Monday, June 29, 2009

Reverse Racism! meme reaches Supreme Court

I'm very surprised Clarence Thomas didn't write this opinion:

New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide, potentially limiting the circumstances in which employers can be held liable for decisions when there is no evidence of intentional discrimination against minorities.

"Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion for the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the white firefighters "understandably attract this court's sympathy. But they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them."
So, the way I understand it:

  • This makes it easier for business owners to enact racist hiring/promotion practices
  • If a white man doesn't get a promotion, it's automatically discrimination, regardless of whether a POC received the promotion at their expense.
  • As long as business owners do not actively tell the POC they pass over that they are being ignored because of their skin color, it's A-OK!
This is essentially a way for white men to further ingrain their privilege. It's a defense mechanism against any action that does not explicitly favor them above other.

Disgusting. Here's hoping that Ms. Sotomayer gets to the Court sooner rather than later.

Image from Ampersand


  1. I interviewed for a position in NYC, and it was whittled down to me and a white male. I'm a multi-racial female (although i look very italian). I didn't get the position. I know it may or may not be discrimination, but this post hits home a little harder than it would've. Keep us updated.

  2. I am sorry, I am not following your train of thought.

    If 100 people sign up to take a test and 80 of them are white, 10 black, 10 Hispanic and 5 Asian, why should the majority (80) suffer because of lack of minority interest in this test.

    I don't see it as ingraining "white privilege" since the lack of minorities taking the test was the test's downfall. I would say minorities had the upper hand.

    Lastly, I personally think one of the reasons this is still a problem is because we continue to bring up race at every instance. Some people just refuse to see people outside of their race. So we keep talking about race like it means a damn. It doesn't! When it comes to employment the only thing that matters is merit.

    I say they should have all taken the test and if a few of them got the same score, they should have randomly picked one. If a minority got the highest score then s/he should have got the job. End of story. In fact if it went that way, race wouldn't even be a factor.

  3. Brandon, that's an extremely reductionist viewpoint. Affirmative action is not about taking less qualified persons of color over more qualified white men; it's about making sure that equally qualified persons of color and women are given a shot instead of going for a field of qualified white men.

  4. But is that what happened in this case? I'm even a fan of affirmative action and I'm not sure how I feel about this situation.

  5. Yes, essentially. The town's demographics were apparently FAR off from the promotion pool. They gave some firefighters a test to see if there was a wide enough field of candidates for promotion; the field was overwhelmingly white, so they decided to put the promotions on hold until they could figure out what in their recruiting, hiring, and training accounted for this disproportionately white field.

  6. Nah, the Supreme court probably got this one right. The fire department had gone to a lot of effort to ensure the promotion exam didn't racially discriminate - and I mean a really impressive amount. Professional test design, trial runs against all relevant groups, tests run by third parties, members of the appropriate minorities on all the assessment boards for the oral portion - the works. There was no evidence that the test had a disparate impact, and the only expert they consulted afterwards concluded it was OK.

    Despite this, the fire department refused to promote the firefighters who should have been eligible for promotion solely because too many of them were white. This was racial discrimination - the fact that no-one else has been given the jobs in their place yet doesn't change this.

    Remember that Supreme Court judgements have effects that extend beyond the one case. If they'd ruled the other way, it would be A-OK to refuse to hire or promote solely because a disproportionate number of the candidates were black, so long as you refused to hire/promote anyone at all for the jobs.

  7. Not really, Anonymous. Comparative testing actually showed that black firefighters did disproportionately poorly on the (multiple choice) tests they gave for promotion. I don't know where you got the information above, but it's wrong.


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