Sunday, October 09, 2005

Trip into Arivaca/Affirmative Action rant

Yesterday we went into town later than usual. We wanted to try dinner at the Grub Stake which just started serving food recently. I also had some library books due. First, we stopped at the library and I returned the three books and one CD I had checked out three weeks ago. I had checked out a book on the history of the Navajo, a book on the history of the US-Mexican border, a Tony Hillerman mystery and the Roughguide to Greek music CD. I played a lot of Greek music in the last three weeks. Yesterday, I checked out four new books and a CD. I got a book on European explorations of Arabia, one on the Hopi, one on the various Indian wars of the South West and another Tony Hillerman mystery. The CD is by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. Estonia is world famous for its music. Last time I was there in Februrary I saw a military concert in Tartu to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty. I had a personalized invitation from an admiral. Later in Tallinn I saw a small jazz concert. I actually liked the jazz concert better. At anyrate I find it amazing that a rural area of only around 800 people has a library that is open on Saturdays and actually has books and CDs worth checking out.

After the library we headed to the post office. To my surprise I had mail. Last week I sent out my first job application with my new cover letter to a university in the mid-west. Yesterday I had a letter back from them. Granted it is only the stupid affirmative action form, but it is signed by the chairman of the history department. I hate filling out affirmative action forms. I find them to be the worst sort of politically correct racism. It asks for my Racial/Ethnic background and then gives me a set of very arbitrary choices. First, the cultural heritage of my ancestors is information totally unrelated to my qualifications to teach history. The only reason one would collect such information is to use it to discriminate against some group of people on the basis of being biologically descended from certain arbitrarily defined cultural groups. Second, they do not even bother to have a group that fits me. They have a catagory of White, non-Hispanic which is just dumb. What do Germans, Finns, Arabs, Turks, Persians, Berbers, Jews, Ukrainians, Kurds, Italians, Hungarians, Portuguese and the other myriad groups subsumed in this catagory have in common with each other? Could they at least have European? I know you have to seperate Spain out for some stupid reason, but maybe call it "Europe from the Pyrenees to the Urals plus Portugal?" Maybe divide Europe into cultural groupings like Germanic or Teutonic, Latin (except for Spain which is Hispanic according to the US government not White or European), Uralic, Slavic, Baltic and Celtic? But, classifying these diverse cultures as White on the basis of having less pigmentation than sub-Saharan Africans is insulting. I used to be White, but pigmentation has nothing to do with ethnicity.

My great grandfather like many Germans from Russia went to Canada. However, many went to Spanish speaking countries such as Argentina, Paraguay and Mexico. Many also went to Brazil, but since it speaks Portuguese its people are not Hispanic. I guess they are considered either White, non-Hispanic or Black, non-Hispanic depending on if they have any African ancestory. Now if my grandfather had been born in Argentina like many other people of Russian-German descent rather than Canada I would be Hispanic. My racial/ethnic background would not be any different in reality, but legally I would be in a catagory that receives official preference instead of one that is defacto discriminated against. Of course it is all completely a waste of resources in this case. The number of people who are in a catagory other than White, non-Hispanic applying for the jobs in my field is extremely miniscule. I strongly suspect it may be zero for this particular job.


Chris Conway said...

Those forms have nothing to do with the selection process unless a committee insists on excluding minority candidates for no justifiable professional reason. Then a separate office, the Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity office in all probability, not the hiring department or committee, inquires as to reasons for not considering certain candidates. As long as the hiring committee does its job in good faith, and professionally, then there is no problem. So Otto, keep this in perspective and don't be assuming now that you are somehow going to be discriminated against. Anyway, academia continues to be a much friendlier and more supportive place for white people than for minorities.

J. Otto Pohl said...

As I noted in the post there are almost no minorities applying for the jobs in question. Collecting the information regarding the jobs I am interested in is a waste of resources because they almost always have to hire a White, non-Hispanic by necessity.

But, seriously why should people whose grandparents migrated to the US from Spain be given preference over those that came from Portugal? Why should somebody of Russian-German descent whose granparents were born in Argentina be given more consideration than one whose grandfather was born in Canada? Why are Spainards and people of German, Italian and Welsh descent from Argentina not White? How is it that they are less White than Arabs from North Africa? Please explain to me the logic in this classification.It is a stupid system and wastes my time filling out forms. The fact that this discriminatory system will in all probability never hurt me is besides the point.

Chris Conway said...

I was simply clarifying how these forms are used within university bureacracies.

Such tracking systems are imperfect and illogical at times, since they are bureacratized forms of knowledge. I would also remind you that the categories you critique are a result of U.S. cultural dynamics, and should be read as such. It's too easy to critique it on "scientific" or geographical grounds.

The fact of the matter is that most university faculties are not diverse, and having a tracking system to determine if something fishy is going on when hiring takes place is important. If, in a University that is not diverse, but primarily white male, 40% applicants to a position are minorities and women, and none are selected for an interview, it is not inappropriate to simply ask for an academic and professional explanation. If they were not qualified, fine. Just check the box that says not qualified and no one makes a big deal out of it. No torture, interrogation or undue pressure. This is how the bureacracy works. It's not a big deal, really.

I refuse to argue with you about the categories on the form because I refuse to be diverted into making Republican arguments about affirmative action in hiring. Yes, the forms are lame. But they are not a tool for discrimination as you suggest in your original post. Trust me-- I had to deal with those forms directly as a chair of more than one search committee.

Chris Conway said...

Also, to Mr. Pohl Sr., I'd like to add that EVERYONE WHO IS NOT SELECTED FOR AN INTERVIEW OR FOR A POSITION NEEDS TO BE ASSIGNED A LEGITIMATE REJECTION CODE. So I have to justify all people who get turned away, even white people like myself.

I'm not going to argue with you sir. You are a good Dad and you are doing what all fathers should do-- defend their sons or daughters to all who disagree with them!

However, if you insist on piling on to me with your son, I will have to get MY father involved in this discussion as well, just to even the odds.

Chris Conway said...

Sorry-- one more thing: White people have sued in the past and have won cases over "reverse discrimination". So white people have plenty of recourse. Hence the need for hiring committees to justify all their decisions internally with paperwork that documents legitimate reasons for turning people away.

J. Otto Pohl said...

My objection is philosphically much deeper than the minute chance of experiencing discrimination myself. I have a problem with any legal classification of people based upon race. In the 1920s the Soviet government collected this type of data to try and fight discrimination against historically marginalized nationalities. In the 1930s and 1940s that same data was used to ethnically cleanse many of those same peoples. In the US exclusion of Japanese during WWII could only occur because of ethnic data collected in the census. I would not be surprised to see affirmative action data used against minorities by the US government in the future. Distinguishing between citizens based upon race is something that is just too tempting to abuse. The fact that the catagories are entirely arbitrary makes it even worse.

KRISTIN said...

Hmmm. It was an interesting tri-logue(?) to read :D USA seems to have a lot to do with racial discrimination (I just watched "Driving Miss Daisy" first time a few days back and I was extremely surprised by what I saw there - how somewhere in early 1960s the white people in South States still treated black people, it's just amazing to me!!). Like Otto, I found those "affirmative action froms" to be "the worst sort of politically correct racism", however they are (or seem to be used) by a certain hiring committee. It really is BIG POLITICS and gives means to those that have power to use them however (against whose) they wish to use them. Well, seems like an inevitability to me though, it's a sign of the time we are all still living in LOL. No one trusts anyone and maybe it is just justifiable, who knows for sure.
Actually I'm amazed by myself as I'm not afraid to make a comment here at the first place, I really don't know anything about politics or care for it, because I'm quite sure that "average" people that stand beyound (outward) some certain narrow cirlce of BIG POLITICIANS do not possess any correct information about what is going on, anyway. So it all comes ineluctably about guessing for us.
Oh well, it's my "smartass" opinion, anyway.
We do have some big racial problems here in Estonia, too, the continuing "war" between Slavic immigrants and Fenno-Ugric natives... The biggest struggle goes over the languages, i guess, we try to protect ours as not toooo many people in the world speak it (it's different story whether a language like Estonian, spoken by such a small group of people needs to exist and be protected after all - I myself do not worry about it a least bit!), so we even have a LAW about languages here, yet I meet many Russians daily that refuse to talk to me in Estonian, even if they are actually capable to do that, it's quite offensive. But the main reason for why we can't live together happily ever after is the difference between the temperaments of the nationalities. While an average Estonian is quiet, polite and rather indrawn, an average Russian is loud, rude and agressive. Well no wonder, we are a tiny nation freed from slavery not too much time ago while Russians come from a huge empire and act accordingly.

:D Hmmm. Somehow I always find a way to become emotional LOL. Women!

Oh, and Otto! I was surprised to see that you read Tony Hillerman's books too :D I'm reading one at the moment, sent me by an American friend, it's called "The Blessing Way". Have you read it? I'm not doing very well as I usually read in bed before sleep and I'm old already you know, I can't read all night long anymore as I used to do when I was younger LOL, so I usually fall asleep after 2-3-4-5 pages (4-5 when I'm lucky!) and it's still hard to read in English and I don't like to use the dictionary but am trying to understand it from the context ( I'm lazy!) so I have made it to page 40 by now :D But so far I really like it.