Thus if the black firefighters aren't at home with the format of the promotion test (reading passages and answering questions on what they mean), it is understandable and has nothing to do with their innate ability. After all, placing 16th in a pool of several dozen candidates is not too shabby in itself. The job, it would seem--say, to old-time Civil Rights leaders with a black pride that deserved the name--would be to enhance the innate ability. The black candidates need practice.
Plaintiff Frank Ricci understood this. He's dyslexic. Instead of doing poorly on the test and charging discrimination, he had textbooks read onto tape, worked with a study group, and practiced hard. He placed sixth out of 77. Any notion that this is too much to ask of someone with more melanin--or even with a different "racial history"--is nonsensical at best and gruesome at worst.
Still, we justify the rhetorical contortions that excuse black people from challenging examinations; in the end, it is based on a tacit sense that such things are antithetical to black authenticity, that it is somehow untoward to require this kind of concentrated scholarly exertion on black people. It is the grown-up version of what Barack Obama termed in his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention "the slander that says that if a black youth walks around with a book in his hand he's acting white."
Yeah. He continues:
This will not do: People like Du Bois did not dedicate their lives to paving the way for black people to be exempt from tests. Sure, the tests may not correlate perfectly with firefighters' duties. But which falls more into the spirit of black uplift that you could explain to a foreigner in less than three minutes: teaching black candidates how to show what they are made of despite obstacles, or banning a test of mental agility as inappropriate to impose on black candidates?
Zora Neale Hurston had some apt words in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road: "It seems to me that if I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it."
Agreed. It seems to me, that if you're going to decide to throw out a test because black candidates didn't perform, as opposed to trying to find ways to figure out why black candidates didn't perform, not only do you hurt people like FRank Ricci, but you send a very disturbing message--that black people should not be subjected to testing based on mental agility, because judging us based on our brainpower is racist?
Surely this is not what we want, right?