There’s Plenty to Address on the Way to a Level Playing Field
Working Toward Equality of Opportunity Is a Must
Equality of outcome is contrary to the principles of the US. Equality of starting positions—a level playing field—is consistent with those principles. And we are far from having a level playing field.
Black GIs returning from WWII were excluded from much of our postwar prosperity, denied housing and educational benefits afforded to white vets. Many factors fed into this, including redlining and yellowlining. Whites-only suburban developments were the primary recipients of FHA and VA loan guarantees, and most universities were still segregated (and there were not enough spots at HBCUs). The result of this is that there has basically been very little intergenerational wealth in the Black community. “White flight” (often facilitated by roads bulldozed through minority communities) has helped keep that imbalance well in place.
Medical “knowledge” tracing back to comforting lies told in the early days of the nation still negatively affects medical care for minorities. A study of medical residents in the 2010s found that a significant minority still believed that Black people had faster-clotting blood and a higher pain tolerance. The average US maternal mortality rate is the worst among the developed nations, and it’s two-to-three times higher for Black and Hispanic women. Even wealthy, articulate Serena Williams almost died after a c-section because medical personnel repeatedly discounted her symptom reports. Black children in ERs are one-third as likely to be given pain medication. Until fairly recently, many drugs’ human trials included only white men. This meant that gender- and race-specific side effects were often not discovered until after approval. Pulse oximeters work less well on people with darker skin. Diagnostic guidelines for skin conditions including skin cancer were based primarily on how they show on lighter skin, meaning that early presentations of these conditions in people of color are often missed.
The original intent of affirmative action was: all other factors being equal-ish, pick the minority or the woman. It is human nature to prefer people like oneself, but when decisionmakers and film writers and bank managers are mostly white men, their acting on that preference perpetuates inequality. Ordinary bias with no evil intent perpetuates inequality—and some of our fellow Americans are exceptionally biased, going to white nationalist meetings by night and their teaching, banking, EMS, IT, HR jobs by day.
I do not advocate for permanent external measures to support diversity and inclusion; however, Justice Roberts to the contrary, we have not yet leveled the playing field, and I believe some temporary measures are appropriate. The challenge lies in identifying what remedies are appropriate for what injuries and what sufficient progress toward a level playing looks like.
Would a writers’ room full of white guys from South Dakota (the state with the smallest Jewish population in the US) be competent to write a good show featuring Jewish characters? When more different kinds of people are at every table, we tell better stories, we become more human to each other, and we improve the world for everybody.
Eve M. Jones is a senior producer for The Edwin Black Show, and has been part of Feature Group’s editorial team for two decades plus. This article represents her views alone.