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Is Iowa A Nest Of Vicious Racists?

That is the theory of a legal process wending its way through the Iowa court system.  A class action suit filed on behalf of African-Americans in the state alleges that an insidious pattern of unconscious racism led to whites being preferred over African-Americans in thousands of decisions over hiring and promotion.

The suit does not allege that the officials who made the hiring and promotion decisions were conscious racists or even that they had any intent to discriminate. No single act by a single person is cited as grounds for damages. Instead, the plaintiffs’ evidence comes from statistical assessments.  Whites were chosen more frequently than Blacks with “similar” qualifications for interviews, hiring and promotion, according to the charts and graphs and studies brought to bear on the question.

At Via Meadia, we don’t doubt that unconscious preferences for ones own racial or ethnic group can affect human behavior and decisions. And we don’t doubt that minorities sometimes suffer unfairly as a result. We expect many will be unpleasantly surprised when the recording angel reveals our good and bad deeds at the end of time. But we also suspect that there are some truths too fine to be caught by statistical nets and perhaps even some wrongs for which no appropriate legal redress can be found.

A lawsuit like this one depends on the ability of courts to show that people equally qualified for particular jobs were treated differently based on the color of their skin. But that is not as easy to measure as it might appear. “Similar qualifications” is a loaded word.  Does it mean people have the same degree?  If so, what about the difference between people who have degrees in difficult subjects from tough colleges as opposed to those who majored in softer subjects at Pass ‘Em All U?  One plaintiff named in the suit has the following story to tell:

Among those who joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff was Charles Zanders, of Urbandale, who was passed over for an interview for a position with the Iowa Communications Network in 2008 despite having worked 29 years in the telecommunications industry.

“I was very angry at that time and felt like I’d been stepped on,” Zanders, 60, said.

For all Via Meadia knows, Mr. Zanders may have it exactly right, and if so, he has our full sympathy.  On the other hand, we know plenty of people who have worked for 30 years in a field that we wouldn’t hire on a bet. Seniority and experience can be excellent qualifications; they may also mean that someone has just gotten by with minimum effort in a bureaucratic institution.

The search of an “objective” set of qualifications that can replace the subjective factors in hiring raises hard questions. On the one hand, it is undoubtedly true that without some check on favoritism, discrimination and petty abuses of all kind will flourish in many workplaces. On the other hand, people with the same paper qualifications often have little in common, and those who specialize in accumulating paper qualifications and formal certificates can be (and, sadly, frequently are) much less good at many jobs than others. In academia, government and at many corporations, there is much too much formalism, empty procedural ritual and lawsuit-avoidance. This is one key reason for the poor performance of many American institutions and for the pervasive blight of mediocre formalism that blights so much of American society today.

The study on which this legal case rests reflects work by University of Washington professor Anthony Greenwald which claims to find that 80 percent of whites are biased against African-Americans. Greenwald, a well known and well respected scholar in his field, has developed the Implicit Association Test, which measured bias in whites.  (VM is unaware if similar tests have been developed for other groups; at the least, the results would be interesting.)

If the Iowa plaintiffs win their case, expect similar lawsuits against governments, universities and private employers all over the country.  Expect also yet another wave of deadening bureaucratic paperwork and “official qualifications” to descend on the already heavily burdened American workplace. That may be the price of a more racially just society, though I am not quite sure it is a price America can — or will — pay.

The problems of discrimination are real; so too, though, are the issues surrounding the best ways to fight it. Competence, honesty, energy, commitment: these qualities cannot be measured easily by objective yardsticks, but the ability of an organization to hire and promote based on them is the key to success. The way to fight discrimination while improving the performance of American institutions and enterprises is to make these qualities, wherever and in whomever they are found, the basis of personnel decisions.

The goal is surely to motivate employers to look more aggressively for talent and ability wherever it can be found.  Smarter employers will discriminate less — the passion for quality and success that drives great businesses should drive them to overcome prejudice and develop methods to make sure that the applicants with the talents they so desperately need don’t slip through their fingers.  No professional sports team would miss out on a prime draft prospect because the athlete came from the “wrong” ethnic group these days; no business should want to do the same either.

Fighting discrimination with intelligence, focus and a relentless concentration on quality and results isn’t easy to do, but as the global economic competition heats up, this will be the rationale that will keep the fight against prejudice healthy and alive in the American workplace. The more the cause of racial justice is tied up with cumbersome procedures, legalistic qualification categories and pro forma paperwork, the less success it will have as organizations of all kinds strive to become more competent and nimble.


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  • Walter Sobchak

    I am real skeptical about this going anywhere. SCOTUS did, after-all, pitch the Wal*Mart Sex discrimination case. I don’t see that this one is any less nebulous.

  • David Fischer

    Professor, suppressing “discrimination” — whatever that is — is simply not a legitimate function of the State. Once the fateful step is taken to legislate association, we are no longer a society of free men. And supposing you’re not swayed by issues of freedom, then please consider that the unintended consequences of non-discrimination laws are truly toxic — more toxic than the jostle of racist outliers.

  • vanderleun

    Just more attempts at stealth reparations under the rubric of Affirmative (Legal) Action.

    “That may be the price of a more racially just society, though I am not quite sure it is a price America can — or will — pay.”

    At some point things move from “pay” to “payback.”

  • Luke Lea

    Pass ‘Em All U? Doesn’t that apply to Harvard too? It’s getting in that’s hard.

  • Toni

    Here’s the Harvard link that allows anyone to take such a test:

    Once you get through the boilerplate, a page shows a list of “bias” tests you can take. The one pertinent to this story is at the very bottom, described thus: “Race (‘Black – White’ IAT). This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of European and African origin. It indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black.”

    Only after you take the test do you discover the average results. When I took this test, the results said that even blacks on average favor white. Don’t know what they’ll do with that in the Iowa lawsuit.

    As I’m in a wheelchair, I also took the Disability test. The results then showed about as much bias against the disabled as against blacks. Should I move to Iowa and sue employers for not hiring the handicapped?

    Alternatively, we can all just play by the same set of rules, whether black, white, green, athletic, disabled, hermaphrodite, whatever. I MUCH prefer that option.

  • holmes

    I think going back to Griggs vs. Duke Power, the real wrong with this type of discrimination suit is the lack of mens rea. A company enacts a neutral rule that has a disparate impact on a group and you’re liable absent proving the rule is absolutely necessary. The rule at issue there was having a high school degree. Now that case is interesting because you could have shown intent; the Company only put that requirement in place in an effort to keep blacks out of upper tiers of employment. But the court took away the mens rea requirement. So…why is mens rea important at all then, these plaintiffs rightly ask? And apparently we’re all guilty of subsconscious racism, so anytime anything bad happens to one group or another, you can just collect your damages. Strict liability for being a flawed human being.

    EEO laws served an important purpose, and certainly seem to be worth enforcing for intentional harms as an extension of the 14th amendment. But the surrounding bureaucracy and requirements now for a society in which such cases are more and more rare are an enormous burden, as Meade states.

  • Chris N

    It’s wise to keep focusing on the lost productivity, and the inefficiency of this approach, and on some level, the unfairness of affirmative action. Follow the money and the benefits that accrue…and you’ll see who will keep pushing it.

    Many, but not all people might argue that morally it’s the right thing to do (whether such thinking is grounded in big State progressive politics and the John Brown platform, humanism, MLK or perhaps just church doctrine etc).

    But we’re still in the position of having many people forced to cleave to certain abstract principles in public, or to get elected, or to get hired, or to appear good….when much of their own experience doesn’t line up with those principles.

    That’s troublesome.


  • Stephen

    “I was very angry at that time and felt like I’d been stepped on,” Zanders, 60, said.

    Zanders: 60. There couldn’t possibly be any other explanation than racism to explain the decision not to hire?

    Julianne Malveaux, this week in USA Today, penned an op-ed noting that 2011 marked the demographic tipping point in which the birth class achieved the oxymoranic majority-minority status. Indirectly noting the problematic nature of this formulation, she went on to argue the need for new ways of advancing her preferred intersests. Indeed.

  • Jess

    This is all too complicated for me. It’s a lot safer, and easier on my blood pressure, just to never start a business instead, so I don’t have to worry about hiring.

  • BLBeamer

    Who knew that a state Barack Obama carried by 9% in 2008 was actually inhabited by vicious racists? How fiendish of them to vote for Obama. I’m sure they thought they could fool us with their phony baloney “vote for the black man” behaviour. Well, they were wrong! We are on to them.

  • VoteOutIncumbents

    Re: This “not going anywhere in the SCOTUS”; hope you’re right, but I suspect we are two new appointments away from this kind of silliness being made part of the law of the land.

    In fact we have at least one Supreme Court justice who told the people of EGYPT to look to South Africa for their constitution.

    This upcoming election may be the most important since 1864.

  • Manuel Rodriguez

    When international law courts take jurisdiction over such disputes, the Nobel Prize Committee will have to defend itself against charges of racism because of the few (zero?) Science prizes they have awarded to blacks.

  • theBuckWheat

    I claim my unalienable right of free association as a worker and as an employer. I’ll hire the best qualified people I can find and I don’t care what color they are. Please don’t insult my intelligence by insisting that I have to hire someone just because of their color, even if it is only to check a box and fill a quota.

    If we keep this progressive foolishness up, pretty soon the only passengers on the solar powered high speed trains will be government employees.

  • L Nettles

    And we know the test is unbiased because…”

  • John Stephens

    If you want to start a business, deal drugs. All the DEA will do is shoot you. If you try to do something legitimate, then long before the lawyers and bureaucrats are done with you you’ll be praying for a bullet to end it all.

  • tommy

    Didn’t we try to enforce this sort of outcome based statistical comparison between races on the home lending industry in the ’90s?

    How’s that working out?

  • Denan

    “That may be the price of a more racially just society, though I am not quite sure it is a price America can — or will — pay.”

    A win by plaintiff will not result in justice of any sort – just more injustice enshrined in law.

    The IAT’s are a measure of preference and do not and can not measure whether hiring decisions are made based upon those preferences when one also has other preferences regarding the hiring decision based upon more concrete and pertinent information (whether the candidate can do the job, their attitude, answers to interview questions, eye contact, quality of resume, fitness for the job, etc., etc., etc.)

    If plaintiff wins and is eventually upheld, the precedents set creates an America wherein the law of the land is that white people are incapable of making unbiased decisions in hiring and firing.. and so incapable of furthering diversity.

    Then by decree, any and all decisions by white people will be suspect at best and presumed to be the incorrect decisions if they can be construed to not favor diversity.

    We will finally live in an America where ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’ under the law.

    All hail the Correct God: “Diversity!”.

    And Diversity! says: “All People of Color must acknowledge My greatness; all ‘others’ must be ever prostrate to Me and to The People I deem Correct; groveling correctly per my slightest wish; giving way to My People.”

  • Mkelley

    The only people starting businesses in this country right now are masochists.

  • Slim W

    On the Harvard test here:

    [what] kind of test is that? You’re given a choice where Black = Bad, and Euro/White = good.

    This isn’t a test to determine inherent racism, it’s a test to come to a predetermined conclusion.

  • Yahzooman

    Meade writes: “No professional sports team would miss out on a prime draft prospect because the athlete came from the “wrong” ethnic group these days …”.

    I’m a white guy. I used to date a black woman.

    We often discussed race and “fairness.”

    When I offered up the meritocracy in sports argument she would counter: “Well, sure, we were selectively bred on plantations to be strong and athletic so we could pick more cotton.”

    That physical inheritance has proven to cut two ways. Young black men have been told (and have seen the evidence) that the way to fame and fortune is through sports.

    So, sports were encouraged. On the other hand, English, science and math were not encouraged. In fact, studious minority youngsters were derided for “acting white” if they were outstanding scholars.

    That’s a generalization, of course. But isn’t the supposed victimization of the black Hawkeyes a direct result of their own actions?

    Didn’t they retard the academic progress of their own (especially males) resulting in fewer top flight jobs?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Yahzooman… It wasn’t all that long ago that there were a lot of Jewish professional athletes. Jews — and other European ethnic groups put less emphasis on sports as other options opened up. One reason interest in athletic careers remains incredibly high in inner cities today is the huge explosion in pay for professional athletes in recent decades. in any case, your ex-girlfriend’s theory is a common one but doesn’t have a lot of scientific backing. A few generations of what would have had to have been very spotty and casual “selective breeding” on plantations would not have changed population characteristics to any significant degree. A slightly stronger argument could be made about the natural selection based on poor conditions; the fittest would survive. Even so, the time period is short, and life for European laborers and peasants was no piece of cake at that time.

  • stan

    All those stupid employers hiring the wrong people and screwing up their performance. Thank goodness we have professors who are brilliant enough to explain to these idiots how to perform better. How stupid we are to let people out there in the real world make decisions about their lives and their work.

    If only we could get the professors to use their brilliance and their pet theories to run the world. Think how much happier we would all be. Life would be perfect.

  • Mike Giles

    “The rule at issue there was having a high school degree. Now that case is interesting because you could have shown intent; the Company only put that requirement in place in an effort to keep blacks out of upper tiers of employment.”

    Odd. How was that judgment arrived at? Was it simply on the basis of fewer blacks having high school diplomas? Was there some reason – if they were ambitious enough – that blacks could not have attended night school and obtained a high school diploma. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve always considered the doctrine of disparate impact, in relation to job qualifications, racist at its very core. It assumes that blacks will never be able to meet a set standard. It carries the assumption of permanent inferiority.

  • MC

    Does John McCain have a case with regard to the last election. Blacks overwhelmingly choose Obama over McCain (in a far greater percentages than whites choose McCain over Obama) Is this evidence of invidious discrimination by blacks against whites??? Didn’t McCain have similar credentials (or better) than Obama? An injustice I tell you.

  • fiftyville

    [goodness, gracious], this is just the same old tired “white privilege” nonsense in a new disguise.

    The reason I believe this nonsense is spreading is because it’s being taught in sociology classes at the community college and university level. It takes hold in the minds of black and hispanic kids who are struggling with their classes because of their inadequate academic preparation in public schools, especially those in California. Failing classes? It’s all because of “white privilege”!

    I took a sociology class a couple of years ago in my quest for a midlife career change. The instructor spent two weeks on this subject (although it wasn’t a part of the textbook), yet didn’t make it a part of any quiz, midterm, or final. We were also heavily “encouraged” to go hear a speaker on the subject for another dose of the poison. At times during this portion of the class, it seemed like the white people were in some kind of bizarre People’s Democratic Republic Re-education camp for those who have politically offended by accident of birth. The asian kids never said a thing as I suspect they rightfully did not wish to become targets in case the teacher pulled out an “asian privilege” accusation out of her bag.

    Incidentally, if you ever find yourself in this situation, do NOT attempt to use humor to defuse things. Mentioning things like “tall people privilege” and “beautiful people privilege” with examples won’t win you any points with a grim, short, homely socialist sociology instructor.

  • Mike

    Isaiah 19, v11.

  • Ken Bolland

    “No professional sports team would miss out on a prime draft prospect because the athlete came from the “wrong” ethnic group these days”

    Actually there has very recently been a case in professional basketball when a player who had been ignored in the draft, cut from two teams and was about to be cut from a third was given a chance, and turned out to be a very good player. Fans and sportswriters have been speculating how he could have been overlooked, and a very common explanation is stereotyping of his ethnic group (Taiwanese) by the experts who were charged with selecting players for their teams. (Maybe also stereotyping of his college – Harvard!).

    Given that coaches and general managers want, even desperately want, to get the best players available, of whatever group, in what possible way could the legal system have aided in correcting this type of bias? Self interest will do a very good job of correcting irrational biases, a lot faster and more effectively than the law.

  • harumpf

    Most of the “Afro-Americans” in Iowa are gangbusters in Cedar Rapids, Bettendorf or Des Moines.

    This society if falling apart. Much of this is due to the moral relativist, multiculturalist and “victimology” culture foisted on us by the Left since WW@. Ut was intended to destabilize, demoralize and destroy society. It has been successful

    It is time to be rid of it.

    (BTW, Iowa had per capita the largest amount of fighting men in the Civil War of any state.

  • Don51

    “Instead, the plaintiffs’ evidence comes from statistical assessments.”

    So, can we use crime statistics to target certain groups and communities for their destructive anti-social behaviors too?

  • wGraves

    In small shops, a lot of hiring today is word of mouth. A current employee vouches for the candidate, with personal knowledge of the applicant’s work habits, integrity, and track record. Then there is peer pressure to perform well for the sake of the person making the recommendation. I find it difficult to blame a small employer for doing this. If you’re running a ten-person shop, one bad hire has the potential to sink the company straight to the bottom of the sea.

  • gringojay

    “Victim” appears to be an accepted psychological base line to operate at. It is so enshrined in the contemporary American mind set that people believe they are the “ones we have been waiting for”.

  • Steve S.

    The whole horse race was lost when “equal opportunity” transmogrified into “equal outcome.” Until that gets corrected, this madness of petulant victim-hood will continue.

    On the other side of it, though, is the difficulty that US employers have for rewarding good employees. Any number of public and private institutions operates on a tiered wage scale; best performers float to the top – and get stuck. But even the poor performer will eventually drift upward to that same ceiling, and the good performer is rewarded on parity to the poor performer. This is not exactly much of an incentive to the good performer.

    Too often this situation is resolved through promotion. The good performer is kicked upstairs so that he can receive non-discriminatory additional incentive / salary. Unfortunately, a good performer is not necessarily a good boss. The additional responsibilities that go with his/her newly elevated status do not necessarily sit well on the person being rewarded. I have seen coworkers resign because over this unhappy circumstance; in the attempt to reward the good performer the company lost his/her contribution. ‘Move up or move out’ is a wicked godmother of employment policies.

    Furthermore, as your article points out, while elevating or promoting the good employee might remove discriminatory wage/incentives within a given salary tier, the promotion itself is seen by the poor performer as discriminatory. Creating more tiers and/or lines of advancement through the ranks to allow more flexibility in incentives / salaries / rewards programs leads to suits and investigations about comparable worth. It is simply not possible to reward good employees properly; not while the “equal outcome” door if discrimination lawsuits is so wide open.

    The good performing employees are not the ones who bring these suits, are they?

  • S P Dudley

    I discriminate against the incompetent. Does that make me a bigot?

  • Bonfire of the Idiocies

    The day is coming when there will be no statuatory employees at any business – between Obamacare and other gov’t mandates, discrimination-in-hiring suits, wrongful dismissal suits (you can’t fire an alcoholic anymore thanks to the ADA), etc, etc, it is just not worth the trouble or expense to hire any employee. Instead, employees will be replaced by temps or self-employed contractors. Everyone will be his or her own “business” supplying labor like other suppliers furnish plastic pellets or coffee filters. It’s either that or all the jobs will be going to China, out of reach of this kind of idiocy.

  • A Berman

    I look at these statistics and I immediately think of Hayek’s speech, “The Pretense of Knowledge.”

  • mikee

    How is race determined for purposes of this lawsuit? Is our President, the offspring of a lily-white American mother and a distinctly African father from Kenya, as black as he is white, for the purposes of this lawsuit? Or are racial classifications just an arbitrary social construct to enhance power and prestige of some groups at the expense of others, through invidious “divide and conquer” techniques?

  • Vinny B.

    When Bush told America that all Muslims were murderous scum, people took that as a sign they could be openly racist again. Bush is the one that should not be sued civilly, but arrested for crimes against humanity, especially women, children, minorities, and gays, given a fair trial, summarily convicted, and sent to
    Eave worth for life.

  • Yahzooman


    I agree with your comment.

    As it turned out, my black girlfriend was naturally selected out of my dating pool. She moaned about victimization far too often.

    I turned instead to a Pacific Islander from Yap (Micronesia) where I lived for awhile. She was great (and looked splendid sporting a frangipani flower behind her ear). Zowie! Boy, she could make anything with coconut oil and taro. But who likes a purple tuber at every meal? Plus her father didn’t care for his daughter dating a minority. I guess her father must have been from that racist Hawkeye tribe of Micronesia.

  • Claude Hopper

    Discrimination does indeed exist. Blogger Carpe Diem (Feb 11, 2012) notes discrimination in medical school acceptance rates. Blacks and Hispanics are heavily favored over equally qualified Whites and especially Asians. The stats are based on a study of applications from 2009 to 2011 by the Assoc. of American Medical Colleges.

  • Rich K

    Sure why not. I use my money or take on personal debt but I can do THAT and not want to hire the best I can find with my limited knowledge of human resouces? The more these EXPERTS and lawyers try making everything FAIR, the less folks of my inclination(job creators)will even bother to BOTHER.Just give them all government jobs then and problem solved,cept for the how to pay for them all part.

  • pseudotsuga

    @Vinny B:
    Bush Derangement Syndrome is soooooo 2009. I don’t suppose he was from Iowa, either.

  • richard40

    There is a very simple way to measure whether any discrimination is occuring against minorities today, just look at how asians do. After all they are a minority as well, and in the past, especially in the west, they suffered from discrimination, legal and otherwise, just as badly as blacks and hispanics.

    But nowdays in most places, asians actually do better than whites. Even more interesting, some studies have found that black immigrants from the caribean also do about as well as whites. Blacks who go to catholic school also tend to do well. That proves to me that racial discrimination is mostly dead, and the reasons why blacks and hispanics are not doing well overall must be examined in areas not related to racial discrimination. Prime areas might be prevalence of single parent homes, tendency to join violent youth gangs, members of the group that succeed helping out others of their group (especially extended family), and the emphasis families and peers place on education. Asians tend to do do well in all these areas, and thus, despite some remaining discrimination, generally succeed.

  • richard40

    Another concept that must be done away with (a concept this discrimination suit appears to rely on) is the idea of disparate impact. That if not enough members of a certain group are hired, the explanation is presumed to be racial discrimination, unless proven otherwise. As the author mentioned, there might be lots of differences in ability to do the job between groups that cannot be measured objectively by purely paper credentials. What if you give somebody an interview, and you get the distinct impression that their paper credentials are mostly phony, and they dont really know what they are doing. And why should an employer be barred from giving an objective qualifications test, like IQ, SAT, basic skills, physical strength or agility tests for jobs requiring it, or job specific knowledge, just because that objective test results in disparate impact. And how about people who just prefer to hire those they know, like friends, extended family, and school buddies. That will appear to be racial discrimination if looking at disparate impact, when in reality it is just favoritism to friends and family, and white applicants that are not in the favoired friends group suffer just as badly. Disparate impact can be useful in supporting probable cause for launching a discrimination investigation into an organization, but should be given zero weight in any court trial, where only actual, personal, discriminatory conduct should be admissable.

  • richard40

    from Vinny B.
    “When Bush told America that all Muslims were murderous scum, people took that as a sign they could be openly racist again.”

    As I remember it, Bush 2 was constantly assuring us that Islam was a religion of peace, and the vast majority of Muslims were good people. He did say that extremist jihadist Islam was a definite threat, and its adherents were murderous scum, and there he was defimitely correct. Obama does us little favors by his PC tendency to refuse to recognize, and publically state, that extreme jihadist Islam is the primary and almost sole motivator for terrorism today.

    Mind you, I am not a fan of Bush 2, since he was not conservative enough for me on fiscal policy (expanding spending and gov almost as badly as Obama), and civil liberties, while being too conservative on social conservatism. But correctly identifying the dire threat of jihidist Islam is one area where Bush got it right. And Obama has gotten it wrong, because his PC attitude has often refused to connect terrorist incidents to radical islam, either calling them man made disasters, or just identifying them as a terrorist incedent, or even just an ordinary crominal act, without identifying the motivation of radical islam as the reason for the perpetrator to do the terrorist act.

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