Unit Overview

One of the deepest elements of human nature is our tribal nature. As one social psychologist likes to say, “Humans need a tribe like bees need a hive.” Our moral nature evolved from our social nature and as humans have progressed through history our tribal past has haunted us through our legacy of genocide, slavery, racism, prejudice, discrimination, and xenophobia. In this unit, we take a little time to think about where we’ve been and where we’re going in the fight against racism and the darker elements of human nature. 

The United States was founded on a racist ideology that permitted slavery and racism, both individual and systematic, continues to be a central fact of life in the United States. A simple way to see the extent to which racism is alive and well in the United States is to simply look at various outcomes (poverty, infant and maternal mortality rates, incarceration rates, education levels, etc.) by race.

This week we will look at a small sampling of issues related to issues that black people face in the united states. The article by Ta Nehisi Coates details some of the history of injustice African Americans have faced since the end of slavery in 1865 and why there is a case for reparations. The video by Michelle Alexander focuses on the “war on drugs” that has led to the mass incarceration of African Americans over the past 30 years. Any discussion of contemporary civil rights movements would be incomplete without discussing the black lives matter movement as a response to police killings of unarmed African Americans. The short essay by James Rachels discusses the role of implicit bias and the argument for hiring quotas to combat implicit bias.

Readings and Videos

Black Lives Matter

Michelle Alexander on “The New Jim Crow”

James Rachels’ In Defense of Quotas

Affirmative action programs began in the 1960s to address past racial injustice. Later the programs were expanded to include women, Hispanics, and people with disabilities.

Quotas vs. Racially Sensitive Policies

A quota requires a certain number of people from some minority group whereas racially sensitive policies simply allow people to consider race as one of the criteria. In California v. Bakke, the US Supreme Court ruled that quotas were unconstitutional.

Rachels argues that quotas are actually a very useful way of fighting unconscious biases and discrimination.

According to Rachels, we are all biased. We just don’t know it.

Discrimination based on Height:

      • When trying to distinguish between identical candidates who only differed in their height, only 27% recognized they were equally qualified. 72% thought the taller candidate was more qualified.
      • The average difference in starting salary between tall and short librarians was three times as much as the average difference between those who graduated in the top half of their class and those who graduated in the bottom half.
      • Only two presidents in the history of the United States were shorter than average

“These points, taken together, have a discouraging implication. They suggest that it is difficult to even for people of goodwill to prevent such prejudice from influencing their deliberations. If I am prejudiced in ways that I do not fully realize, and if I am skilled at coming up with reasons to justify the decisions that such a prejudice leads me to make, then my good intention to think objectively – no matter how sincerely I want to do this -maybe be depressingly ineffective. “

Rachels’ Widget Thought Experiment

You need the 10 best widgets. There are two factories that make widgets. One is in Buffalo and one is in Albany. Your Vice President for Widget Procurement (VPWP) chooses ten widgets from the Buffalo factory every year. They are all good widgets but you are skeptical because it would seem that at least some should come from the Albany factory. You find out she is from Buffalo and you suspect she is unconsciously biased against the Albany widget factory. So you tell her to pick 5 from each factory. She says that this will make it such that she doesn’t always pick the 10 best. You tell her you are aware of this but think that it ensures that you will be more likely to end up with higher quality widgets overall.

Hiring people is no different, according to Rachels.

The circumstances in which quotas are justified:

      1. The goal of the process is to identify the best-qualified individuals for the purpose at hand.
      2. The nature of the qualifications is specified.
      3. A pool of candidates is assembled.
      4. The qualifications of the individuals are ranked from best to worst.
      5. The jobs, promotions, or whatever are awarded to the best-qualified individuals.

The objections to quotas revolve around the idea that quotas are a form of reverse discrimination and unfair to those who are more qualified and miss out on opportunities because an organization is forced to hire someone less qualified.

Rachels’ basic line of response is that the whole point is to ensure that you hire the most qualified people. He acknowledges that there would, of course, be some instances where this happens but overall there would be fewer injustices of this nature is quotas were used judiciously.

A Recent list of African Americans Murdered because of their race

The text below was circulating on social media after the murder of George Floyd

I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothamJean and #AtatianaJefferson).
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).
I can sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).
I can go to church (#Charleston9).
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell).
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott).
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).
I can run (#WalterScott).
I can breathe (#EricGarner).
I can live (#FreddieGray).
I can ask someone to put a leash on their dog when it is required in the public park we are in (#ChristianCooper).
White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a black person’s experience today
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