Home

Unit Overview

The United States was founded on a racist ideology and racism, both individual and systematic continues to be a central fact of life in the United States. One simple illustration of this is the fact that we have a racist for a president. A person who inaugurated his campaign by calling Mexicans criminals and rapists and promising to build a wall to keep them out. A president who referred to Haiti and African countries as shitholes. However, his history of racism goes well beyond those statements.  Trump has a long history of racist comments and discrimination. Ta-Nehisi Coates called Trump the first while president because of the way in which he used racism to get elected and the way in which his presidency is a response to the election of the first black president.

Another 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 rate, education levels, etc.) by race.

In 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 focus on the “war on drugs” that has led to the mass incarceration of African Americans over the past 30 years. Any discussion contemporary civil rights movements would be incomplete without discussing the black lives matter movement as a response to police killings of unnarmed 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

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 argue that quotas are actually very useful way of a 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 even for people of good will 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 hired 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 less injustices of this nature is quotas were used judiciously.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: