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.There are currently no comments highlighted.