Thursday, December 12, 2002

The GOP and Racism-Part III-What About Positive Discrimination? The most contentious issue, other than possibly school busing, in the black-white front goes under the heading of affirmative action. While some permutations of AA are less contentious, like expanding a company's college recruiting program to include historically black colleges or to post job openings in black-oriented publications as well as more general ones, the ones that require what I'll call positive discrimination get the most flak. We're not going to see too much open discrimination today; even the worst bigot knows better than to say "we don't hire [insert bad word here] in this place." However, there is a modest amount of subtle discrimination, where blacks aren't automatically shown the door, but aren't included in proportion to their percentage of the population. Some of this will be due to lower education levels; you don't have too many people of color in Ph.D. programs for you have fewer people of color with masters degrees to get into the programs. However, some of this will be due to people either being outright racist or colored by racial stereotypes, making them less willing to hire/admit blacks. Should we have some way of giving blacks the "benefit of the doubt" in hiring, given the tendency to stereotype? Should it be a tiebreaker, so that the tie will go to the minority? You could make a case for that, but what about the cases where it is close but not quite a tie? Does the minority get an extra 1%? 5%? 15%? We've now ventured into the area of positive discrimination, where we're discriminating because someone's black, but discriminating in their favor. In education, such positive discrimination will get young minorities in a notch (or two) over their heads. Kids that would be ready for a community-college level of work are put into regional colleges, while the kids that would be a good fit for the regional colleges get placed in the prestige state schools. Being a notch over their heads, the students will tend to underperform compared with their non-minority (here, Asians and white Anglos are "non-minorities") colleagues. A minority student is better off graduating from Central Michigan than flunking out of the University of Michigan. Thus, such AA programs at the undergraduate level seem to be counterproductive to the minority students. Access to college isn't the issue at the undergraduate level, for community colleges will accept essentially everyone, and students can go there, get their grades and skills up and be able to transfer to a better school later. Graduate school is a different problem; they are selective by nature. There is no we'll-take-everyone law school or medical school. If there is a smaller crop of minority students getting out of bachelor degree programs, then the bias-free selection process will tend to underrepresent minorities. The question then becomes whether society is better served by a better educated but non-minority professional or a poorer-educated but minority professional. Is the medical system better off with the white guy who got a 3.3 in his science classes in college or the Latina who got a 2.8 in her science classes? Will her rapport with the Hispanic population make her a better doctor in a barrio hospital, overcoming being a bit fuzzier about medical theory, or are we better off with the Anglo guy who's a bit klutzy with Hispanic culture but understands the science of medicine a bit better? Good question. The Supreme Court's going to tackle that one next year. I'm uncomfortable with a purely color-blind system, for I think that the subtle racial and cultural stereotypes will screw minorities a bit. However, I'm more uncomfortable ("less comfortable" is better grammar, but it's doesn't describe it as well) with a system of positive discrimination, for minorities are frequently subject to a PC version of the Peter Principle, where they're promoted to a level of incompetence and left there. I think a more color-blind system will be advantageous for all concerned. The political and emotional capital that is spent defending affirmative action could be used to improve education and improve respect for other people; for AA only will get someone into a position that they have the credentials for. Quick question-would a black college-aged kid be better off with a high school degree and an AA-based job market or a college degree and an officially color-blind (but mildly stereotyping) job market? Here's the upside of my color-blind system. Minorities will be ready for the jobs and schools that they do get into, for they will have the same (or a bit better, if some low-grade racism is at play) credentials as their non-minority peers. Effort would be made in improving the K-12 education of minority kids rather than fighting over what piece of the college pie each racial group gets. Minorities will know that they got themselves where they're at because of their talent and knowledge rather than as a favor to their skin color. Non-minorities will know that everyone got there on merit and that they weren't discriminated against in order to get minorities there. The one downside is that the low-grade racial stereotyping will continue. However, I think that not putting in positive discrimination to offset it and punishing such stereotyping when it becomes apparent is less toxic than the current system.

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