Gotham firefighters and racial hiring

by Walter Olson on November 1, 2010

At City Journal, Heather Mac Donald has an important article on the federal courts’ willingness to second-guess in great detail the hiring practices of the New York City fire department, in search of more hiring of black applicants. It is worth noting that fire departments are pressed to rely (and even perhaps over-rely) on written tests in assessing applicants’ suitability in part because traditional testing of physical skills such as the ability to wield a charged hose, get up a ladder quickly, and carry body-size weights has been extensively and successfully sued against by lawyers representing female applicants.

{ 7 comments }

1 Anonymous Attorney 11.01.10 at 10:19 am

MacDonald gets to the crux of it here:

“Disparate-impact jurisprudence rests on a massive lie: that blacks and whites would score identically on tests of cognitive ability, absent a biased test design. Given the racial disparities in average cognitive skills—black 12th-graders read, on average, at the level of white eighth-graders—it is impossible to design a test measuring cognitive ability that will not have a lower black pass rate.”

2 Roy B 11.01.10 at 11:17 am

One question, as 24% of the population is Black and 66% of the Corrections Department staff is Black, will the Judge be following up on this disparity in hiring?

3 gasman 11.01.10 at 12:25 pm

Thus perpetuating the employment stigma of being black. In so many areas of life now it is reasonable to assume that at any area of employment the black employee is less capable, has lower educational achievement, and will be the under performer of the bunch.
It was so in my medical school, where three of the four blacks were so underprepared that a typical highschool grad would have had better success. Three flunked out in the first semester (failing more than half their classes was automatic dismissal), but were strung along for another few semesters trying to nurse them along. Of the black physicians I now work with, they have a long way to go personally to reassure me that they are not some double-O doctor just there to fill a quota. Same true in all areas of professional jobs (teaching, police, fire/rescue, law, etc.) where quota could very likely have played a role in ‘achievement’. Probably the only area where I have not met quota incapable people is in engineering, where perhaps innumeracy is so deep that they don’t even attempt to enter that field unless actually competent.

4 Stewart Peterson 11.01.10 at 5:52 pm

gasman, you’re not looking at a fair cross-section of “blacks.” Considering that most of the “black” people you see – and I’m assuming you’re in the United States here – are either from the South or a couple generations removed and not very assimilated into Northern culture, why not compare them to white Southerners? Do white Southerners do any better than black Southerners? Do immigrants from Africa to the North do any worse than white Northerners?

I would be surprised if Southerners didn’t do worse on these tests, regardless of race. They do, after all, have a lot stacked against them. Southern culture does not encourage people to ask questions or think critically about what they’re told by “authorities.” These Southern “authorities” in turn do not tolerate perceived “disloyalty” to the culture – redefining anyone who disagrees with them as not a “real Southerner” – which keeps people from making a clean break, or even reforms, from within. Poverty certainly doesn’t help – even a very intelligent person can’t spend time practicing skills or engaging in intellectual pursuits if their time is spent trying to figure out where their next meal will come from. Ethnicity on the other hand has nothing to do with it that I can see – young Southern children (under about 6-7) that I’ve been around act like young Northern children, and the changes only happen later, after long exposure to Southern culture. If there were any heritable characteristics that had anything to do with the poor academic/intellectual performance of Southerners, they would show up at birth, and they don’t.

The trouble is that very few white Southerners left for the North, so the Southerners that Northerners happen to see happen to be black, not white, meaning that white Northerners end up associating Southern culture with “blacks” as a group when 90 or so percent of blacks worldwide aren’t Southerners and 60 or so percent of Southerners aren’t black; we just don’t see either group. Do you work with any physicians who are African immigrants or their descendants? Do you work with any physicians who are white Southerners?

5 AMcA 11.01.10 at 6:16 pm

Chciago just got nailed BIG TIME for using a written test to hire firefighters. The Supreme Court upheld the finding that the test, which the city had paid a small fortune to a bunch of consultants to concoct, didn’t relate in any recognizable way to the skills firefighters need. “Ooops, sorry, we were just trying to avoid litigation, and I guess we stepped in it again.”

Lewis v. City of Chicago.

Rumor is the damages are going to represent the wage differential for those who weren’t hired over what they may have earned elsewhere. Tens if not a hundred or more millions.

6 John 11.01.10 at 9:42 pm

Wouldn’t it be cheaper not to have firefighters at all?

Taxpayers would spend less money buying new homes and business buildings that have burned down than they would paying out damages to people who weren’t hired as firefighters.

7 ChC 11.02.10 at 4:21 am

Stewart P –

Interesting. I recently read a book by Thomas Sowell in which he argues that dysfunctional Black behavior is actually a remnant of southern Redneck culture which can be traced to rural England and Scotland. Sowell’s theory is that Whites progressed and assimilated while Blacks remained concentrated in urban areas where a culture of ignorance and sloth was reinforced.

As far as your question about working with Black physicians, I’ll answer and say that yes, I do work with African-American doctors, and they are very capable. I’ll go further and suggest that they are among the best I know and, actually, the single most respected physician I work with is Black. If you asked me which physicians I would rank lowest, they wouldn’t be Black. Maybe the fact that I work for one of the Midwest’s most respected health care systems has something to do with selecting out the less competent doctors of any color.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the other staff. When looking at nurses, techs, etc. I must admit that Blacks are less likely to measure up in knowledge or work ethic.

FYI – There is a huge difference between nursing education and medical school: a nursing student with a C average would not be allowed to advance in any reputable program.

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