This morning an NPR headline on Twitter caught my eye: “‘Reverse Discrimination’ Ruling Due.” It was followed shortly thereafter on the New York Times website by the news article “Justices Rule for White Firefighters in Bias Case.”
Not having heard about this case before, I briefly filled myself in on the details. The city of New Haven, Connecticut, decided not to take into consideration test scores when it came to handing out promotions, as white firefighters had done better on that test than latino or black firefighters. The city decided to throw out everyone’s test scores and figure out another way to do promotions. And the white firefighters claimed this was “reverse discrimination,” with the appeals slowly working the case up through the judicial food chain.
It’s not landmark news that standardized testing is culturally problematic. Not only were some of the first standardized tests used for the purposes of eugenics, but to this day there is an increasing awareness at many universities that SAT and ACT scores do not equal merit, and many universities are no longer requiring these standardized tests for admission.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the white firefighters. And–would you expect anything less?–the majority opinion on this ruling came from Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito. Dissenting opinion led of course by superstar justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s a scary time on the Supreme Court.
What is particularly disturbing to me about this outcome is just how cookie cutter it all went down. “Reverse discrimination” is a concept popular with those who don’t really understand how American society is constructed in a hierarchy of race, class, and gender. (A great starter read is “The Gender Knot” by Allan Johnson.) In a society that is wholly constructed to mostly value and benefit straight, white middle- to upper-class males, the idea of “reverse discrimination” is absurd!
As an armchair political commentator, my official opinion on what’s really going on here has more to do with generally powerless people grappling for whatever power they could get through an overly-litigious and otherwise messed-up system. When you’re living in a hierarchical society, your instinct is to claw your way to the top, one way or another.
That is to say, the white firefighters were denied something they wanted, when they became aware of the relatively easy path to push back and still get what they want, they took it.
Dear white firefighters, wouldn’t it be better to have received a promotion based solely on your merits, instead of your ability to pay a lawyer? Do you think your non-white brethren have thrown such a public hissy fit for such a minor denial of their desires? To most everyone else, this is considered part of the challenge of everyday life.
However…have you ever needed to worry about being relocated to the desert because of your race? Do you fear for being sexually assaulted and/or murdered for your gender identity or sexual preference? Publicly reviled for your religious beliefs and attempts to create a community outside the status quo? Been beaten or otherwise denigrated by your significant other? Shall I go on?
It seems to me that if this is what these white firefighters are choosing to take to the Supreme Court, they don’t have a lot of worries in the world.
What do you think about this Supreme Court decision? What are your thoughts on race, class, and gender? Any experiences you care to share?