Thursday, April 23, 2009

Acting White: Supreme Court New Haven Firefighting Dilemma

The caption is wrong. It's about race.

The White firefighters who scored high in New Haven are right. They got screwed. The blacks who underperformed the test for promotion did not earn promotion. The high court is stupid if they cannot find their you-know-whats on this issue. The city of New Haven is allowing their desire for race proportionality to pollute the merit process, resulting in nothing good. Let’s examine this, minus all the rhetoric.

Firefighting is a dangerous job, and firehouses across America have never been the most welcoming or friendly work environments for blacks, therefore the high-order of qualified black firefighters and candidates go elsewhere for better pay and/or safer/better work conditions, leaving the gap we currently see in test performance in places like New Haven. I wonder if the Beverly Hills, CA FD has a similar problem, assuming desirability?

Looking inside, there are two contorted demand scenarios that arise, one for the qualified blacks and another for the under qualified. We have covered the over qualified. Alternately, the under qualified must either become the beneficiaries of arbitrary ‘bonus points’, so that they may now appear competitive (promotable), or authorities must disqualify the test until they get the results they want – the behavior the court is considering.

Long after white firefighters stopped routinely cheating to keep their ranks white, affirmative action is still being used to fix a problem of proportionality that has nothing to do with equal opportunity. As long as blacks drop out of school in disproportion, or gain diplomas on lesser skill sets, these last-ditch AA fixes are going to challenge merit based promotion and reward systems, and keep us at odds. It is ludicrous to expect race proportional results from disproportionate inputs. Recognizing this is the biggest challenge of race/ethnicity in America. I take that back, accepting it and moving forward is the biggest challenge.

James C. Collier

READ MOST RECENT POSTS AT ACTING WHITE...

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27 comments:

jsb16 said...

Having written a fair number of tests myself (I'm a teacher), I can assure you that it's possible for the test to be biased even if it wasn't deliberately written to be biased. What I'd really like to see submitted to the public is an analysis of the test itself, not just the results. That would not only inform the public discussion of whether the test was biased, but hopefully also lead to less-biased tests in the future.

lincolnperry said...

@jsb16
You said having written a fair number of tests myself (I'm a teacher), I can assure you that it's possible for the test to be biased even if it wasn't deliberately written to be biased. What I'd really like to see submitted to the public is an analysis of the test itself, not just the results.
I'm curios, did any African Americans score in the high percentile, and did any score higher than the White and Hispanic complainants.
If not I have to agree with Collier on this one...it’s clearly an issue of merit! And the question we need to ask is...why are these applicants scoring poorly!

Anonymous said...

"And the question we need to ask is...why are these applicants scoring poorly!"

And also, why do blacks in general score so poorly on the SAT, LSAT, GRE, GMAT, MCAT, etc... ?

Clearly, we MUST throw out ALL of these tests and stop matriculating students at professional schools until Blacks, Whites, Asians, and Hispanics all score at the same mean levels and variances.

Perhaps by adding a few items from this alternative intelligence test:

http://wilderdom.com/personality/intelligenceChitlingTestShort.html

Anonymous said...

Go to their site if you want to learn more about the case:

http://www.newhaven20.com/

GoldenAh said...

There have been zillions of studies as to why certain groups do poorly on exams. Even Thomas Sowell wrote a book about the gap in tests. He showed that way way back in dem good ol' days, northern blacks did better than southern whites on tests.

Quality schooling is a small part of the problem. The other half of this issue is cultural baggage. There was an article in the NY Times showing, in part, one disadvantage of lower income children: their mothers spoke to them with a smaller and less complex vocabulary.

Children must be in an environment that encourages educational development. Black children tend to sit in front of the television set for an excessive amount of time. Until a large portion of African Americans focus on education that matters as much as their affinity for sports and entertainment, the failure to excel at test taking will continue.

Ben Carson's mother turned off the television, and made her sons read, study and do their homework.

Anonymous said...

This site is suppose to be an "anit" racist site, but this has to be the most racist bull I have ever read in my life. Look, they had the same chance to pass the same test. The blacks didn't pass. I don't see why they should get the promotion if they didn't past the "promotion" exam. Stop all the crying, and start studying.

Anonymous said...

I don't consider this an "anti-racist website". If I were JCC, I'd be a bit disappointed that the Times tagged it with this vastly over-simplified designation. He covers a much broader range of issues from a much more objective viewpoint than you'd expect from a merely "anti-racist website".

But as to your accusation, I have to wonder if you even read the post. JCC pretty much says the same thing you did, albeit much more eloquently.

Anonymous said...

Until education becomes a priority for minority parents the test results will remain the same. Children need to be exposed to the value of a quality education early in life. If the parents are incarcerated, on welfare, uneducated, how can we really expect anything different from their children? Teachers cannot change the attitudes of the children in reference to a quality education without the assistance of the parents. Parents need to take an active role in the education of their children. School is not an eight hour babysitter for the parents.

rightwingextremistchatter said...

Thank you Mr. Collier for your attention to this subject and special thanks for your blog! I agree with 100%.

steve said...

Soooo.the parents must get off welfare and work,be good and abide the law and not get incarcerated and get educated.If they cant' get quality schooling from the public system,they should burn the midnight oil.Any other pitiful non-reasons for failure?

Anonymous said...

If test are so biased then why do Asians outscore whites when English is their second language?

Anonymous said...

I took a government test years ago I scored 99 out of 100. I studied 8
weeks before taking the test. Others could have done the same they didn't.

bandaid said...

I came "off the farm" in North East Arkansas and didn't receive an Ivy League education. However, I shall use myself as an example.
I realized early on in my 22 year navy career that if I was to advance I had to educate myself. I took advantage of libraries, tuition assistance and toastmasters. I believe I did well. I retired an officer and now work as a defense department civilian. (Between the navy and this job I completed an aerospace degree) The point? I worked hard and never could have made it without remedial education and help from those around me, black, white and other.
What I saw in the navy, now in defense plants and the civil service ranks is a belief among blacks that they must be or act dumb. I have a black coworker whom I have known for over 20 years. He attempts to use the English language correctly, with limited oral success and zero written, when communicating with me or other whites and Hispanics. When another black enters the room I scarcely can make out the subject matter.
One will never properly prepare for any test or present themselves in a descent light during interviews if they go down this path. If the preponderance of your speaking consists of jewels such as "my baby daddy", "mines", "up in dis mutha f'er", etc. you are never going to make it.
I sincerely would love to hear from a black person why this phenomenon exists.

Alden Merrill said...

It's about race as well as being about where common sense finally prevails.

It seems to me that New Haven weighed its options and found itself being in the place between two loaded barrels: One of fire fighters who tested and performed well and the barrel of those who did not (and the threat of a lawsuit should New Haven accept the test results). I think the honest question which should have been asked is, "How qualified would you like your fire personnel to be?" Do you want them to be able to demonstrate subject matter competency or do we want them promoted into their position as a means of maintaining a racial profile? When we're talking about technical skills subject matter competency tests, it really does comes down to how well you know your craft. Are there folks who are better test takers than others? Sure. But; again, what is the desired result of what we're expecting from the test? If the results are having the best technically coompetent personnel who can demonstrate (on a written test) that they know their stuff, then this is a no brainer and New Haven should validate their test and be done with it.

Affirmative action has its place, and I agree with its goal of inclusion and being a means of leveling the playing field. My sense though is that affirmative has already yielded much of whatever it was going to reap.

But, there are times when common sense must prevail and we should not follow reason due to fear of threats (or lawsuits) simply because the results did not yield a desired mix. New Haven should become a textbook example.

jsb16 said...

All of this is true... if the test actually measures technical competency and not, say, upper class white vocabulary. If it measures what it's supposed to measure, New Haven should use it. If it doesn't, New Haven should write a better test. Since New haven isn't releasing the test (that I've heard of), no one can judge its validity.

Anonymous said...

"All of this is true... if the test actually measures technical competency and not, say, upper class white vocabulary."

I don't know how any kind of legitimate firefighter exam could measure "upper class white vocabulary", but considering (as you said) that New Haven (the defendant) has not released the test it is fair to assume that the test is not obviously biased against minorities. If it were, releasing the test would be a strong and ironclad defense against these charges.

New Haven paid a company $100,000 to devise the test, and that company vastly overrepresented minorities (2/3 of the advisors) during their preparation. The New Haven fire chief, who approved the test, is black. It is hard to imagine a test devised under these circumstances could be so heavily biased as to create these results, and the brief filed by the firefighters alleged that the people who originally reviewed the case made no effort to examine the test. The reviewers allegedly made statements to this effect, which you can read in the Supreme Court brief at www.newhaven20.com

If the test is in fact biased, it will be an obvious decision for the Court. However, if this is not the case it will be interesting to see what squirrelly language the Court uses to justify racial preferences this time. If despite the pressure from the Obama administration the Court rules in favor of the firefighters, the language used in the decision will set a precedent for all workplace discrimination lawsuits in the future.

Anonymous said...

Funny how studying, working hard and displaying an aptitude is called 'cheating' when you're white. When it's only because you're black it's called 'justice'. Yes it's as dumb and hypocritical as it sounds.

Hey said...

bandaid: "I have a black coworker whom I have known for over 20 years. He attempts to use the English language correctly, with limited oral success and zero written, when communicating with me or other whites and Hispanics. When another black enters the room I scarcely can make out the subject matter. One will never properly prepare for any test or present themselves in a descent light during interviews if they go down this path. If the preponderance of your speaking consists of jewels such as "my baby daddy", "mines", "up in dis mutha f'er", etc. you are never going to make it. I sincerely would love to hear from a black person why this phenomenon exists."

I think that people of Black African descent are just much more nonverbal than other ethnic/racial groups, communicating more through body language and other communicatory cues rather than verbal communication.

Anonymous said...

I have never been so outraged on any subject before. Racism is Racism. It does not matter if you are white or black, oppression and privilege based on skin color is Racism. I am 35 years old and a former firefighter. I was born after the Civil Rights Movement and have never met a former slave or the son of a former slave. However because of the color of my skin I have been under the shadow of a system that excludes whites. This exclusion is hidden beneath many names – be it Affirmative Action, The United Negro College Fund, or the other hundreds of organizations that are bold enough to but the accepted race in their titles. You can not make a firefighter’s test bias! The questions are about the chemistry of fire and the best way to fight it. Not, “what is the secrete white hand shake?” The Supreme Court could have ruled on this issue instantly, because it is obvious discrimination. However they are moving with caution because they do not want to be labeled “Racist” – a problem unique to the white race.

Anonymous said...

Duh, maybe the black applicants did not prepare for the test as well as their white counterparts.

Duh, maybe the average black student does not apply themselves towards their studies, on average, as much as their white counterparts.

Duh, maybe many black people don't have to.

I see our Black President, raised in a white household, where academic discipline and study were demanded seemed to do well for himself.

Duh, maybe it's time to stop making excuses. You study hard you do well.

Orion99DA said...

I'd like to hear from a citizen of Conneticut or anywhere else for that matter:

If you were trapped in a burning building would you rather be saved by a person that has the skills and knowledge of superior firefighter or would you rather have that warm feeling knowing that the ranks of your local FD have racial equality rather than the best fire fighter possible?


Stop playing the race card, end affirmative action, get rid of welfare.

Stephanie said...

""I think that people of Black African descent are just much more nonverbal than other ethnic/racial groups, communicating more through body language and other communicatory cues rather than verbal communication.""

I'm sorry, but this answer is the most ridiculous garbage I have ever read in my life.

People have expectations of how a black person should talk- & human beings tend to conform to expectations.People- white & black- always assume that a clear speaking black person is putting on airs.

Black people communicate exactly like other people.

Anonymous said...

WHINING!!! That is what the black language seems to have become. And they, do it to themselves. What the blacks forget is that it was mostly whites that faught and died for their own freedon here in this country. So, if they are going to complain about it, just go back to Africa where slavery is still being practiced, then maybe you would appreciate the opportunities we have here. All you blacks have to do is work hard, stop asking for free hand outs. If it worn't for whites in this country, you wouldn't even have the opportuniy to have these free hand outs that other white people have paid for, faught for, and died for-so, I have no more empathy left for you people.

Anonymous said...

What is this comming to? Passing a test because you are of some race. Thats just unfair. I dont care what color you are it just matters on how you can save the fellow americans. I dont want some firefighter who dont know what to do in a fire situation dealing with fires in my community who cant pass their exam. If you cant pass the exam, you are unfit to be a firefighter as simple as that. Please people make the right choices on who you want saving your life in a fire situation.

Anonymous said...

It is apparently Mr. Collier's intention to leave out some important facts in his written critique. First of all 128 firefighters took the test for lieutenant (77)and (41)for captain. Out of that combined total, 56 passed or 44%: 41 whites, 9 blacks, and 6 Hispanics. That means a total of 72 firefighters failed the test or 56%.
Secondly, as of 2003, there were 21Captains of which only one was African American or 5%.Yet, New Haven is 37% African American and 21% Hispanic.

Thirdly, it should also be noted that no African American filed any suit over the reesults of the test even though nine passed, nor were any given a position over a white or Hispanic. So why was it discriminatory again?

So Mr. Collier, why don't we find out just how many whites failed the test? Let's find out how many unintelligent whites there are who need to "get educated, speak properly", etc. I know you want to be fair in criticising another race so let's get out all the facts.

James C. Collier said...

Anon: Your attribution is way off, please recheck the thread and stop misquoting me.

Anonymous said...

bandaid: "I have a black coworker whom I have known for over 20 years. He attempts to use the English language correctly, with limited oral success ... I sincerely would love to hear from a black person why this phenomenon exists."


Hey said, "I think that people of Black African descent are just much more nonverbal than other ethnic/racial groups, communicating more through body language and other communicatory cues rather than verbal communication."




Don't get me started. The demise of the English language behind lips of all colors is a pet peeve of mine.


However, this issue is much more complicated than a cultural predisposition to gesticulate. My sister is a graduate of a technical college and still insists on speaking "ebonics" (improper English) with my daughter. This is the common means of communication in our family and can be seen as a dialect.


However, I make my daughter repeat everything she says in proper English and make my sister aware that I think she is doing the other kids in our family a huge disservice by not displaying her ability to do so.


I believe she speaks this way partially out of cultural comfort and as a way to escape a society in which as a black person there is always a quietly nagging sense of "wearing a mask". However, the kids in our family whose mom's don't correct them, are putting them at a disadvantage in the greater scheme of things. The fact remains that although they will be more adept at communicating with each other, they will always appear to be "dumb" to people like the naval officer with whom they cannot communicate.


All that said, I see "ebonics" as an important part of our heritage as black Americans - but as a previous poster wrote, if it is (for example) keeping capable firefighters from being promoted, we need to check out priorities. Are we clinging to the past so intensely that we can't move forward?


There's one thing I love about our "good talking" president. He speaks eloquently, correctly and his Hawaiian/Indonesian butt sounds like he grew up in the south. That's truly where it's at.