Before you start to flame me, call me racist, remove me from your friends or whatever, note that this post is meant to bring attention to how affirmative action hurts African-Americans and other minorities and works against bringing diversity to the workplace. You probably thought I was about to complain that affirmative action discriminates against whites. It does, of course, and I’ll get to that in a bit, but first consider this true story.
When I was in law school in the 70s I was the research assistant to a professor. This was Boalt Hall of Law, the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, probably the most liberal, even radical, law school in the country. The professor, a white male, was by any measure very liberal politically and a big believer in affirmative action. We became close friends and he eventually confided to me about his experience with affirmative action. He told me that he served on the admissions committee during the late sixties and early 70s, a time of protests about alleged racist admissions policies and perceived racism in general. There was great pressure from within the faculty and without to increase minority representation among the new students. In fact, there was no opposition to the idea from any quarter; the only problem was that Boalt was (and still is) one of the top law schools in the country and had very high admissions standards in terms of grades and Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) scores. Few of the underrepresented minorities (mostly blacks and Chicanos but to some extent women, too) applicants met the normal minimum standards. The committee decided to “lower the standards” (as some saw it) and count such things as community involvement, life experience, recommendations (especially from professors or others recognized as “activists”) and so on in order to increase the number of minorities admitted. This worked as expected; minority representation increased rapidly. Regrettably, some white male candidates with better grades and test scores who otherwise would have been admitted did not make it, but there are always well-qualified candidates who get passed over. C’est la vie. The students admitted under this new policy were referred to as “special admittances.”
Two years or so go by and the faculty is met with vehement protests by a coalition of those same students over the racist grading policies. It seems the special admittances were getting lower grades than the other students, getting mostly C’s and D’s. The ABCDF system was changed to HH (High Honors for the top 10%), H (Honors for the next 30%), P (Pass – for the rest who passed) and NP for those very few who didn’t pass. That way you couldn’t tell someone in the bottom 10% from someone just above 50th percentile. That didn’t help much and the protests continued. The students accused the faculty of being racists and grading them down because of their race. They demanded the grading system be changed again so that the tests (all essay types) had only a number instead of a name at the top. After the tests were graded, a staff member would match up the grades with the students using a secret list that the faculty couldn’t see. The faculty agreed to this. It seemed fair. Perhaps you can guess the outcome. Once this method was put in place, the special admittances’ grades plummeted. Many of them who had been scraping by were flunked. Virtually all of them saw their grades go down. After that they meekly agreed to go back to the previous grading system and protests stopped.
This story is not unique. It happens at schools and in companies all over America every day. Several lessons can be taken from it. First, it shows that a substantial number of minorities see racial discrimination against them where there is none or in fact is in their favor. Of course there were minorities who were admitted based on the usual standards, with high grades and test scores; not all were part of the special admittance group. I don’t know the exact percentages, but the special admittances were probably around half the African-American and Hispanic students. Second, a black or Latino student graduating from school X with a B average is probably not as good a student, not as smart or hard-working, as a white male from school X with a B average. Of course that minority student might be just as smart, hard-working and competent as the white student, but because of affirmative action and the special treatment in grades given minorities by liberal faculties, chances are good the graduate is second-rate compared to the white student. Employers know this, although you’ll probably never find one who will admit it. Political correctness rules the day in corporate America, too.
No doubt you’ve seen news stories or read blogs or articles about racism in hiring where two identical resumes were sent to employers differing only in having the applicant’s name on one being an apparent African-American name (e.g. Dante) and the other white-sounding (e.g. Donald). Inevitably Donald gets more positive responses than Dante, Tiffany more than Kaneesha, etc. If you are of a particular political persuasion you will attribute this to racism. No doubt that you would be right in some cases. I’m not denying that racism exists. But the more likely explanation for most of that phenomenon is affirmative action. Employers know that Dante probably really isn’t as good as Donald. Chances are substantial that he was admitted with lower test scores and his grades are inflated by well-meaning professors who probably aren’t even aware that they are favoring minorities in their grading. If I were hiring someone I would call Donald or Tiffany first even though I would prefer to hire a minority given two equal candidates since I believe society is healthier with a diverse workplace and upward mobility for all. I just wouldn’t believe the two candidates were really equal, at least not based on the resumes alone. Ideally I would interview both. This problem is exactly what Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, an African-American, complained about in his memoir My Grandfather’s Son. He opposes affirmative action because he felt it kept him from advancing in his legal career precisely because law firms and other employers would not believe he could be as good as his grades and degree would indicate.
There’s another reason for employers to discriminate against minorities: they sue at a higher rate than whites and women sue at higher rates than men. At least that was my experience when I was an attorney for a government agency. Remember what I said about the students at Boalt. They were absolutely convinced that the faculty was grading them down because of their race when in fact they were being graded up. A minority female bus driver filed a civil rights lawsuit because she was not promoted to manager even though she was in the bottom 1% of all bus drivers in terms of performance and complaints from the public and well below the cutoff on the written test (which was graded blind by an outside firm that did not know the race of the applicants). She was convinced it was because of her race. A minority female filed a civil rights suit when she didn’t get a promotion to a senior planner position. A white male got that particular position. There were ten applicants including two males of her race. The interviewing committee narrowed it down to one of those males and the white male who finally got it. Both were much more qualified than she was. I got her suit dismissed on motions. For evidence she entered an affidavit from a black male who did not get the position of Accounting Supervisor at the agency even though the person who held it before leaving was a black female and before that a Filipino male. That was her “proof” that minorities are discriminated against in promotions. The special status given racial minorities in the legal process is akin to affirmative action. A large employer may be well-advised to hire qualified minorities in order not to show a pattern of discrimination in a lawsuit, but for a small employer where statistics do not work to show a pattern, they are actually better off not hiring a minority even if that minority is equally well-qualified as a white, simply because the chances of a lawsuit are lower. This is an ugly truth few will admit, but those tests using the two identical resumes proves that it is practiced.
What about the white males who do not get admitted or do not get hired or promoted? In fact, they are being discriminated against quite openly and it is unfair. I had an employer who was routinely told that she needed to hire more minorities or she would be fired. She advertised in minority-geared professional publications and did all kinds of outreach for months but got only one candidate; he was terrible – bad writing skills and with a spotty employment record. She hired me, a white male, and told me later she got terrible flak for it. So she hired a black female secretary who was the least competent employee I’ve ever seen. When I retired I left a file in her in box to be filed. I was called back weeks later when no one could find it and it was needed to settle a case. I came in and searched my old office and the files with no luck. I told the General Counsel that I had left it in the secretary’s in box for filing. The secretary insisted she had searched her desk top to bottom and it wasn’t there. She said she didn’t remember it and I must have been mistaken. It was finally located six months later at the bottom of the pile of papers in her in box right where I had left it. It was found only because the secretary had resigned to take a better-paying job. Fortunately, when she was fired from that job after 60 days, my old boss didn’t have to take her back because that position had already been filled. But the key here is that the General Counsel had been told in flat out terms that she had been hiring too many white males and if she fired that secretary, the only minority in the unit, she would be fired. After I left she was able to hire two minority female attorneys (an Asian and an Arab) and get the management off her back. The only thing that mattered to the upper management was diversity stats, not competence. At a previous job I was told by a manager that I was the best qualified candidate for a promotion but that they had to give it to a minority because they didn’t have any minority supervisors. This was said without the least fear that I would sue for racial discrimination even though that’s clearly what it was. Can you imagine a manager saying the same thing to a minority or female who was rejected based on race or sex? I was an EEO investigator in the FBI and investigated quite a few cases of alleged discrimination based on race, sex, or age. Only one was filed by a white male and he was clearly nuts (another politically incorrect term) as well as incompetent. White males just don’t sue, but don’t tell me we’re not discriminated against on account of race or sex.
It is this political correctness in favor of affirmative action and its near relatives in racial quotas at work that foments resentment among whites and males and ultimately does not benefit the very people it is intended to help. It is like spoiling your children. So you may ask (or complain) about why certain minorities don’t have the grades or test scores of whites or other minorities (e.g. Asians)? Is it a history of discrimination? Maybe Genetics? (See The Bell Curve). Could it be that they are raised by parents with lower education in depressed neighborhoods? Because a disproportionate number have parents with substance abuse problems? Attend K-12 schools that are underfunded or otherwise second-rate? This highly-charged question cannot be answered. People will believe what they want to believe. I don’t know and I don’t think it matters much. I believe that by the time he or she enters kindergarten, the maximum intellectual potential of an individual has pretty much been set, whether due to genetics, parenting, neighborhood, nutrition (or malnutrition), or a combination of everything. Why are there so few white running backs and wide receivers in the NFL? Racial discrimination? We are what we are. We should just accept it and judge everyone, at least for school admittance, hiring and promotion, on measurable objective criteria, even if it decreases diversity in race or sex. Affirmative action hurts everyone and helps no one. Those slots are essentially wasted since employers will assume the worst of every minority that comes out of that school, including the ones admitted based on merit alone, and it discriminates against white or Asian applicants. Employers who hire less-qualified minorities solely to meet affirmative action or diversity goals will just be less efficient and therefore less competitive.
Okay, now you can go ahead and flame me.