April 23, 2009

"It seems to me that if I say a whole system must be upset for me to win..."

"... I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it."

John McWorter quotes Zora Neale Hurston and W.E.B. Du Bois — "I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not" — to side with the plaintiffs in Ricci v. DeStefano:
[T]he International Association of Professional Black Firefighters tells us, "Cognitive examinations have an adverse effect upon blacks and other minorities." Du Bois crowed, "Fifty years ago the ability of Negro students in any appreciable numbers to master a modern college course would have been difficult to prove," and proudly documents 2,500 black college graduates. Imagine Du Bois listening to a rep from the black firefighters' association now sneering that the promotion test merely measures "the ability to read and retain"--i.e. engage in higher-level thinking processes! O tempora, o mores.

This will not do: People like Du Bois did not dedicate their lives to paving the way for black people to be exempt from tests. Sure, the tests may not correlate perfectly with firefighters' duties. But which falls more into the spirit of black uplift that you could explain to a foreigner in less than three minutes: teaching black candidates how to show what they are made of despite obstacles, or banning a test of mental agility as inappropriate to impose on black candidates?

47 comments:

peter hoh said...

Just posted in the other thread, but I'll repost here because this is pretty much in line with what Ta-Nehisi Coates just said about the Ricci case. (Though he seems to be confused about who is bringing the case.)

Bissage said...

“[B]lack people of unaffluent origin . . .”

Say what?

Maybe people who write like Mr. McWhorter are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Elliott A said...

This is similar to the case about two years ago where the Justice Department concluded that the test to qualify for the police department was discriminatory. The problem was the inability of a disproportionate number of minority applicants to show a proficiency with fourth grade level arithmetic. A local teacher gave the test to her fourth grade class and 29 out of 30 passed..Sadly, these weak thinkers, once hired, will cost some coworkers or citizens their lives. There should be a consequence for blowing off twelve years of free education these people have been provided.

If their position (Black Firefighters) is that testing has adverse effects on their members, they are validating centuries' old stereotypes of blacks' inferiority. The difficulty level of these tests is so low that inability to perform satisfactorally on them should be an immediate disqualification. In the modern day America, there are no obstacles to the ability to pass one of these tests, other than those imposed by the candidates themselves.

Original Mike said...

While I don't quibble with Mr. Mc Whorter's piece, I did find this a bit difficult to swallow: "being asked point-blank questions--like, "When was the Declaration of Independence written?"--and answering clearly is not as central to normal communication as it is in mainstream culture."

Ann Althouse said...

Elliott, the issue isn't passing the test. It's being among the top scorers. The city had a law that required the promotion to be given to one of the 3 top scorers.

Lem said...

The election of Obama has made a mockery out of affirmative action.

If Obama were to resign, or be impeached then we could all go back to peace, harmony and tranquility with President Biden at the helm. ;)

I was going to say Obama is the 800 pound... and then I remember I can also use an elephant in the room.

Revenant said...

Elliott, the issue isn't passing the test. It's being among the top scorers.

That's a distinction without a difference. Since the sole purpose of the test is to attain elegibility for promotion, "passing" should be defined as having a score high enough to make you eligible for promotion. This is no different from any other exam that is graded on a curve.

The goal here is, in theory, to identify the best-qualified candidates. Picking the top scorers on a test is an obvious way to do that.

Peter V. Bella said...

"The goal here is, in theory, to identify the best-qualified candidates. Picking the top scorers on a test is an obvious way to do that."

In a sane and rational enviroment, yes. But, government caters to the entitlement martyrs...

Chip Ahoy said...

The article is biased and itself mathematically challenged.

...now 18 candidates are suing on the basis of, for one, the Civil Rights Act of 1964--the very set of laws that transformed life for black Americans not so long ago.Restated.

...the Civil Rights Act of 1964--the very set of laws that transformed life for black Americans two generations ago.

Say I go to Japan, one of the most unappologetically racist nations on earth, no criticism here, just fact, say I sought and attained a civil service position then further sought promotion. Knowing what I'm up against, I'm challenged to out-Japanese all the other Japanese applicants themselves. Simply put, I must not just do well, I must best them all and that would take total dedication. Short of that, I've failed myself.

But transposing this case on that example fails because this case is not about me it's about them not being promoted because of Japanese law intended to advance me where I fail to out-Japanese them. So just shut up and promote me already. We don't need no stink'n test.

Pardon me please. Sometimes this method acting has unhealthy psychological effects.

It'll be ve-ry in-te-res-ting to see how this reverse-discrimination thing goes down.

ricpic said...

From Steve Sailer's blog:

Many assume that firemen just have to be brave, but here's a very simple question from an entry-level test:

When coupling hoses together,___50-feet hoses and___75-feet hoses will result in a length of 575 feet.

a. 5,4
b. 4,4
c. 5,5
d. 4,5

(You don't want to overestimate because fire hoses filled with water are heavy.)

Now imagine having to solve that while burn victims are screaming for help.

---------------------------------------

Liberals - who know damn well that AA hires in life and death positions will result in the deaths of innocents - are despicable.

rhhardin said...

Vicki Hearne speculates that blacks are unable to believe things quickly enough.

somewhere...

here, search inside believe quickly.

Richard Fagin said...

Frederick Douglass would have appproved of Mr. McWhorter's comments. "Give the negro fair play and let him alone."

Henry said...

The irony is that the test is an attempt to remove bias from hiring and promotion. Civil service bureaucracies are riddled with tests and grade levels and endless regulations, all in the historical pursuit of fairness. The end result are bureaucratic systems so suffocating that anyone with initiative should select out on their own.

The city's decision to void the test is fitting. Nothing is more fair than nothing.

Hoosier Daddy said...

(If their position (Black Firefighters) is that testing has adverse effects on their members, they are validating centuries' old stereotypes of blacks' inferiority.)

Hasn't that been pretty much the black grievance community's raison d'etre for, well forever?

Smilin' Jack said...

W.E.B. Du Bois — "I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not"If a white writer had said that, he'd be regarded as insufferably presumptuous.

Methadras said...

Could it just be that the blacks taking these tests are just not that smart to pass it? The operative here being that they just aren't that smart. I wouldn't blame them or the test, it's just the way it is. If 3 latinos and 12 whites passed it, then what is the excuse for blacks not to or at least come as close as 16th place?

Bissage said...

The late, great B. Kliban had something to say on this topic.

You will find it right here.

peter hoh said...

ricpic wrote: Liberals - who know damn well that AA hires in life and death positions will result in the deaths of innocents - are despicable.

How many liberals would have to tell you that they disagree with New Haven's actions in this case in order for you to retract that statement?

If you catch me making blanket statements like that about conservatives, let me know.

Zeb Quinn said...

Could it just be that the blacks taking these tests are just not that smart to pass it?.
I don't think native smarts has that much to do with it. It's education. Blame black culture for not valuing the white educational system, or blame the education system itself for not doing what it takes, or blame both, but whichever way it's a failure of education.

Elliott A said...

Ann- The example I cited was in Virginia Beach and required a certain percentage passing grade. It is a different story looking for one of the top scorers. I am sure you have had students who became better lawyers than others although their LSAT, school gpa, etc might not have been quite as high. Unfortunately, testing is the only way to compare individuals in a manner that is not subjective

TMink said...

"People like Du Bois did not dedicate their lives to paving the way for black people to be exempt from tests."

Indeed. But W.E.B was a bit of an elitist as he often spoke of wanting to work with the "talented tenth" of African Americans.

That is an interesting comparison with Booker T. Washington who was a man of humility and hard work.

Both were a blessing to us all and were not interested in special treatment but a fair chance.

Trey

Original Mike said...

"being asked point-blank questions--like, "When was the Declaration of Independence written?"--and answering clearly is not as central to normal communication as it is in mainstream culture.".

What if the question is: "Where's the fire"?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"being asked point-blank questions--like, "When was the Declaration of Independence written?"--and answering clearly is not as central to normal communication as it is in mainstream culture."

WTF? Black people can't answer questions because it isn't in their culture? What kind of lame stupid excuse is this?

Nichevo said...

Doesn't anyone have any shame at offering these attempts at rationalization? I don't know what would be worse, if it's true or if it's false.

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Smilin' Jack said...

W.E.B. Du Bois — "I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not"If a white writer had said that, he'd be regarded as insufferably presumptuous.Smilin' Jack, go to the back of the class. You fail the test and will not be promoted.

DuBois was referring to the fact that he read Shakespeare, not putting himself in the same category.

Methinks thou dost protest too much. Or something.

traditionalguy said...

Maybe it is a northern European cultural heritage to value doing math problems enough to make the effort to think there. Does that mean the standards must become that low for a African/American job hire? For 55 years the answer has been yes. It will be a shock when the answer changes, as it must. Not that rap music isn't a powerful skill too.

Methadras said...

"Zeb Quinn said...

I don't think native smarts has that much to do with it. It's education. Blame black culture for not valuing the white educational system, or blame the education system itself for not doing what it takes, or blame both, but whichever way it's a failure of education."

I wasn't talking about native smarts. It was clear that these tests were for captaincies within the department. If you are going for a captains position in the fire department, then your street smarts are and most likely won't be in play for them to be of value on any test. However, I do agree with you that black culture sneers at education, getting educated, blacks of the street deriding other blacks for wanting to acquire knowledge and become more than what they are but are looked down upon because it would attack their blackness, which in this case is mired or rooted in gutter, ghetto, urban thought processes. It isn't the education system that you are trying to indict in this mess, otherwise someone is suing the wrong system, but instead it's been 50 years of social welfare programs that today have stunted and ensnared blacks from north, south, east, and west into government subsistence, obedience, and impoverishment.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

FTA:

Direct questions as regular interaction are largely an epiphenomenon of the printed page.... Middle class American kids inhale them at the kitchen table. Other kids learn how to deal with them in school; it takes practice, and because our public schools are so uneven, quite a few never get really good at it.There are people, both children and adults, with whom you can't have a give-and-take conversation. I've worked with people like that. You ask a question and get some kind of random response that doesn't relate at all to what you said. It's tiring to deal with people like that because to elicit useful information you have to keep asking the same question over and over. And then that person tends to do random one-off things without even being able to tell you why.

The kitchen-table middle class conversation he's talking about is actually formatting the kid's brain for logical, orderly thought. Sloppy language = sloppy thinking.

It isn't a race thing. I've worked with both black and white people who've been like that. I think absent actual brain damage (which can happen, of course) it's the difference between people who were conversed with as little children and people who were plunked down in front of TVs or otherwise mostly ignored.

And no, those people will not do well on written tests. Nor are they leaders or managers.

peter hoh said...

Laurel, interesting points. Over at Gruntled Center, there's a discussion of Annette Lareau's book, Unequal Childhoods that touches on similar ideas.

traditionalguy said...

People who refuse to think are actually delegating the thinking function back to you. Some one just has to say no, you answer the question. Otherwise there is a tower of babel effect until someone accept the delegation of the thinking "work". So why hire black people who are only expected to make you hire another person and another until a Thinker takes that job that you now pay 3+ times for? Today we no longer have that luxury.

William said...

I'll take a liberal position here and await my immediate decapitation. As ricpic points out there is a very compelling reason to make sure that the candidate has a level of competence in some areas that can be measured on a test. My argument is that there is no compelling argument that the candidate score higher than anyone else taking the test. Competence is essential; predominance is not. The state has a compelling reason to make sure that minorities do not throw bottles at the fire truck......There is an element of unfairness to this, but that's the way the world works. Would you prefer the mayor's cousin or a Harvard grad represent you in a zoning dispute in Chicago. (Insert own Obama joke here.)

Laura(southernxyl) said...

William said ... As ricpic points out there is a very compelling reason to make sure that the candidate has a level of competence in some areas that can be measured on a test.

Sure. Of course the test needs to be an accurate measure of the candidate's ability to do the job. But regardless, once you make a decision to use that test to pick candidates, I don't think you can look at the outcome and retroactively decide that it must have been racist. They needed to have followed through with the plan, and then if necessary tweak their procedure for the next round of promotions.

Penny said...

"I don't think you can look at the outcome and retroactively decide that it must have been racist. They needed to have followed through with the plan, and then if necessary tweak their procedure for the next round of promotions."

This isn't how the decision-making came down, Laura. They didn't decide the OUTCOME was racist. All they knew was if they promoted based on the outcome, they could be charged under civil rights law, and IF they were, they would lose.

Lem said...

So.. are we saying that Al Campanis was onto something?

When answering why there weren't more black general managers Campanis said...

...blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager" for these positions.

It turned out that Campanis had been very close to Jackie Robinson playing along side him. But in the seal to punish him that was not enough to save him.

peter hoh said...

Laura, sorry for misspelling your name. That sort of thing happens when I forget to wear my reading glasses.

Lem said...

To be fair, Baseball (contrary to my own opinion) is not a potential life and death struggle were minutes count.

But the question remains.

The Bell Curve for example argues that:

1. Intelligence exists and is accurately measurable across racial, language, and national boundaries.
2. Intelligence is one, if not the most, important correlative factor in economic, social, and overall success in the United States, and is becoming more important.
3. Intelligence is largely (40% to 80%) genetically heritable.
4. No one has so far been able to manipulate IQ long term to any significant degree through changes in environmental factors - except for child adoption - and in light of their failure such approaches are becoming less promising.
5. The USA has been in denial regarding these facts, and in light of these findings a better public understanding of the nature of intelligence and its social correlates is necessary to guide future policy decisions in America
.

Penny said...

Like most laws, civil rights laws had unintended consequences which have nothing whatsoever to do with the ORIGINAL intent of the law.

The original intent was a good one, but in short order, both businesses and minorities quantified in dollars and cents terms just EXACTLY how these laws would be dealt with moving forward.

Companies who fought their discrimination claims and won, still ended up losing. Lawyers are expensive for businesses. Taxpayers covered the legal expenses of minority complainants.

That means minorities had nothing financial to lose by filing a claim, and so they did, in ever increasing numbers. "Heads, I win, tails you lose".

Smart tactic if you ask me.

Within the law? Why YES, it seems it is.

Moral?

Hell no, but we're talking about dollars and cents.

Gotta love America and her capitalist ways. If there is a buck to be made? Some one of us can find it.

Lawyers DOMINATE the American distribution ($) channels.

Just sayin'.

Some of my best friends are lawyers!

Lem said...

I remember we used to do the crossword back in our home country when we were little. Our father gave us the impression that we were helping him when it was all about us really. We had the Spanish Encyclopedia Britannica and the Little Larousse.

Dale said...

There is a complaint that every major test has cultural biases.

Hell yes.

There should be a consequence for blowing off twelve years of free education these people have been provided.How TRUE! That should include consequences for the parents - whether married and living together or not - of those poorly educated African American kids who avoided applying themselves in school because of the charge that they were "acting white" (see recent Bill Cosby).

A-mer-ca (as Bernie Mac would say) - the chickens are coming home to roost. It all comes back to the failed education system in these here United States.

Laura(southernxyl, thank you for that keen cultural observation.

Chris Rock is also a keen observer of the overall cultural problem in the African American community today relating to education:

Do you know what is the worst thing about n*****s? N*****s love to NOT Know. Nothing make a n***** more happier than to not answer your question. Just ask a n***** any question. "What's the capital of Zaire?" "I don't know that sh*t - I'm keepin' it real". N*****s LOVE to "keep it real". Real DUMB.

Pogo said...

These lawsuits are a form of taxation, if a rather inefficient one, to favor one group over against another.

Think of it as an endless form of reparations.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

A substantial component of New Haven's present difficulties are the result of Mayor Dick Lee's sixteen years in office from the mid-'50s through the '60s.

New Haven's population had been steady at around 160,000 for decades, and when it began to decline Mayor Lee let it be know across much of the south and east that city officials would have a desk at the bus station and any person who arrived by bus would have their first welfare check within two working days. The results were predictable.

Our family were friends with several black families in the Orchard Street area and by the early '60s they were being routinely ridiculed for actually working instead of "takin de wehfeh."

Solid neighborhoods were bulldozed and replaced with city housing projects that by the 1980s had become (and remain) drug-infested derelicts.

Not only did New Haven's population drop by a quarter, they had self-selected a population far more interested in entitlement than effort. I did quite a lot of Census enumeration there in 1970 (when it was still safe for a white man in a black neighborhood), and I must say that the difference between most black homes and most Hispanic homes (primarily Puerto Ricans at that time) ... was striking.

The issue at the core of DeStefano is unsurprising in New Haven, and has its roots solidly set in the Dick Lee mayoralty.

Jeanine said...

"William said...

I'll take a liberal position here and await my immediate decapitation. As ricpic points out there is a very compelling reason to make sure that the candidate has a level of competence in some areas that can be measured on a test. My argument is that there is no compelling argument that the candidate score higher than anyone else taking the test. Competence is essential; predominance is not. The state has a compelling reason to make sure that minorities do not throw bottles at the fire truck......There is an element of unfairness to this, but that's the way the world works. Would you prefer the mayor's cousin or a Harvard grad represent you in a zoning dispute in Chicago. (Insert own Obama joke here.)"

It's not about incompetence in this case, but rather the city throwing out tests, give them again to get the outcome they want from their black firefighters testing to become captains. That is the unfairness. Essentially this test was going to be mulliganed over and over again. Tell me that is fair, right, or looking at these black firefighters that didn't pass is fair to them or the people they serve?

Revenant said...

My argument is that there is no compelling argument that the candidate score higher than anyone else taking the test. Competence is essential; predominance is not.

Could you explain your reasoning? When deciding which of a group of people to promote, why should we not require that the people being promoted be the most competent candidates? What's the argument for promoting the mediocre over the superior?