April 3, 2012

What equality means

By Joshua P. Thompson Senior Attorney

At PLF we believe that equality means treating everybody equally–that the government should not treat people differently because of something as genetically insignificant as skin color. We envision a society where everyone is equal under the law. Under this vision, universities would not be able to grant preferences to college applicants just so that the racial makeup of their school mirrors the population as a whole. Under our vision of the Constitution, government would be prohibited from giving away government contracts on the basis of race in order to correct for some amorphous “imbalance.”

But that’s not what equality means to everyone. No. Some groups advocate that “equality” means that everybody is entitled to the same outcome. They advocate that the federal government should take proactive steps to “ensure its workforce reflects the gender, ethnic, and racial diversity of the United States’s civilian labor force.” They advocate that it is discrimination when any government agency–and any subpart of that government agency–doesn’t employ people of certain races in direct proportion to their presence in a given geographical area.

Every day I am inundated with “Google News” stories that so-and-so is discriminating against this race, because they didn’t hire enough people of that race. They are “out-of-balance” so to speak. But that is not discrimination. It is not discrimination that when a hospital’s nursing staff is 90% female; it is not discrimination when it turns out that the African-American studies department at a university sees that most of its students are African-American (or that there is a disproportionate amount of African-Americans in the German department); it is not discrimination that 85% of NBA players are black; and it is not discrimination when the low-bidder on a government contract happens to be white.

Obviously, each one of those circumstances could be discrimination. The NBA might be discriminating against Latino basketball players. The hospital might be discriminating against male nurses. The German department might be discriminating against African-Americans. But, just saying that there is a disproportionate number of a certain race with respect to the population as a whole, is a far, far cry from proving that there is discrimination going on.

Government should be prohibited from treating people differently on the grounds of their skin color. That is what equality under the law means. That is what PLF stands for.

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