been almost 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation. It's been over 40 years since the March on Washington. The last lynching in this country took place in 1981. It was as recently as 1998 that James Byrd was dragged behind a pickup truck, dying after his head and right arm were severed from his body, for no reason other than that he was black and he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. The men that killed him dumped his body and then went to a barbeque.

These things just don't happen to white people. Not anywhere, not anytime. They don't. Care to argue the point?

So, while I recognize the unfairness of affirmative action, it just doesn't bother me all that much. It's a balancing measure, undertaken to offset the fact that, in this country, if you're black, you're the exception if you can, at any level, get a plain old square deal.

If you have a better solution to suggest, fire away. If your suggestion is along the lines of "come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now", I hope you'll forgive me if I'm not holding my breath.

Band-aids are not a bad thing.

Thanks -

Your post is sad but true and so are most of these comments. This is a thorny problem with no ready solution.

I'm an old fashioned white liberal who got on the Civil Rights bandwagon before 1964 and have been on it ever since. I have worked over thirty-five years in the food business and am still in it, most of that time in management working with those commonly called the "working poor."

It's a tough place to work and I don't see how many employees make it. But after a few years of guilt I realized that someone -- many someones, in fact -- would work at low wages and at least I could treat them with as much dignity and fairness as possible. If nothing else, I could be a decent manager and I take pride in having been one.

I also know that racial and ethnic discrimination were alive and well where I worked and I was expected to follow the party line. But that didn't prevent me from pushing the envelope whenever I could, and I was able to see to it that blacks and other minorities moved into jobs that they might not have had without my input and protection.

My successes have been small but the rewards have been real. I am still in contact with a handful of black friends whom I have been able to support and encourage, in a couple of cases more than twenty years.

But I have to report that I am tired. I am not only tired of pushing uphill against the problem described so well in your post. I am also tired of having to bend over backward to validate myself with young black newcomers who presume that I am just another closet racist because I'm their white boss. I could write reams of examples but my purpose is not to complain but to report.

I want to toss this challenging dimension into the discussion because the day is coming when those of us who have been on the side of the angels for decades are simply gonna pass away or get tired and say screw it.

(Sorry to sound negative, but sometimes I feel like blowing off steam. Maybe a comment thread on the intenet is as good as the privacy and isolation of a walk-in cooler. I'm really not about to give up. I'm not cut from that fabric. I'm just saying...)

Why are minorities expected to suck it up and work even harder to overcome systemic disadvantages, but the idea of asking the privileged classes to do the same is unthinkable?

Because the privileged classes are either not accustomed to thinking about their privilege (so having it brought to their attention makes them uncomfortable) or they are blind to that privilege altogether (and will deny that they have it, insisting that the playing field is already pretty much level).

Especially in the latter case, asking them to give up even a small amount of that privilege means, to them, asking them to go from neutral to disadvantaged, so they understandably put up a fuss.

I have a story that seems to fit the topic.

In my younger days, I worked as a file clerk in a small law office. I was filling in temporarily for a secretary who quit, and my boss and I were working on finding a permanent replacement.

After interviewing several candidates, it was obvious that the best-qualified candidate, both in terms of credentials and presentation, was a young black woman. I told my boss she seemed head-and-shoulders above the others.

He shook his head sadly. "Steve, you know I don't have a racist bone in my body, but I really don't think we can do this. You know how some of my clients are. If they walked in here and saw a black receptionist, some of them wouldn't want to come back, and I can't risk losing business because I have to worry about making ends meet."

I'd like to say I staged some Hollywood-style protest, but I did at least tell him I didn't think that was right.

Whatever I said, it must have made an impression. A few days later, he said to me, "I've been thinking a lot about what you said, and I've decided to give that girl a shot." (Of COURSE he said "girl" - this is a man who called ME "honey" because he was so accustomed to having a female secretary!)

As it turns out, she took the job... and then never showed up for her first day of work. Oops. That's the day I learned that real life can be more complicated than the movies.

LB, I don't think the analogy holds. There was no constituency for continuing affirmative action for Irish people because there was no such affirmative action, so there was no one benefiting from it who would oppose its abolition. Presumably your argument is that those who want to continue benefiting will be overruled by the rest of society once everyone has agreed that racism has been eliminated, but that's unrelated to the situation of the Irish.

Hootsbuddy: know that some of us who don't know you at all are grateful to you, and people like you, for doing the kinds of things that will ultimately make this whole discussion a subject of bafflement to historians.

"It may not be racism in all cases, it may be closer to familiarity by association or possibly a subliminal bond that may be racial in nature, but not necessarily racist."

Worst...sentence...ever....

Shorter version:

"It may not be racism in all cases, it may be racism or racism that is racial in nature, but not necessarily racist (except that it is)."

russell: It's not just in the US. I remember reading articles in Time Asia a few years back on the rising (resurgent?) pigment-based racism in South and South-East Asia -- specifically India and Thailand, IIRC, those having the most fully developed media industries -- and how ludicrously prized pale skin was becoming. What was most intriguing was that this didn't seem to have been a result of American, or even Western, influence; it seemed to be a resurrection of old, old-school racial classification (the Indian variant, in particular, was construed as the rebirth of old Persian (?!) notions of race) which I'm sure says something profound but I'm not sure what.

It wouldn't be so bad if the damn Human Resources Departments weren't a law unto themselves. We're talking about a natural resource of the country that some bunch of marginal type people are allowed to run roughshod over without oversight. If the government can step in and say you have to treat this sort of people a certain way, they ought to be able to step in and say you have to put your decisions about all the people you bring into your web into some kind of order that can be evaluated rationally. For some reason I have never been able to fathom, decent people have to put up with being looked over by people like they are some kind of cattle with no equity for being human at all. Your little survey says only 23% of the white boys hit it the first time, so put it another way, 77% of the white boy are getting kicked in the nuts, too. And what about the unhip haircuts? Don't get me started.

"And so Sebastian continues an unbroken streak of criticizing imperfect but temporarily useful solutions because they are not perfect, while offering none of his own, providing the actual answer to his question, "What do conservatives do in society?""

Umm, no I'm criticizing an imperfect solution that I think is NOT temporarily useful and which I think very well may be make things WORSE. But I wouldn't expect you to actually bother reading what I write.

SH, I don't know if the burden is properly on you, but are you willing to (1) propose a solution that has a better prospect of working out in the long run than affirmative action, or (2) argue that doing nothing has a reasonable prospect of working out in the long run?

Considering the sums of money at stake in any hiring decision, a person who makes a hiring decision on the basis of discrimination has actually misappropriated a very substantial sum of money. Hiring a 10% less efficient employee on the basis of race bilks the company out of at least $1600 a year, to say nothing of the opportunity costs. Few employers would overlook that kind of pilfering in any other context.

Let us assume, for the moment, that the law started to treat the offense of racial discrimination in hiring that way: instead of sending you to a human rights counselor, the authorities added up the value of the salaries you misappropriated and put them on a sentencing grid. What would happen then?

Well, obviously, real abuses would not happen nearly as often. White men with felony records would lose out big time. Less educated white men could no longer trade on their appeal to decision makers.

Then I predict a different effect would set in. The more a workplace looked unlike the community, the more nervous the decision makers would get, just as banks get nervous around atypical business transactions. If bankers let an unusual transaction through that turns out to involve fraud, then the investigators, and later the jury, may have a hard time figuring out why they couldn't see why it looked so odd. The same way, the farther away from the community average the workforce gets, the more pressure decision makers will feel to justify their actions, and the more reason they will have to hire people to tip the balance back.

That means that in the long run, if you treat discrimination as embezzlement, you get a result which looks a lot like affirmative action.

Note: For the sake of this post, I have written as though company policy reflected economic rationality and aimed at hiring workers who gave the best value.

Hilzoy, "Seb: I suppose a lot of this gets down to the question: do you (generic 'you') think that if more blacks have the kinds of jobs they'd have in a fair world, and live the resulting sorts of lives, that will make the business of working, shopping, etc., alongside blacks normal for whites, thereby eliminating some amount of racism? I do."

It is a matter of magnitude. Some amount? Certainly. But it causes or inflames racism as well. Does it cancel out? Is one effect more than the other?

Lizardbreath, "Seriously? When the problem is over, you stop affirmative action. People throw their hands up all the time and talk about how long affirmative action has existed, and how intolerable it is to think that it's going to exist forever. But if most decent people didn't think that positive racism against blacks (for example) was still a significant problem, there wouldn't be much of a consitituency for affirmative action, and it would go away."

I don't mean to be rude, not that that is stopping many on this thread, but 'seriously' do you think that just happens with government programs that outlive their usefulness. What about the 'temporary' New York housing price stabilization regime which was supposed to be for the war? Every single economist will tell you that it actively makes prices worse over time, yet it persists. It hasn't only outlived it's usefulness, it has been shown to be actively bad yet it persists. Why, because those who benefit are more concentrated than the difuse parties that are damaged. Those who benefit get a larger magnitude of benefit spread across a smaller base of people than those who are damaged which is spread across a larger base of people. The same is true of ridiculous farm subsdies.

Even when government programs turn actively harmful, it is still incredibly difficult to get rid of them.

You can't get rid of racism by instituting a systemic racial spoils system that distributes its benefits based on a illegitimate classification.

Look, if you want to punish racism, you may very well be on a fools errand, but at least hit the people doing it, not other random people who happen to share a 'race' with the people doing it. That isn't justice, that is injustice. And it is injustice based on the very sick concept it is allegedly trying to fight. It would be like Katherine torturing a random army private because somewhere else another member of the army tortured a prisoner. If you are against torture, you don't use it.

"SH, I don't know if the burden is properly on you, but are you willing to (1) propose a solution that has a better prospect of working out in the long run than affirmative action, or (2) argue that doing nothing has a reasonable prospect of working out in the long run?"

I don't think affirmative action is likely to reduce racism in the long run. Full stop. So asking for a better prospect is trivial.

Look, I'll admit to being very naive and not understanding racism very well. It really truly doesn't make sense as a catagory for me. And I think that it would be much better if more people felt that way. Institutionaly making the effects of the catagory more important seems clearly a way to heighten the distinctions rather than minimize them. Affirmative Action wholly depends on classification by race. Doing so strengthens the idea that classification by race is important. That is what we want to fight.

I think the question of what to do is difficult, but that many of the right steps have already been taken--but not necessarily well enforced. We should punish distinguishing by race such that it harms any race much more obviously and harshly. I also think that doing no harm in race may very well be one of the better options. It certainly is better than doing harm.

Hmm. Sebastian, I'd say whether the ends justify the means depends a bit on how bad the means really are. In the case of affirmative action, the means can be pretty freaking benign.

I specifically suggested hil as a poster here in part because she was female. I also figured she'd be damn good--I turned out to be more right than I knew. But it was partly because I was then being driven crazy by all this "where are the female bloggers" stuff, and specifically wanted to suggest someone female, that I remembered these few great comments...

Pretty benign, right? Not exactly equivalent to going out and assaulting the nearest man in the name of the sisterhood.

Now, we're talking about paying jobs that people apply for--so maybe it's different. But job decisions are all so subjective, so random. Who knows what gets your resume pulled out of the pile, or why someone clicks better in an interview. Very often it's a connection--which makes sense, if the person recommending you actually knows you and your work, but very often they don't.

You might argue that a government program just flatly cannot be that benign. Frankly, I wasn't even sure we were talking about a government program here...

I am not sure why being blissfully free of any desire to discriminate on the basis of race makes it impossible for you to evaluate anti-racism policies, either. I am blissfully free of the desire to blow people up in coffee shops--as are we all, presumably--but we still argue about counterterrorism. I don't think it's realistic to argue that the increased resentment caused by affirmative action is going to outweigh the benefits of having more minorities in a position to make future hiring decisions.

And I would guess that the fact that you were able to grow up without being aware of race, is partly due to your race. I worked one summer job at a magazine that sent me to a lot of heavily-minority neighborhoods in New York. You notice being the only white person in the subway or on the street--and if you somehow miss that, it becomes clear when strangers come up and ask you if you're lost because (and this was said in a perfectly amiable and friendly way) "seeing a white girl in this neighborhood is like seeing a snowflake in July."

Sebastian: I'm guessing that you have more experience with discrimination on the basis of sexuality. Any thoughts on what it will take to eliminate that?

"And I would guess that the fact that you were able to grow up without being aware of race, is partly due to your race."

Quite possibly, but it wasn't because I was in a mono-racial culture. I grew up in a California Christian culture in which the adults intentionally did not acknowledge the idea of racial differences. For the children I suspect that was a very good thing. I'm not at all kidding when I say that in elementary school when people called my best friend (and not in some of my friends blah blah kind of way) 'black' with a dirty tone that I just could not get it. I'm not kidding when I say that I did not realize that it made no sense to have an obviously Japanese grandmother. In my limited experience, racial catagorization has always been a very bad thing.

Anarch, I don't think we can 'eliminate' it except by letting it die out. Socially stigmitize until it eventually dies. Stand against it when it is overt. Teach against it when you think it is subtle. Reveal when you are gay so that people can see that people they know are. Other than that, it is very difficult to force a change. Think of it like a diplomacy vs. force issue. Sometimes you need force, and when you need force you really need it. But don't expect to change many hearts and minds that way.

Sebastian: :LYou can't get rid of racism by instituting a systemic racial spoils system that distributes its benefits based on a illegitimate classification.

Quite. Which is at present the case, with affirmative action for white hiring, which you appear to have no problems with - your objection is to balancing off the affirmative action for white hiring with affirmative action for other races. So, you're saying you actively don't want to get rid of racism, since you support the continuation of a systemic racial spoils system that distributes its benefits based on a illegitimate classification?

Or you've got some actual evidence that instituting balance in hiring processes is bad, other than your feeling that it's bad for white people to be resentful (but not so bad for black and Latino people to be resentful)?

(Steve: my first guess is that the young black woman figured out her immediate boss was racist and decided she'd rather work somewhere else if she possibly could.)

Sebastian: Anarch, I don't think we can 'eliminate' it except by letting it die out. Socially stigmitize until it eventually dies. Stand against it when it is overt.

Like leaving the Republican party when Bush proposed an anti-gay amendment for the Constitution in order to whip up support from homophobic voters?

Teach against it when you think it is subtle. Reveal when you are gay so that people can see that people they know are. Other than that, it is very difficult to force a change.

Of course it's difficult. Doesn't mean it's not worth doing. One of the major forces for change (I have been realizing with glee over the past 12 months) is making gay marriage legal nationwide... for a whole bunch of reasons, which I might go into on my journal.

I'm curious when racial perceptions begin as children. This page details some results, discussing a report that is here (PDF is at the bottom) but I think it would be harder to determine when the ability to perceive and then map onto characteristics actually begins.

Hmmm, a bit of synchronicity.

lj, I grew up in a very white area of the UK. I'd see black people around, but rarely - I got snapped at by a strange woman once because I was staring at her legs (I would have been about 6) - she was very dark-skinned and was wearing fawn-colored nylons, which looked very odd. Fawn-colored nylons, called "flesh-colored" though of course they are not, are the easiest kind of nylons to buy in the UK - most corner shops sell cheap brands for emergencies, and I bet this woman got a run in her nylons, had to buy another pair in a hurry, and couldn't find any but the fawn-colored sort, which she was doubtless well aware looked very weird... and here was this kid staring at her legs. No wonder she snapped at me.)

I remember visiting Birmingham with my family, age 8, and seeing *for the first time* several black people at once (British Rail staff), just at work - and being surprised and discomforted, because there were the usual uniformed BR staff, but they looked *different*.

And I think that if my parents had been the kind of people who would have made disparaging/racist remarks just then, either after I turned away from this woman in distress because I was aware that Staring Was Rude, or there and then in Birmingham New St station, I might well have absorbed those comments and believed that I could externalize the discomfort I was feeling - instead of (as I did - ) telling myself not to be silly and moving on. (I don't think, age 8, that I could have understood why I found this so disconcerting - but I've analyzed the memory so often since, so many years on, that I really have no idea.)

I would guess that any child growing up in a racially-mixed area, going to a racially-mixed school, or living in a racially-mixed family will - unless their parents work very hard to reverse the natural process - be naturally non-racist about the races they are used to. (I say this because, while the area I grew up in was pretty white, there always were small numbers and growing of Asians and British-born kids of Asian origin: and I never remember having the same kind of disconcerted reaction to people of Asian appearance as opposed to black.) But, a child growing up in a uniracial area is much more vulnerable to racist adult interference.

I'm curious when racial perceptions begin as children.

Erik Erickson and Robert Coles have puzzled long and hard about the same question. So have I. An important part of the answer has to do with exactly what Jesurgislac wrote regarding the family.

Policy and law have a role to play, of course. There is a critical distinction between de facto and de jure discrimination. But in the long run family role models will trump popular role models laying down a roadmap for the developing child. How else to explain the integrity of some small communities who live and move in the world outside their group but remain faithful to the values they have been fed from childhood. I am thinking of immigrants who sail past their "natural-born" peers; Mormons, Jews, Roman Catholics or mainline protestants whose faiths keep them in line long after they have left their respective nests; and the dramatic example of the Amish community which most recently put before the world that remarkable and unbelievable example of faith overcoming human reason.

If I had to point to a single source of unremediated prejudice it would have to be the dissolution of the nuclear family. I'm not an "old poop" as Katherine Hepburn called Henry Fonda in Golden Pond, but I am convinced that a tight and well-understood value system that once held families together has been replaced by very low expectations on the part of parents whose personal conduct is part of the problem. "Do as I say and not as I do" is a mixed signal at its worst.

(And thanks, hilz, for your response. I have had some sleep since I wrote that and feel much better. It's easier to tangle with slings and arrows in the morning than at the end of a long day.)

Look, if you want to punish racism, you may very well be on a fools errand, but at least hit the people doing it, not other random people who happen to share a 'race' with the people doing it.

OK, and you propose to punish employers who are hiring white felons while turning away -- by lying to their faces -- perfectly qualified hispanic and black candidates by . . .? Please, outline these steps for me. Boycotts? Government action? What?

Let us assume, for the moment, that the law started to treat the offense of racial discrimination in hiring that way: instead of sending you to a human rights counselor, the authorities added up the value of the salaries you misappropriated and put them on a sentencing grid. What would happen then?

Now that is an interesting suggestion. Treat discrimination as a real, material crime -- embezzlement, or theft of income from the person not hired -- with criminal penalties that real, tangible people have to pay.

No fines paid by the employer, no sensitivity workshops. Discrimination in hiring means that you, personally, will lose your job, be personally liable for damages, or maybe even go to jail.

That would change some behavior in a hurry.

I don't think affirmative action is likely to reduce racism in the long run. Full stop. So asking for a better prospect is trivial

Couldn't agree more with the first and second sentences. If that was the purpose of AA, I would agree that it is not a useful policy. But, that's not it's purpose. It's purpose is to remediate the very real and very harmful effects of racism.

"Asking for a better prospect is trivial" is a snappy answer, but it fails to address the core question: is it legitimate for us to have laws that mitigate the harmful effects of something like institutionalized racism?

If so, AA seems perfectly fine to me. If you think not, I'm curious to know why.

As an aside, I would trade AA for John Spragge's suggestion in a heartbeat. That would put the cost of racism where it belongs, ie, directly on the offender, instead of externalizing it onto other folks.

Discriminate in hiring, go to jail. Think conservatives will buy that? It is certainly consistent with the conservative ethic of taking personal responsibility for your actions. Or will they complain that it is government interference with private contracts and/or private economic activity?

Hootsbuddy -- you are the guy who is actually going to make things better. Thank you for all you have done.

Thanks -

Bruce: Jes, in between "racist" and "not racist" I'd add the category of white man who has been systematically lied to about the real situation and the consequences in practice of changes to it, just as there's the category of American who's been lied to about the realities of universal health care. Some of these victims of institutional deceit may well be racist, classist, and the like, but many also shift in a good direction as more of the truth gets to them. I consider them mostly interderminate.

A very good point, well worth repeating. I think one of the most pernicious myths about affirmative action is that it "requires" less-qualified "minority" applicants to get jobs over more-qualified white/male applicants. In fact, demonstrably, what affirmative action does is remove the likelihood that a less-qualified white/male applicant will get a job over more-qualified "minority" applicants.

The situation isn't quite the same for people discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation or religion, because it is usually possible to lie about that: and every careers advisor I've ever had has taken a look at my resume and advised me to omit the overtly queer jobs I've had, or rename them so they weren't overt: to lie.

I only did this once, when I was 20: the results convinced me that if I was going to get turned down for a job because of my sexual orientation, I would much rather this happened at the stage where the company is weeding out resumes, rather than face-to-face at an interview. I could feel the temperature drop as I admitted the name of the voluntary group I'd listed as an example of my experience doing office work. But I could, if I could have borne it/if I'd been more desperate, have lied outright... which is a difference between getting rejected on sight for the color of your skin.

Jes - my experience was similar but my conclusion is quite the opposite. I grew up in a very white town, but the result is that I never encountered racist language - simply because there was no one around to whom it could refer. It's tricky to discriminate against people who just aren't present at all, in any number. There doesn't seem to be any point to it.

Quite a contrast with sectarian language and sentiment, of which there was a lot- it's not like I grew up in some liberal utopia.

Interesting. The guy who lives next door to a friend of mine has his house up for sale. I (jokingly) suggested we should make an offer on it, and my friend said "he wants to sell it to a Latino". And he was serious. Apparently the guy told him that, in earnest.

I'm not sure how you'd turn down a full-price offer from someone whose background you disapprove of, though. Still, there's racism all over.

Which doesn't justify any of it.

One thing they don't seem to mention (unless I missed it) is the race of the interviewers. It's kind of implied that they're predominantly white (and even female) but not given as a statistic.

Thanks, Jes, though what I'm interested in is some sort of psychological experiment when children take in different skin color as being indicative of some quality. There is stranger anxiety, when children between 12 and 15 months are able to make a distinction between strangers and caregivers, but I'm wondering if there is a point where infants psychologically react to skin color.

Interesting article on some side effects of a job discrimination suit in Alabama.

Russell, it's interesting that you agree that affirmative action won't reduce racism, since most of the supporters here seem to think it will. Do you agree with Sebastian that it will actually increase racism but support it anyway to mitigate the effects of that racism? I could understand if you did, but then I can understand Sebastian's taking the opposite position as well.

I'm not sure about the "embezzlement" solution. What happens if someone practicing affirmative action ends up hiring a less qualified minority applicant? Presumably they go to jail as well. And I don't believe that that situation is a myth (unless you count increased diversity as a qualification or something), since because of the problems of the educational system the racial composition of the pool of qualified applicants will not match that of the local population as a whole.

Sebastian:
Affirmative Action extends the injustice, it doesn't fight it.
But what about Hilzoy's experience with being basically an AA candidate? Hiring her seems to have resulted in a net increase in justice, not just for her personally but for her department and their students as a whole.

The problem with your equation between white resentment of AA and black resentment of pervasive racism is that they aren't really the same feelings. Think of your own experience: that "temperature drop" when an interviewer hears about your gay volunteer groups is a small taste of what it can be like to be black in America. Imagine feeling that chill every day, in all kinds of interactions.

I contend that one's reaction to that chill is not the same emotion as a white man's resentment of AA. It's not just a matter of not comparing apples & oranges, it's a matter of not comparing apples and *grenades*.

KCinDC:

There was no constituency for continuing affirmative action for Irish people because there was no such affirmative action, so there was no one benefiting from it who would oppose its abolition.

In some sense, of course, there was informal affirmative action for Irish people. First they were discriminated against, then they got a foothold in areas like municipal government and policing, enough to influence hiring, and then they were actively discriminated in favor of in those areas. And now we've melted into the mainstream, and aren't particularly noticable as a separate group -- I wouldn't expect a hiring partner of Irish background to discriminate in my favor against someone whose ancestors came from Poland, or even to be tempted to do so. So, you know, these things can come to an end.

Okay, LB, I understand what you're referring to now. But I still say that ending a government policy is quite different from having an informal policy carried out by the people being discriminated against fade away as they become assimilated into the broader society. Also, blacks of course are more noticeable as a separate group, which is no doubt one reason why discrimination against them is harder to end than discrimination against Irish or Italians or Poles.

Doctor Science: Think of your own experience: that "temperature drop" when an interviewer hears about your gay volunteer groups is a small taste of what it can be like to be black in America. Imagine feeling that chill every day, in all kinds of interactions.

That was me, actually, not Sebastian.

Russel, "Couldn't agree more with the first and second sentences. If that was the purpose of AA, I would agree that it is not a useful policy. But, that's not it's purpose. It's purpose is to remediate the very real and very harmful effects of racism."

Well, since the position of most of the commenters here is that AA does lead to reduced racism, it isn't surprising that I address that.

Phil, "OK, and you propose to punish employers who are hiring white felons while turning away -- by lying to their faces -- perfectly qualified hispanic and black candidates by . . .? Please, outline these steps for me. Boycotts? Government action? What?"

How about some exposure? Even with no legal remedy (and maybe I'm being naive) I suspect that if this study implicates any major employer, the mere direct revelation of their name and the fact that they are more likely to hire a white felon than a black man could be an effective tool.

" I wouldn't expect a hiring partner of Irish background to discriminate in my favor against someone whose ancestors came from Poland, or even to be tempted to do so. So, you know, these things can come to an end."

This is rather different from setting government policies. I notice you don't address things like the 'temporary' housing supports or farm subsidies which have not 'come to an end' despite their well known negative effects.

Sebastian: I'm not at all kidding when I say that in elementary school when people called my best friend (and not in some of my friends blah blah kind of way) 'black' with a dirty tone that I just could not get it.

Did your best friend ever manage to explain to you what was going on? Genuinely curious. I know of several white people who say they came to awareness of racism when they got involved (either as friendship or romantically) with a black person, and really began to notice how their friend/partner was treated (and how they were treated when they were out with them). It can be a sudden shock that strips away blindness to white privilege, but it doesn't seem to have worked that way for you.

A few more notes on the 'my first job' story: first, as best I can tell, my department thought that they would have hired me without AA. What I think they mean by this is that they took me to be the best candidate. I am not sure they would have hired me w/o AA, though, since they were extremely worried about what actually hiring a woman might involve, and thus might have opted for safety had deans not been breathing down their necks.

Second, while I generally think, in situations like this, that I have an obligation to make myself the best person they could have hired under any circumstances, doing good didn't take much real effort in this case: the most important thing I had to do was to not be their mothers, or in some other way incarnate their worst fears, and since their worst fears were absurd, that was easy.

Third, most of them would probably have said that there was no problem for women students in our department. They would have been wrong. They were blind to it. Again, I didn't have to do anything beyond existing to start changing this: the simple fact that (for instance) female students had a female professor to come talk to made a big difference.

It's partly because most of the difference I made had very little to do with me in particular that I feel comfortable saying: I really did make a difference, for the women students but also for future women who applied for jobs there. It's now completely normal. It wasn't when I arrived. The reason this happened was that my department was under enormous pressure to hire a woman. They thought I was the best candidate, as far as I can tell (and obviously, in saying this, I'm not just relying on the fact that they nicely told me that), but imho it's not at all clear that I would have gotten the job without the pressure.

Because of the pressure, this is no longer a problem. And I don't think this is such an atypical story.

See, I just don't see the impossibility of ending a government program. Affirmative action (insofar as it is intended to benefit African Americans) has a constituency among African Americans for two reasons: First, they believe that the existence of current racism and current effects of past racism makes it a just and effective remedy, and second, some expect to receive direct benefits from it. It has a constituency among non-African Americans like me for the first, but not the second, of those two reasons.

As soon as you can convince me that current racism and the after-effects of past racism are no longer significant enough to require a remedy, I start opposing affirmative action as unjust, and I'd expect everyone who does not expect to benefit personally from it to feel the same way. I'd further expect everyone who does expect to benefit personally from it, but is more motivated by justice than personal gain, to also start opposing it at that point. (And whatever you think of the venality of people generally, surely there are some more motivated by justice than personal gain.) And of course the people who have strongly opposed it all along will continue to oppose it, even more strongly.

Once racism is no longer a significant determiner of people's opportunities and experiences, affirmative action will be very, very, broadly unpopular. Until then, it's just and necessary.

I notice you don't address things like the 'temporary' housing supports or farm subsidies which have not 'come to an end' despite their well known negative effects.

Because they aren't particularly unpopular. Affirmative action already has a strong contingent of people opposed to it, and if I became convinced that it was unnecessary and unjust, I'd be lined right up with you guys. (Also, you're talking about affirmative actions as if it were a singular government program that could run along under its own power, simply by being reapproved. It's not like that; it's a series of actions that are necessary and permissible because of the current state of racial justice in the US.)

Sebastian, if we didn't have affirmative action, many of the people who don't want to be worked on by an African American surgeon would still object ("He's just a token"), and the same would go for women ("The only way she could have won that promotion is on her back."). So that's not much of an argument.
And I suppose it says something that whites don't have the same doubts about whites being unqualified. Despite the built-in advantages (legacy admissions benefit whites applying to college far more than minorities--and I think the same could be said of networking, simply because there are more whites to network with), and the subjective advantages (many business leaders have said that if they look around the office and see white faces, there's a reflexive assumption that it's a 'white' job) there's no comparable reflexive fear that someone got ahead on the color of their white skin.
Likewise, for all that conservatives claim affirmative action hideously scars women and minorities by making them doubt their own worth, I've never heard anyone suggest that legacy admissions (to take one example) have any fear of inferiority.

I am not nearly so pessimistic about the future of race relations as some others here.

Unlike Sebastian, I spent a big part of my youth in a place where race was of overriding importance. I went to junior high and high school in the Birmingham of Bull Connor and George Wallace. It doesn't get stronger than that.

So from my perspective there has been enormous progress in sociey's attitudes in my lifetime, which is not to say there is not still a long way to go.

I also think that much of the apparent racism that experiments like this demonstrate is not willful. That doesn't change the consequences, of course, but it gives hope. I agree with Katherine about hiring:

job decisions are all so subjective, so random. Who knows what gets your resume pulled out of the pile, or why someone clicks better in an interview.

My experience in hiring runs like this. Place an ad, get a gazillion resumes, pick out three or four that look like the best, and invite them in for interviews.

At this point there was typically not much to choose on the basis of any sort of objective qualification. It was a matter of general impression, of "clicking," etc. In other words, it was pretty subjective. I always suspected that my decision was made within the first thirty seconds or so of the interview. Given that, it is hard for me to believe that I didn't tend to hire people who were "like me," or who fit certain images I had as to who would be good at a job. (Confession: when I was hiring programmers I once said to a friend, only half-joking, "Oh boy. I got a resume from a Chinese guy.")

If this describes lots of hiring, and I think it does, then we don't need to ascribe racially disparate results to conscious racism so much as to habit, and trying to break the habit seems like a good idea.

Jes -- Sorry about the misattribution. I guess we don't know, then, if Sebastian has ever had that particular "oh, shit" feeling.

So from my perspective there has been enormous progress in sociey's attitudes in my lifetime, which is not to say there is not still a long way to go.
I think we'd all agree with that. The question is how much of that progress came from eliminating race-based laws and policies, how much came from instituting other race-based laws and policies, and how much didn't involve laws or policies at all.

The question is how much of that progress came from eliminating race-based laws and policies, how much came from instituting other race-based laws and policies, and how much didn't involve laws or policies at all.

Impossible to separate. My own opinion is that laws do an awful lot in the way of breaking barriers. If you suddenly have to serve blacks in your restaurant you find out that they come in, order, eat, and pay the bill just like whites. So you soften up a bit, maybe start to talk to a few black regulars, etc. So was it the law or a natural tendency?

It really truly doesn't make sense as a catagory for me. And I think that it would be much better if more people felt that way. Institutionaly making the effects of the catagory more important seems clearly a way to heighten the distinctions rather than minimize them. Affirmative Action wholly depends on classification by race. Doing so strengthens the idea that classification by race is important.

Something that I think these conversations get stuck on is figuring out exactly where the point of disagreement is. Assuming (as both the posting rules require (I think) and I in fact do) that we're all good people who think that racism is a bad thing and want to eliminate it.

I think the root of my disagreement with SH is in the above quoted text, which if I understand it correctly is not a matter of moral principle so much as a claim of psychological fact -- that the existence of formally sanctioned affirmative action programs makes it more likely that people exposed to them will recognize 'racial' distinctions, and (I am assuming here) that they will therefore engage in acts motivated by racial antipathy. (This is an argument separate from the argument that affirmative action programs are unacceptably unjust, on an individual level, to white people disadvantaged by them. This is also a real argument which I'm not dismissing, I'm just saying that it's separable.)

The thing is that I really don't think that the psychological claim is true. First, I think that recognition of racial categories as salient is pretty much 100% in the US, so long as we're looking at people over seven or so. So I can't see affirmative action increasing that -- 100% is a hard upper limit. Second, I don't see any direct evidence that exposure to affirmative action actually increases racial animosity.

The US Army, for example, is as far as I know permeated by affirmative action -- promotion decisions are required to be race-conscious in order to ensure that minorities are not disadvantaged. And the affirmative action is very successful, in that minorities are much better represented in the Army's hierarchy than in most other comparably large and powerful organizations. (I'm not claiming that it's perfect, just better in this regard than most other American institutions.)

I've never seen anyone suggest, though, that as a result of this pervasive affirmative action culture, that white soldiers are more likely to be racist than people with no military experience -- rather the reverse, in that they're more likely to be comfortable with minorities as professional peers and superiors, because they're more used to it.

If I thought SH was correct that affirmative action increased racial prejudice, I'd agree with him that it's a bad thing. But I haven't seen any evidence that indicates that it's true.

The company I work for has put racial diversity as a stated commitment. I have no idea what effect it's having, but taking a look around my department, I observe:

1) Blacks (men and women) are severely underrepresented
2) Women are even more severely underrepresented
3) Asian men are rather overrepresented
4) And of course white men are overrepresented

Hispanics I can't recall just now. We used to have quite a few folks from Puerto Rico, for instance, but at least a couple of them have left. I've had a couple of occasions where I've had women working for me, and both times were...not good. Both had stellar resumes, but neither had much of an interest in this sort of work. I can't say as I blame them; most people are bored to sleep by things I find interesting.

And of course there's age. My company was sued several years ago for giving the nearly-retired a hard time (I don't know the particulars) and I periodically hear grumbles that this is still going on. I have no idea how valid this sort of grumbling is, because the way our pension works it's in the employee's best interest to maximize income over the last N years pre-retirement, while it's in the company's best interest to not, for example, promote someone who's just going to retire next year or the year after anyway.

Bernard's point about the (occasionally, at least) fine division between candidates that make it into the onsite interview is apt.

Drat. I screwed up the second paragraph editing that -- there's a sentence missing, but I can't figure out exactly what it was. But I think the point is still clear.

Jesurgislac,

Did your best friend ever manage to explain to you what was going on? Genuinely curious. I know of several white people who say they came to awareness of racism when they got involved (either as friendship or romantically) with a black person, and really began to notice how their friend/partner was treated (and how they were treated when they were out with them). It can be a sudden shock that strips away blindness to white privilege, but it doesn't seem to have worked that way for you.

No, it suggested to me that discriminating against people on the basis of race was crazy.

Lizardbreath,

As soon as you can convince me that current racism and the after-effects of past racism are no longer significant enough to require a remedy, I start opposing affirmative action as unjust, and I'd expect everyone who does not expect to benefit personally from it to feel the same way. I'd further expect everyone who does expect to benefit personally from it, but is more motivated by justice than personal gain, to also start opposing it at that point. (And whatever you think of the venality of people generally, surely there are some more motivated by justice than personal gain.) And of course the people who have strongly opposed it all along will continue to oppose it, even more strongly.

That isn't how it actually works with programs where a small group of people have a strong vested interest and a large group of people have a weak non-vested interest. Rent control is a better analogy than you seem to think. When you say it isn't particularly unpopular, that is among people who have it. The effect on people who would want to move to New York is huge, but the base of people is larger so it is spread out. The effect on people already inside is concentrated. Same with farm subsdies. The economic damage is enormous, but it is spread out across the country so the POLITICAL ability to get rid of it hits up against the concentrated interest of the people who benefit from the spoils system. Let's take you for instance. It is a hard hypothetical, but if we were at a place where you think it would be appropriate to dismantle AA, surely it wouldn't be anywhere near a high priority for you. You would be worried about other social justice problems. And the government program would continue indefinitely. Because that is what they do.

"The US Army, for example, is as far as I know permeated by affirmative action -- promotion decisions are required to be race-conscious in order to ensure that minorities are not disadvantaged."

Where is Andrew when you need him? My understanding is that the US Army is race conscious (in that it recognizes that racism exists in its soldiers as it comes in) and tries strongly to break it down through a number of psychological and sociological pressures which wouldn't be easy to pull of in civilian life. And that one of the main tools that uses is to try for as transparent a meritocracy as it can pull off.

This method isn't likely to cause it to dwindle away.

...

Affirmative Action extends the injustice, it doesn't fight it.

This is wrong -- though it is worth noting the extent to which it does make sense.

AA substitutes a lesser injustice for a greater one. Its real problem is that it is only justifiable as a lesser evil and on the assumption that it will be eliminated as conditions improve. But it is unlikely to simple wither -- it becomes its own injustice over time. That does not condemn its utility outright, but no one should pretend that it is an intrinsically good thing. Many of its defenders seem to forget this.

Even bigots should be allowed to hire whites over blacks when the whites are more qualified (and qualificiation is the basis for the choice). But without some form of AA as a remedy, past discrimination perpetuates itself even though a merit based system has replaced a discriminatory one. The bigots can just point out how the blacks are all so underqualified, which is a result of past discrimination and will continue even after eliminating the discrimination.

Sebastian: What about this, which you haven't addressed, from my prior comment?

(Also, you're talking about affirmative actions as if it were a singular government program that could run along under its own power, simply by being reapproved. It's not like that; it's a series of actions that are necessary and permissible because of the current state of racial justice in the US.)

There isn't one affirmative action program that will continue along being reauthorized forever. Every organization that has an affirmative action program has a different one, and one that gets reconsidered with the rest of the hiring policies as they get reconsidered -- I doubt that any significant percentage of the people employed in the US, public or private sector, works for an organization that has not re-evaluated its hiring policies at some time in the last twenty years. And these policies aren't set by vote or by elected officials -- they aren't laws. They're policies set by the decisionmakers within the organization. Where there is no evidence that minorities are disadvantaged in hiring decisions, there's no reason to think that affirmative action will persist.

I know of several white people who say they came to awareness of racism when they got involved (either as friendship or romantically) with a black person, and really began to notice how their friend/partner was treated (and how they were treated when they were out with them).

This is very true. I have experienced this, although more so when dating a Persian woman in the early 80s (and I live in Los Angeles where my dating a black woman was just no big deal).

The reviling nature of discrimination just cannot be understood in the abstract.

My understanding is that the US Army is race conscious (in that it recognizes that racism exists in its soldiers as it comes in) and tries strongly to break it down through a number of psychological and sociological pressures which wouldn't be easy to pull of in civilian life.

I looked up the regulations on this a while back (I can try to refind them for you if you like) for another argument. As I understood them, the process is that promotion decisions are statistically compared to the racial (and gender) makeup of the pool of people eligible for promotion. Where the promotion decisions do not correspond to the makeup of the pool of eligibles (within some tolerance), the records of unpromoted minority soldiers are examined with a fine-tooth comb to look for anything negative that appears to have been the result of unfair treatment, and if unfair treatment appears to have negatively affected the soldier's record, the results of that unfair treatment is disregarded, and the soldier is reconsidered for promotion.

I'd say that you're right in calling this a meritocracy, but it's still affirmative action. It's explicitly race-conscious, and race-conscious in a way that advantages minorities: a black soldier who is unfairly treated by a superior is likely to get that straightened out at the promotion stage, while a white soldier isn't. This doesn't strike me as unjust, because I think that the black soldier is also more likely to be unfairly treated informally, so the formal corrective measures are justified.

(I should be clear that I have no first hand knowledge of anything at all military. Everything I know about this is from my memory of reading the regulations, and other reading on the topic. If Andrew or anyone else military wants to explain how I've misunderstood the regulations, I'm all ears.)

Re: the Army and Affirmative Action

I don't know to what degree AA plays a part in Army decision making, but I do know that all promotion boards are checked to see if the results are proportional regarding ethnicity and sex. As I understand it (and I've never sat on a promotion board, so this is strictly hearsay), if a board's results are skewed against non-whites and women, the board can be required to select a certain minimum number of non-whites and women for promotions.

Unfortunately, the Army uses three things when promoting people: their ORB/ERB (Officer/Enlisted Records Brief, a one page summary of the soldier's history), their evaluations, and their photograph. While ethnicity and gender are listed on the ORB/ERB, I suspect that removing photographs from the promotion process would make a significant difference in selections. That's just a personal guess, though.

Liz,

Your interpretation is generally correct, but not wholly so. I served with a very fine officer as a platoon leader longer ago than I'd like to admit, for a battalion commander who was (in my opinion), a racist. Of the five company commanders under his command, one was black, and the battalion commander seemed to go out of his way to note any deficiencies in his black company commander, issues that were real, but that didn't appear to be treated as seriously when they occurred under a white company commander. Anyhow, this lieutenant was not selected for the rank of Captain, because his first OER (officer evaluation report) had some bad information on it from the battalion commander. Nothing untrue, but the OER system is sufficiently inflated that commanders can kill careers just by not saying an officer is great. I don't know if that officer had any recourse, even if he had raised the issue to the EO office. (He didn't, and I suspect he's doing a great job for a civilian company these days; this guy was really one of the better platoon leaders in our group, certainly superior to me from what I saw.) So while the Army does have a number of policies and procedures in place to deal with discrimination, there are limits to what they can accomplish.

My feeling is that the armed forces is a counter example, in that it consists of a top down order to integrate (on the basis of arguments of efficiency), and it seems to be the top down nature of AA that is being objected to.

Unfortunately, regardless of how one classifies the attempts of the armed forces to eliminate racism, given the pressures to recruit, the miltary may be finding itself with dealing with racism as a serious problem in the coming years. From the link

In July, a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, found that because of pressing manpower concerns, "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" are now serving in the military. "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members," said Scott Barfield, a Defense Department investigator quoted in the report.

The New York Times noted that the neo-Nazi magazine Resistance is actually recruiting for the U.S. military, urging "skinheads to join the Army and insist on being assigned to light infantry units." As the magazine explained, "The coming race war and the ethnic cleansing to follow will be very much an infantryman's war. ... It will be house-to-house ... until your town or city is cleared and the alien races are driven into the countryside where they can be hunted down and 'cleansed.' "

Apparently, the recruiting push has worked. Barfield reported that he and other investigators have identified a network of neo-Nazi active-duty Army and Marine personnel spread across five military installations in five states. "They're communicating with each other about weapons, about recruiting, about keeping their identities secret, about organizing within the military," he said.

Little wonder that Aryan Nation graffiti is now apparently competing for space with American inner-city gang graffiti in Iraq.

The SPL link referenced in the passage is here. I see on preview that Andrew has weighed in, so any comments he has on the above would be appreciated.

Here's what I think is the correct regulation. On scanning it, it's not precisely as I recalled it: that is, it seems to provide for statistical analysis of discrepancies between the eligible pool for promotion, etc., and the actual results of promotion; to require that decision makers report on the causes of such discrepancies; and that they set goals for remedying them. It doesn't seem to describe the re-review process I talked about above - I don't know if I'm thinking of some different regulation, or if my memory is at fault.

Nonetheless, it certainly describes race-conscious affirmative action, and yet the feared ill-effects don't seem to have materialized.

So while the Army does have a number of policies and procedures in place to deal with discrimination, there are limits to what they can accomplish.

Oh, no place is perfect -- I'm just using the Army as an example of an organization that really does seem to do better than most in racial terms, and uses affirmative action to get there.

"Also, you're talking about affirmative actions as if it were a singular government program that could run along under its own power, simply by being reapproved. It's not like that; it's a series of actions that are necessary and permissible because of the current state of racial justice in the US.)"

This is a combination of things. First, it isn't a singular government program, but within the government (a very large [largest?]) employer it is an omnibus force of its own. Second, with respect to private organizations, it is largely litigation driven with an intersection with the EEOC. This can be problematic because of the ratcheting effect. Low hanging fruit are hit first. Higher next, and then you get to difficult areas where quite a few people who aren't discriminating by race can get caught up in it. And with racism there seems to be a presumption of guilt once the accusation is leveled that makes things tricky.

For presumption of guilt and statistical chance I offer this story which I've told before:

I was studying for an exam in law school. I was tired and needed food. I went to the school store in that slow-motion fuzzy-headed frame of mind. I looked at the Hostess stand and couldn't decide between getting a Twinkie or getting Ho-Hos (I wanted cream filling, but did I want chocolate or vanilla sponge cake, it was hard to decide in my tired frame of mind). Suddenly a young woman accosted me. "Stop staring at my breasts," she said. "It's so rude". I was confused. As you all know I'm 100% gay and frankly hadn't noticed the presence of the young woman at all, much less her breasts. I said, "I'm sorry, I was staring at the Ho-Hos and Twinkies." She turned purple and suggested I was one of the rudest people ever. (Note to non-US residents, Ho-Hos are a tasty chocolate snack and unfortunately for me a fairly common slang term...). Now she did have large prominent breasts. I'm certain many men had inapproriately looked at them. I am a man. The percentage of men who are gay is probably in the 5-8 range, so statistically I was likely to be the kind who might theoretically have interest in looking at them. But in actual fact, I wasn't. Even though it appeared to her that I was. She had every right to statistically suspect I might, but she was in fact incorrect. If there was some injustice to be spread around on the basis of being a male who inappropriately looks at breasts in the store, I would justifiably feel wronged to have that spread around to me on the basis of being male. Fortunately there isn't such a thing, so it isn't damaging.

I suspect that removing photographs from the promotion process would make a significant difference in selections. That's just a personal guess, though.

In his book, "Blink," Malcolm Gladwell discusses the hiring practices of symphony orchestras. He mentions that they hired very few female musicians until they started conducting blind auditions - screens were used so the committee could hear the candidates play, but not see them. After that change many more women began to win the jobs.

If there was some injustice to be spread around on the basis of being a male who inappropriately looks at breasts in the store, I would justifiably feel wronged to have that spread around to me on the basis of being male. Fortunately there isn't such a thing, so it isn't damaging.

Hmm. I don't see that this is really applicable. Affirmative action doesn't punish people for being racist -- where it's an enforced policy, it requires (loosely) people to make hiring decisions that don't appear racist. You could argue that it's unjust to white men who aren't hired, but it's not as if they're being punished for racism.

Any thoughts on my belief that one of our fundamental points of disagreement is a disagreement over the actual psychological effects of affirmative action on those exposed to it?

Russell, it's interesting that you agree that affirmative action won't reduce racism, since most of the supporters here seem to think it will. Do you agree with Sebastian that it will actually increase racism but support it anyway to mitigate the effects of that racism?

I don't think any act of law or social program will eliminate racism. What those things do is induce people to behave in a way that is helpful, or at least neutral, in spite of racism.

There are lots of ways in which AA may exacerbate people's existing negative feelings about others. Conversely, it's likely that AA will force people to deal with others who they dislike, and who they will come to know and like in spite of their prejudices.

In either case, I don't see causing a change in people's attitudes toward other people as a goal that is likely to be achieved by law. If it happens, it happens, and that's great, but I don't think that's what public policy is for. What you can do by law and policy is prevent people from acting on their prejudices.

So, my answer to the two questions in your last sentence here are "No", and "Yes".

I'm not sure about the "embezzlement" solution.

Me either.

What happens if someone practicing affirmative action ends up hiring a less qualified minority applicant? Presumably they go to jail as well.

Good point.

It's really hard now to clearly demonstrate cases of discrimination. Ditto professional malfeasance through bad hiring. Imagine if criminal penalties were in the mix. It would get pretty hairy, pretty fast.

If there were a clear, bright line test that could be fairly used to demonstrate deliberate discrimination and nothing but deliberate discrimination, the idea of making it a criminal matter might be worth considering. There probably isn't, so in the real world the idea is probably a non-starter.

A guy can dream, though.

In the meantime, while we're waiting for the wicked hearts of humankind to be made anew, it doesn't bother me if we take legal action to mitigate the negative effects of hundreds of years of institutionalized racism. YMMV.

Thanks -

Lacking an open thread, and in recognition of the upcoming muy importante football game:

Anyway, for those few people in Orlando who are not from Ohio, let me fill you in on the Buckeyes.

Whereas Florida's mascot is the alligator, a fierce, man-eating predator, Ohio State's mascot is a tree nut, albeit a formidable one that could cause considerable gastric distress if eaten to excess.

Before every game, a little man wearing a nut head and prison garb in Ohio State colors runs out on the field.

He certainly is no Chief Osceola with a flaming spear. He's more like something you'd see on Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer.

I dare say Albert the Alligator will keel over laughing when he sees him.

But Nut Head whips those fans into a frenzy. It can be 10 degrees below zero, but invariably four burly brutes will bare their jiggling man breasts to reveal the letters OIOH.

There. That's all you need to know.

...and I confess that it was Sebastian's foray into closet heterosexuality, upthread, that brought that to mind.

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