A district judge in Iowa has dismissed a class-action lawsuit that claims Iowa's state government systematically discriminated against black job applicants. The plaintiffs' theory is that subtle racial bias was part of virtually every hiring and promotion decision. It is based on research suggesting Americans inherently "prefer"?whites to blacks, even if they are unaware of it.
The lawsuit covers up to 6,000 blacks passed over for jobs or promotions since 2003. It seeks millions in lost wages as well as court-ordered changes to state hiring practices. Given the judge's decision, the plaintiffs say they will appeal, so expect this case to be around for a while longer.
We hardly know where to begin, given the audacity of the lawsuit. Its premise is a bit like original sin, ascribing guilt to every American by virtue of his or her existence. That's quite an indictment, and of course a convenient argument in that it wipes out any defense. Because those who would say they are not racist are not to be trusted, because they really are racist, according to the plaintiffs. If you are guilty before you even set foot in a courthouse, that's quite a reversal of centuries of jurisprudence.
Speaking of centuries, what about all the overt actions that white Americans have taken to fight not only racism, but slavery itself? We don't have to guess about whether there was some hidden bias in these actions. Thousands of whites were ardent abolitionists in the North, prior to the Civil War. Whites died in the hundreds of thousands to defeat a slave-holding society in that war. Whites worked with blacks to integrate Southern society and to fight institutionalized racism there. White civil rights workers from the North were murdered in the South. And moving right up through history to the present moment, we have a black president, elected by a white-majority society.
Some Americans are, indeed, racists. And they are wrong because they are irrational. A human being is a human being, regardless of skin color or ethnic background. When an irrational person is in charge of hiring and makes racially motivated decisions, especially in state government, the law is not on their side. But a plaintiff must prove wrongdoing. Any standard short of that is, again, absurd.