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News Possible misconceptions about Affirmative Action

  1. Jan 9, 2013 #1

    Dembadon

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    This is intended to be a continuation of a discussion in this thread, which might might've been off-topic.

    How does AA discriminate? Is there any evidence of discrimination due to AA?

    Affirmative action does not require a company to hire unqualified people. It also does not impose quotas. In fact, quotas in AA programs are prohibited. The policy you described leads me to believe the company didn't understand what AA is.

    emphasis added

    emphasis added

    http://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/aa.htm#.UO4G5onjn48
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2013 #2

    Astronuc

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    It may be more a case of misapplication than misconception.

    http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/subjects/a/affirmative_action/index.html
    The Bakke case is one of the more infamous cases.
    There is a current case in the Supreme Court -
    The concern has been that the drive toward diversification has resulted in lower standards in academic and professional standards/proficiency.
     
  4. Jan 9, 2013 #3

    russ_watters

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    First, we must understand the goal and definnition of Affirmative Action:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_action

    Next, we must understand the definition of the word "discriminate":
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination

    Recognize that the definition does not specify whether the treatment is positive or negative, but then also recognize that in a competitive scenario, discrimination for someone must logically result in discrimination against someone else.

    Thus, AA is by definition, a policy of discrimination. And apparently, by name, in the UK -- where it is used synonymous (and honestly) with "positive discrimination".

    Now, AA takes a lot of forms and laws vary widely, but the overall goal is the same. There have been many challenges and many attempts to make promotion of one racial/gender group over another jive with the concept of civil rights. Many of these have resulted in vague laws that are, nevertheless, carried out in ways that discriminate.
    Interesting choice of words. In Ricci v DeStefano, it resulted in promoting no one because there were no blacks who scored high enough in a promotion exam.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricci_v._DeStefano
    The action taken by the city was in keeping with Affirmative action and the case was decided on the grounds that it discriminated against the white and Hispanic firefighters who passed the exam.

    Evo also gave a personal anecdote about positions not able to be filled because of lack of available minority applicants.

    So it may not "require unqualified" people to be hired/accepted for college, it does at least result in/require less qualified people be hired/accepted.
    Quotas were explicitly included in AA until they were struck down by the supreme court. Now they tend to be more subtle, but they do still exist. Court cases are tough because any decision that strikes down an explicit or de facto quota instantly become past tense. Ricci vs DeStefano was 2009. Is that recent enough? They may not have had a specific quota in mind, but they knew that "0" was not enough.

    Here's the other side of the coin and perhaps more direcly related to the question: Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grutter_v._Bollinger

    This case ruled that race could be used as a part of the admissions policy at the university of Michigan. This case appears to me to be an example of the court not seeing the forest through the trees. The majority opinion basically acknowledges that AA is discriminatory, but says it is ok because it is needed.
    I doubt it. Here's the City of Philadelphia policy on women/minority businesses getting city contracts and a case where someone violated it:
    http://cityofphiladelphia.wordpress...eement-with-aramark-and-strother-enterprises/
    http://mbec.phila.gov/home/forms/eo 3-12.pdf

    20-25% sounds like a quota to me. Not sure how that is still legal, but city politics is often a funny thing.

    More generally, I reiterate that a program that is designed to artificially elevate one group at the expense of another is inherently/by definition, discriminatory. A quota was an easy way to show discrimination, but it isn't the only way. Heck, if we flip the coin over and examine the programs from the opposite race, the issue becomes obvious: Would a program actually titled and designed to promote - by any means - the receipt of contracts/jobs by white business owners be considered discriminatory? Perhaps we need to institute an Affirmative Action program to increase diversity (increase the number of whites) in the NBA Player's Union?

    I'd like to hear your take on AA, though. How do you think that a policy that actively makes-up for past discrimination isn't giving certain groups a push that others don't get? Since the policies and laws vary widely, perhaps you should tell me how you think it can be done in a way that doesn't discriminate, then I'll tell you if I see discrimination in your policy that you don't see.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  5. Jan 9, 2013 #4

    Evo

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    Sorry dembadon, but you're wrong, it's all right here. It was the law. If you (company) didn't meet your minority quota, you were fined. Obviously no one actually said "hire incompetant people to meet your quota". But if that was the only way to meet your quota, that's what you did.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_action_in_the_United_States#Legal_history

    I was there, I had to deal with the company not being able to hire anyone until we waived employment criteria. That's a fact. I worked for AT&T.

    If you didn't believe me, that's fine, you just had to ask me if I could back up what I said. What actually went on is even worse then what is publicly admitted, but we'll go by the quotas and waiver of employment tests that went on at that time. What you posted may apply now, and wishful thinking about what actually happened in the past. Were blacks behind because of discrimantion? Absolutely. Was the answer to throw them into positions they weren't qualified for, absolutely not. The government decided that they would place the burden directly onto companies instead of taking responsibility and providing training and support for those that wanted to better themselves, IMO.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  6. Jan 9, 2013 #5

    Drakkith

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    I like the way you worded this Russ. I believe this is the key to understanding AA. The legal discrimination of certain races or groups on the grounds that it helps them, and by extension society overall more than it harms. Whether that is true or not is...much harder to figure out. To me it's the same old "The good of society vs the good of the individual" issue. It's certainly not fair to people not in those groups. And then the argument I usually see after that is that people not in those groups, IE whites, males, etc don't need the help since they already have little discrimination issues overall as a group. But again, this is "overall", not on an individual basis.
     
  7. Jan 9, 2013 #6

    Evo

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    And more on quotas and waiving employment tests.

    Continued...

    http://definitions.uslegal.com/a/affirmative-action/
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  8. Jan 9, 2013 #7

    russ_watters

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    Thanks.

    I completely accept the noble goal of AA, but:
    1. The US Constitution does not allow the logic of AA. The Constitution protects individual rights. Period.
    2. I'm not typically a believer in fight-fire-with-fire/ two wrongs make a right logic.

    Whether Constitutionally justifiable or not, there was a time and there were places in our history where discrimination as policy probably helped counter-act other discrimination. But at the same time, such policies breed resentment that can counter-act their goals. So I think it may be true that AA helped at one time more than it hurt, but ultimately I think it is prolonging/keeping open racial divides by its continued existence.
     
  9. Jan 9, 2013 #8

    russ_watters

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    Requoting Evo's quote:
    Not to start another discussion of judicial activism, but this is an example of the courts trying to find a way to make AA justifiable even if it contradicts Constitutional intent.

    Finding good workers is hard. The things that make a worker good are difficult to identify in a job application or interview. So you do the best you can by using quantifiable proxy measures of applicant quality. A high school diploma may not be needed for collecting trash, but getting a high school diploma shows a certain level of responsibility that tends to provide a higher quality worker than a person who doesn't have one. The court should recognize that:

    1. General quality is always desirable.
    2. The policy is color-blind at face value and so cannot be a violation of anti-discrimination law. There is no such thing as a "discriminatory effect".
     
  10. Jan 9, 2013 #9
    When looking at the wording of the civil rights acts, one can only question how such wording got written into a law.

    Any type of standard will have a "Disparate impact" on some group, but apparently the only groups which matter are those which are not white and not male.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disparate_impact

    I don't mind the government directly funding or providing incentives to help ex-slaves but that's not what this legislation did. The whole "Disparate impact" mentality means you cannot have any standards which might inadvertently "discriminate" against "minority groups".

    These laws amount to saying "if your company is too white or too male, we're going to fine you". I find it absolutely absurd.

    Also what's even more absurd is groups using AA who should never have gotten it to begin with - if you immigrated here by choice, why should you get any additional help? Ex-slaves are the only ones who should have any claim at all.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  11. Jan 9, 2013 #10

    Evo

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    It was a bad time. The government was facing a racial crisis. So, instead of doing the right thing and providing training and subsidies for blacks that wanted and were willing to better themselves, they decided to force businesses to hire completely unqualified people (in many cases) in order to calm things down. And I specify blacks because that was where the quotas were in my company. These were techinical positions that needed at least some aptitude.
     
  12. Jan 9, 2013 #11

    Dembadon

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    There are two uses for the word discriminate, only one of which is relevant to what AA seeks to prevent. In this context, the distinction is negative. Here are the entries for "discriminate" in the Oxford English dictionary:

    1 : recognize a distinction; differentiate
    2 : make an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of different categories of people or things, esp. on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

    "Unjust" and "prejudicial" are both negative.

    In other words, a misapplication of the concept of AA, not a fault regarding the intentions of AA programs or their requirements? If there are vague laws derived from AA that violate civil rights, then allow our judicial system to do its job and sort them out.

    So, the city made an emotional decision? Fear of a lawsuit does not mean the fear was rationally based or legitimate. If the city had a satisfactory AAP for whatever fire program was in question, there would have been no grounds for a lawsuit.

    Also, not sure where you got "no one was promoted". From the wiki you linked:
    Evo's anecdote showed her company's willingness to hire unqualified people rather than implementing a satisfactory AAP. In other words, the company should have refused the unqualified people, and as long as they had an AAP program which:

    for African Americans, then there would have been no grounds on which to penalize her company, as they would have met the requirements for a satisfactory AAP per Executive Order 11246.

    Evo mentioned having a specific quota, which, as I pointed out, is prohibited. I did not claim subtle quotas are nonexistent.

    Well, more precisely, the majority opinion acknowledged that the University of Michigan's AA policy is discriminatory. It was not a case about whether AA as a concept is discriminatory. The ruling unfortunate. I don't believe the decision is justifiable under the goals of AA.

    So, you disagree with the city's implementation of affirmative action. I do too, since it is illegal per the aforementioned executive order. But, again, this an implementation issue rather than AA being a fundamentally flawed concept.

    AA programs are not allowed to "artificially elevate", nor is that the intention behind AA. If companies are choosing to implement AAPs that violate civil rights, then let the justice system take care of them. As it stands right now, there is nothing in Executive Order 11246 or the Dept. of Labor's definition of AA that violates Title VII.

    We aren't talking about hand-outs here. AA endeavors to ensure that "certain groups" have access to what "others" already have.
     
  13. Jan 9, 2013 #12

    Evo

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    Dembadon, did you see my links? Quotas were mandated by law. Employment apptitude tests were not allowed unless it was a critical position. Please read my posts.

    You are looking at what AA is now and a fairy tale look back that is ignoring the laws in effect in the 60's and 70's. Wishful thinking doesn't erase the laws or the past.
     
  14. Jan 10, 2013 #13

    Dembadon

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    Sorry you had to deal with that. I went by what is currently stated on the Department of Labor's website regarding AA and the executive order. I didn't know that quotas were originally part of the law.
     
  15. Jan 10, 2013 #14

    Dembadon

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    I had Russ's post quoted and open before I saw your post. My response is above. :smile:
     
  16. Jan 10, 2013 #15

    Evo

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    I saw that you were looking at recent laws.

    It was a different world back then. :smile:
     
  17. Jan 10, 2013 #16

    russ_watters

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    Fine. But as I said giving one group a push necessarily pushes the other group in the opposite direction. Giving one person a job or a spot in a college denies it to another person. It includes negative discrimination because it includes positive discrimination. The two sides of the same coin cannot be decoupled from each other. If you disagree, tell me how.
    HOW? Please give me an example of a policy that fits the goal of AA but is non-discriminatory. I maintain that by definition it is discriminatory and therefore it is just a cop-out to say that the fault lies on the policies, not the general concept. I also think it is a cop-out to give the "concept" a pass when it has resulted in so much flawed implementation. Theory is all well and good, but reality is in the implementation. The reality is that AA is discriminatory because the policies that result from it are discriminatory.

    At this point though, we should at least be able to agree that as implemented, AA policy is often* discriminatory. Right?

    *Pending examples, we may have to switch "often" for "always" if you can't come up with any non-discriminatory AA policies.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2013
  18. Jan 10, 2013 #17
    I think the biggest point of contention in this thread is Dembadon has some kind of Platonic Ideal about what Affirmative Action "really is," and blames the various implementations of AA for not lining up to that ideal. Any time something unjust is done in the name of Affirmative Action, he basically says "well, that's not Affirmative Action. They're doing it wrong. No true affirmative action program would do such a thing." (read: No True Scotsman fallacy).

    Others in this thread, myself included, see Affirmative Action as it is implemented in the real world. AA is not some kind of abstract concept that exists separate from reality. AA is the sum total of how it's used. As it stands right now, it is common for employers to err on the side of caution and hire a less-qualified minority over a more-qualified white male if the balance is too out-of-whack. Or, to simply hire nobody unless it's a minority. They might even be justified in doing so. Even if an Affirmative Action lawsuit is baseless and would be thrown out of court, lawsuits are often very expensive to fight, and there's always the risk of negative press along the lines of "Did company A refuse to hire this woman because she's black? More at 11."

    Thousands of hiring decisions are made every day, and you're naive if you think that none of them are made in fear of an AA lawsuit, even if that lawsuit would be without merit. You have to include the real-world effects of AA, and not look at in in a vacuum.
     
  19. Jan 10, 2013 #18
    HR departments of US companies are totally afraid of lawsuits against the company. They might rather sacrifice a little bit of quality, instead of money and reputation.
     
  20. Jan 10, 2013 #19

    russ_watters

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    Jack - I agree. So I would also ask Dembadon what that "ideal" is. What is the alternate definition of AA?

    I would also like to point out that logic tends to demand that the original implementation was more in line with the theory, not less. Changes forced on AA advocates by the courts would be pushing them away from their original intent.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2013
  21. Jan 10, 2013 #20

    BobG

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    Affirmative action is bad. It's a form of discrimination in itself.

    That doesn't mean it isn't a viable solution for a problem that's even worse than affirmative action. Sometimes there are no "good" solutions - only imperfect solutions that make a really bad situation better.

    In this case, a bad solution such as affirmative action is a better solution than simply saying we'll stop discriminating from here on out. Thinking a simple cessation of discrimination solves the problem is even more naive than imagining some "ideal" form of affirmative action.

    Having closed a race out of any job that provides a living wage, you've locked in a cycle that will accomplish the goals of discrimination even if discrimination now stops.

    For example: the Supreme Court's ruling against requiring a high school diploma for unskilled jobs. In a normal world, russ is correct that a high school diploma is an indication of general quality of an employee. But that assumes that the reason for not completing high school is laziness or stupidity.

    In a world where only unskilled sub-subsistence jobs are available, a family needing income to survive will be sending their kids out to work as soon as they're physically able - especially if discrimination is going to prevent that high school diploma from being worth much.

    Simply stopping discrimination eliminates one part of that equation - a high school diploma will finally be worth something, even to the victims of discrimination. But it doesn't change the current situation, which is that the family needs income so badly that it can't afford the luxury of having an able-bodied worker lazing around all day in school when they could be helping support the family.

    And that fact completely distorts the idea of using a high school diploma as a requirement for an unskilled job. Which worker is really higher quality? The 18-year-old high school graduate that's never worked a day in their life or the 18-year-old with 6 years of work experience?

    Of course, child labor laws will fix part of that problem. But child labor laws are discrimination, as well, and also have a down side. They're depriving poverty stricken families from a needed income. Of course, child labor laws are only prolonging poverty for a few more years, while the impact of a high school diploma will last around 50 years for a worker, so the trade off is worth it - even given that some adolescents will be working under the table or find a job in an unregulated industry, such as drugs. It improves things for enough people that the benefits outweigh the costs.

    Problems of past discrimination have to be fixed at least to the point that you can realistically start to apply normal standards (such as requiring a high school degree).

    But, while I agree affirmative action was necessary to correct some really bad problems (especially in the South), I do think it's important to remember we're choosing a solution that's inherently bad in its own right. You don't have to create a perfectly level playing field before you start thinking about phasing out affirmative action. You only have to get the playing field close enough to level that elimination of future discrimination will eventually do the rest.

    Where that point is where you consider the playing field level enough is certainly a debatable point - and perhaps a point that's overdue to be debated. And I guess a good crossover point is where the discriminative side of affirmative action starts to hurt almost as many people as it helps, but that's based on the assumption that avoiding discrimination is a good thing in itself, regardless of the balance of good and bad - the idea that things have to be really bad to justify affirmative action. But I could see where a person with a more neutral opinion of discrimination might feel the crossover point would be where an equal number of people are being hurt and helped.
     
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