Affirmative Action

Affirmative action was mentioned recently by Clint. It’s not something that I have a fixed opinion on, but I do think that it is a band-aid solution that attempts to make the universe more fair. Now, the ultimate solution is to make infinite resources and infinite knowledge available to everyone equally, but that’s going to require some restructuring of reality.

Failing that, I don’t think that affirmative action *should be* about the sins of our fathers – I suspect, based on the advantages to being native american, that it probably is, but really it should be about the dispairity of wealth and information between the races – once we all have access to the same amount of wealth and knowledge growing up, AA won’t be needed, but until then, something has to make up for the inbalance or we will be perpetually locked in our current, rather broken situation.

I suspect that talking about issues like this on my journal probably risks offending somebody, and I feel kind of *sigh*, or maybe meh, about that.

I still want a president who isn’t another old white man.

5 Responses to “Affirmative Action”

  1. drachen Says:

    I’m tempted to be snarky and say which advantages? teen suicide rates several times the national average? teen pregnancy rates, alcoholism rates, poverty rates the same? reservations on some of the least useful land in the country? But I know which “advantages” you mean — things like tribal sovereinity, which they get not for reasons of affirmative action but because of treaties made and signed many many decades before the concept of affirmative action existed, because they were here first.

    Affirmative action refers to giving women, people of color (other than Native Americans) and people with disabilities preference to things like university places and certain jobs. It *is* a bandaid, though in some cases (i.e. having lower test score and grade standards for underprivileged kids to get into college) it may be a way to fix problems caused by the sins of our fathers long term.

  2. ClintJCL Says:

    >It should be about the dispairity of wealth and information between the races

    Even then, the only way to offset the status quo is to hire someone less qualified than someone else, based on some sort of discriminating criteria. If everyone simply hires the best qualified person in all cases, there will be a de facto misbalance, but it will nonetheless be the proper distribution of things given the quality of the applicants.

    What we need is better applicants. Which means better schools; especially where they are needed. NCLB rewards high scores with more money, but they should actually give the lower-scoring shools more money. But of course education is one of the MANY somethings our country SUCKS ASS at. We’d rather mold people into obedient sheeple that do not stray from the flock.

    As for offending people… You shouldn’t worry about it or change your actions based on that possibility. I mean, it is your blog afterall! 🙂

  3. drachen Says:

    Now that I’m sober and more awake… sovereignty, to spell it correctly. Mixing up things caused by tribal sovereignity and things caused by affirmative action would not be very useful at all.

    And I don’t mean to imply that Native Americans could never benefit from affirmative action. I’m pretty sure some do in University admissions. But the great mass of Native American “benefits” come from treaty law and overall it’s not Native Americans we’re talking about when we talk about affirmative action.

    To address Clint’s points:

    First, in the business world it’s generally not as clear cut as hiring someone less qualified over someone more qualified. Usually it’s person A is more qualified in this area, less qualified in this area, has these apparent personality traits, etc and person B is more qualified in that area, is less qualified in this other area, has these apparent personality traits and hiring decisions are made not just on how qualified someone is but also how they’ll fit into a team. You could have a team of very highly qualifed people, but if they have wildly disparate and conflicting working and/or personality conflicts you’ll get far less work out of them than a moderately qualified group of people who work well together.

    We know from statistical analysis that there is a significant mismatch between percentages of qualified (on paper: education, number of years worked and so on) women and people of color and their positions in the workplace relative to white males with the same on paper qualifications. We also know that if you take identical school records or resumes, and put pictures of people of color on some of them and pictures of white people on others and give them out to teachers, recruiters and managers the people viewing will see the kids as more likely to have learning disabilities and behavioral problems and the adults as less qualified and more likely to cause trouble in the office. This is true even if the people viewing them are themselves people of color. We also know that women and the work they do in business and technical fields are judged more harshly — and that women in these fields work harder and more carefully than their male counterparts because they know this. Women also judge women more harshly.

    I point out that women and people of color judge other women and people of color almost (though not quite) as harshly as white men do because it’s not about white people vs brown people or women vs men, it’s about how all of us (including women and people of color) privilege whiteness and maleness (but not necessarily all white men) over non-whiteness and not-maleness. Also, it’s not for the most part a conscious bias. Hiring managers aren’t going “I hate blacks. I won’t hire one for a responsible position. Women belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, they can’t understand business or technology.” School teachers aren’t thinking “White kids are so much smarter and better behaved than kids of color. Kids of color are just stupid, learning disability prone and have behavioral problems.” For the most part these are good people who don’t want to be racist or sexist in their decisions. It’s insidious.

    So there’s already de facto affirmative action in the favor of white males going on. And while sexual and racial discrimination suits ought to help that, the truth is that it’s very hard to prove or even know in most individual cases whether or not it was race or sex or some more pertinant reason that a white person or a man was chosen over a person of color or a woman. In any individual case it could have been personality, it could have been that the hiring manager valued this qualification over that qualification rather than the reverse and so on. Statistical analysis tells us that many of these cases have merit, but they don’t tell us which ones. So only the most egregiously biased hiring decisions can be addressed this way. Most of the time even the hiring manager themself may not know how much sex or race played into their decision.

    There’s this theory that this bias is because we all grow up and spend our formative early working years in a world that reflects this bias: because women and people of color aren’t hired at the same rates (even correcting for education and other qualifications) we see white men working in these positions and subconsciously associate white men with positions of responsibility and power. We see more people of color and more women in lower status positions, so we associate them with those positions. I tend to believe this theory because of the facts above and human psychology, and because none of the competing theories I’ve heard others put forth stand under significant scrutiny. I do grant that there’s not really good hard evidence for or against it. It’s very difficult to take people out of the society they live in, it would be unethical to raise a bunch of children in isolation to test it and it may just be one of those cases where the proof is in the pudding. We may just have to fix the problem for a generation or two and then see if it stays fixed (because the new generation is growing up with a more balanced, diverse workforce) to know for sure.

    That’s just one form of affirmative action, too. Giving underprivileged schools more money is also a form of affirmative action and there’s certainly enough people who will whine that that’s unfair to the schools with few or no underprivileged kids. Obviously I disagree, but it’s a problem with getting enough funding. And to be sure it’s not just a matter of making up the funding not provided by property taxes in poor neighborhoods. On average it takes more money to educate a kid coming from an underprivileged background than one not. So in terms of absolute dollars it is unfair, but it’s an investment in future workforce, as I see it. But also it takes more than money, it takes educationally *and culturally* competant educators and administrators, it takes extracurricular support that most middle class and higher parents pay for themselves, and most of all it probably takes a rework of our entire educational system. The current system churns out sheeple, as you say, which isn’t useful at all.

    But even if we managed to fix the schools and churn out lots more qualified applicants, it wouldn’t fix the bias problem.

  4. ClintJCL Says:

    That’s about as compelling an argument as I’ve ever heard in my life. Kudos. When I speak of affirmative action, I am using the term as being limited to using the basis of race to artificially change a decision that would have otherwise been made differently.

    There are indeed areas (such as some universities, and some police department qualification tests) where decisions are basically based on your final “score”, which may be a quantitative measure of several other tests and such. But you are right that these are the exception, and not the norm

    But the part where affirmative action does not past personal muster is the part where we enshrine, in paper/policy/law, to use the [most certainly valid] assumption of subconscious bias to justify a conscious bias.

    That, to me, is making the problem even worse. The solution to unconscious de facto bias has got to be better than enshrining overt conscious bias in the opposite direction. I thought 2 wrongs never made a right, and I’m not sure if this counts as 3 lefts either 🙂

    Instead of the issue of race going away, we have new issues. And a new excuse to breed hatred too: White people actually and truly being denied opportunity to “make up” for the disparity. Whether it happens to someone personally or not, many know that this is happening, or will assume so based on the knowledge of such policies existing. This simply fosters even more bias than was there before. (“They took our job!” -South Park quote) So I’m not sure how much is really being fixed here.

    To make a poker metaphor, It seems more like someone doesn’t like the way the cards are being dealt, so they will move cards around to make things more fair for the players. But this will obviously piss off a lot of players nonetheless.

    That whole “color blind” notion (which I think of as being popularized by that pop song in the 1990s) is impossible if we have affirmative action based on race.

    “This school has chosen its students, and after lengthy statistical analysis, it turns out that our black percentage is too low, so because of that, we must re-visit our decision, and take opportunity away from some people who would otherwise be going here, on the basis of their race not being black.” Just one example. If individual students are being chosen individually, we never know the if the aggregate matches the population until after all those decisions are being made. If there’s a change, SOMEone just lost out. And that someone lost out due to their face.

    Instead of 1 wrong, we get 2 wrongs. This may make some people feel better, but it’s going to make other people feel worse. And it’s FAR more overt than subconscious cues. I would think that would actually feel worse to be on the losing end of (especially considernig decisions based on subconscious cues are even made by people of the same race, as pointed out in the previous comment).

  5. ClintJCL Says:

    i hate typos. not “due to their face”, “due to their RACE”. haha. I also inserted a “the” in there randomly. Argh.

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