People form prejudices about general groups of people, such as race, gender, etc. That's just part of how the human mind works.
These prejudices cause and perpetuate social injustice, and most of us would agree that this isn't a good thing. So what can be done about it?
A lot of prejudice is unconscious. People don't even realize they're doing it. For example in a study where identical applications for a lab manager job were given male or female names,
Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant.
And - here's the killer -
female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student.
Both men AND women are prejudiced against women!
Similar things have been found with prejudice against black people. I read there was a similar study that found prejudice against applications with a black-sounding name.
There is an Implicit Association Test which seeks to measure bias, including unconscious bias. On this test,
members of stigmatized groups (Black people, gay people, older people) tend to have more positive implicit attitudes toward their groups than do people who are not in the group, but that there is still a moderate preference for the more socially valued group.
How much the bias measured by this test correlates with people's actual behavior, I don't know. Many white people who are consciously non-racist or anti-racist are very embarrassed to find that according to the test, they have more positive associations with white people. For example I saw a video where a white civil rights lawyer was very embarrassed that the test indicated she thought more positively about white people. As a civil rights lawyer, she may be useful to black people, but one would imagine she would be a better lawyer if she didn't have this bias.
So given that people have biases, how can we correct for them?
One could try to eliminate biases in hiring, getting into college, etc. by doing it in a blind way, where the application is processed without knowing the race, gender etc. of the applicant.
Perhaps AI software could be developed to handle college or job applications, for example. This software could be written to pick up on things that you do want to use to make the decision - for example, body language that indicates honesty or dishonesty - and not to notice the race, gender, etc. of the applicant.
The dialog on discrimination has been full of blame and denial in reaction to the blame. But the blame pushes racism and sexism underground, it doesn't stop them. Denial causes people to "do their best" not to discriminate when making decisions about an application - but since they want to think they aren't biased, they do this while knowing the race or gender of the applicant. Clearly this hasn't worked to end discrimination.
Also perhaps people could do things to re-train their implicit biases, such as exposing themselves to positive messages about discriminated-against groups.
Humans are mammals and primates with a long and convoluted evolutionary history.. The best you can hope to do is manage bias and reduce its effects, but it will never be eliminated. Even in your discussion above you seem to accept that discrimination on the basis of body language social skill is ok, but on other forms are not.
Research has shown that men and women both evaluate men and women differently, view them differently. This is no surprise, ALL primates, ALL mammals do this. All social mammals view in-group and out-group individuals differently and discriminate against out-group members. A truly bias free world is basically a myth which cannot be achieved without ripping out our wiring and replacing it with something else.
Instead of obsessing over such a goal, we need to work on the much more realistic goal of minimizing the harm done by unfair discrimination.
you seem to accept that discrimination on the basis of body language social skill is ok
It's fine to discriminate by things that are relevant to how well somebody will do at a job. I was talking about making software that can tell whether someone is being deceptive or not in an interview, from their body language. For most jobs you want to know that you can trust the person to be honest with you. Discriminating (in the right way) is the whole point of a job interview.
All social mammals view in-group and out-group individuals differently and discriminate against out-group members.
What's the out-group, though? There's no reason why skin color or the shape of someone's facial features has to matter any more than the color of their hair. We don't judge people much by the color of their hair. A long time ago, before people traveled much, the appearance of people was more homogeneous, so a bunch of dark-haired Italians might have thought blond people weird and they might have been prejudiced against them.
The problem I'm talking about however, is that biases by race, gender etc. are self-perpetuating. If there's discrimination against women in science, fewer women will become scientists, so people, observing reality, will have a prejudice against women as scientists.
Making college admissions etc. blind, would help break that vicious circle where racial prejudice ends up causing more racial prejudice.
BUT, the real point is, concretely how to minimize discrimination? That is extremely important for a good society, since discrimination breeds a lot of antagonism and suffering.
If we want to be fair, as we say we do, then it's worth putting a lot of effort into devising ways to get around the human tendency to bias. Such as software to handle job interviews, without unfair discrimination.
I'm looking for other ideas!
Making society more fair for everyone by providing more security, would also help solve the problem of unfair discrimination. There wouldn't be as much inequality in people's incomes. Poverty causes discrimination against the poor person.
Unfortunately, the approach chosen is the opposite of making things 'blind'. The government INSISTS on cataloging all sorts of things by racial makeup (I was recently reading a blog by a business owner about a mandatory form from the census department, basically all it asked was race and gender of the owners). It is impossible NOT to involve race (or gender, or now, sexual orientation) in our current climate.
A vendor that I deal with on my job carries the statement "a certified woman owned business" on their letterhead. That really bugs me. I would never turn down a business because a woman owned it, I find it equally offensive that they are expecting special treatment. And am doubly offended that the government is actively involved in this sort of behavior.
You cannot eliminate discrimination by creating more discrimination.
Yes, this approach is a crude and low-tech attempt at correcting for discrimination.
Maybe we can make it better by taking advantage of sophisticated technology - such as AI programs for doing job interviews.
One advantage would be that it's a defense in discrimination lawsuits :) if the software does not have racial or gender discrimination and one is conscientiously following the instructions of the software.
I worked as a software engineer for a long time. First I worked for military contractors, since they get government grants they have to use affirmative action, and there were lots of hispanic and black people around. But there might well have been discrimination in job promotion.
Then later I went to work in a molecular biology lab that had no affirmative action rules in their hiring or the students. There were no black people (i.e. primarily African descent) although there might have been people of Indian origin. The janitor was black. And in this lab, I actually heard of an instance of blatant racial discrimination in hiring.
This is the dismal situation without affirmative action.
So I suggest we put actual effort into ending unfair discrimination - doing things like creating software to do job interviews, etc. Our software capabilities are quite sophisticated by now, and ending discrimination in hiring seems a much better way to spend money than designing chess-playing computers. It would be a great use for robots :)
For me personally, I've thought that if I go to grad school, if I were grading quizzes or whatever, I would make a little program to assign a numeric code randomly to the students - post it online without looking at the assignments - have the students look up the numeric code online and hand it papers with their number rather than their name. So I would be grading papers without being influenced by any biases.
Doing this means acknowledging that one probably does have biases.
Affirmative action does help discriminated-against groups and it helps to mix different groups of people. But arguably it's unfair to the non discriminated-against groups.
Discussions about discrimination, especially racial discrimination, tend to be divisive, because the assumption is that racism is Out There, that it applies to "someone else".
But what this research suggests is that racism and sexism are problems that cross group boundaries. It isn't "them", it's "us". Accusations of racism are used as a club, so people don't have to listen to other people they don't agree with. That is a misuse of the concept.
Affirmative action is an attempt to correct for discrimination. Opponents of affirmative action may assume that without affirmative action, people don't discriminate. So, they believe that if there are few black people in a workplace, for example, that means that few qualified black people applied. But, people DO discriminate, as research demonstrates.
A common perception is that affirmative action over-corrects for discrimination - that it results in the black people and/or women in a workplace being less qualified. One might suggest that injustice that results in people being less qualified be remedied before it happens - rather than trying to compensate for it by giving preferential treatment to discriminated-against groups.
Yes people do discriminate. But you can't have it both ways: either you have color blind system or you don't. The poison that is caused by government actually PUSHING race into situations merely prolongs the issue.
There are also the cases where racial motivations are artificially forced into the equation. Someone I knew years ago was selling a house, and decided she would be willing to self-finance. A black woman contracted for the house and put a partial down payment with the balance promised in 30 days. That deadline passed as did several more, at which point she cancelled the contract for non compliance-- yes she wound up having a major legal fight against the state for violation of the equal opportunity laws (had it been a white person in EXACTLY the same situation, no one would have raised an eyebrow.)
Gender gets even more complicated because there are (on overall) some statistically different behaviors between the genders (this is the case with all mammals and significantly primates--with good evolutionary reason). So even with equal opportunity, gender distribution in some fields may well be different. Social structure in chimpanzees and bonobos organizes in parallel lines with males and females, with different styles of behavior.
Understand that NO ONE should ever be denied an opportunity because of gender, but that it's a mistake to assume that equal numbers of men and women will become obsessed by motorcycle racing, or for that matter, child care.
Affirmative action is a way to give discriminated-against groups a leg up, without adding spending for them. It has done this, so I can see a good side to it.
Improving schooling, improving opportunities for disadvantaged people, improving nutrition for disadvantaged people - improving the factors that work against people from discriminated-against groups being genuinely qualified for jobs or schooling - would cost a lot, but perhaps should replace affirmative action.
There is also the politically-incorrect possibility of genetic differences in mental abilities between different groups. There is no reason why this can't happen, although there are so many environmental influences working against some groups of people that it's very difficult to get an idea of genetic differences.
she wound up having a major legal fight against the state for violation of the equal opportunity laws
If someone violates a contract, they violate the contract. Are you saying the equal opportunity laws are themselves unfair, that they somehow obscure that simple truth? I know there's a lot of housing discrimination in spite of laws against it.
Doing things online makes it more possible to achieve race and gender neutrality. Interviews might be done online, and one could perhaps even create a visual and auditory persona to do the interview (again, if the software is good enough :)
Technology has made it more possible for people to work from home, there may be a trend for more people to do this.
It would be great if discrimination could be reduced to purely-social interactions, where people do have the right to discriminate. Such as racial or gender preference in dating or one's friends.