Northam Asserts “Systemic Inequity” Exists in State Government, but Doesn’t Say Where

Janice Underwood (foreground). Photo credit; Washington Post

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam has appointed Virginia’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

In the new “senior-level position,” Janice Underwood, former director of diversity initiatives at Old Dominion University, will develop a “sustainable framework to promote inclusive practices across Virginia state government,” stated a press release from the governor’s office. As part of that job, she will implement a “measurable, strategic plan” to address systemic inequities in state government practices, and turn feedback from state employees, external stakeholders and community leaders into “concrete equity policy.”

Well, this  is quite the indictment of Virginia state government, including the tenure of Northam’s four gubernatorial predecessors, three of whom were fellow Democrats: Terry McAuliffe, who is rumored to be pondering running again for the governorship, as well as Virginia’s two U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Who knew that Democrats allowed inequities to persist so long?

Remarkably, Northam, who has vowed since his blackface controversy to dedicate himself to racial equity, provided no details regarding what “systemic inequities” exist in state government. The inequities must be pretty grievous if they are to be described as “systemic.” But he leaves citizens hanging as to what they might be. Remarkably, the Washington Post and Richmond Times-Dispatch, which normally are hyper-alert to evidence of racial injustice, neglected to inquire what Northam might have been referring to. (The Daily Press covered the story, too, but I could not get past the firewall.) What, oh, what could the governor mean?

The tip-off in the press release is the emphasis on implementing a measurable strategic plan. The easiest thing to measure is the racial composition of the state workforce, and the easiest policy lever to manipulate is the HR manual for hiring and promoting people.

According to a 2018 Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM)  presentation, 65.2% of the state government workforce is white, while 34.8% is comprised of minorities. That compares to a U.S. Census estimate of 68.4% of whites in the general population, versus 19.2% black, 6.2% Asian, and the rest “other.” There doesn’t appear to be a racial disparity here, but I may be comparing apples to oranges. The Census data is broken down by race, not ethnicity, which means Hispanics are classified as either white or black, not listed separately. It’s not clear if the state government workforce is broken down the same way. Depending on how DHRM defines “minorities,” however, it is possible that whites are slightly under-represented in state government.

With Northam having declared that “systemic inequities” exist, it seems to be an pre-ordained conclusion that his administration will find inequity somewhere, somehow. If minorities are not under-represented in the government workforce as a whole, racial bean counters can look at management or supervisory positions. While minorities may have access to low-level occupations, perhaps they are under-represented in higher-level jobs.

If it turns out that minorities are fairly represented at upper supervisory levels, too, there are other strategems for finding discrimination. Racial bean counters can hone in on a particular racial/ethnic group. Perhaps blacks are under-represented, even if Hispanics or Asians are not. Or… perhaps blacks are fairly represented in the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Virginia State Police, to pick entirely hypothetical examples, but are under-represented in Finance, VDOT, or Conservation and Recreation.

Whether any of that that amounts to “systemic inequity” is another matter altogether. But never doubt the ability of the social inequity pros to find racial disparities and implied discrimination somewhere.

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9 responses to “Northam Asserts “Systemic Inequity” Exists in State Government, but Doesn’t Say Where

  1. Recently, I always felt the bottom of American politicians included Nixon, both Clintons and Trump. However, Northam is so disgusting and unprincipled, he’d have to climb every peak in the world stacked on top of each other to get high enough to see the sleazy four from the Mount Wilson Observatory.

  2. So, Northam (D-Hooterville) eliminated the Secretary of Technology role but invented a director of diversity, equity and inclusion. The new role was created despite no quantitative evidence of the need for a director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

    We apparently elected the strawman from the Wizard of Oz.

    Cue “If I only had a brain.”

    The only thing more amazing is that the RPV will still get shellacked in November even with Northam as governor.

  3. Northam can assert that “Systemic Inequity” exists in State government because he himself has committed the very inequity that he refers to in his statement. One stunning example among many, was that was the Northam’s administration’s actions during the hearing for a fracked gas compressor station permit targeted for the African American low income community of Union Hill in Buckingham County. By allowing the VA DEQ to provide proven false data claiming that Union Hill was a majority white community and by re-configuring the VA Air Pollution Board in the middle of permit consideration to obtain the result that he and Dominion Energy sought, his administration’s actions are an example of how such a system, supported by corporate funding and lobbying, maintains its status quo. Many of the voters who supported Northam and McAuliffe have been disappointed at their continuation of this system of inequity in support of monied interests which are costly and unfair for the citizens and property owners of Virginia. I look forward to considering any future candidates, regardless of party affiliation, based on their record, reasonableness, policies, and fair-mindedness.

  4. Being from ODU I have opinions that I gleaned from data. All I have to say is God help us.

    • Data schmata. Gov Coonman T Blackface is atoning for the past. His past. Shut up and pay your taxes so Gov Blackface can try to redeem himself.

      • If Northam was a decent man and truly sorry for a bad decision he made, he would try to make personal amends. But he’s worse than Nixon, the two Clintons and Trump. He’s virtue signaling with other people’s money. Northam is so bad that only the Washington Post editorial board could endorse him for further office.

        • You’ve hit the nail on the head. Your money is his money. My money is his money. Let’s all buy in to assuage his conscience.

          But where is the Republican leadership putting Northam’s buffoonery in front of the voters in this election year?

          Nowhere to be found.

  5. This is another symbolic position that has little substantive function. The Governor could have just as well assigned the task of ensuring diversity to his chief of staff or Secretary of Administration. What is truly astounding is that he wants to make this position a permanent Cabinet-level post.

    • I object to creating new positions that do not have a specific set of concrete objectives to accomplish. Without a road map, any route will do. How will we know if this director (and the attendant posts that will undoubtedly be created to assist her) succeed? And good luck to any Governor hereafter who wants to dismantle this office. Once created, will never be undone. And check the salary, once it is made public.

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