Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sexism, racism, and brains 

Boy, Megan McArdle wrote a great post about IQ, racism and sexism, and whether we can ever truly know whether we are, in fact, racist. Tidbit (emphasis in original):

I've had my fair share of battles with both the "neck-down Darwinists" and the black-people-are-just-naturally-stupid crowd, and I've never felt noticeably improved by either side. It takes some chutzpah to argue that intelligence is not heritable, and variant--frankly, I don't know why these people are arguing with me when they could be teaching their dog nuclear physics. But this is no stupider than using IQ to explain all differences in racial and gender outcomes, when we have good evidence that plain old discrimination is alive and well in the labor market. Resumes with identifiably black names on them are much less likely to be picked out of the pile than identical resumes with white names, and IIRC, there's also evidence that white job seekers are more likely to be offered a job after an interview than black applicants, even when they've been coached to give the same answers.

Similarly, while I am broadly comfortable with the notion that male IQ distributions may have fatter tails than female distributions, and that this may account for the difference in representations at the top of the academy, it's hard to avoid the evidence that women are judged by a different standard than men. For example, the "natural" difference in the representation of women and men in the ranks of professional orchestra turned out to be mostly due to the "natural" bias of the judges; when the auditions were "blind" (done behind a screen), suddenly we found out there had been a lot of talented women hidden under those skirts.

Yep. And this:
Most of modern discrimination does not consist of calling someone "nigger" on the street; it consists of deciding, in the blink of an eye, that you'd really rather hire someone else. You don't need to think "someone else white"; statistically, that's the result--even when the candidates or their resumes have been carefully selected to be identical. Statistically, you are less likely to get hired as a black man with a clean record than as a white ex-con.

I think a lot of us, in considering whether America, especially our little part of it, is racist or sexist, rely mostly on this kind of self-check. "Do I want to use the N-word? Nope! No racism here!" And yet, statistically, we all seem to be discriminating. And statistically, the perpetrator is as likely to be me or you as some unpleasant stranger. I don't think I've ever discriminated--but I don't know. I can't remember every resume I've ever looked at, and even if I did, I doubt I could piece together why I rejected most of them. But I doubt its much consolation to the black people I didn't hire that I had no urge whatsoever to lob the n-word in their direction.

Of course, the fact of statistically demonstrable but unconscious racism or sexism is not in and of itself an argument in favor of legal remedies for "disparate impact" -- the idea that an employer should have to prove that it is not discriminating if the ethnic composition of its payroll is different than that of the population from which it draws its employees. One first needs to decide that we should eradicate the consequences of all such unconscious discrimination regardless of the cost of doing so. That is far from a given, especially in light of our actual experience in enforcing laws against discrimination in employment.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 06, 10:25:00 AM:

I got to the line "statistically, we all seem to be discriminating" and quit reading. Anyone who would let those words pass their lips is a fool who is unable to grasp the difference between the actual reality created by millions of individual actors and analytical averaging and summarization of that reality through statistical work using sample sizes and methods of varying precision and quality.
Also, in writing the words "we all", Ms. McArdle isn't speaking for me. Is she speaking for you?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 06, 10:36:00 AM:

Here's a pop question for ya:

Why aren't professional basketball teams only 10% black?

Because the hiring of basketball players is based on merit, not skin color.

Isn't it intriguing that society gives professional sports a complete pass on racial equality? Yet this same society dictates that we can't use this common sense procedure in the marketplace.

How hypocritical does it get?

As far as the article goes, I'm kinda with 'locker room'. I got down to the:

"I think a lot of us, in considering whether America, especially our little part of it, is racist or sexist-"

line and gave up. I have no use for intellectuals who deny who we are. Guys like hanging out with guys. Tall people like hanging out with tall people. Blacks like hanging out with blacks. Lesbian feminists like hanging out with lesbian feminists. Are we "racist" and "sexist"? Jesus, God, lady, of COURSE we are!

Deny, deny, deny.

Deny, deny, deny.

Deny, deny, deny.

An encapsulation of modern man.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 06, 10:57:00 AM:

Discrimination is a fact of life, and most discrimination is perfectly legal. If it weren't we would be buying a lot of things we don't really want and going on dates we really don't want to go on.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 06, 11:02:00 AM:

one factor may be the fact that a white manager will be able to fire or discipline a white subordinate without having to worry about a bogus racial discrimination suit. same thing for a man hiring another man. the irony being that playing the victim card in fact creates victims.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Oct 06, 11:03:00 AM:

Should an employer not hire a ghetto-raised, ebonics speaking ex-thug who belongs to Mensa and has a PhD because he wouldn't fit into the staff without conflict, does that get chalked up as discrimination? How about the good ole' boy from Mobile and a confederate flag on his truck who wants to work for the NAACP? Who thinks it would be a good idea to recruit a Saudi Arab Muslim to work as a desk clerk for the Christian Coalition?

In the Army, a higher relative proportion of black soldiers are chosen to be drill sergeants than other ethnicities. Why? Because blacks join the Army in higher proportional numbers, and a lot of them bring a "fuck whitey" mentality with them and initially won't take orders from white NCOs and officers. (go ahead and laugh, I've seen it; I saw one attack a white drill sergeant, also) So black drills are liberally sprinkled throughout basic training companies to break them of this.

To mark all of these scenarios down as simple 'racism' is simplistic and stupid. Society is more complex than that.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Oct 06, 11:04:00 AM:

[Reposted to correct a hideous typo and elaborate on a couple of points.]

Over the years I've read a certain amount of the serious work around these questions. There is a lot of evidence that in many circumstances people assess "merit" differently when they are blinded to the gender and race of the person being measured then when they can observe it. Now, in certain situations merit is almost entirely objective. Sports, or at least most sports, is an example of that (some sports, though, are subjectively judged -- one cannot know whether race is a function in the judging of figure skating). Sales is another example -- people tend to ignore a sales rep's personal traits if he or she puts up the numbers. So I think it is probably true that unconscious discrimination diminishes when objective measures dominate the calculation of "merit", probably to the point of irrelevance.

However, it is obvious that "merit" in many other cases is far more subjective. Around the office people are measured by how well they "communicate" and their "professionalism" and other factors that are more subject to observer bias. This sort of statistically trackable discrimination shows up in the compensation of short people, ugly people, and fat people, but we do not have a legal remedy so nobody really cares. There is similar evidence that race and gender influence compensation.

So, Locker Room, I do believe that there is unconscious race and gender discrimination. I am not, however, persuaded that there should be a legal remedy for the damage it causes.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Oct 06, 11:13:00 AM:

To be a tad more clear, the fact of unconscious discrimination on the basis of race or gender does not mean that we ought to have a legal remedy. My own view is that we should not. I have many reasons for this view, including some of those proposed here. I just think we should be forthright in admitting that such discrimination exists, and that we have chosen not to have a remedy for it.

Point is, I think there are important reasons to ban conscious or invidious discrimination based on race and gender and certain other categories in employment, housing, and a few other situations. Conscious discrimination based on these traits is socially destructive, and our society is better off for having substantially eradicated it in formal settings (such as large companies, educational institutions, public facilities, accomodations, and transportation, and government). Unconscious discrimination is, in my view, an entirely different thing even if the consequences are the same to the victim (lower pay, denied job, etc.). I am (obviously) interested in educating people out of their observer bias, but I am opposed to having a legal remedy for its consequences.  

By Blogger Fritz, at Sat Oct 06, 11:20:00 AM:

LR: so, let me get this straight. An excellent point is made about just how much racism and sexism in remains in the American workplace, and all you can do is respond with what is, literally, nonsense? Then you follow that up by saying, "waaaaaaaaah but I'm not a racist!" Well, how do you account for the disparaties in employment rates and pay that black people and women who are just as well qualified as their white counterparts experience? It's not green men from Mars doing this - what those statistical averages *mean* is that employers (like you?) are racist and sexist jointly and severally. The whole point is that this is *not* a conscious bias, so individuals may not realize they are doing it, but the data show that it is there. Jumping up and down in denial really won't help you on this one - no one is saying you (or your friends who are employers) are a bad people, but as a group, they are biased.

And TH: if there's no legal remedy for this problem, and given your pronounced dislike of feminist groups and "political feminism," what remedy is there available for populations who experience discrimination? To shut up and take it?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 06, 11:21:00 AM:

Hawk - Being convinced this "unconscious race and gender discrimination" exists, do you take the next logical step and declare yourself guilty of harboring it? Or does it just exist in others - those less "self-aware" than you? After all, you started this discussion by citing an article that posits "we all" are guilty.
Trust me, when enough people allow axe-grinders with reams of studies and statistics to persuade them some widely-held "unconscious" bias exists, the fact that many are not persuaded a legal remedy should exist for the "damage" isn't going to mean a damn thing. There will be piles of remedies proffered, and when those don't eliminate the "unconscious" problem, there will be more and more and more . . .
Your past practice of corporate and securities law obviously insulated you from the utter inanity that takes place daily in the field of employment law. For that, you should be thankful.
Limit your consideration of the "unconscious" to a) sleep and b) that brief middle ground between the fourth cocktail and a) above and you will be much better off.
And Dawnfire: Asking us to accept any of your three cartoonish scenarios as even remotely plausible is a bit much. But even if one of them did actually obtain, my belief in the primacy of individual liberty and voluntary association above the power of the state make it fine with me whatever the employer, the NAACP, and the Christian Coalition chose to do. What standing do I have to intervene in their decisions on these matters?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Oct 06, 11:33:00 AM:

And TH: if there's no legal remedy for this problem, and given your pronounced dislike of feminist groups and "political feminism," what remedy is there available for populations who experience discrimination? To shut up and take it?

No, I think the best remedy is intellectually honest discussion of the issue, which is why I think Megan's post is so great.

I am quite certain I unconsciously discriminate(!). Correctly or not, I think of myself as fairly introspective -- I spend a lot of time trying to understand why I "feel" or "think" about something in a certain way. So if I have a point of view about an employee, I try writing down my assessment of the person, and if I cannot write down intellectually honest reasons for disliking the employee or his or her performance I simply decide that my reasons are not intellectually honest and therefore not legitimate. That is, I try to root out my own observer bias, knowing that I will not be entirely successful. But I am quite sure that I have it. I have seen enough clinical trial protocols to know the huge impact that observer bias can have in the medical context, so why should it not exist in the evaluation of "merit" in the office?

Now, you are right that I do not much like political feminists, but not because they point out unconscious gender discrimination. Many of them also advocate outcomes for our society that I deplore.

Finally, I believe that the various actual or proposed legal remedies for statistical or "disparate impact" discrimination do not work well in practice, and create collateral damage that may well outweigh the benefit of the remedy.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Oct 06, 11:36:00 AM:

Hawk - Being convinced this "unconscious race and gender discrimination" exists, do you take the next logical step and declare yourself guilty of harboring it? Or does it just exist in others - those less "self-aware" than you? After all, you started this discussion by citing an article that posits "we all" are guilty.

I absolutely harbor it. I do not think I have a severe case of it and I spend a lot of time examinating my own emotional reactions, but I definitely have fundamentally knee-jerk reactions to people based on superficial criteria. Some of those superficial criteria are not legally cognizable classes, and some are.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 06, 02:37:00 PM:

Actually, it now seems like we can detect this unconscious racism. Some Harvard psychologists came up with the implicit association test, which is a fairly robust measure of people's implicit associations, which are what this kind of racism is at heart.

The coolest thing is that you can try out some IATs for yourself online: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

There's a lot more you can test than just racism, there, and they're all pretty cool.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 06, 02:41:00 PM:

There's a simple solution - approach everyone you come across as a single, unique individual. React to, and form opinions of, individuals based on what they say and what they do, not how they look or what group(s) they belong to either by choice or involuntarily. Problem solved.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Sat Oct 06, 06:54:00 PM:

Locker Room: "There's a simple solution -- approach everyone you come across as a single, unique individual."

Locker Room just shot an arrow straight to the bull's-eye.

This debate is sooo American. A world-class executive can't do business or manage operations successfully in 90 countries with racist attitudes.

Me? I pick up all kinds of women.  

By Blogger Fritz, at Sat Oct 06, 07:12:00 PM:

"No, I think the best remedy is intellectually honest discussion of the issue, which is why I think Megan's post is so great."

Ironic. What if I said, in regards to Islamic extremism,
"I think the best remedy is intellectually honest discussion of the issues, which is why I think the U.N. is so great."
You'd laugh at me - for many reasons, including that no one at the UN is interested in asking any genuinely uncomfortable questions. I'm laughing at you too, because the yapping morons at the U.N. are going to do about as much to solve the problems of Islamic extremism as "reasonable discussion of the issues" is going to do about hiring biases. Discussions that leave everyone in their comfort zone and able to continue bias with no actual repercussions for doing so are as useless as U.N. resolutions. Just look at LR - he still won't even admit there is a problem, because he "treats everyone like a single, unique individual." Yeah...  

By Blogger Miss Ladybug, at Sat Oct 06, 08:13:00 PM:

I think the gender pay gap is "coventional wisdom" which happens to not be true. I think John Stossel addresses it in his book (which I can't recall the title of at the momemt). Whatever differences in pay there are between men and women can generally be accounted for: because women tend to be the ones to take time away from work/careers for family time, while men tend to be the ones who work lots of OT and don't take leaves of absences to care for children and such. Don't recall hearing anything in regard to hiring biases, so I can't argue that aspect. However, if there are indeed differences, how often are they connected to worries about the things that account for the perceived pay discrepancies? Men don't get pregnant, and sometimes decide not to come back to work, and also tend to not be the ones giving up a job to follow a spouse who has a new job in another location.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 06, 09:19:00 PM:

If anything AA and various pressure groups mandate over-representation of various groups in particularly corporate settings.

Because they're liable to being sued and generating hugely negative publicity.

This creates a huge market for qualified minorities particularly. One thing we know, Black culture does not value education, quite the reverse, pursuing education is "acting white" and those who engage in hard work and study in anything other than athletics are believed to be "not black enough."

There are only a few qualified Black men and women compared to the huge demand for them by corporations (and government). So yeah you'll see over-paying and extreme competition for the few qualified applicants.

Naturally you'll find at the small business level, only the less-qualified Black applicants (the better ones being scooped up by big firms that pay more).

This is a market problem.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Oct 06, 10:31:00 PM:

Hey Fritz: Here's a news flash for you - this is how I actually approach people. Every god-damn one I've ever met. Ladies and hairy-legs alike. So I really have no problem. But it appears plenty of navel-gazers do.  

By Blogger Fritz, at Sun Oct 07, 02:43:00 AM:

LR: I'm going to say this one more time, since you are having trouble understanding: it doesn't matter what you do or do not do. The class of people that you are a part of have been demonstrated to have a bias against hiring women and black people. If the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it - but that doesn't excuse you from trying to help change the fact that those groups of people don't get a fair shake on average in today's workforce. And no, feel-good talking is not going to help the issue.  

By Blogger Fritz, at Sun Oct 07, 02:56:00 AM:

ML: so it is OK with you that women don't get paid as much because they might get pregnant? That's an interesting position - too bad it sucks for all those two-earner households. In fact, why hire women at all, then, when they might be used to breed at any moment, and of course their husbands can't be expected to be the ones to raise the children!

These blog comments remind me why I'll be a liberal or progressive or whatever you want to call it until the end of my days. I'm sympathetic to some conservative ideas, but these blog comments ...just wow...  

By Blogger Miss Ladybug, at Sun Oct 07, 03:27:00 AM:


Please re-read what I wrote. If ANYONE takes time away from their careers, for any reason, they can expect to fall behind their peers who don't leave when it comes to wages. Women tend to be the ones to do this more often because they choose to spend more time with families. I've had jobs in the past, that had I been married with kids, I wouldn't have done because of the demand of time the job took - lots of business travel, sometimes on short notice. Being single, that wasn't an issue for me. Someday, I do want to have a family, and I (me, not my future husband) will likely make the choice to step away from my career to care of my children. I want any children of mine to grow up learning MY values and expectations, not those of a day care caregiver, whose values I may not know and may not agree with. When I return to my career, should I expect the same pay I would have now been earning, had I never left? I think not.

As for the the hiring - I said I didn't have any knowledge of what studied have said, and I only speculate that if there is, in fact, hiring discrimination for women, if MIGHT be related to those same issues that actually already account for the perceived wage gap. Yes, some people don't think women can do the job as well as a man (I've dealt with a few in past positions - they just had to learn that if they really wanted to fix their problem, they needed to deal with me, because I was best qualified (even considering the men in my department) to help them. Eventually, they learned. But, some people will always have "will she get married or pregnant" in the back of their mind. Is it right? No. But, how can you prove it, and if it is subconscious, are we now going to penalize people for things going on in their heads they don't choose, that just happen? That's not any path I want this country to go down. It starts with someone making a subjective decision about what is going on in your head about race or sex, but where would it lead? The idea of "thought police" scares me.  

By Blogger JR, at Sun Oct 07, 10:02:00 AM:

What Megan missed:


By Blogger Fritz, at Sun Oct 07, 11:03:00 AM:

"But, some people will always have "will she get married or pregnant" in the back of their mind. Is it right? No. But, how can you prove it, and if it is subconscious, are we now going to penalize people for things going on in their heads they don't choose, that just happen?"

This is the central point. No one is talking about implementing the "OMG thought police" which is a nonsensical straw man. What we are talking about doing is encouraging employers to DO SOMETHING about hiring biases and not just sit around in a circle and talk about it. Results matter. Shareholders need to have incentive to elect officers that will actively work to end hiring biases, which in turn means recruiting in way such that everyone in the workforce gets a fair shake. And if it can be demonstrated that they have failed to acheive results in this matter, that there is a hiring bias at a company, it's not enough to express contrition - they need to get hit where it hurts, right in the bottom line.  

By Blogger Miss Ladybug, at Sun Oct 07, 12:50:00 PM:

Having been responsible for making hiring recommendations, I can tell you a lot more goes into the hiring process than what one sees on a resume. Working in a very team-oriented environment, I made sure everyone I interviewed was able to chat with the people in my department. A resume might look great, but sometimes, a person just doesn't "feel" right - and in a customer service oriented and often face-to-face with the customer job we were hiring for, that kind of thing has to carry a significant amount of weight. Some people I've met just give me the willies right off the bat (and it's got nothing to do with race or gender). We also needed to make sure that any applicant we offered a position to would be able to work with the demands of the job - sometimes getting stuck at the office late, traveling, sometimes VERY frequently, and sometimes on short notice. A single parent with small children would have had a hard time of it.

Also, in my situation, I might interview someone I would have LOVED to have in my department (one particular black man comes to mind), but often, the highest wage my employer was willing to pay was not sufficiently high enough for that - and other qualified & desirable - candidates. Often, we had to settle for someone who was a little less qualified. Our (small) division was mostly white, and was sometimes female-dominated. We did have black employees while I worked there, one was a black woman, and we all loved her. But, she got caught basically embezzling money from some of our customers, so she was fired. Although the company could have pursued criminal charges, they did not - they didn't want that kind of publicity to get out in the industry, so they ate the amount of our customers' losses - this woman, when fired, attempted to play the race card, saying she was fired because she was black (and maybe also that she was a lesbian). She knew it was a lie. She was fired because she betrayed our trust and the trust of a handful of some very important customers. But, sometimes, you get what you pay for - her thefts amounted to doubling her annual salary. I know because I was responsible for finding everything. Would she have done it if she'd been paid more? Don't know. Would we have been able to hire someone else entirely had we been able to pay a higher starting wage? Did I hold her actions (as a black woman) against future black or female applicants? No.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Oct 08, 11:50:00 AM:

The real and unasked question of course is whether 'racism and sexism' are problems for blacks, hispanics, asians, and women too, or whether they are exclusive sins of white men.

Because what would the legal and moral result be if EVERYONE judges others on the basis of color, race, and sex? Do blacks pre-judge whites? Do women naturally, subliminally judge women differently then men?

I find it fantastic to believe only white men are racist and sexist. But perhaps they are. Perhaps ALL THE WORLDS PROBLEMS ARE CAUSED BY WHITE MEN. No one else presumably is evil, ambitious, proud, etc. etc. so the answer is for white men to 'oh behave'; and if other groups do crimes or fight wars, the trick is to find the white man behind it all as the ultimate cause of problems and grief.

If that's the case though, would this be the result of 'social' factors or natural? If natural are white men morally culpable or not?  

By Blogger Biotunes, at Mon Oct 08, 10:46:00 PM:

This all sounds very similar to my previous post (http://www.biotunes.org/bioblog/2007/06/opt-out-myth.html) (which focused only on sexism though) which you derided, claiming that sexism happens in academia, but only because academia is more subjective than other professions (e.g. law). I disagreed with you then but suddenly you seem to agree with someone making the same point. Could this be a case of sororicism?  

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