The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 43.0°F | Overcast

Quotas Exacerbate Prejudice Problems

Column by Michael K. Chung
Opinion Editor

A recent study revealing that the African-American race was the only ethnic group to collectively lose jobs during the last recession has stirred controversy among black leaders, whom complain of "subtle racism," according to The Boston Globe. The recent Globe article gives statistics for black job losses in several large corporations after the recession. General Electric Co. experienced "a 12.55 percent decline in its black work force in 1990-1991." This was largely due to the closings of a Columbia, Md. plant, which was 39 percent black, and a Cicero, Ill. plant, which was 80 percent black. ITT, owner of "the Boston-based Sheraton hotel chain, had a 27 percent decline in its black work force." These decisions are said to be based on business decisions like contractual failures, and not on race. The Globe article mentions other companies like the Bank of Boston and Digital Equipment Corp. and compares their similar dismissals of large numbers of black.

However, the problem of perceived racism and discrimination perpetuates itself when minority leaders and groups complain of unfair treatment. The equal rights movement spawned good intentions: to ensure equal opportunities for all citizens, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, or sex. Ideally, the goal of non-existent discrimination would be achieved when people are thought of as merely themselves, with none of the above qualities attached to their evaluations. As it stands, however, quotas have been incorporated into many institutions where acceptance is required -- for instance, the work industry and higher education.

Because quotas have been established into such structures, the obligation of hiring or accepting people partially on the basis of their sexual, religious, or ethnic background has undoubtedly entered the psychological approach of those responsible for candidate placement.

Due to these expectations of equal outcome in such walks of life by minority groups, two things have happened. First, so-called "under-represented" minorities have come to essentially expect results based largely on their background. This clearly has negative side-effects. One such effect is that a person becomes complacent, and may not strive to achieve all that he can, because he knows that he is more or less required by a quota to maintain his position. Secondly, more and more "minority groups" have made their voices heard. Pretty soon, if things continue down the "politically correct" avenue that they have been, complaints will be heard from such newly-formed groups as "The Coalition for Children of Single Parents," "Adults under Five Feet Tall," "People with Naturally Curly Hair," and "People who eat Peanut Butter Three Times a Day." Before long, every company, school, and government office will be required to field workforces and populations which are completely representative of the rest of the nation at any given moment, taking into consideration factors as ridiculous as those mentioned above.

This issue of equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome has fueled much discussion. On a recent Rush Limbaugh re-broadcast, the issue of the elimination of competition was discussed. In such a scenario, everything would be equalized, from education to job opportunities. With competition as the driving force, Limbaugh (and random interviewees on the streets of New York City) argued that society has advanced over the centuries, developing into the high-tech global network that it is today, and which continues to propel itself forward.

Limbaugh argued that the guarantee of the equality of income is essentially a microcosm of liberalism, in that it lowers the quality of everyone, reducing the potential of our society to its lowest common denominator. Society would have to set its pace according to its least able people. Obviously, this punishes anyone who is not at the depths of society, attempting to equalize things that are inherently not equal to begin with. Beyond the physical differences between people lay the intangible qualities -- characteristics such as desire, attitude, potential for development. It is the combination of these factors and other traits (e.g. intelligence, experience) which distinguish between individuals and their abilities.

Taken to its recto-absurditum, establishment of total equality would lead to a general collapse of society because its failure to establish such measures. On paper, communism is the most idealistic and aesthetically pleasing of social organizations. However, if total equality is to be implemented, who is the governing body to do so? After it does, who is there to uphold the system? Even if individuals can be trusted at such levels, let us keep in mind that the human being's predilection for wealth, power, and personal satisfaction will always serve as fundamental stumbling blocks to success. A current example of failed ideology is the collapse and current turmoil of the former Soviet Republic.

Perhaps the most convincing example of how the most-qualified participants emerge successfully is illustrated in professional sports in the United States. How often have you heard of racial under-representation in professional athletics? (For instance, have you ever heard complaints of the lack of Asians in the National Basketball Association?) Athletes are based on their performances, not on personal characteristics that they have no control over such as their race and sex (well, almost no control over that). True, sports are much more objective to evaluate than a person's abilities to function maximally in a particular work environment, but it is relatively easy to know which competitors are among the top of their field, whether by watching them, or looking at their lucrative contract offers and accumulated earnings.

Without question, complete equality is an unachievable ideal, and although there are good intentions sought after by minority groups, discrimination will persist if such groups continue to seek after and demand equality on the level of job acceptances and college (and post-baccalaureate) acceptances. Rather, equality ought to be sought on the level which would be more impressionable to its recipients, namely, the youths. In order for there to be any chance of equality among the superficially different, equality of opportunity must first be given to society's future -- the babies (and unborn, for that matter). More strenuous efforts need to be made in order for sufficient health care and education opportunities, as well as proper incentives to provide visions for these people. By pressuring society to yield to their demands, minority groups are effectively sustaining discrimination in the psyches of the majority, and often debilitating the progress of society in the process.