Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Revealing Comment

I was reading discussion boards on IMDB recently, when I came across a comment that struck me as quite interesting:
Would I like to see more women of color in Hollywood productions? Yes. But unlike corporate affirmative action, casting choices is never as clear-cut. There are many factors to consider, most importantly "who's the best fit for the role?", personality-wise. 
What makes this interesting is precisely how little comment it produced. Hardly anyone batted an eye at it, as if it were self-evident, common sense. In fact, the only objections seemed to be a few who objected to allowing an exception for the entertainment field. Otherwise, the basic premise seemed to be accepted without a second thought.

So, why is this so interesting?

Well, quite simply because it shows exactly what mindset underlies affirmative action, and makes it clear why it is so harmful. Just think about the statement: Actors need to have certain qualifications, there are many factors in picking an actor, and thus we cannot impose simple-minded affirmative action on Hollywood casting.

On the other hand, in mere business, when hiring for simple tasks such as corporate executives, stock brokers, attorneys and so on, there we have no other factors to consider, and so we can simply apply head-counting logic, forcing companies to allocate positions by race, sex or other factors.

Does anyone see the problem here? I will agree, acting is a nuanced field, where many factors come into play in selecting an actor for a part. But I would argue that the same is true of every position. From CEO, attorney or surgeon down to workers on the assembly line, or even cashiers at a fast food shop, in every case there are factors beyond the simple checklist of required skills, and thus it is not possible to simply apply head counts. Perhaps a company did not hire a specific minority candidate even though on paper they were "equally qualified", but that does not show racism, as with the actor, perhaps one of the millions of other factors came into play.

And yet, it seems from the way this comment was received, and thousands like it are made every day,  most of my fellow citizens seem to believe that in "mere jobs" people can be treated as interchangeable, and thus we can apply simple head counts to determine if a company is racist or not, or can impose quotas upon them, as it makes no difference exactly who they hire.

Is it just me, or does this imply a pretty simplistic, dismissive view of all things commercial? And is it not troubling that such a view has become so widespread?

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