Friday, July 03, 2009

Of Tests and Fairness

The facts of a recent Supreme Court decision: The New Haven Fire Department gave a bunch of up and coming firemen tests on which to base advancement. Only whites and two Hispanics passed it; no blacks. Sensitive to general workplace diversity sentiment, the Mayor and council overruled the results. The white firemen who passed sued; they claimed discrimination. The lower courts and the appeals court backed them; they supreme court decided, 5-4 on the fireman's side.

Civil Rights groups are up in arms. They are afraid this spells the end to the effort for workforce diversity.

Does it? A bunch of firefighters couldn't pass a test. Maybe they weren't qualified. Maybe, heavens forbid (and I know we shouldn't say this about any group of blacks, or other minorities), maybe they weren't as talented or hadn't they studied as hard as their fellow competitors. Or maybe they had already been advanced beyond their capabilities and the test revealed that fact?

A meaning of equality: we all have the possibility to fail as well as succeed. Shouldn't that be a fundamental truth of equality.

If we non-minorities (By the way, is there any such thing anymore?) as Americans feel (and properly so) rotten about the injustices perpetrated on blacks in this country because centuries of slavery, and we want to (and I would hold, rightfully) correct for the educational and opportunity disadvantages that have resulted, fine; let's do it, but don't punish those (whites, Asians, etc) whom, without their acquiescence, are playing by the new, fair rules and win. The white firefights were not slaveholders. They didn't cause slavery or its legacy. We must distinguish charity from rights.

As a society we should and must redress the legacy of black injustice: pour money into the schools, tutor those who need to catch up. But don't set forth and uphold one set of success standards for one group, another set for the other.

Don't build baseball stadium with two set of home run fences; or call a triple a home run for one set of players, just a triple for the other set; even if in the formerly unfairly treated players, their muscles may have been weakened by years of being locked in a closet and weren't able yet to develop competitive abilities in the arena being contested. Give the formerly disadvantaged free gyms and remedial batting lessons, but don't try to correct for old unfairness with new unfairness by applying ex-post-facto shifting rules. Don't redress an old wrong with a new wrong.

In this new and better post-Obama world of ours, I'm afraid the old math still applies: two negatives, when added together, don't make a positive; two wrongs still don't make a right.

In New Haven and elsewhere, don't correct for prior discrimination with new discrimination. It only creates a double wrong.


Post a Comment

<< Home