• The Solution to Racism is… Separate But Equal?!?

    July 29, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    Schools now have affinity groups, quasi-social/political gatherings which are separated by among other things, race. You have to be black to walk in to some of them. Seems like there’s a history to this.

    “Separate but equal” refers to the Supreme Court 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson claiming separate rail cars for whites and blacks were equal as required by the 14th Amendment. The upshot was constitutional sanction to laws known as Jim Crow (the name comes from a popular blackface stage character of the time) designed to achieve racial segregation by means of separate public facilities and services. This led to the era of the Green Book, which told blacks which hotels would allow them, as well as The Jewish Vacation Guide, which offered the same kind of advice but which we do not like to talk about much anymore. “Victims of Racism” is a pretty segregated category of its own it seems. The Court in Brown v. Board of Education ended separate but equal in that 1954 landmark civil rights case.

    But a new version of separate but equal seems to be back. The goal of many progressives now appears to be more segregated spaces and more segrated paths into academia and jobs. Progressives do not oppose segregation any more, they demand it.

    Jim Crow is being resurrected in schools, this time through euphemisms such as black spaces, affinity circles, affinity dialogue, and community building groups. One of my own kids was confronted as an undergrad with the problem of choosing which affinity group to join, as she fell into several different categories. Should she go with the Asians, or more broadly the POC group? Or female POC? Centennial Elementary School in Denver advertised a “Families of Color Playground Night.” The Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, hosted a “meet and talk” with an actress from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air  exclusively for its Students of Color affinity group. There are events that squeeze the rules tighter, such as black women feminists only. Of course February is Black History Month in America, though people of all hues are allowed to feel bad for all of February equally. We track obsessively the “First black…” to the point where the NYT felt compelled to single out such accomplishments last year as the first black to be recognized as a pro triathlete, the first black woman to win a gold medal in wrestling, and the first black to be interred at the Panthéon in Paris.

    In explaining the rationale for exclusionary events, one college newspaper wrote “Black students need events in which there are other black men and women as a means to help them feel comfortable…  a safe place for black students to be black without consequence,” which with a few words replaced would be exactly the garbage coming out of the worst cracker’s mouth in 1963 Birmingham, you know, something about how it ain’t right for the races to mix. The KKK are as in favor of more color-designated spaces as BLM.

    And famously we have been taught of all the people wrongly killed or injured by law enforcement, only one color of life matters. When Black Lives Matter as a slogan first began to populate social media, for about a week it was cool to say “All Lives Matter” to show you were an ally, that the cops could not get away with killing anyone yellow or white, either. “All lives” quickly morphed into a racist slogan, segregation mattering even in undeserved deaths.

    The return of separate but equal is most visible today in school admissions (and Supreme Court nominations.) Separate but equal has been reimagined as offering two tracks into select schools — one of merit, usually some sort of exam, and another that tests nothing but skin color, with standards rigged to matriculate the required percentage of blacks. That the latter often results in Asians (the on-again, off-again POC) being red lined out seems to be another thing we don’t like to talk about. The rules may be changing; the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether race-based admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina are lawful.

    The problems with separate but equal are many. A real danger is positioning unprepared students to fail. If you cannot show you know the subject material well enough to engage with it on a high level day one, and if you cannot show you have been willing to forego fun activities to put in the study hours, granting you a seat at some elite school via the back door will not solve anything. Imagine if the SEALS did away with their famous physical and mental tests and just picked commandos by lottery. That is what is happening through separate but equal employment programs, such as one at Morgan Stanley limited to blacks, browns, reds, and gays, or another at my own alma mater of sorts, the U.S. State Department, where I worked for 24 years

    State has had a diversity problem going back to the earliest days of the Republic, when it was said to qualify as a diplomat you needed to be Male, Pale, and Yale. To fix this two centuries later, the Department created two fellowships that have been used as vehicles to recruit people of “diverse backgrounds,” who worked out to be overwhelming black people. In place are the Thomas Pickering Fellowship (run by HBCU Howard University) and the Charles B. Rangel Fellowship. Both claim entrants take the same entrance exams as anyone else, but omit that they do so after two summer internships with the State Department, including time abroad, plus assigned mentors. Fellows are also identified as such to those administering the oral exam required of all prospective diplomats. Having administered the oral exam myself, I knew I would have to justify to my boss’ boss any move to fail a Fellow before being overruled by her anyway. The programs increased the number of unwhite diplomats, as they were intended to do as a separate but equal pathway.

    The problems came down the road, when black diplomats encountered the same promotion and evaluation system their white, green, and blue colleagues did (along with Hispanics and Asians, etc.) Diversity in the senior ranks of the State Department actually regressed over time. In 2008, black diplomats made up about 8.6 percent of the top ranks of the diplomatic corps. By 2020 only 2.8 percent of the same top ranks are black. The answer? It must be more racism (characterized diplomatically as “institutional barriers.”) Suggestions focused on offering blacks more fellowships to create a bigger pool, and creating special opportunities for blacks to snag better assignments (described as “promote diverse officers’ career development.”) That of course simply repeats the original sin of pushing less-prepared people upward to their point of failure. FYI: the State Department classifies most of its gender and race promotion results and does not generally release them to the public. However, data leaked to the NYT shows that only 80 black diplomats and specialists were promoted in the 2019 fiscal year, about one percent.

    Then there’s this: a former diplomat described her Rangel fellowship in 2010 as “more of a stigma than an honor” as white diplomats routinely assumed Fellows qualified for the real job only because of the fellowship. Some minorities at State feel compelled to share that they are not Pickering or Rangel Fellows to avoid the fall out over separate but equal. Can it be it is all just more racism all the way down?

    When I did not get into the State Department my first try, it never occurred to me the written test, which was mostly history, geography, and economics, was set up to block me because of how I looked instead of whether I knew enough about history, geography, and economics. After more education I passed essentially the same test. It never occurred to me some special channel should have been set up to advance me. It becomes kind of a mindset, almost a philosophy, that anything that doesn’t work out percentage wise must by definition be racism and can only be rectified by some kind of separate but equal track.

    Separate but equal in academia and employment, as well as in black spaces and all the rest, produces nothing more than cosmetic diversity. You want XX percent of students or diplomats to be black? Fine, we’ll gerrymander the system to produce that. But given the broader lack of societal progress from affirmative admissions and actions over some decades, it just might be easier to hire actors so the group photos look “right” and let decisions be less separate and more equal. Otherwise, what message are we sending to people of one color that their accomplishments have to be set aside so a person of another color can have their place, and what message are we sending to people of all colors the only way one group can succeed is with some special track? In the end aren’t those messages just a twisted version of what separate but equal originally meant, judgment based on race?

    At some point if we are committed to ending discrimination by race we need to end discrimination by race.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy

    Diplomatic Diversity Fails (Again and Again) at State Department

    May 8, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    America’s diplomat corps is the latest victim of diversity uber alles. Choosing diplomats for the 21st century is now about the same process as choosing which gummy bear to eat next. But fear not, because the State Department assures us America will have “an inclusive workforce that… represents America’s rich diversity.” At issue is the rigorous entrance exam, which once established a color-blind base line of knowledge among all applicants and was originally instituted to create a merit-based entrance system.

    Until now, becoming an American diplomat started with passing a written test of geography, history, basic economics, and political science, the idea being it was probably good our diplomats knew something of all that. The problem was that racially things never quite added up; no matter what changes were made to the test or even if it was administered after an applicant had served two internships with State (below), blacks and other colors of persons could not pass in the right magic numbers. The answer? State has now simply done away with passing the test in favor of a “whole person” evaluation, similar to how many universities and the dead SAT gateway currently work.

    The irony is the test was instituted to avoid backroom decisions on color (and religion, education, and peerage.) When America first found itself in need of a real diplomatic corps in the 19th century, there were three qualifications: male, pale, and Yale. The Rogers Act of 1924 was the first attempt to even out the playing field, instituting a difficult written examination everyone had to pass. The Rogers Act also created the Board of the Foreign Service and the Board of Examiners to choose candidates in lieu of smoky back room conferences.

    But since the 1924 system never quite broke the hold of the Ivy League, a new law in 1946 Act closed down the Board of the Foreign Service Personnel and created the position of Director General to oversee a more fair system for recruitment and personnel. Yeah, you guessed it, that did not broaden diversity much either, so the present system of testing was rolled into place to fix everything via the Foreign Service Act of 1980. A tough written exam was to be followed by a tougher oral exam, all done blind — no one would know the background of the candidates or their race until the final steps. It did not work, at least in the sense people of color still seemed to lag statistically behind. So more interim steps were added, to include a series of personal essays (the “QEP”) to allow candidates to gain “life points” in addition to their performance on the tests. The written test was still retained as a threshold step. One had to pass it to move on to compete further for a coveted foreign service job.

    More help was on the way. Study guides were created, and flash cards sold online. Test prep courses were started. Outside psychologists were brought in, and test administration was turned over to a private company, all in the name of eliminating biases. None of it worked. Blacks sued the State Department. Women sued the State Department. Hispanics argued they were not treated fairly.  State created a Chief Diversity and Inclusion position. But still in 2013 the Senior Foreign Service, the top jobs at State, was 85 percent white. In 2021 it was 86 percent white. The broader diplomatic corps remained 80 percent white.  State stayed stubbornly undiverse.

    Where nothing else succeeded, State created two fellowships that have been used as vehicles to recruit people of “diverse backgrounds,” who worked out to be overwhelming black. In place are the Thomas Pickering Fellowship (run by HBCU Howard University) and the Charles B. Rangel Fellowship. Both claim entrants take the same entrance exams as anyone else, but omit that they do so after two summer internships with the State Department, plus assigned mentors. Fellows are also identified as such to those administering the oral exam required of all prospective diplomats. Having administered the oral exam myself, I knew I would have to justify to my boss’ boss any move to fail a Fellow before being overruled by her anyway. The programs increased the number of unwhite diplomats, as they were intended to do as a separate but equal pathway.

    The problems came down the road, when black diplomats encountered the same promotion and evaluation system their white, green, and blue colleagues did. Diversity in the senior ranks of the State Department actually regressed over time. In 2008, black diplomats made up about 8.6 percent of the top ranks of the diplomatic corps. By 2020 only 2.8 percent of the same top ranks are black. The answer? It must be more racism (characterized diplomatically as “institutional barriers.”) Suggestions focused on offering blacks more fellowships to create a bigger pool, and creating special opportunities for blacks to snag better assignments (described as “promote diverse officers’ career development.”) That of course simply repeats the original sin of pushing less-prepared people upward to their point of failure. FYI: the State Department classifies most of its gender and race promotion results and does not generally release them to the public. However, data leaked to the NYT shows that only 80 black diplomats and specialists were promoted in the 2019 fiscal year, about one percent.

    So under Joe Biden, the next step seemed obvious: do away with the threshold examination. Under new rules, everyone who takes the test goes on to the next stage, no matter if they do well, or poorly (formerly known as “failing.”) State has taken its hiring process full-circle, when again behind closed doors someone decides who moves forward based on race. State will thus absolutely ensure the right blend of flavors get through. So not the best of the best, but the best in each racial bucket, will pass. While a university has four years to try and educate or drop an unqualified candidate wrongly admitted, State will live with the mistakes these unqualified applicants make globally. As will America. Good luck everybody!

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy