Shhhhh! Be very, very quiet, I’m hunting bigots. That should be the slogan of Des Moines, Iowa lawyer Thomas Newkirk who is representing 6,000 African Americans in a class action suit against the state government of Iowa for hiring discrimination. The suit alleges that African Americans have been routinely passed over for employment opportunities in state government in Iowa and includes all plaintiffs since 2003.
The suit does not allege any specific discriminatory practices (Which I’m sure occur) but instead focuses on “Implicit Bias” a concept wherein subconscious preferences by Whites for other Whites leads to a series of decisions wherein Blacks are disadvantaged in hiring decisions and interviews regardless of qualifications. Now let that sink in for a minute: No specific discriminatory practices, but subconscious biases are on trail.
Implicit Bias is measured fairly simply with the Implict Association Test. In its most basic form The IAT measures the speed of association between words to determine bias. So test subjects are shown a Black face and White face – and then have to link a series of rapidly appearing words – good, bad, ugly, loyal, smart, etc. – to the faces based on a series of instructions.
To see exactly how the test plays out click here to an NBC special on the test that aired right after the Don Imus controversy in 2007. Essentially, it’s a grown-up version of the Doll Test from the 1950’s. White Americans continue to be amazed at the fact that the test shows they prefer their own company, and Blacks are still amazed that after living their lives in a White dominated society that they too often prefer Whites. The ignorance on all sides is baffling.
On the surface this case is highly unlikely to go anywhere, because our state and federal laws are primarily concerned with actual actions, and seldom prosecute people for intent or attitudes. For example, you can have the most sexist, hostile, misogynistic boss in the world but until he specifically does something to your career advancement (other than being a creep) there isn’t much you can do about it legally.
However, the larger issue being brought by this case is actually one for the scholars and legal minds of this country to truly think on in the coming generation as the nation becomes more diverse and jobs continue to require personal interaction to qualify.
This Iowa class action lawsuit is not about jobs, or discrimination, it’s about putting racism on trial. If White people, intentionally or not, are inherently biased against Blacks, then what is a society that purports to value individual achievement and effort to do? You can go the Charles Murray route, which is simply ship all the coloreds out of the country or put them in camps. Or real work can be done to address these inherent biases, if that’s even possible. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out. While I don’t expect the case to be won, (and what would the ruling be?) I do wonder what kinds of arguments are laid out in order to make the case. Any chance Frances Cress Welsing has a law degree?