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Monday, June 29, 2009

The New Haven Fire Fighters & The Supremacist Court

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

The Decision was 5-4, with the usual alignment. Justice Ginsberg's dissent is especially powerful, smacking the Right-Wingers with her comment that it is "understandable" why the White firefighters would appeal to "this Court".

The "Supremacist" Wing of The Court has deftly severed the principles of "intentional discrimination" from "disparate impact" meaning that it is now not enough to demonstrate the second, one also has to prove the first. Now a nod and a wink will suffice among a clique and if that clique carefully monitors the overt behavior of their group and take no documentable action, they can exclude others on the basis of race, sex, national origin or religion. The Bush Supreme Court Rules.

Here is my personal take on this case.

I was an emergency forest firefighter (so-called EFF) in my youth. Because I am Native American, I was sometimes placed with the Native Alaskan crews. The best firefighters I ever worked with was a hot shot crew from the Yukon Village of Stevens Village brought in to make fire breaks during the "Big Denver" fire in Manley Hot Springs in 1968. The Stevens crew was tough, smart, well-organized and had excellent leadership. The fire was so named because the leadership came out of Denver. This fire was of historic proportions and BLM brought their best and their brightest to Alaska to manage the command and control. It so happened that there was a group of professional firefighters out of Boise Idaho who rapidly assumed a lead role in fire management on the ground.

After the initial few days, I was transferred to another crew to deal with maintaining fire breaks. This crew was called the "Hippy" crew and was much more laid back and to my liking. Nevertheless, I was in a good position to observe what was going on. The blond, blue-eyed college guys from Denver and the blond, blue-eyed college guys from Boise shared a culture that excluded the Native Alaskans--and the "hippies" for that matter, but less so. The White Guys from Boise and Denver got the best rations, the best equipment, rode around in the chopper, and got radios. The "Indian Crew" got the crappiest details, the worst equipment and C-Rations instead of the fresh-paks of food that was flown in.

Now suppose there was an opening for a "pro-Crew" to travel with the Denver Chiefs. From every practical standpoint, the Stevens Village crew would be the best choice. But the Denver guys and the Boise guys are so tight...and the Indians are so....different. What could they do?

Well, one thing they could do is have a test. The test would be about BLM regulations and the DOI org chart and the physics of fire and the chemistry of fire retardant. It's all relevant.

Guess what? Most Stevens Village EFF went to a lousy village school and barely know the times table. Guess what? The tanned and groovy blue-eyed blonds would ride off to the Denver sunset together.

The point: don't tell me that all those high-fives among the White Fire Fighters wasn't (in part) a celebration of their cultural dominion.


metanoia2k said...

it is like changing a rule of civil procedure by replacing "preponderance of evidence" with "beyond a shadow of a doubt". When the burden of proof is so high as to have to prove an 'intention' despite a demonstrable effect, then that burden colors the notion of due process for complainants. How can I address an indisputable disparity if intention provides an umbrella for nuance?

Eclectic_Radical said...

Well said metanoia2k.

This is why many laws outside the United States do not consider 'intent' at all, but only effect. The effect is the same regardless of intent, and punishing deliberate malice solely for being deliberate malice rather than for the harm it causes is dangerously close to punishing people for what they think. The tangible effects of policy are what matters, not the motivations behind said policy.

I am a white male who believes that there IS a certain degree of 'reverse discrimination' in the world, but that does not justify a slippery slope back toward Jim Crow. More importantly, the argument that 'qualified white men are not working because of minority hiring' carries an insidiously racist underpinning... it assumes a qualified white man is 'entitled' to something and a qualified minority may not be.

kodiakgriff said...

Interesting perspective.
What took place in 1968 does not apply today. What happened in New haven was not the same.
They changed the parameters when their ethnic quota was not reached. No one sued because the test was ethnically biased, they sued because they changed the rules when mostly Caucasians were the only ones who scored high enough.
That is reverse discrimination and something that is a reality in this world.
BTW just because the complainants were considered Caucasian, doesn't mean they were entirely white.
I am a blond haired, blue eyed American; of Irish. Swedish, and Native American descent.
Move on, the world is changing.