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What a Long Way to Go

March 28, 2014

Yesterday’s edition of the New York Times included a City Room item called “New York Today: De Blasio’s Diversity.” The item was a brief recap of Mayor de Blasio’s appointments to date. The Times found that 54 percent of appointees to date are women and 55 percent are “minorities,” meaning Hispanics, African-Americans, or Asian-Americans.

The Times reported that former Mayor Bloomberg’s appointees were 48 percent women and 28 percent “minorities.” And the Times noted that de Blasio’s appointments much more closely match the city’s demographics than Bloomberg’s did.

So far, so good.

The item did not attract a huge number of comments, by on-line Times standards: 24 comments in 24 hours after publication. Ten of the comments challenged the merits of de Blasio’s appointees in one way or another. This point of view was perhaps most pointedly expressed by Eric, of White Plains: “Just hire the best people, for goodness sakes.”

The premise of this point of view is that a demographically diverse workforce, and specifically a workforce that is not mostly non-Hispanic white is inconsistent with merit-based hiring – that minority appointees are not “the best people, for goodness sakes.” To my dismay, only five comments – including my own – challenged that premise. I argued that talent is diverse, and therefore that merit-based hiring will necessarily yield a diverse workforce. Only if non-Hispanic whites held most of the city’s talent would merit-based appointment yield a workforce that is mostly non-Hispanic and white.

The New York Times readership is centered, one hopes, somewhere to the left of Fox News viewership. Yet the Times readership produced commentary substantially favorable to the point of view that minority hiring reflects bias whereas non-Hispanic white hiring reflects merit. (In defense of the Times readership, I should mention that the three comments with the most reader recommendations defended the merit of de Blasio’s diverse appointees.)

The sad fact is that we as a society are on the whole much more willing to assume the fairness and meritoriousness of the hiring process that ends in the selection of a non-Hispanic white candidate. When anyone else is selected, our collective knee jerks with suspicions of bias, quotas, favoritism, and other non-merits based explanations.

We have a very long way to go.

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From → All Posts, Obama 2.0

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