I want to thank everyone who has taken or will take the time to read and comment on my latest post on the concept of race.

I knew this was a touchy subject, and if I was going to ruffle some feathers, so be it. Hell, the same thing got me in trouble in Corporate-Carpet-Land.  But I was also going to articulate what some people were already thinking, politically incorrect as it might be.

The important thing is the dialog.  Racism, real or perceived, is still a raw nerve for many if not most Americans, with strong feelings just below the surface.  I am honored that some of you shared those feelings -- as well as some excellent factual material and well-thought-out opinions -- with me. Please continue to write.  I am perfectly comfortable with agreeing to disagree...and professional enough to respond courteously (I hope) to everyone.

The pillars of my approach to life and truth are science, reason, and humanism, with an emphasis on human worth, dignity, autonomy, and individuality.   Also, when you sacrifice competence to anything (like diversity quotas), competence will suffer.  A = A.  So to sum up, the racial/gender payback (AKA "affirmative action")...

-- flies in the face of science, since it assumes the existence of race, as well as a non-existent uniformity within groups (the philosophy of "essentialism"): it doesn't matter which Hispanics you hire, just find some minimally qualified warm bodies with the right surnames, fast.  This is exceedingly degrading to "Hispanics" themselves -- or would be if they stopped to think about it.

-- is degrading to individuals, not only the "protected classes" (they actually call them that) but in fact everyone whose qualifications are overlooked in the rush to fill quotas;

-- further humiliates the protected classes by assuming they can't compete by the same standards (OK, for some reason, they're not offended; I'm offended for them);

-- undermines human autonomy via bureaucratic fiat (just two examples: sound managerial decisions are trumped by the need to fill quotas; people have to hold their tongues lest they commit a gender error or some other speech-code violation);

-- undermines the quality and performance of organizations, which waste huge amounts of time and resources on AA and diversity -- time stolen from real work -- and often hire people less talented and/or competent than the other candidates;

If you're a humanist who loves reason, you have to loathe the entire bankrupt enterprise. (If not, tell me why.)  It's irrational (except that revenge is rational), unscientific, oppressive, wasteful and degrading.  I am in favor of equal opportunity, diversity and multiculturalism -- but vehemently reject the odious and coercive way in which they are achieved. 

PS.  My views on affirmative action have been strongly influenced by economist Thomas Sowell (he's black!!), who has done years of research on ethnicity and achievement and written extensively on affirmative action. 

The most telling point of many he makes is that blacks were already rising out of poverty before politicians intervened with their grand schemes of govt. handouts, forced diversity, and payback-by-proxy. 

I invite A/N folks to read http://capitalismmagazine.com/2003/04/the-grand-fraud-affirmative-a... . I am not a racist and do not think we should do nothing about racism. 


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Comment by Alan Perlman on January 29, 2013 at 11:46am

Glen, I saw your comment after I wrote the reply to Luara.  I think I addressed your points in that reply.  Thanks as always for your thoughts.

Comment by Alan Perlman on January 29, 2013 at 11:43am

Luara, This is a complex subject with many different situations and contexts.  "Discrimination" is a particularly slippery word.  If you hire a "white" person over a "person of color," who knows what went into that decision?   Maybe the white person really is better quaified.  You seem to assume racial bias every time, but there's no way to know for sure. 

You imply that discrimination is ubiquitous and without AA, there would be no fair hiring/admissions decisions.  I contend that AA so muddies the water that it's impossible to tell whether that's true.  Perhaps my suggestion about race/gender-blind job interviews should be a first step: once the person gets in the door solely on the basis of his/her qualifications and knwledge (which would be revealed in the blind interview), then the manager can meet them in person.

I was hired to write speeches for the Chairman of GM on my qualifications, despite being Jewish.  I was forever an outsider.  They tried to accept me by telling me Jewish jokes, which I was supposed to find funny.  Ther were so few at Jews GM then that they scheduled a major management conference on Yom Kippur without even knowing it.

You want a remedy for discrimination and imply that AA is the best and only answer.  I disagree. The answer to discrimination is competence, which begins early on, with valuing education and instilling a desire to learn and suceed.  I'm glad that a lot of people realize this, and many organizations are working to upgrade the skills and attitudes of groups who can't compete on equal terms. 

So there's a damn good reason why the scientists are white and the janitors black, and it's not discrimination.  There's no brilliant black physicist who's pushing a broom because of racism.

Please, in this discussion, let us not discount organizational effectiveness. That's why companies are in business - to be profitable and successful at the lowest cost.  I wouldn't want to be a manager who had to compromise on competence just to fill my quotas (I've seen it, more than a few times).

I agree with you on the obnoxiousness of "old-boy" professions and cliques.  People like to work (and live) with people who are like them.  It's easier to share the confidences that business often requires.  That's not an apology, just an attempt at explanantion.  I'm also aware of the special problems that women face in the workplace (e.g., the "assertive" vs. "bitch" distinction).

I'm uncomfortable at the use of the word "force" in your reply.  People resent it when choices are forced on them.  They do not welcome a newcomer whose presence is not a matter of choice, especially one who can't keep up (I have witnessed this more than once; it's not that they're intrinsically less competent but that competence may not have bneen the main reason they were hired - there's always that doubt).

When members of the "protected classes" prove their worth, there will be no more (or at least much less) discrimination. 

This is what happened in one company I worked for.   It was a food company, and most of their customers were women, so it made sense, image-wise, to be aggressive in recruiting and promoting women.  And there was no compromise on competence - these professsional/executive women (including the CEO) were among the sharpest people I ever worked with.

Finally, a short anecdote: my department (80-90% female for the whole 10 years I was there - that's diversity?) hired an Asian.  Two weeks after I stopped in his office to welcome him, he was back at his old job.  I called to find out what hapopoened.  Turned out the hire was AA-motivated (as one black woman in the dept. told me, "All of Michael's hires are motivated by diversity"), but the guy hated Michael's dictatorial management style, and, being Asian and competent, found his old job waiting for him (they hadn't filled it yet). 

Make of that what you will.  All I can see is a lot of time and money wasted in a futile attempt to make the numbers - and no net gain to the company.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply.  Let the dialog contiinue!

Comment by Frankie Dapper on January 29, 2013 at 11:09am

Affirmative action does not fly in the face of science. The assumption is that individuals who fall within perceived races are at a disadvantage as a result of racism and discrimination. There is no arguing this point. Just because the law does not distinguish between hispanic candidates does not mean that the hiring company does not. Obviously the hiring company will select the hispanic candidate it feels is most qualified.

I do agree that affirmative action can be divisive. When the best candidate is not in a protected class and is not chosen because of affirmative action charges of reverse racism and feelings of resentment well up.

Luara has some excellent points and penetrating insights. I dont know the answer re affirmative action, have been ambivalent since its inception. The lingering cancer of racism makes for an unfair playing field. How to redress it and whether it is the role of the government is something I do not know.

Comment by Luara on January 29, 2013 at 8:00am

If you don't have affirmative action, then nondiscrimination needs to be achieved in some other way.

People wouldn't want to hire someone without meeting them in person.  People's body language, their tone of voice, even subtle flickers of their eyes, are important.  Humans understand a lot about other people in subtle ways from seeing them.

Yet, research seems to indicate that people have unconscious bias even when they don't have conscious beliefs about race.  See for example the implicit association test.

If one doesn't have affirmative action then there had better be some practical way to not discriminate. 

I actually appreciate the variegated environment that affirmative action requirements cause.  I appreciate that places that in the past have been white male enclaves, aren't anymore, because of affirmative action.  The white male enclaves are extremely ugly in their effects.  As a woman, I tend to associate multiracial environments with something that is trying to move away from sexism also, something different from the intensely patriarchal structure that I grew up in, dominated by my father who was also racist (and a very anxious person too).  I used to work in a science lab at a university.  The people doing scientific work were white and Asian.  The janitors were black.  This is what happened without affirmative action. 

Also, people from discriminated-against groups tend to perform less well than their intrinsic abilities, because of the negative stereotypes, and forcing nondiscrimination on average by affirmative action tends to counteract this effect of discrimination also.  I don't know that the people hired through affirmative action are intrinsically less competent.  It isn't something one can judge from one's limited experience. 

And, like I posted, there is a close connection between anxiety and racism.  People of different races need to get to know each other, that helps to counter that anxiety, and affirmative action does have the virtue that it puts people of different races together and asks them to cooperate.  Those are powerful good points to affirmative action.   

Someone from a discriminated-against group is unlikely to feel insulted by affirmative action, because they know perfectly well that they are discriminated against.  They wouldn't have the illusion that an employer would make an unbiased choice without affirmative action. 

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