Social Policy

by Fred Reed

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I’m trying to figure out what a “disparate impact” is. Help me. It’s slow going. I don’t guess I studied much in school, back in Wheeling, and big words make me itch.

It seems like up in New York they got these three high schools for smart kids, called Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. To get in you gotta take a test to see if you are smart. So what happened was they gave the test. Stuyvesant said it would let in 9 blacks, 24 Latinos, 177 whites, and 620 Asians. Bronx Science would let in 25 blacks, 54 Latinos, 239 whites, and 489 Asians. Brooklyn Tech would let in 110 blacks,134 Latinos, 451 whites, and 960 Asians.

Hooboy, I thought, that’s a train load of Asians. Now, I always thought Asians meant people who worked in Chinese restaurants, like Wong Chong Willie’s Noodle Chute in Bluefield. But all right, I figured, if Asians are who’s smartest, that’s who ought to get in to those schools. It looked pretty simple to me. If you have a wrestling match, the one who wrestles best gets the prize. On the other hand, if the Chinese all went off to be scientists, I wasn’t sure who was going to make noodles.

But then I saw where some black folks were all mad, and said not enough blacks got in and it was a “disparate impact.”

I thought and thought about it. It seemed to me that “disparate impact” means if you ask a question, and you don’t like the answer, you just have to say “disparate impact,” and the answer don’t count. Then everybody gets in a uproar and lets in whatever kinds of people you want. It’s like in NASCAR there ain’t a single blind woman driver over eighty with a wooden leg and a crank habit. That’s a disparate impact, so you got to find some pegleg grannies. And feed them crank.

But it seemed like disparate impact only works for some folk. I mean, if you got 960 Asians and 451 whites, when Asians ain’t hardly none of the country, that might be a disparate impact. It ain’t though.

I met this guy who used to live in New York and he said disparate impacts sort of shift around and take turns. He said that back when Jews used to be smart, you’d get 960 of them, and a couple of hundred of everybody else, but that wasn’t a disparate impact either. Then the Jews probably got comfortable and spent their time eating ribs and drinking beer instead of scrabbling like the Asians. So the Asians slipped past them.

Anyway, me, I reckon if you want to get into one of them schools that’s like a plant nursery for smart people, what you need to do is more studying and less complaining. But I know I don’t understand social policy.

I get to wondering. It seems like to me disparate impacts ought to work for everybody. I read where feminist women are all mad because they don’t get into math school at fancy universities. That’s a disparate impact. But the sheriff back home told me that ninety percent of prisoners in jail is men. That ain’t a disparate impact. To me, the reasonable thing to do is to stuff women into math school and into prison too until both are half and half. It’s just good social policy.

Back home, I reckoned that people as had brains like gret ol’ watermelons and studied all the time ought to get into fancy schools, so they could invent stuff to help everybody, like a really good hangover cure. I guess I was wrong though. All the dirtballs that go around raping ladies are men. It’s a disparate impact. So we either got to get men to stop, or women to start, to even things up. It’s just justice. Any fool can see it.

What happens when you do disparate impacts is you get people who just ain’t up to snuff. I mean, you can put women into the penitentiary and say they’re criminals as mean and rotten as men, but the truth is they can’t rob Seven-Elevens like they’re supposed to can. It’s not in their nature, so you’re just pretending. It’s the only way to fix disparate impacts, though.

I asked somebody that understood social policy what happened when you let people that was slow in the head into a high-powered high school. He said, well, you had to make it easier. I asked him, but didn’t that mean it wasn’t a high-powered high school anymore? He said yeah, but you didn’t want to have disparate impacts. It wasn’t good social policy.

He said it didn’t matter because when they got out of high school they could go to colleges that didn’t teach much either. That didn’t matter because when they went to get a job, social policy was to hire them no matter if they could do the job. There was a law made by the feddle gummint that said you had to hire them, so they wouldn’t starve.

I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t be better if they did. I said, if you hire people because they can’t do the job too good, they won’t. It don’t make the sense God give a crab apple. How are they doing to invent a hangover cure?

He said that we had to think about social policy, and disparate impacts were worse than hangovers. I guess he never drank the bust-head my Uncle Hant makes out in the woods back home.

But I figured common sense ain’t all that important, and what we need is more social policy. I mean, what do we really want with high-powered schools? Sure, you might look at how smart the Asians, Chinese and such, are here. And you might think maybe we ought to worry about how we match up to China, which has a lot more Chinese than we do. But China only has a billion or so, and anyway they’re on the other side of the world, and don’t affect us. What we gotta worry about is disparate impacts.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be, Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet Nam, and A Grand Adventure: Wisdom’s Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about Mexico. Visit his blog.