Seeing Nothing Normal in 'Race-Norming'

GEORGE F. WILL

May 23, 1991|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- "Within-group score conversion'' is a euphemism for ''race-norming,'' which is a euphemism for a form of ''affirmative action,'' which is today's euphemism for reverse discrimination, adopted when ''compensatory opportunity'' proved to be a jawbreaker.

But perhaps before you have mastered the obfuscating language of compassion's guilty conscience, race-norming may be dead. It may be killed by the democratic device of asking those who favor it -- mostly Democrats -- to actually vote for it.

Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., recently tried to attach to this year's so-called civil rights bill, a euphemism for a quota-promoting and lawyer-enriching bill, an amendment outlawing race-norming. Democrats rejected it in committee on a 2l-13 party-line vote.

Under race-norming, scores achieved by job applicants on certain tests are segregated by racial groups. Individuals' scores are reported not in relation to all those taking the test, but only in relation to others in the individuals' racial groups.

Each year state employment agencies evaluate prospective job applicants for private employers using the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB). For example, in a recent year scores for whites, Hispanics and blacks in the 50th percentiles of their groups were 305, 295 and 276 respectively. Such scores were reported as identical.

A black with 305 points was at the 84th percentile among blacks. That score was reported as substantially superior to a white applicant's 305.

Employers getting test scores are not told the applicants' races. Hence the employers do not know that black and Hispanic applicants have inflated scores. At least 33 states and an unknown number of employers practice race-norming.

Defenders of race-norming say the policy is justified because the tests are flawed. But if so, the answer is to change the tests, not cook the results. The real reason for race-norming is that any test is apt to produce uncomfortable ''statistical disparities'' by racial groups until the schools that many blacks attend, and the home environments from which many blacks go to school, and the neighborhoods through which they walk to school, are better.

Race-norming does not have many, if any, explicit defenders in Congress. We are ostensibly a nation of laws but no lawmaker has ever voted for race-norming. It was concocted in the dying days of the Carter administration, enlarged by Ronald Reagan's Labor Department and belatedly questioned by his Justice Department. The Bush administration is brooding about this obvious violation of equal protection of the law.

Some of those who voted against Mr. Hyde's amendment said, archly, that the Congress should not interfere with a ''regulatory'' matter. Trust today's liberals to fight to keep their agenda out of harm's (democracy's) way.

This year's civil rights bill is designed to force employers to choose between pre-emptively adopting quotas or risking punishing litigation that requires them to prove themselves innocent of ''unintentional'' discrimination. Such ''discrimination'' can occur by the use of an employment test that produces statistically ''wrong'' results.

Even if the bill's final version explicitly bars quotas, no prudent person will be reassured. Hubert Humphrey, the prime mover of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, denied that quotas or other preferred treatments of any group were required by that law. But ''race-conscious'' policies soon were required.

''Quotas''? Heaven forfend. Only ''goals'' and ''timetables'' for removing ''statistical disparities'' and ''underrepresentation.''

Any employment practice that has a ''disparate impact'' on certain government-certified victim-groups (not, for example, Asian-Americans, whose GATB scores are segregated with whites' scores) can make an employer vulnerable to costly litigation. Hence many employers like race-norming, which helps them fill de facto quotas.

The phrase ''race-conscious remedy'' is today's preferred euphemism for policies like race-norming. Such ''remedies'' so obviously poison society, it is reasonable to suspect that the poisoning is an aim of some members of the civil rights lobby. Increasingly that lobby exists to administer a racial spoils system. Hence that lobby has a stake in the competitive cultivation of group grievances.

The stain of officially-sponsored racism is spreading everywhere. In a story on the self-segregation of students on campuses -- separate dorms, dining halls, clubs -- the New York Times reports: ''Minority students say they are made to feel like they do not belong on campuses where affirmative action casts doubt on their qualifications.'' A black student at Stanford explains her preference for a predominantly black dorm: ''I didn't want a whole layer of challenges about whether I deserved to be here. I figured that if I lived in a black environment it wouldn't come up.'' A black student at Berkeley complains, ''I feel like I have AFFIRMATIVE ACTION stamped on my forehead.''

This sad disfigurement of the academic experience is, like race-norming, another aspect of liberalism's apartheid of ''compassion.''

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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