Last week, the Chicago Board of Education closed 50 schools, including ten percent of the city’s elementary schools. More than 80% of the students impacted are black. About 42% of CPS students are black.
A lot of emotions and outrage get ginned up. The CEO of the Chicago Public Schools was outraged, because she had supposedly been called a racist in pushing a policy of mass closure of public schools. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett was outraged that “as a woman of color,” she could be accused of racism. Also, how could the Chicago Teachers Union and its allies in the parent and student community call the school closure plan “racist” when its purpose is purportedly to get kids out of failing schools? (As one of several rationales).
There’s two parts to the answer here, and they’re very important, and each deserves its own, focused article (so let’s do one at a time). The one of interest right now is the nature of a discriminatory policy; one for another day, is the conditions that result in discrimination.
Racist can be a tough word to hear or to understand. The school closure plan is absolutely not racist in the way we think of Archie Bunker (that’s old-timey Eric Cartman for you youths) as being racist–that is, fueled by conscious hatred for a group, or subconscious fear of that group. But that is not the only definition of racist. Many a racist remark has been made with good intentions, for example; we can all think of cringe-inducing incidents of those from our personal experience. So perhaps it’d be better to call the school closure policy discriminatory. Oh, CPS’s school closure plan is plainly discriminatory. The only open issues are whether the government had no choice but to be discriminatory. To date, CPS has not made that case.
This isn’t controversial, in fact. Discrimination based on race is not about the intent of the discriminator. It’s about the effect of the policy. This isn’t Leftist race theory, this is taken directly from the United States Congress. Even to the Congress it’s long been understood that a private employer or a government body can be guilty of discrimination even with a pure heart. Several pieces of long-standing legislation bear this out: the Civil Rights Act’s “Title VII” which bars discrimination in employment; the Fair Housing Act, which bars discrimination in housing; the Americans with Disability Act; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, among others. These statutes all, either on their face or through interpretation by courts, contemplate that a policy can be discriminatory–have racist effects–even absent any racist motives.
In such scenarios, intent is immaterial. Motive is immaterial. What matters is, when a powerful actor (an employer, a government) acts, it has to be sensitive to the impact of that policy on protected classes–whether they be women or people of color or religious minorities or the disabled–and aware of possible disparate impacts. If they aren’t sufficiently careful to justify or mitigate those impacts, then they have discriminated. Again, don’t ask me, ask Congress–and take an example.
Read the rest of this entry »