Thursday, December 31, 2015

Diversity as the replacement for justice: A brief history

This article from The Nation provides some valuable historical context for US society's shift away from social justice to "diversity" as the rationale for affirmative action by intentionally ignoring the reality of systemic racism (h/t Adam Jacobs). Here's an excerpt: 
The Bakke ruling shifted the rationale for affirmative action from reparation for past discrimination to promoting diversity. This, in essence, made the discourse about affirmative action race-neutral, in that it now ignores one of the key reasons for why we need to give an edge to minorities. Today the University of Texas, Austin, when  defending the consideration of race and ethnicity in admission decisions, cannot say that this practice is needed because of persistent racial inequality; because minority students do not have the same life chances as white students; because there is extensive racial discrimination in the labor and housing markets; because students who study in poor high schools have less chances for learning and lower achievements; or because growing up in poverty impedes your cognitive development. The only argument at the disposal of UT Austin in defense of its admission practices is that it needs a diverse student body to enrich the educational experience of privileged white students.
The full story is told in the book In Pursuit of Fairness by Terry H. Anderson for the history buffs among my readers. I read the book last year, and while it didn't have any real suspense or major revelations, it did help paint a very useful historical picture of how affirmative action has been systematically dismantled over the past four decades. It was no accident, and the arguments you hear from ostensibly liberal professors about affirmative action in admissions and hiring today is the same language used by the likes of Scalia as far back as the 70's (or Scalia today). 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Say it with me: All people are created equal

I've written this before, but it bears repeating: Abigail Fisher is not suing the University of Texas for denying to recognize the benefits of diversity by not admitting her. She's claiming that it was fundamentally unfair—unjust—for her to be denied admission. Her evidence and reasoning aside, the fundamental issue here is not diversity, but justice. 

As a result, any response to her claim and the resulting discussion needs to focus on the issue of justice, not diversity

Affirmative action programs weren't implemented following the Civil Rights Act (and limited cases, before the Act!) in order to bring diversity to white institutions. They were designed to bring a semblance of fairness to a badly rigged game by identifying those who were long on the losing end (non-white people), and giving them the same advantages enjoyed by the winning team (white people).

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the push-back against affirmative action was immediate, well organized, and highly effective (the history is detailed in this book). It forced supporters of affirmative action into a defensive stance that involved rebranding a social justice exercise into what we today call "diversity programs." This rebranding took the attention off of ending systemic racism and morphed the discussion into a justification of diversity. (It also made many ostensibly liberal people, including college professors, sound like Scalia in their opposition of affirmative action, but this was also part of the plan.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

What's all this about colorblind racism?

I've been writing quite a bit about "colorblind" attitudes about race and racism (posts 1, 2, 3 and 4). This focus is more than a simple hobby horse. Rather, it has emerged from my attempts to have discussions about race with people in real life and on social media. I kept running into situations that feel an awful lot like the arguments between atheists and religious people. If you've ever been a part of, or witness to such a conversation, you've probably noticed how the people on either side make no progress and only tend to harden their own beliefs.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

More reactions to SCOTUS racism

There are many voices among #BlackandSTEM pushing back against Scalia's and Roberts' overt and covert forms of racism.

From Urban Scientist at Scientific American (Dr. Danielle Lee):
That’s what makes Roberts and Scalia words so worrisome. They legitimize and codify black participation in academia as inherently lower quality. They presume white is the default in science and minority participation is a distraction, a poor fit, unnecessary. It’s these presumptions - The Presumption of MisMatch, The Presumption of Intellectual Inferiority that feed into the poorest most often rolled out excuse for lack of diversity and inclusion in academia and the STEM workforce: We don't want to sacrifice quality for Diversity. Yeah. Tell me again how these systems don’t work to exclude.
Here's a series of Tweets from Dr. Jedidah Isler. An excerpt:

From Microbe Maven:
As an African American woman in higher education, I know all too well the prevalent idea that many minorities are only in school because of Affirmative Action. Many of us feel the weight of having to perform levels above our peers in order for our presence not to be questioned. Our mistakes are weighed more heavily by our advisers and supervisors in comparison to our white peers. We put increased pressure on ourselves to be perfect. We suffer from higher rates of impostor syndrome, anxiety and depression in a field that already has a high mental health cost because we are told over and over again both subliminally and in cases like Justice Scalia boldly that we are not equal. Our mental capacities are somehow more limited than everybody else’s.  
Add on top of this, the fact that Scalia felt the need to target black scientists in particular with his statements… It’s really hard for me to not be angry. 
Dr. Prescod-Weistein reveals what many "liberal" astro/physics professors and ultra-conservative , overtly racist Justice Scalia have in common: their views on affirmative action

She's also quoted in this LA Times article. The article references the paper on "Mismatch Theory," that clearly (mis)informed Scalia's views. Sadly, it didn't reference any of the research that comes to the opposite conclusion about whether URM students are a good "fit" at major universities. Here's a summary about the work debunking the Mismatch paper:
To truly put the mismatch theory to rest, rigorous quasi-experimental evidence that focuses on the beneficiaries of preferential admissions policies is needed. But the current weight of the evidence leans strongly against the mismatch hypothesis. Most importantly, not a single credible study has found evidence that students are harmed by attending a more selective college. There may well be reasons to abolish or reform affirmative action policies, but the possibility that they harm the intended beneficiaries should not be among them.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The subtle yet real racism of the Supreme Court

Judge Roberts, a member of the highest court in the land, which is currently hearing the sad story of mediocre college aspirant Abigail Fischer, recently asked, "What unique ­perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class? I’m just wondering what the benefits of diversity are in that situation?" 

Did you catch the white supremacy in this question? If not, don't feel bad because it's subtly hidden beneath the cloaking field of colorblind racism. (As for Scalia's ign'nt-ass statements, I'm not even...)

Try rephrasing the question: "What unique perspective does a white student bring to a physics classroom?" The answer is, of course, absolutely nothing! Why? Because race isn't biological, and is therefore not deterministic of cognitive abilities. Did you perhaps forget that you knew that when considering Roberts' question? If so, again, it's understandable. Our society and culture condition all of us to forget basic facts like this. 

So isn't this an argument in favor of colorblindness? Since race isn't real, shouldn't we ignore it? It might seem counterintuitive, but the answer is a resounding no. We should not ignore race. We should acknowledge it and it should be made explicit in every aspect of the SCOTUS hearing on affirmative action, as well in our admissions and hiring procedures. Why? Because even though race isn't a biological reality, it is most certainly a societal reality. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Let's be clear about freedom of speech

Despite what many people are saying about student protests at universities across the nation, as Kat Blaque points out below: "freedom of speech is not freedom from the repercussions of your speech...Unless the government is knocking on your door, dragging you from your computer, and tossing you into a prison cell, your freedom of speech is not being violated." 

Nicholas Christakis being held accountable by Yale students.
So when Erica Christakis inserted herself into a campus-wide conversation about whether students should wear black/red face as Halloween costumes—subject matter that she admitted and demonstrated that she was ignorant about—she was illustrating how free speech works: she was free to make her ignorant, ungraceful comments. When she received pushback and criticism for making said comments, her freedom to say offensive stuff was still not in jeopardy. Hell, she was free to set up a blog and call it "In defense of blackface" if she wanted to. However, if people subsequently questioned her ability to do her job as someone securing the wellbeing of Yale students, that is not a violation of her rights. It's simply valid, logical criticism.