May 20, 2009
Following up on Jared Taylor’s article, the Ricci reverse discrimination lawsuit now before the Supreme Court is not one of those “hard cases” about which law students are warned. There is nothing anomalous about the discrimination against the New Haven firemen who had their top scores in the 2003 civil service exam thrown out by the city because no blacks scored high enough to get promotions. Employment decisions being rigged to prevent “disparate impact” on “protected minorities” is just business as usual in America since the 1970s.
Instead, what’s unusual is that we”re even hearing about the victimization of these unprotected majorities.
I suspect that’s largely because Frank Ricci and his friends are firemen. Fire fighters show up more than any other profession in prominent reverse discrimination suits, perhaps because they enjoy civil service protection, unions, and, most of all, public admiration.
In a culture that increasingly holds blue-collar workers in contempt, firemen are the exception to the rule. They risk their lives for you, and they don”t give you speeding tickets. As the cops in Joseph Wambaugh’s LAPD novels are always telling each other: If you really wanted people to like you, you should have been a fireman.
It’s worth exploring some of the more subtle game theory reasons why there is so little public outcry against discrimination against white males other than fire fighters. Why is Ricci close to being the exception that proves the rule?
First, affirmative action targets marginal white males.
For example, although white guys who are already firemen have a fighting chance of staving off unfair treatment in promotions, white guys who just want to become firemen are discriminated against in hiring with impunity. For example, a couple of years ago, the Bush Administration sued the New York fire department, which lost 343 men on 9/11, for discrimination because its entrance exam had a one standard deviation gap in its passing rate between whites and blacks, the same cognitive racial gap seen more or les everywhere.
The message the Bush Administration’s lawsuit was implicitly sending the FDNY was: “Hire more minorities and fewer whites. We don”t care how you do it. Just do it.”
Cheating an already employed white fireman out of a promotion is dicey because he doesn”t go away. He’s still a fireman. So he hangs around, he complains, he organizes other white firemen to complain to their aldermen about why the politicians aren”t releasing the results, maybe he talks his sister-in-law’s cousin who is a file clerk in Personnel into Xeroxing the secret results of the test and leak it to him. And then he hires a lawyer.
In contrast, cheating some random white guy off the street out of his lifelong dream of being a fireman is a piece of cake: “Don”t call us, we”ll call you.” What can this marginal man do about his suspicions? Not much. He’s not connected.
Moreover, announcing that you are a victim of affirmative action is to admit you are marginal, that you would have only barely made the cut anyway. How uncool is that?
Similarly, affirmative action, by definition, doesn”t impact those who made the cut. Consider Harvard students. While some freshmen may enter Harvard sore that affirmative action might have cost high school friends admission to Harvard, soon they have lots of swell new friends, who, unsurprisingly, are all Harvard students, unlike those losers they used to hang around with in high school who didn”t have what it takes to get into Harvard.
Hence, you don”t see a lot of solidarity in opposing affirmative action.
Moreover, as you go up the pyramid of power, quotas becomes less prevalent, as the elite decide to finally draw the line so that affirmative action least inconveniences them.
Reflect upon the career of the First Lady. Michelle Obama attended Whitney Young H.S., the most selective Chicago public high school, where blacks enjoyed a quota of 40 percent of admissions. Then she was off to Princeton and Harvard Law School. At each institution, she felt that white people were making fun of her because her test scores weren”t all that great. Still, like a lot of mediocre black law students, she wound up with a high-paying job at a prestigious law firm.
The New York Times reported on UCLA law professor Richard Sander’s study of affirmative action in legal hiring:
Then, however, colorblind reality intruded. Mrs. Obama apparently didn”t pass the rather easy Illinois bar exam on her first opportunity. Soon, she gave up her law license and took a less cognitively taxing job working for Mayor Daley as a political fixer.
Think about it from Mrs. Obama’s point of view. She”d been scraping by on affirmative action for years, but quotas mostly evaporate when it comes to making partner. The law firm’s partners can put up with employing subpar blacks as associates for a few years to stay out of trouble with the government, but they take the partnership hurdle seriously. The New York Times said: “But black lawyers, the study found, are about one-fourth as likely to make partner as white lawyers from the same entering class of associates.”
So, why kill herself in the likely hopeless task of making partner when she can go into Chicago politics, where she”ll be smarter than the average ward heeler? (As an example of the kind of mental firepower it takes to succeed in Cook County politics, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich told a high school student named Mihan Lee, “I had an 18 on my ACT score. I’m told that’s kind of in the middle, maybe just below. [It’s around the 33rd percentile.] If I can be governor of Illinois, Mihan, you can be president of the United States.”)
So, the elites are less plagued by inept colleagues promoted due to racial preferences than their underlings are. Why, then, get annoyed by something that won”t much bother you personally?
Finally, the notion of white solidarity or white pride runs into the fundamental problem that whites mostly compete with each other for the best jobs. Competing with minorities is seen as evidence that you aren”t very far up the ladder.
Consider the three Cs: Creativity, Competence, and Charisma.
On the whole, whites tend to perform fairly well in terms of creativity, competence, and charisma, and thus tend to end up in the coolest jobs. In contrast, blacks are strongest at charisma and weakest at competence, while East Asians are the opposite. Mexican-Americans tend to be low in charisma and creativity (the proportion of famous Americans who are of Mexican descent is minimal), while perhaps moderate in competence.
Screenwriting is an example of a job that demands some high quantities of each category. Scripting movies is not the highest paid, most influential, most fun, or most desirable job in the country, but it comes close enough on all those dimensions to attract a huge number of would-be entrants.
Who wind up the screenwriters of Hollywood films? Although minorities buy a large fraction of movie tickets each weekend, 94 percent of employed screenwriters in 2004 were white.
Screenwriting is one of those jobs where, for a variety of reasons, affirmative action doesn”t much apply. (In a more rational world, the reverse would be true: we”d have racial quotas for screenwriters but not for fire captains. After all, whom do you rely upon to save your loved ones from flaming deaths? In a more sensible America, Frank Ricci would have his promotion but Akiva Goldsman would have gotten bumped off “Angels & Demons for a handicapped Hispanic lesbian.)
So, you don”t see a lot of Hollywood movies or glossy magazine articles about whites victimized by racial preferences. This just isn”t a problem they have to deal with.
Thus, promoting white solidarity sounds almost as implausible to white people trying to claw their way to the top as promoting Vertebrate Pride would seem: Sure, us vertebrates are definitely the coolest subphylum, but it’s kind of hard to get worked up over how all us vertebrates should stick together when the competition is just a bunch of invertebrates.