Institutional Racism in Employment and Unemployment, Again

Aaron Glatnz has a good but too brief article at NewAmericaMedia on the continuing racial impact of the Bush recession/depression on the US, with its still 9.7 percent unemployment rate:

The unemployment rate for whites held steady at 8.8 percent compared to February and went down for Asians from 8.4 percent to 7.5 percent. But it rose to 16.5 percent for blacks from 15.8 percent. Hispanics showed a slight increase as well from 12.4 percent to 12.6 percent.

White and Asian Americans, according to these statistics, are not hurting as much as groups of workers as black and Latino Americans. One major reason for the differential is that governments are now cutting public services on a huge scale, as a quote from Seth Wessler, a researcher at the Applied Research Center, indicates:

“If the bus line you depend on is cut, it’s impossible to look for a job or even hold onto the one you have . . . and we know that across the country – from New York to Los Angeles – bus service is being cut and fares are increasing.”

Glatnz also quotes Peter Edelman, director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy at the Georgetown University, about where job growth will come as the economy presumably recovers:

“The jobs that we project over the next decade that are reasonably well paying involve a degree of skills and a degree of preparation…and people of color have disparate educational attainment,” and will be less able to land that work without an associates degree or certificate from a local community college.

Census jobs may help some communities, but only temporarily and with modest paying jobs. They will be gone soon. And inequality in education looms again as a large factor in maintaining the systemic racism still foundational in this society.

There are many angles to this sorry story, and one recent one is how poorer American students are increasingly dropping out of college or seeking out the weak diploma mill colleges as a solutions to soaring costs. One recent investigative report by Peter Byrne discusses this issue in connection with an assessment of the situation of the University of California’s wealthy regents who are business investors, such as the chair of the regents who

has an abiding interest in education—a financial interest: while serving as chairman of the Regents, and head of the investment committee, he took control of a very profitable, national network of “diploma mills,” worth about $3 billion. These “career education” schools rely on federally subsidized student loans to generate profits that are then privately invested. Some of Blum’s schools have been investigated by government agencies (and sued by individuals) for, allegedly, delivering substandard educations, and, allegedly, concentrating on generating government-guaranteed student loan revenue at the expense of providing students with quality educations.

This article discusses the “creeping privatization of the University of California system,” a reality that means

as the UC system becomes increasingly expensive (and racially exclusive), lower income students are turning toward diploma mills.

The same is likely true for other major universities across the country. This is a structural and national problem, not just a local one, as the country becomes ever more unequal along racial and class lines.

Role Models and Mentors for Black STEM Students: College Racial Climates

Inside Higher Education has a summary piece by Scott Jaschik on a national data analysis by Cornell Ph.D. student, Joshua Price:

A constant theme of reports about math and science is that the United States will have a large enough supply of scientists only if it does a better job of attracting black and Latino scientists …. Many of these reports note that large shares of black and Latino high school students don’t receive the kind of preparation they should in math and science.

This lack of preparation and/or related role model and mentoring factors likely extends to the college level, as Price’s research clearly suggests:

The study finds a statistically significant relationship between black students who plan to be a science major having at least one black science instructor as freshmen and then sticking to their plans. The finding could be significant because many students (in particular members of under-represented minority groups) who start off as science majors fail to continue on that path — so a change in retention of science majors could have a major impact.

Jaschik continues:

Price analyzed data on more than 157,000 students who enrolled as first-time freshmen in one of the 13 four-year universities in Ohio between 1998 and 2002 and who said that they intended to major in science, technology or mathematics. He then examined whether those black students who had a black instructor … were more likely to stick with their planned STEM major than those who did not. For purposes of the study, “instructor” had to be the person — typically but not always a professor — who was responsible for a course.

Price found no gender effects, but he did find another significant effect, after controlling for various factors:

… black students who had at least one black science instructor as freshmen were statistically more likely to continue on as STEM majors than those who did not. … black STEM students were more likely than white students to end up in STEM courses or sections led by black instructors, again suggesting a key role for these black science professors. … In an interview, Price … [said] that the impact of having a black instructor could come from a “role model effect” or from a mentoring effect.

Neither the article nor the study mentions the numerous other factors that enter into this institutional-racism reality in our historically white colleges and universities. There is the problem of the hostile racial climate that scattered evidence suggests is strong in departments where there have historically been few students of color. This doubtless greatly affects the persistence of many. (To my knowledge, there is no systematic research on variation in this climate by department in historically white institutions–another area for research if you looking for an important project.) Still, our field research on several historically white universities shows that it is a common problem generally for black students, undergraduate and graduate.

Researchers have also shown that this hostile racial climate also affects, often greatly shapes, the reality of too few faculty of color in most departments, not just so-called STEM departments. Since faculty of color often find these historically white campuses difficult places to teach, indeed to be at, it is not surprising that students of color frequently find few faculty of color there. Research indicates, again and again, that the U.S. higher educational system is still fundamentally and deeply racist in its structures and everyday operations. No post-racial America there.

Racial Inequality and Faculty of Color at Elite Universities: An MIT Report

A new report from MIT’s Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity, according to this summary, examines

how race affects the recruitment, retention, professional opportunities and collegial experiences of Black, Hispanic and Native American professors at MIT [and] urges the Institute to strengthen its efforts to recruit and retain underrepresented minority (URM) faculty.

The report took two and half years on the part of nine faculty members. The methodology is this:

[A] quality-of-life survey administered to the entire faculty in January 2008, in-depth interviews of all URM faculty and a small comparison group of White and Asian faculty, and a salary analysis. To compare promotion and tenure rates and other hiring data by department and school, the committee also reviewed a cohort analysis of faculty who came to MIT between 1991 and 2009.

The report notes there have been gains in the URM faculty, but are very uneven across colleges and departments. MIT President Susan Hockfield is quoted as accepting the report and commenting that “A richly diverse America does not await us, it is upon us; it is our present and our future.” The main findings of the Initiative are these:

* MIT recruits heavily from its own departments and from a few peer institutions — such as Harvard and Stanford — which suggests that broadening the recruitment search could yield larger numbers of URM faculty.
* Compared to their White peers, a higher percentage of URM faculty leave before or after they are promoted to associate professor without tenure, suggesting that efforts to retain URM faculty may be especially critical in their first three to five years.
* Poor or negative faculty mentoring experiences are more frequent for URM than for non-URM faculty, partly because mentoring across the Institute lacks consistency.
* Overall, URM faculty report more dissatisfaction than their White counterparts. However, it is the URM non-tenured faculty, particularly black faculty, who are most likely to be “very satisfied” with their lives at MIT.
* There is “great awkwardness” in addressing race and racial differences openly at MIT, meaning that discussion of race-related issues is avoided.

Sadly, these are findings the researchers on this site could have easily predicted. The recruitment of faculty, the report notes, is very heavily and disproportionately from Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, and then from other elite schools–which will of course severely limit the diversity of a faculty hiring pool. This is the kind of incestuous racism that takes place at elite colleges and universities and has for many years. This is not meritocracy, but elite-ocracy at work.

The next two points really signal internal racism in operation, a failure of mentoring and support of many kinds. Some of this internal racism in universities is blatant and intentional, but much of it is subtle or a type of passive bystanding wherein white faculty members “do not want to get involved” or “do not know how to relate” to people of color. Such faculty have mostly never had an education in such things as stereotyping 101, racism 101, and antiracism 101. Like most of the population in the country.

On the faculty dissatisfaction side, they could have long ago learned a lot about what everyday college life is like for faculty of color from key books and research articles on the subject by leading scholars like Professor Christine Stanley (also a vice president now for diversity at the fortunate Texas A&M University), Professor Mark Chesler, and Professor Roxanna Harlow. Or this report I did for the American Council on Education (see discussion here). Apparently, reading social science on these matters is beyond MIT’s leaders? They did not need to spend so much time here reinventing the wheel. Science?

The main MIT report recommendations for change are these:

* Each academic unit should work with its academic dean and the associate provost of faculty equity to develop strategies for improving recruitment efforts of URM faculty. … Formal mentors should be assigned to junior faculty hires, and mentors and mentees should be informed about expectations. …MIT should broaden faculty searches to other carefully selected institutions. MIT should create forums where race and cross-cultural interactions are openly discussed, and the Institute should harness its most highly respected scholars, scientists and engineers to act as spokespeople on diversity issues.

Typical stuff and useful if there is commitment at the very top to carry this through, and well. But this is not enough. Change should begin, IMHO, with a very thorough study of MIT’s own deep structures of white racism, those long structured within the hoary institution, and with a real commitment to change those as well.

Racist Employment Practices in a Recession

The New York Times has a useful article touching on some recent research on discrimination in employment against black workers with college degrees:

College-educated black men, especially, have struggled relative to their white counterparts in this downturn, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for black male college graduates 25 and older in 2009 has been nearly twice that of white male college graduates — 8.4 percent compared with 4.4 percent. Various academic studies have confirmed that black job seekers have a harder time than whites. A study published several years ago in The American Economic Review titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” found that applicants with black-sounding names received 50 percent fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names. A more recent study, published this year in The Journal of Labor Economics found white, Asian and Hispanic managers tended to hire more whites and fewer blacks than black managers did.

The focus seems to be just on black men. But black women also face much racial discrimination, as well as gendered-racist discrimination in workplaces, doing business, and elsewhere.

The journalist adds this about the well-educated black men featured in the article:

It is difficult to overstate the degree that they say race permeates nearly every aspect of their job searches, from how early they show up to interviews to the kinds of anecdotes they try to come up with. “You want to be a nonthreatening, professional black guy,” said Winston Bell, 40, of Cleveland, who has been looking for a job in business development

The article reports that many black men hide their racial identity in their resumes because that reduces the discrimination, at least initially, against them.

Not once in the article, however, are the main and major perpetrators of this employment discrimination, mostly white male managers and executives, featured as the central creators of this deep U.S. problem. There is a tone here and there of “they say race permeates,” which softens the analysis of racism. There is of course much evidence and research such journalists could have examined on the white racist framing in the heads of many white executives, whose racialized thinking and action out of that framing needs to be the center of such stories. Such racist practices are old, foundational, and systemic. For even the more “liberal” analysts, yet, they still mostly get presented as episodic and/or tacked on to an otherwise unproblematical society, with white perpetrators seldom problematized.

Amazing News: Continuing Racial Inequality in Higher Education

In this land of systemic racism and widespread discrimination in major institutional areas, a recent article in Inside Higher Educations asks, once again, “Does race matter?” Michelle Asha Coooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, and David A. Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, ask this question, and then use somewhat tame “disparities” language to describe continuing discrimination in higher education:

# There are racial disparities in fields of study and graduate education. Fewer racial/ethnic minority students graduate in fields like science and engineering; fewer receive post-baccalaureate training and attain master’s, doctorate, and professional degrees.

# There are racial disparities in perceptions of campus climate. Racial/ethnic minority students are less likely to express satisfaction with their overall undergraduate experience. They also are less likely to feel a sense of belonging, interact with faculty/staff, and hold leadership positions in clubs/organizations.

# There are racial disparities in hiring, tenure, and compensation policies. Post graduation, racial/ethnic minorities earn less, with the same credentials, as their White counterparts. Even within the ranks of our liberal-minded institutions, Blacks and Hispanics are grossly underrepresented in our faculties. And where people of color do find positions within our institutions, it is too often in adjunct faculty positions, bereft of the pay and benefits appreciated by regular faculty, and in our service departments, perpetuating the inequalities that we so often condemn in society in general.

Good points, albeit very tame language which dances around identifying the powerful whites in positions of authority who are responsible for much of this disparate reality. And they do not deal even briefly with the realities of racist campus climates (much more than “perceptions”) or with how racial discrimination works on campuses.

The comments after their IHE post are quite revealing of how far we have to go on these matters. Each generation of (especially white) Americans has to be retaught our racist history and contemporary racist reality. The white racial frame is quite effective, for most whites, in covering up and hiding the racist reality. As one of my grad students put it yesterday, people of color and antiracist whites must spend much time in each generation in trying to get the society to “recover” for themselves and the society the concealed racist realities of our history and racist institutions.

Racism and Networks: Missing Tens of Thousands of Able Workers of Color

The Ricci case we have discussed touches numerous employment discrimination issues, some of which Ginsburg brought up in her dissent. I have been reading research by Marc Bendick, Jr., and Mary Lou Egan on racial discrimination and inequality in advertising agencies, many part of large global firms. They found that African Americans make up just 5.3 percent of advertising managers and professionals, but the relevant Census Bureau and EEOC data suggest this percentage should be roughly 9-10 percent. Their study found black employees tended to be hired for segregated advertising positions—such as those dealing with customers of color–with less influence and pay than white employees with comparable credentials. Black college graduates with advertising positions were found to be paid about a fifth less on average than their comparable white colleagues.

Many employers, in the private and public sectors, complain they cannot find enough “qualified” employees of color. So, if they do happen to take any remedial action, they tend to emphasize educational strategies (scholarships for students, etc) to improve job situations of people of color. Yet, as Bendick and Egan point out, this is not the main reason for low percentages of black employees. The more important reason is the

persistent unwillingness by mainstream advertising agencies to hire, assign, advance, and retain already-available Black talent.

This unwillingness is rooted in a racist framing of black Americans as employees, and positive preferences for white employees like themselves. One lawyer described this employment arena as one where “favoritism rules and merit is cast aside.”

White networks run the country’s major historically white institutions, including most large companies. Job networks are part roysterof the structure of systemic racism. Deirdre Royster examined black and white students at a technical college and found that, even though they worked harder and did better in their training, black graduates had much more difficulty finding jobs than white students. White networks gave white students much better opportunities. Lack of access to important networks usually has a very negative impact. Compared to comparable white workers, black workers must spend much more time and effort looking for work over their careers. This, of course, makes it harder for them to compete with white workers who have otherwise comparable abilities. Such factors are not even considered in decisions like that involving New Haven–although the dissenting Ginsburg does just touch on the general idea.

Not just in the advertising industry, but in many other employment sectors the central problem is the highly discriminatory practice of white managers operating out of the traditional white racial frame and using predominantly white networks to hire and advance white managers and professionals like themselves.

In this process, as Bendick and Egan underscore in another paper, they typically

ignore the availability of tens of thousands of African Americans with educational and experience backgrounds comparable to whites routinely hired in their industry.

That’s right, tens of thousands. Consider that US reality for a minute. The presence of such very able workers pretty well blows lots of racialized arguments some whites make about not being able to find “qualified” employees of color right right out of the proverbial water. They just do not care to look for them. White power and privilege, again.

Racist Thinking at the Supreme Court—Again

Well, our least democratic major political institution, the Supreme Court, ruled today in a 5-4 RICCI ET AL. v. DESTEFANO ET AL decision that white men had been the victims of racial discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Written by conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, and joined in by the court’s far-right justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito (damaging gifts of the Ford, Reagan, and Bush administrations), the overview summary starts thus:HONKING HORN OF JUSTICE FOR NEW JERSEY FIREFIGHTERS--BEEP BEEP
Creative Commons License photo credit: roberthuffstutter

New Haven, Conn. (City), uses objective examinations to identify those firefighters best qualified for promotion. When the results of such an exam to fill vacant lieutenant and captain positions showed that white candidates had outperformed minority candidates, a rancorous public debate ensued. Confronted with arguments both for and against certifying the test results—and threats of a lawsuit either way—the City threw out the results based on the statistical racial disparity. Petitioners, white and Hispanic firefighters who passed the exams but were denied a chance at promotions by the City’s refusal to certify the test results, sued the City and respondent officials, alleging that discarding the test results discriminated against them based on their race in violation of, inter alia, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. . . The City’s action in discarding the tests violated Title VII.

That is, they discriminated against the white men who took the test, and would under the city’s decision have to take a new, presumably less discriminatory test. Actually, no one was discriminated against in actual promotions, as the city did not promote anyone, white, black or Latino. The city decided that because no African Americans scored high enough to be in the top promotion pool the tests needed to be replaced by better more-ability-based testing. However, the five racial conservatives on the court argue that in the record there is no “equally valid, less discriminatory alternative that served the City’s needs but that the City refused to adopt.” They, of course, are wrong on the social science evidence.

In her dissent, however, Justice R. B. Ginsburg (joined by Souter, Breyer, and Stevens) not only took the unusual step of giving her dissent orally in court but argued effectively (perhaps because she knows how discrimination actually works?) against the majority decision, running rings around them. She gives a rather sociological dissent starting with this opening line:

In assessing claims of race discrimination, “context matters.” [Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U. S. 306, 327 (2003).] In 1972, Congress extended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to cover public employment. At that time, municipal fire departments across the country, including New Haven’s, pervasively discriminated against minorities. The extension of Title VII to cover jobs in firefighting effected no overnight change. It took decades of persistent effort, advanced by Title VII litigation, to open firefighting posts to members of racial minorities.

That is, there is this little matter of systemic racism. The majority justices completely ignore the 346-year history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, which has been followed by much successful foot-dragging for four decades now in regard to undoing deep structures of white privilege, but the majority want to ignore that systemic-racism reality and its continuing impact.

One powerful argument that Ginsburg makes is that New Haven’s population is now a majority of people of color, yet the city has disproportionately few fire department officers who are black and Latino. She notes other (some nearby) cities that do not depend on New Haven’s discriminatory testing and thus get a more diverse workforce:

The Court similarly fails to acknowledge the better tests used in other cities, which have yielded less racially skewed outcomes. By order of this Court, New Haven, a city in which African-Americans and Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of the population, must today be served—as it was in the days of undisguised discrimination—by a fire department in which members of racial and ethnic minorities are rarely seen in command positions.

The right-wing majority leaves out other important systemic and historical facts, as she notes:

Firefighting is a profession in which the legacy of racial discrimination casts an especially long shadow. In extending Title VII to state and local government employers in 1972, Congress took note of a U. S. As of 2003, African-Americans and Hispanics constituted 30 percent and 16 percent of the City’s firefighters, respectively. In supervisory positions, however, significant disparities remain. Overall, the senior officer ranks (captain and higher) are nine percent African-American and nine percent Hispanic. Only one of the Department’s 21 fire captains is African-American.

That is, a profession that was aggressively white-controlled until well past the 1970s, and in New Haven now has great underrepresentation of blacks and Latinos in ranks like fire captain. One problem that the media has not assessed is the makeup of the exams, with 60 percent of the testing score based on the written exam, and only 40 percent on the oral exam, which got directly at leadership and ability issues. The testing showed huge disparities:

On the lieutenant exam, the pass rate for African-American candidates was about one-half the rate for Caucasian candidates; the pass rate for Hispanic candidates was even lower. … More striking still, although nearly half of the 77 lieutenant candidates were African-American or Hispanic, none would have been eligible for promotion to the eight positions then vacant. … As for the seven then-vacant captain positions, two Hispanic candidates would have been eligible, but no African-Americans.

She notes that numerous white firefighters had important social networks that helped them with the exams, including getting books and other materials quicker and cheaper than the first-generation African American and Latino firefighters. She then cites fairly extensively the testimony in the case of Dr. Christopher Hornick, an industrial psychologist with 25 years’ experience in firefighter testing. He testified that New Havens’ testing had a “relatively high adverse impact” and questioned the heavy emphasis on written over oral and related leadership exams:

We know that it’s not as valid as other procedures that exist. . . I think a person’s leadership skills, their command presence, their interpersonal skills, their management skills, their tactical skills could have been identified and evaluated in a much more appropriate way.

Ginsburg points out that the right-wing majority ignores Congress’s intent to accent both “disparate treatment” and “disparate impact” in its various civil rights laws:

Title VII’s original text, it was plain to the [1971 Griggs] Court, “proscribe[d] not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation.” …Only by ignoring Griggs could one maintain that intentionally disparate treatment alone was Title VII’s “original, foundational prohibition,” and disparate impact a mere afterthought. …Yet the Court today sets at odds the statute’s core directives. When an employer changes an employment practice in an effort to comply with Title VII’s disparate-impact provision, the Court reasons, it acts “because of race”— something Title VII’s disparate-treatment provision, .. generally forbids. ..This characterization of an employer’s compliance-directed action shows little attention to Congress’ design or to the Griggs line of cases Congress recognized as pathmarking. In keeping with Congress’ design, employers who reject such criteria due to reasonable doubts about their reliability can hardly be held to have engaged in discrimination “because of” race. …. Title VII, in contrast, aims to eliminate all forms of employment discrimination, unintentional as well as deliberate. Until today [Scalia’s concurring opinion] . . this Court has never questioned the constitutionality of the disparate-impact component of Title VII, and for good reason. By instructing employers to avoid needlessly exclusionary selection processes, Title VII’s disparate-impact provision calls for a “race-neutral means to increase minority . . . participation”—something this Court’s equal protection precedents also encourage.

This is the heart of the case. She is siding with the 1971 Griggs case that argued that practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation (that is, have a serious disparate impact) are in fact banned by the civil rights laws–especially if alternative procedures can be found, as is easily the case in this firefighters’ case. Bridgeport, Connecticut, is mentioned as having solved the problem with fairer testing for firefighters and getting the needed social-racial diversity–a 20-miles-nearby example. Why not New Haven?

The Supreme Court is an undemocratic institution provided to us in 1787 by some white male slaveholders and their merchant friends, and today it is heavily skewed in a right-wing direction and populated by a quite unrepresentative group of folks–not unlike the skew in the fire captain’s class in New Haven. These justices have here provided another good example of how contemporary racism works. The right-wing majority is operating out of the old white racial frame and pretending that we live in a country with little institutional discrimination, and no centuries-old history of slavery and Jim Crow. We have been an officially “free” country only since 1969, and all the justices on the court grew up under a very undemocratic country with official racial apartheid. Yet cases like this one operate to deny that recent apartheid reality and its continuing consequences in public and private employment settings.

Happy May Day!

Industrial Workers of the World’s website points out that the country that founded May Day (May 1) seems to have forgotten it:

Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union.

Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860’s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880’s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

Unions and other worker organizations have brought much in the way of better lives for many Americans and others across the globe. And most of the world’s workers are workers of color–often working ultimately for white-controlled corporations. They still need much new organization to end various types of oppression they face.

Remedying Racism: The Supreme Court and Affirmative Action

Coming in June 2009 is a Supreme Court decision that is likely to rule, once again, against affirmative action. The case involves white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut. The city had a conventional (the NY Times says, poorly contstructed) promotion exam on which in 2003 white test takers did better than black or Latino test takers. The city invalidated test results as discriminatory against candidates of color. White firefighters sued, arguing they were discriminated against. The issue of “reverse discrimination” and “reverse racism,” clever white reframing terms, was again raised, with these oxymoronic phrases being widely circulated.

Summer Vacation 07 part 1 176
Creative Commons License photo credit: Tim Pearce, Los Gatos

In an April 21, 2009 editorial the New York Times called on the Supreme Court to follow the decision of the Second Circuit appeals court in its decision that the city did not discriminate. As the Times noted,

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, and the trial court before it, ruled that the city had acted properly. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to ensure that employment practices are not racially discriminatory. Because New Haven had a reasonable belief that the test discriminated against minority applicants, it had a legitimate basis for discarding the results.

The Times asks why New Haven did not have a better constructed test, and also notes that

If the Fire Department had promoted based on the test, two Hispanics and no blacks would have been eligible for the seven open captain positions. No Hispanics or blacks would have been eligible for the eight lieutenant positions. Faced with a test that had such a strong adverse impact on minority applicants, New Haven decided to throw out the results and leave the supervisory positions open. In their lawsuit, the white firefighters insist that there was nothing wrong with the exam.

The savvy columnist and scholar Earl Ofari Hutchinson has a good article at New America Media on the likely decision against affirmative action:

It’s hardly the first time the Supreme Court has ruled on race related employment and education cases. In each instance the rulings have done much to fuel the notion that a majority of Americans oppose affirmative action.

He also makes clear data that counter a common white myth and show that few whites ever get seriously hurt even by aggressive affirmative action plans:

The other pillar of the Supreme Court’s anti-affirmative argument – and it cropped up again in the New Haven case – is that qualified white males are getting kicked to the curb and are losing ground to unqualified blacks, minorities and women. . . . According to census figures, if every unemployed black worker in the country were to displace a white worker, only a tiny fraction of whites would be affected. Furthermore, affirmative action pertains only to job-qualified applicants, so the actual percentage of affected whites would be minuscule. In New Haven, the number of firefighters allegedly affected was 20. The main sources of job loss among white workers have to do with factory relocations and labor contracting outside the United States, computerization and automation, and corporate downsizing.

I have mulled over these thorny issues in several places before, and let me summarize some general thoughts about racial discrimination and its affirmative action remedies.

First we need to consider where most racial discrimination has occurred in this society. Discrimination, as conceptualized by most scholars of racial-ethnic relations, emphasizes the dominant group–subordinate group context. Racial discrimination usually refers to actions of members of dominant groups—for example, white Americans—taken to harm members of subordinate groups, such as black, Latino, Asian, or Native Americans. Historically and today, systemic white discrimination is not just a matter of occasional white bigotry but involves the dominant white group’s power to enforce its racist prejudices and framing in discriminatory practices across many institutions. On occasion, individual members of subordinated racial groups can be motivated by their prejudices to take action to harm those in the dominant white group. Yet, with modest exceptions, members of racially subordinate groups usually do not have the power or institutional position to express their stereotypes and prejudices they hold about whites in the form of continuing and thus substantial everyday discrimination.

Think about the historical and contemporary US patterns of racial discrimination directed by large numbers of whites against just one major group, black Americans. That mistreatment has meant, and still means, widespread blatant and subtle discrimination by whites against blacks in most organizations in all major institutions in U.S. society—in housing, employment, business, education, health services, and the legal system. Over four centuries, many millions of whites have participated directly in discrimination against many millions of African Americans. Judging from opinion polls and research studies, a majority of whites currently still hold numerous negative stereotypes of African Americans and millions of these will discriminate under some circumstances. And most whites observe anti-black discrimination around them without actively working to stop it. This widespread and systemic discrimination has brought extraordinarily heavy social and economic losses (the latter estimated to be trillions of dollars over nearly 400 years) for African Americans in many institutional sectors of society.

What would the reverse of this centuries-old anti-black discrimination and other oppression look like? The reverse of the institutionalized discrimination by whites against blacks would mean reversing the power and resource inequalities for several hundred years. In the past and today, most organizations in major institutional areas such as housing, education, and employment would be run at the top and middle-levels by a disproportionate number of powerful black managers and officials. These powerful black officials would have aimed much racial discrimination at whites, including many years of slavery and legal segregation. Millions of whites would have suffered—and still suffer—trillions in economic losses such as lower wages, as well as high rates of unemployment and political disenfranchisement, widespread housing segregation, inferior school facilities, and violent lynchings. That societal condition would be something one could reasonably call a condition that significantly “reversed the discrimination” against African Americans.

What is usually termed reverse discrimination is something much different from this fictional anti-white scenario. The usual reference is to affirmative action programs that, for a limited time or in certain places, have used racial screening criteria to overcome a small part of past and present discrimination that targets racially oppressed people. Whatever modest costs a few years of affirmative action have meant for whites (usually white men, for white women have been major beneficiaries of affirmative action), those costs do not add up to anything close to the total cost that inverting the historical and contemporary patterns of discrimination against people of color would involve. Affirmative action plans, as currently set up—and there are now far fewer effective plans than most critics suggest—do not make concrete and devastating a widespread anti-white prejudice or framing on the part of people of color. As implemented, affirmative action plans have mostly involved modest remedial efforts (typically designed by white men!) to bring token-to-modest numbers of people of color and white women into certain areas of our economic, social, and political institutions where they have historically been excluded.

If remedies for racial oppression, such as serious affirmative action, are real and successful, they will of course mean some costs to be paid by those who have benefited most from centuries of racial and gender discrimination. Yet, today, a white man who suffers as an individual from remedial programs such as usually modest affirmative action in employment or education suffers in but one area of life (and often only once) and because he is an exception to his privileged racial group. A person of color who suffers from racial discrimination usually suffers in all areas of her or his life and primarily because the whole group has been and still is subordinated, not because he or she is an exception.

In spite of continuing high levels of discrimination targeting Americans of color, over recent decades, most remedy programs have been weakened or phased out as a more conservative white perspective has regained full control in most major public and private institutions. Today, this retrenchment from racial desegregation of U.S. society is quite substantial, and it resembles the white reactionary backtracking in the 19th century that took place after the Reconstruction era. After Reconstruction the white elite replaced slavery with the near-slavery of legal segregation, much to the longterm detriment of the entire society. Are we in a new post-Reconstruction period, in spite of a electing a black president?