This morning, I read an article in the Portland Business Journal about the Oregon Department of Transportation refining their quota system to be more specific about which minorities will get what percentage of contracts. This afternoon, a friend told me her 15 year-old daughter was accosted at school by a student who called her the n-word and then snarled “White power!”
The ODOT quota refinement is the epitome of bureaucratic stupidity. The incident at school is an example of ugly, mindless malice. But there’s a common thread between them: Basing judgments on race rather than individual merits.
The state of Oregon did a “disparity study” and determined that, even with a mandate that 14% of ODOT contracts go to minority-owned businesses, specific minorities are underrepresented. Native-American contractors got 8.2% of ODOT contracts and Hispanic-American contractors got 6%, while African-American and Asian-American contractors got less than 1% combined. Over a third of the businesses qualifying for the state’s “disadvantaged business enterprise” certification are African-American, and almost a quarter are Asian-American.
So the state decided to rectify the imbalance by requiring at least 6% of new contracts to be awarded to African-American or Asian-American contractors. But now Native-American and Hispanic-American contractors are claiming discrimination because they foresee losing contracts to African-American and Asian-American contractors to meet the new micro-quota.
Ordinarily, contracts are awarded based on bids and qualifications. If certain contractors aren’t getting contracts, presumably, either their bids are too high or they’re not as well-qualified. On the other hand, if the reason they aren’t getting contracts is because of corruption or bigotry on the part of those awarding the contracts, then those individuals shouldn’t be in charge of awarding contracts. If that’s the case, changing the quota requirements won’t address the real issue. But, if that’s not the issue, then the reallocation of quotas is even more senseless, and can only result in either costing the taxpayers more or in hiring less qualified contractors.
If the purpose of quotas is to ensure equal opportunity, regardless of race, sex, or whatever, why not award the contract to the most qualified contractor with the lowest bid, regardless of race, sex, or whatever? The imposition of quotas inherently creates a double — or, in this case, triple — standard, pitting African/Asian-Americans against Hispanic/Native-Americans. And, after requiring 6% of contracts to go to either African-American or Asian-American contractors, what happens if Asian-Americans end up with 5% of the contracts and African-Americans with only 1%? Will they then mandate that African-Americans must get 3%?
Perhaps the only way to make this work would be to allocate contracts based strictly on demographics. If exactly 5% of the population is of whatever ethnic derivation, then exactly 5% of the contracts would be set aside for contractors of that ethnicity. And, of course, within each ethnic allocation, half of the contracts would have to go to Female-Americans, lest we be condemned as sexist…
On the other side of the coin from senseless bureaucracies awarding contracts based on race rather than qualifications, we have senseless individuals, viciously spewing invective at individuals they don’t even know, feeling justified because they’re a different race.
My friend’s daughter is a shy, quiet girl in her freshman year of high school in a small city in rural Oregon. There aren’t many black families here, so she attracts attention just by existing. 15 is a difficult age for girls, with all the changes they’re going through, and even a girl who blends right in can feel painfully self-conscious at times. For a shy girl, who shuns being the center of attention, it must be tough to be the only black kid in class, even on a good day.
This is a family that believes in personal responsibility, and would never seek or expect special consideration based on race. So, after the incident occurred, their daughter refused to report it. It was humiliating enough to be singled out for denigration and intimidation because of her race, without complaining to the authorities like a victim demanding redress. That isn’t the way she was raised. But, when her mother recounted the incident to me, recalling the pain in her daughter’s eyes made her break down and cry. And she’s a pretty tough woman.
Kids will be cruel and call other kids names. That’s part of life. But it’s a hard lesson to learn for a 15 year-old girl that she has classmates who feel a blind hatred toward her, and cannot even see her for the person she is, just because of her race.
Nobody’s entitled to special benefits because of their race. Nobody should be subjected to malicious harassment because of their race. Each person should be judged on their own character and their individual merits. Why is that so hard for so many people to grasp?