March 21, 1996
Affirmative action is affirming the worst
WHEN ARTHUR KORNBERG APPLIED TO medical schools across the continent in 1937, he was dismayed to find most doors closed to him. Although he was poor, it wasn’t lack of money that held him back, nor was it lack of ability. Arthur Kornberg was rejected by medical schools because he was a Jew. Alarmed by the large number of Jews in professional schools, officials at many universities in the 1920s introduced quotas on Jewish enrolment. By 1930, Columbia University, not far from Kornberg’s home above a Brooklyn store, had cut Jewish enrolment in half, to what dean William Darrach described as “a fair proportion considering the percentage of Jews in New York State.”
American university deans were not alone in trying to achieve a statistically “fair proportion,” in admissions and hiring. Kornberg’s own parents had left a homeland, now part of Poland, where universities were also cutting Jewish enrolment in half to reflect their representation in the population. And in Germany in the early 1930s, where Jews were over represented in law 16 times their numbers in the general population, and in medicine, 11 times, the National Socialists imposed proportional representation on university admissions, effectively preventing many Jews from entering those professions. For bright young American Jews like Kornberg, rejection was a terrible blow. Some went abroad to study while others took menial jobs. Kornberg was one of the luckier ones. He edged past the quotas at the University of Rochester and began a career as a biochemist that culminated in his discovery of how the molecule of life — DNA — has been passed on for a billion years. In 1959, he won a Nobel prize.
Kornberg never forgot the anti-Semitism he experienced as a student. For the rest of his life he remained “determined to be racially blind” in hiring and marking. For him it was a way to ensure the highest possible standards of scholarship prevailed. But in 1969, his convictions turned against him, and for the second time in his career, he confronted the forces of “fair proportion.” At a Stanford University faculty meeting, he objected to a decision to allow a student who had repeatedly failed his courses to remain in medical school. What Kornberg did not know was that the student in question was black. The professor was subsequently accused of racism in the student newspaper, called insensitive by his colleagues and physically threatened by the black students’ union. “Because he was identified as racially black —- not at all obvious to me and irrelevant if it were — I was accused of racism,” Kornberg says.
Kornberg was reliving the re-introduction of numerical goals for university admission and hiring after a hiatus of almost 25 years. What was called “fair proportion” in the 1930s, today is known as affirmative action in the United States and employment equity in Canada, new euphemisms for what amounts to the same thing. The ostensible end of affirmative action and employment equity programs is “fair proportion” in the classroom and in the workplace. The means to that end is preferential treatment for visible minorities and women. But, not only are these policies not working, they are, in fact, deeply racist and sexist. The late American philosopher Sidney Hook saw the devastating effects quotas had on the careers of many Jews in the 1920s. A communist in the early part of the century, Hook turned his back on socialism in the 1930s and dedicated himself to crusading against that particular form of totalitarianism until his death in 1989. He, of all people, recognized the Stalinesque injustice of affirmative action. How, he asked can we end racism by practising racism?
History repeats itself
“THE ADMITTANCE TO THE LIBERAL PROFESSIONS OF A disproportionate number of persons” from a powerful and advantaged group “might be interpreted as evidencing their racial superiority — a notion that must be categorically rebuffed.”
That may seem like an accurate description of the attitude of contemporary proponents of affirmative action towards the advantaged classes in Canada today — but in fact they are the words Germany’s new National Socialist government used in April 1933 to justify its brutal imposition of proportional representation on Jews applying for admission to university. A look at the history of proportional representation and numerical hiring goals across the western world this century reveals how little we have learned from the past.
Columbia University was not the only school in North America that adopted racial quotas in the 1920s. Harvard president Lawrence Lowell imposed admission policies that took into account the “proportionate size of racial and national groups.” In 1930, Rutgers College limited the number of Jews admitted, in order “to equalize the proportion” in the student body. In 1928, dean Ira Mackay at Montreal’s McGill University wrote a memo instructing the assistant registrar to “kindly admit all Hebrews with an aggregate over 700 (in matriculation marks), and all non-Hebrews with an aggregate of over 630.” By the mid-1930s this tactic slashed Jewish enrolment at McGill in half, to just above the Jewish proportion of English-speaking Quebecers.
Today, most of us condemn people like Darrach, Lowell and Mackay as out-and-out racists. But that’s not the way they saw themselves. American historian Stephen Steinberg, has this to say of the motivation of the prewar deans: “These men would have been indignant if their remarks had been construed as prejudiced, for they repudiated prejudice as un-Christian and irrational. They were convinced that their opinion of Jews was based not on myth or religious bigotry, but on social reality. As a dean of Columbia wrote in 1904: ‘What most people regard as a racial problem is really a social problem’.” The deans believed that attempting to achieve a proportional representation of Jews in their schools was better than the racial imbalance that resulted from admissions based solely on merit. In 1946, despite all the quotas that had been imposed, the proportion of Jews in U.S. professional schools was still double the Jewish share of the population. Such success provoked understandable envy, and in the minds of those trying to create “a fair proportion,” this envy was a cause of anti-Semitism. Even that progressive founder of the welfare state, Franklin Roosevelt, wasn’t immune to the appeal of proportional representation. While he ignored the Holocaust in Europe and quotas at Harvard, his alma mater, the U.S. president gave the Vichy generals at the 1943 Casablanca conference some friendly advice. Force proportional representation on Jews practising law and medicine, Roosevelt told them. That would “eliminate the specific and understandable complaints which the Germans bore toward the Jews.”
In general, though, the experiences of the Second World War brought home to North Americans the terrible consequences of discriminatory policies. Theories of “fair proportion” were abandoned in the mid 1940s and a new spirit of equality of opportunity was embraced. The change was evident at McGill as early as 1945. Having put aside its higher cutoffs for Jews it admitted to the professions that year three Jewish brothers born in a dirt-floored Hungarian shack — my father and uncles. Within a few decades there were five Jewish doctors in my family alone, as an end to university discrimination sent Jews’ share of that profession diverging even further from their one per cent share of the Canadian population.
In 1951, Jews finally succeeded in pushing Canada’s first fair employment law through the Ontario legislature. That act became the nucleus of the province’s Human Rights Code, which prohibited discrimination in hiring on the basis of race or sex. The other provinces followed suit. In 1960, the federal Bill of Rights was passed, guaranteeing all Canadians “equality before the law and the protection of the law.” Those same rights granted by the 14th amendment to the Constitution and finally given legal authority 100 years later with the passage in 1964 of Civil Rights Act. The U.S. civil rights movement that brought about that legislation was led by blacks and Jews — the two most persecuted groups in America. By 1971, only a couple of decades after the end of quotas, U.S. Jews hit triple representation among managers and university teachers. In the faculties of the top 17 U.S. universities, their presence was almost six times the general population. The historian Steinberg noted with satisfaction that year that Jews were over represented by as much as 10 times in such fields of traditional Jewish concentration as medicine, law, and social science. Their success had a price. Envious U.S. blacks turned their jewish comrades out of the civil rights movement. Black Americans wanted more than the slow progress improved education and fair hiring practices would bring them and they took to the streets. By 1971, reacting to the black riots of the previous decade, the Supreme Court was ready to turn the Civil Rights Act inside out.
WILLIE GRIGGS, A LABORER AT DUKE POWER COMPANY in North Carolina, was one of 13 poorly educated black employees who, with the help of the NAACP took their employer to court in 1971 on charges of discrimination. The power company required candidates for promotions to possess a high school diploma or to pass an equivalent ability test. Griggs and the others had been passed over for promotions. The NAACP argued that the company was discriminating because fewer blacks than whites could meet the requirements. The Supreme Court, fearful of further violence, ruled that if blacks did poorly on tests it was because of prior discrimination in education. It ordered Duke Power Company to stop using the tests and the education requirements unless they could prove they were accurate predictors of job performance, something that would require expensive studies to establish. The precedent was set, and to avoid costly lawsuits most firms simply set numerical goals for hiring blacks in proportion to the population. Overnight, proportional representation was back.
In Canada, the racial tensions that had been battering America for more than a century, were largely absent. But the new wisdom held that discrimination exists wherever allegedly disadvantaged groups are under represented. In the name of fairness and tolerance, Canadian bureaucrats, lawyers and special-interest groups, were only too eager to embrace the bogey man of systemic discrimination. In 1984, Rosalie Abella, who spearheaded the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, cited the Griggs decision and recommended that Ottawa bring in numerical goals for hiring and promoting women, nonwhites and the disabled. Because of what she called “negative reaction” in the U.S., she renamed affirmative action “employment equity.” But in Canada, many liberals supported the idea, despite the treatment of Jews during the 1920s and 1930s. Indeed, Jews were some of employment equity’s most vocal supporters. The Canadian Jewish Congress, headed by Abella’s husband Irving, also took a strong stand in favor of preferential policies.
Soon the governing Conservative party, with NDP and Liberal support, went ahead and required federally regulated firms and companies wanting federal contracts to start preferential programs. As Neil Gavigan, one of Ottawa’s top employment equity bureaucrats remarked, employment equity replaced “the blind faith of equal opportunity” with “preferential treatment on a short-term basis.” Many provinces introduced numerical goals for their civil services, and municipalities and universities followed suit. Ryerson Polytechnic University, which had hired women at or above their availability among PhDs for decades, went even further and introduced a 10-year program restricting 57 job competitions to women only.
In 1993, Ontario’s NDP government exceeded the wildest ambitions of its 1930’s predecessors when it imposed preferential treatment on the entire private sector. The NDP Employment Equity Act actually required employers to achieve proportional representation in every job category and at every level of seniority, a degree of control that would have been impossible before the invention of the computer database. And last year, the Chretien government replaced the Tories’ Employment Equity Act with an even tougher bill. Yet employment equity, so popular with elites, has never had much credence with the public. According to a 1993 Gallup Poll, 81 per cent of Canadians oppose numerical hiring goals and 90 per cent oppose job competitions restricted to certain groups.
The Griggs concept of systemic discrimination was used to discredit not only tests, but any other qualification requirements a firm might set for hiring or promotion. For instance, by 1989 the Ontario Women’s Directorate was telling personnel managers that “typical examples of systemic discrimination” include “excessively lengthy experience requirements,” “inflated education requirements,” and use of “prefabricated commercial tests.” The directorate takes a dim view of “credentialism,” but it would be outraged if a less-educated white were hired over a black. When you come right down to it, this provincial gaency wants exactly what McGill wanted in 1928: to give a boost to certain races by requiring them to meet less rigorous standards. In Racism and Justice: The Case for Affirmative Action, Canadian philosopher Gertrude Ezorsky explains that “meeting a numerical goal may require selecting a specific number of blacks who are ‘basically qualified’ to do the job, rather than choosing the best-qualified candidates who are white.”
As bureaucrats forced numerical goals on firms across the U.S. in the early 1970s, Jewish groups began pointing out their similarity to pre-war goals. Before 1945, my father and uncles had to achieve higher marks than everyone else in order to gain admission to McGill. Now it was happening all over again. Even the bureaucrats knew employment equity was anything but equitable. As early as 1985, Dale Gibson, a former Manitoba Human Rights Commission chairman, admitted in an article that employment equity “employs the very statistical methods that anti-discrimination laws condemn.” Its real purpose is to eliminate statistical imbalance. But statistical imbalance is not necessarily the result of discrimination. Gibson acknowledged this but claimed it is “irrelevant. Affirmative action,” he said, “is not aimed primarily at prejudice or discrimination. [Only] some of the imbalance which affirmative action is intended to redress is the result of discrimination.” In Gibson’s view, statistical imbalance itself constitutes an injustice. This has disturbing implications. The view implies that the under represented gentiles of the 1920s and 1930s were right to feel aggrieved. It implies they were right to take corrective action, though there had been no discrimination in favor of Jews.
“THE LAW, IN ITS MAJESTIC EQUALITY,” French writer Anatole France once noted, “forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to be in the streets, and to steal bread.” Rosalie Abella used France’s well-worn quotation to open her 1984 employment equity report — a report that in effect recommended giving the edge to all women, even upper-class women like Justice Abella, over white men, though they might be derelicts sleeping under bridges. When the left endorsed preferential programs, it stopped defending the working class and made race and sex the criteria by which peoples’ needs were measured. But an unemployed white coal miner might take issue with the idea that he is “advantaged” while the black law student across town is “disadvantaged.” Indeed, since they began embracing preferential policies, the U.S. Democrats and the NDP have lost much of their working-class support.
Dividing the populace into “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” categories based on their sex or race raises obvious problems. If racial minorities are disadvantaged, why, within 40 years of being robbed of their property and herded into concentration camps by the government, do Japanese-Canadians earn a median income 46 per cent higher than that of Canada’s supposedly privileged WASPs? Why aren’t Jews, who suffered real discrimination in the 1920s and 1930s, classified as “disadvantaged?” The success of Jews and Japanese-Canadians undermines the claims made by certain non-white groups — Jamaicans for instance — that their incomes are lower because of racial discrimination. Nor does discrimination explain why white groups such as the Greeks and Portugese in Canada have incomes about as low as Jamaicans. The fact is that different groups achieve different things at a different rate and for many different reasons. Discrimation alone cannot explain these differences. But making the complexities of the real world fit simple theories is a common error. The theory behind employment equity is that groups that achieve less have been the victims of “systemic discrimination.” The equality of opportunity guaranteed by our human rights codes is not enough to protect these “disadvantaged” people, say the friends of employment equity. Minorities and women need a boost in the form of numerical goals for admission to desirable schools and jobs.
The reality is that many so-called “disadvantaged” people are doing much better than the supposedly advantaged. Asians, for instance. Black economist Thomas Sowell says that to conceal this embarrassing fact officials have lumped Asians’ above-average income stats in with low-income categories. In Britain, Asians are classified as “blacks,” in the U.S., “people of color,” and in Canada “visible minorities.” And when the incomes of Asians are aggregated with those of blacks, the result is a disadvantaged group. This trick is successful in producing the lower income statistics used to justify preferential treatment for those legally “designated” for preferential treatment. But new studies indicate that even when unlike groups are lumped together in this way, most of Canada’s designated “disadvantaged” are not disadvantaged at all. Only through the continuous stream of sympathetic media reports generated by its public relations staff has the employment equity bureaucracy succeeded in keeping the myth of systemic discrimination alive.
In 1991, Canadian economist Arnold deSilva’s study for the Economic Council of Canada found that only those nonwhites educated in the Third World lag in earnings. He surmised employers may hold a low opinion of educational standards in developing countries. The study also found that the earnings of visible minorities educated in Canada equal those of whites. Then in 1994, a startling study by Statistics Canada’s Ted Wannell and Nathalie Caron showed that women and visible minority graduates of Canadian universities and community colleges earn as much as white male graduates. University educated women and visible minorities, when looked at alone, actually make more. And in the public sector, women consistently earn more than men, likely as a result of the employment equity programs, Wannell and Caron added.
When governments decided to designate legions of well-off women and non-whites as “disadvantaged,” their sense of social justice coincided with simple self interest. Preferential programs could have been tied to income. But by making race and sex the criteria, the middle-class bureaucrats and activists who lobbied for employment equity gave themselves preference over thousands of poor white men. The activists claim they just want to push women and nonwhites into the higher ranks from which they feel they’ve been so long excluded. But do they really need a push? A 1992 Statistics Canada study of job movements within and between firms found visible minorities were treated the same as white men. Contradicting a carefully nurtured myth, the study also found women are more likely to be promoted and less likely to lose their jobs than men. Indeed, Bank of Nova Scotia economist Warren Jestin found that men over 25 face a real unemployment rate that is about 50 per cent higher than the females do. These findings have been carefully suppressed by the Employment Equity lobby, but they suggest that preferential programs are not needed by the groups who most benefit from them.
Canada’s employment equity programs did, however, set off a head-long rush to get in on the action. Realizing right away the potential benefits of preferential hiring and admissions policies, Canadians from all walks of life scrambled to be included. In the U.S., sociologist Pierre van den Berghe, the author of several books on racial relations, asserts that the success of blacks in extracting preferential treatment naturally prompted imitation by others — including white feminists. Members of some of Canada’s wealthiest families are now eligible for preferential treatment. Since the passage of the federal Employment Equity Act, there has been a staggering 41 per cent jump in the number of Canadians claiming aboriginal origins, and a whopping 60 per cent of Canadians are now designated as “disadvantaged.” Equity programs that are supposed to benefit persecuted minorities are helping well-off groups, such as Japanese-Canadians and educated white women, just as the pre-war quotas helped white male elites.
Employment equity has also created an insidious little process whereby it is necessary to “classify” Canadians in order to determine whether they are “advantaged” or “disadvantaged” and thus elibible for “preferential treatment.” It is not an easy task. What, for instance, is a visible minority? Colombians are, Chileans are not. What is Statistics Canada to do? Should Indonesians be classified as East Asian or Pacific Islanders? Are Puerto Ricans and Cubans to be lumped with Blacks, or are they Latino? And so it goes, a process that would be funny if it weren’t so offensive.
SOME PROPONENTS OF EMPLOYMENT EQUITY DEFEND IT as a way of extracting revenge for the historical advantages enjoyed by men. Francine Arsenault, head of a Winnipeg-based coalition of handicapped organizations, said as much in a 1993 letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail. “White able-bodied males have enjoyed the benefit of an employment equity program at least since the beginning of the industrial revolution,” she wrote. But barring qualified candidates from schools and professions because of the privileges their fathers and grandfathers enjoyed is a dangerous game.
Consider the following:
• At Montreal’s Concordia University, as many as 80 per cent of faculty hired in some years have been women.
• At the Universities of Alberta and Western Ontario, female applicants were twice as likely to be hired as male applicants.
• Eighty per cent of Ryerson’s tenure track positions have gone to women through restricted job competitions since 1988; 100 per cent at Ontario College of Art.
• The Association of Canadian Medical Colleges has found that 70 per cent of the high performing applicants rejected by 16 Canadian medical schools were men.
• Male medical school applicants have been rejected at a significantly higher rate than similarly qualified female applicants.
• A federal Department of Justice report found that affirmative action has been used to justify the admission of distinctly under-qualified aboriginals into law schools.
• The Metro Toronto Police Department’s hiring policies during the NDP regime were designed to ensure that 50 per cent of its new hirings were women — even though 76 per cent of the applicants are male. Obviously, in order to meet its quotas, the police department was hiring women who were less qualified than many of the rejected male applicants.
Facts like these conspire to create what I call the “qualifications gap.” When an organization sets numerical hiring goals, it inadvertently creates a gap in qualifications — a disparity in the workplace between the skills of the preferred non-whites and women (who are frequently under qualified because they have been hired to meet quotas) and white males (who have likely competed fiercely on the basis of merit to fill the spaces left to them). Obviously, the best people are not always getting the jobs. By favoring less qualified candidates to teach our children and protect our streets, affirmative action policies put all of society at risk. But the qualifications gap also creates resentment and tension in the workplace or professional school as those with better qualifications work alongside inferior colleagues. Because the underqualified are more likely to be women or visible minorities, instead of racism and sexism declining, stereotypes are strengthened, resentments increase.
Management professor Galen Kroeck and his colleagues at Florida International University have developed a computer model to demonstrate the statistical consequences of numerical hiring goals. Kroeck’s group points out that the effects of the qualifications gap “could be expected to be manifested in both job performance and promotion.” The model was tested on the New York Police Department. In 1980, the NYPD adopted a hiring quota of one-third for preferred ethnic groups. According to Kroeck’s model, this quota, about equal to those groups’ representation in the population, resulted in the rejection of 3,000 more-qualified nonpreferred applicants at NYPD that year alone. In subsequent years, thousands more lesser-qualified applicants were hired as well. Standards dropped so far in the hunt for nonwhite candidates that even criminals were hired — with the inevitable result. Those hired under the NYPD’s preferential program figured disproportionately in a corruption scandal that broke in 1992. For example, one black detective who was arrested for allegedly bilking a widow out of $75,000 had been hired in 1983 under the orders of a so-called anti-discrimination board, despite actually having a history of armed robbery. In 1992, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas O’Grady proposed the force intervene at the National Parole Board to obtain “expeditious consideration” for pardons for certain convicted criminals. His reason? So the OPP could hire them to meet employment equity quotas.
Preferential treatment in university admissions creates another qualifications gap. When male applicants are being rejected at a much higher rate than similarly qualified female applicants, a statistical difference emerges between the average qualifications of male students and the average qualifications of female students. Economists Stephen Coate and Glenn Loury, who conducted a study on racial stereotypes, assert that the qualifications gap means that affirmative action will “not only fail to eliminate stereotypes, but may worsen them.” In Bangladesh, for instance, preferential policies introduced in 1949 as temporary measures have become permanent, and the divisions created by these policies have resulted in their logical outcome: ethnic strife. An expert on that subject, Duke University’s Donald Horowitz, says, “there is reason to expect most preferential policies will accentuate ethnic conflict.” In the 1970s, the Sri Lankan government decided to force proportional representation in university admissions to help the Sinhalese. They regarded the academically successful Tamil minority with as much fondness as westerners viewed Jews. Inevitably, Sinhalese were admitted with lower marks than Tamils who were turned away. The Tamils reacted more violently than did the U.S. whites who were receiving the same treatment at the same time. They resorted to terrorism that Horowitz says “rather clearly” flowed from the preferential programs. Both sides learned to hate each other, and in the ensuing civil war some 50,000 people died.
In his 1991 book Preferential Policies, Thomas Sowell blames such programs for an increase in campus violence in the U.S., and speculated the resulting conflict could eventually reach the murderous level of the violence long associated with India’s preferential programs. Surveys undertaken by U.S. political scientist Paul Sniderman and pollster Thomas Piazza show that many whites find affirmative action so unfair that they have come to resent blacks as a result.
U.S. and Canadian white supremacist groups claim these policies have boosted recruitment. And affirmative action may be encouraging Canadian employers to apply the principle of proportional representation to visible minority university graduates, who are heavily over-represented in science programs. According to Wannell and Caron, visible minority students are hired at levels proportionate to their presence in the population, but below their representation in science programs, a practice which discriminates against them in the same way quotas discriminated against Jews. As it did in Sri Lanka, the polarization produced by preferential policies could lead to violence from both sides. After all, reviving the idea that over-representation is unjust, observed Toronto writer Robert Fulford “opens the door to the idea that those who are successful, such as Jews or Asians, do not deserve to be.” The message of employment equity is that conspicuous success constitutes a blatant injustice — a message that legitimizes reprisals against those successful groups.
Employment equity encourages resentment, not only among its victims, but also among its beneficiaries — one of the causes of the rise in black anti-Semitism in the quarter-century since affirmative action broke up the traditional black/Jewish civil rights alliance. Sowell concludes bluntly that “if you buy the logic of affirmative action, you buy the logic of anti-Semitism.” Escalating black violence against successful groups like Jews and Asians in the 1990s shows that the logic of affirmative action is being followed to its conclusion. Within months of Sowell’s 1991 prediction, a mob of Brooklyn blacks shouting “Kill the Jew” grabbed Australian Yankel Rosenbaum on the street and did just that. In 1992, rioting blacks laid waste to Los Angeles’s Koreatown.
Similar racial violence, this time intiated by the victims of affirmative action, erupted in the Indian state of Gujarat in 1981, when a mob of angry would-be doctors killed 42 people in riots — over seven medical school spots reserved for untouchables. And on a cold night in December 1989, a lone gunman burst into Montreal’s École Polytechnique, shot and killed 14 female engineering students and then turned the gun on himself. The notes that Marc Lepine, a rejected engineering applicant, left behind reveal a deeply disturbed individual obsessed with the idea that a grand plot hatched by feminists was at work to rob him, a white man, of his birthright. “They want to keep the advantages of women . . . while seizing those of men,” he wrote. He accused “the feminists who ruined my life” of being so preoccupied with 50 per cent quotas in everything that “perhaps their next demand will be to have history rewritten to include Caesars’s female legions.”
Clearly, Lepine was unhinged, but in a social climate where preferential admissions policies were the norm, the fact that large numbers of women were being admitted to engineering programs at L’École was enough to send him on a shooting spree. Of course it wouldn’t have made any difference to LePine’s career prospects how many women were accepted into engineering that year. His qualifications were nowhere near acceptable. But the incident is an extreme example of the resentment and destruction that even perceived favoritism can create and evidence of the way in which preferential policies increase group identification and animosity even among those who deserve rejection. According to the anti-Stalinist Sidney Hook, “[They then] visit this resentment even on those minority persons and women who have obtained advancement purely on the basis of their own merit.”
HOW IS IT THAT EMPLOYMENT EQUITY IS TOLERATED BY thousands of well meaning people? People who understand the contradiction of trying to end racism by practising it; who see the fallacy in giving advantages to well heeled women and nonwhites at the expense of poor white men; who see their country being divided and polarized. According to U.S. sociologist Frederick Lynch, a “spiral of silence” surrounds the subject. Those audacious enough to voice their suspicions receive abuse that discourages others from going public. Lynch himself was blacklisted by U.S. colleges after the publication of his 1989 book, Invisible Victims, about white males as the victims of affirmative action.
In 1991, a Kitchener, Ontario, fire department started requiring candidates who were white and male, or were merely the grandsons of white males, to score 85 per cent on hiring exams, while for preferred races the cutoff score was 70 per cent. One young white man, Jake Smola, actually had the nerve to complain when he was rejected with a score of 83 per cent. Not only were his objections brushed off by Ontario’s so-called Human Rights Commission, he and his co-defendants were abused as “whining babies” by a Montreal Gazette editorialist in the bargain. There is no doubt that Smola was discriminated against by the Kitchener fire department because of his race — a clear contradiction to the Ontario Human Rights Code’s “freedom from discrimination” provisions. But bureaucrats were able to dismiss his complaint because of a legal escape clause, Section 14, that was quietly inserted into the code in 1981. Section 14 is a bit of legalese that explicitly permits preferential programs and effectively makes it impossible for victims of preferential programs, like Jake Smola, to sue employers. In most other provinces, escape clauses similar to Section 14 restrict the right of white males to sue.
Not so in the U.S., where a handful of white workers have been outraged enough by their treatment under affirmative action to go to court. In support of one law suit by a rejected medical school applicant, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith outlined in detail to the Supreme Court how the school’s procedures resembled those of the schools that turned Arthur Kornberg away in the 1930s. In Canada, however, the thousands of white men in search of academic jobs, who know beyond a doubt that they’ve been discriminated against, have no legal recourse. They cannot sue sexist institutions like Ryerson and the Ontario College of Art, which have officially announced they’re not considering white male applications. All a Canadian can do is vote in governments opposed to preferential treatment, like Mike Harris’s Tories in Ontario. Campaign polling indicated that his clear stand against the NDP’s “job quota law” was a big factor in his overwhelming win last year. Harris has already carried out his campaign promise to revoke the NDP’s Employment Equity Act, freeing the private and the public sector from the necessity of setting hiring and admissions quotas. But has Harris gone far enough? A number of corporations have publicly asserted their intention to continue voluntary preferential programs. As long as they hire women and minorities with a view to proportional representation, Section 14 protects them from suits for discrimination. Likewise, municipalities, universities, cultural agencies and provincial governments themselves can institute preferential hiring and admissions policies without fear of being sued by their white male victims. Incredibly, they can even lay people off on the basis of race — just as Germany’s National Socialists did. For instance, in the CBC’s own words the 1991 layoffs at the network saw “a determined effort by management” to protect designated staffers. Human Resources Development Canada still encourages firms to keep “designated groups on staff, while reducing the workforce.”
But if governments had the courage to dump the escape clauses in the provincial human rights codes, then everyone would again have the legal right to sue for discrimination. And the carefully constructed myth that employment equity has no victims would crumble. Perhaps a few of the country’s white male PhDs who have been reduced to tutoring would file complaints against sexist universities like Ryerson. And job applicants like Kitchener’s Jake Smola could hope for a warmer reception at the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Job seekers could file complaints against the Toronto executive recruiter who proudly recounted in a 1993 Financial Post careers column how he helped a firm hold a racially restricted job competition. There might also be complaints from former CBC and Ontario Public Service employees who lost their jobs in layoffs that officially aimed to protect the designated.
The provinces should repeal every escape clause in every human rights code, and guarantee everyone, regardless of race or sex, protection from discrimination by giving them the right to sue. In the 1930s, my father and the other Jewish immigrants on Montreal’s St. Urbain Street deserved that protection as much as Arthur Kornberg did, and their children deserve the same protection today. It’s time to give that right back to every Canadian. Then if the racist and sexist bureaucrats like those at Ryerson, in Kitchener and at the CBC want to keep discriminating — hey, sue them.
- Mauriceresponds: April 2, 1996
–>, Lethbridge, Alberta, responds: April 3, 1996 , Sackville, New Brunswick, responds: April 4, 1996 responds: April 6, 1996 , Island Lake, Alberta, responds: April 12, 1996 responds: April 15, 1996 responds: April 18, 1996
- Bob McLarty
- Sean Curran
- Stan Kelly
- Thomas Ayers
- Jane MacDonald
- Jason Green
- Tom Burton
- James Evans
- Mark Giles
Your article “The new racists” (Spring 1996) would have been more impressive and less of a rant, if it had been better balanced. There are two points you might want to consider: (1) While everybody has to believe in something, your simple faith in bureaucratic merit assessment made some sense at the turn of the century, but seems to almost wilfully disregard reality today; and (2) For fifteen years after the Second World War, Veterans Preference was a form of affirmative action that overrode all but the most basic assessment of merit. Yet, it would be hard to argue that it reduced the quality of staff in the federal and provincial agencies that practised it.
I’m sure you are getting enough mail on this subject, so I’ll try not to go on too long about it. Public service examinations served the useful purpose of ending unqualified appointments based on political patronage, which had been the norm before Laurier. Like most good things they were pushed further and further and began to serve other purposes. Most frequently they became a way for bureaucrats to cover their asses and avoid responsibility for personnel decisions. As more and more public servants had to be hired, more and more difficult questions and academic requirements were added. If you talk to the people who design and grade tests at public personnel agencies, many, having once given you the politically correct response, will start trotting out the horror stories. If you look at the educational qualifications required for most blue collar type jobs in almost any city, you will (I expect) be impressed by how little they relate to the job. These two factors mean, in effect, that people from groups who don’t have a lot of experience in the Canadian educational system (whether or not their families have been in Canada for a few thousand years) and/or those don’t have friends or family who already know the tricks for being hired by the police department, fire department, railway and so on, just don’t have a fair chance.
This doesn’t justify ignoring qualifications entirely. But, the Veterans Preference experience would argue that, provided applicants meet reasonable minimum requirements for the job, a considerable degree of affirmative action doesn’t hurt the delivery of services. “Reasonable” minimum standards are more likely to be ensured if an effective pressure group, like the Canadian Legion was, is involved.
Whether or not it hurts public faith in the equity and justice of the political system, I think, depends on what kind of a political system you want. If you want an inclusive, representative system, one way is to have the tests give only a “qualified” or “not-qualified” grade, decide which groups the existing system has left unrepresented, and pick from those groups qualified applicants by lot. If you insist on a purely “objective” system, however, you develop more and more “discriminating” tests, and hire those qualified applicants who know how to work the system. As someone once said about pre-Mandela South Africa, “the Boers are still farmers, the fields they cultivate now are the army and the police force.” Probably what most of us want is something in between. Unfortunately, I don’t think your article allowed for it.
I just now finished your article and felt that I had to write to offer some brief comments.
I found the article very intriguing and well written. Being a law student at Dalhousie, I’m always confronted with the effects of “affirmative action.” Curiously enough, I was engaged in a discussion/argument just the other day with a classmate concerning the very subject. If the magazine had arrived at my door a few days earlier, I may have been better prepared to back up my arguments with facts.
I was surprised that, while you mentioned Section 14 and remarked that perhaps what was needed was its removal, you did not mention Section 15(2) of the Charter which, as I’m sure you know, can’t be removed. Even with this omission, however, the article was a pleasure to read. I’ve often thought that these programs and quotas work to alienate groups rather than ameliorate injustice . . . you’ve managed to illustrate this very well.
I wish you the best of luck with the magazine. I would consider subscribing myself, were it not for the fact that, as a student, I find myself moving around quite a bit for a good part of the year. Thanks again for the “good read.”
I just read your article in the Spring issue of The NEXT CITY titled, “The new racists.” There is hardly anything to add to your well thought out composition except to say, “Amen.”
As we struggle under the continued dissolution of quality of life in Canada and the onerous tax milking, I can only think, as I wander the unploughed ruts of our Winnipeg streets, that it’s time to resurrect Gibbons and have him write the “Decline and Fall of the North American Empire.”
Keep up the great writing and speak loudly.
Maurice responds: April 2, 1996
I just finished reading your article in The NEXT CITY. It is the first time I read something directly challenging what is fast becoming a sacred cow in Canada. You are raising most interesting questions and presenting stats that are rather stunning.
Have you published other articles on the subject? Have you got more information on it?
Above all, did you get any feedback about this article since the March 20 date of publication? What kind of feedback? Was it supportive? Any proportions worth mentioning?
I am interested because I am currently conducting a study for an organization, with the purpose of finding supporting evidence for the theory that systemic discrimination is preventing the 4 traditional groups (women, natives, handicapped people and visible minorities) from being recruited and promoted in it. To this day (about 5 days of intense interviews), I cannot find any!
Congratulations on getting into print! The euphemisms and hypocrisy of being politically correct are seemingly unexposible. I am glad to see your article on “The new racists” and hope it has an effect!
With our “wonderful ” constitution and the ineptness of our pols, is there hope?
Keep at it!
I live in Sackville, New Brunswick. With today’s Globe and Mail (I get it delivered to the house), came a copy of the magazine The Next City. I will be writing to that magazine as well.
I am really concerned about the cover chosen for this issue. I have not read the associated article on affirmative action (I really am too busy taking care of my family) and my comments have nothing to do with the article itself. The cover is a disturbing one. It clearly demonizes a group of people (why should an issue such as Affirmative Action polarize the groups in this way – is this the kind of propaganda Hitler used to promote his hateful policies to deal with the threat he perceived that Jews were to German society?). I just don’t understand why such an image was chosen. And the sword suggests a warlike situation. Just what this world needs – a legimate issue such as the pro/cons of Affirmative Action clouded by paranoia of “them being demons” and “out to get us.”
I will throw the issue out. I do not want any children to see it – I think it is a worse influence than any of the cartoons I object to (Do we need a V chip for magazine covers?) And you know, it is not the cover’s influence on children that bothers me the most, it is its influence in supporting the hateful views of, well, “hate groups.”)
I think the choice to use the illustration on The Next City‘s cover was an irresponsible one and the word “hate-mongering” comes to mind. I think that publishers should think carefully about what messages they carry – hate and silly demonization are dangerous and destructive to the fabric of our society.
I have requested from Globe and Mail that your magazine not be included with my news paper in the future.
I would like to hear from the people at The Next City and want to understand the considerations that lend to the decision to use this illustration.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
In your article The new racists you suggest that Lepine’s outburst is the direct result of employment equity and should serve as a warning to further advances in that area. Lepine’s outburst was caused exclusively but his own frustration at no longer inhabiting a privileged position — 30 yrs. ago this white male’s qualifications would not have been found “nowhere near acceptable.”
The other comment I wish to make is that for you the notion of “merit” is unexamined. How we treat people, the messages we send to the “disadvantaged” are of much more social importance than being able to find the “best” person to build the fastest car or the biggest bomb. “Merit” is socially constructed and I for one welcome the rethinking which has taken place around, for instance, our ideas of just what does make a “qualified” police officer.
Affirmative action or employment equity is social engineering at its worst. Its design lowers the standards to the level of the applicant rather than raising the applicant to the level of the standards. For example bilingualism became a merit in the staffing of government positions to increase the participation of francophones. This gives a distinct advantage to Quebecois since they are far more often in contact with English than westerners are with French. The results are reflected in the statistics.
French-Canadians make up about 25% of the population, but as of March 1994 fill positions in government agencies in the following percentages: Office off the Chief Electoral Officer: 66.7%; Canadian Labour Relations Board: 67.4%; Public Service Commission 61.1%; Secretary of State: 78%; Supreme Court: 58.1%. (Statistics reported in the Alberta Report as of April 15,1996)
Employment equity prioritizing fluency in the French language at the cost of other broader characteristics, could spell disaster for some key government agencies. Staffing on this basis may explain why our military is in disarray. Why the higher echelons seem to act as circus clowns rather than performing as the leaders we used to know. The RCMP top brass also seems less effective, their operation has deteriorated so badly it can’t even protect the Prime Minister from a couple of simple minded kooks let alone trained terrorists.
Social engineering under the name of bilingualism has cost the taxpayers, mainly of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario over 50 billion dollars. Add to this the costs of biculturism, metrics and all forms of affirmative action and toss in the billions we have spent and continue to spend on the Indians with little result. We borrowed the money and accumulated a debt approaching a trillion dollars. What is worse even though we are on the brink of bankruptcy our latest Prime Minister and his minions continue to promote the same destructive spending and social engineering policies of previous governments.
I take exception to comments posted from your reader Bob McLarty. He believes Second World War, Veterans Preference, was a form of affirmative action. He gets a strong,’not so’ from me. The military was and still is under the control and responsibility of the Department of National Defense. Veterans of WWII as members of the armed forces were already part of a federal agency. Demobilized after five or six years the vets were well qualified to move to other government agency jobs, blue collar or white. In Canada, even during the war, the army built roads and bridges and were called on to help the civilian authorities on numerous occasions. The Military Police or Provost Corps maintained the peace on trains, buses and the streets in cooperation with their civilian counterpart. After five or six years in the service their qualifications made them the logical preference for the RCMP and other police forces. As a Military Policeman, on the verge of discharge I was invited to look to the RCMP as a career. Affirmative action was not a factor in that invitation.
Those of us enlisting from a job on the railway were insured our seniority and service would be protected. On discharge I bumped back into my job and exercised that seniority and service for the next 42 years. No preference and no affirmative action prevailed. The hiring process on the railway at that time was to talk face to face with the superintendent. If you came with a good recommendation from a respected working relative or friend it might have some bearing on the decision. There were no intelligence tests or inflated resumes to assist in the choice. Training consisted of a few unpaid trips on the job under the instruction and watchful eyes of experienced employees. If you had their approval you went on the payroll. It was economical, effective and when the superintendents were hiring we engineers and firemen could leave a watch or a wallet on the bunkhouse table and it would still be there when we returned next trip. Not so after the employment services started doing the hiring. Even comparing the latest hiring methods the superintendents did better at weeding out thieves, drunks, dopers and other misfits.
We must end Social Engineering. We must end affirmative action. We must ensure every individual has equal access to the courts as prescribed by subsection 15 (1) of the Charter, by repealing Subsection 15 (2) which is the provincial escape clause. We must elect people that will control spending and reduce taxes. To do any of this we will have to make a clean sweep of the political hacks now in power.
The Reform party seems to me to be the only hope.
Congratulations on this article. I’m afraid that ‘affirmative action policies’ are serving to pit new immigrant groups against Canadians of the second or third (or more) generations, and the consequence will be a bitter reaction.
I responded at length to this article using snail mail, so I will not go on here with the detailed analysis of why the article by Jeff White was offensive and manipulative.
Judging by the generally favorable reviews you have chosen to post on the net, I can see that the article struck a chord with the neo-con backlash; I can only assume that these readers are The Next City’s target demographic. I am saddened, however, that these readers are so easily duped by Mr. White’s hyperbole and invective.
Respondent Sean Curran comments that he “found the article very intriguing and well-written.” If Mr. Curran considers the article well-written, I would suggest that he might benefit from reading from a wider canon. As a future lawyer, it behooves Mr. Curran to recognize flawed rhetoric when he sees it, lest he succumbs to its use.
And as for Messrs. Stan Kelly and Thomas Ayers, with their allusions to “onerous tax milking” and “the ineptness of our pols,” I offer this advice: I think you might feel more at home in Montana or Idaho. I hear there are whole communities of people there who might share your views.
As I mentioned in the snail-mail letter, the issues of affirmative action and its effectiveness need to be discussed. But Mr. White’s whitewash of the issue offers no real analysis of the racism and other oppressions that resulted in these policies in the first place. Why was affirmative action ever instituted? Because people were denied fair treatment, dignity and respect. I hope that most Canadians desire a community where fairness, dignity and respect are cherished attributes of the quality of our lives. If affirmative action has some flaws, don’t blame the victims the policies were intended to help. Let’s do the hard work to find solutions.