Recurring Decimals…..

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Unfair comments

with 2 comments

Megan McArdle (Jane Galt) refers (via Crooked Timber via WaPo) to a recent paper by Vanderbilt economist Joni Hersch which purports to show that there exists a correlation between skin color and economic prosperity for recently arrived immigrants to the United States (link to pdf).

Bypassing a discussion over the findings of the study itself, interesting as that will be (check the original links for some ongoing debates), I would like to highlight a particular sentence from Megan’s post:

I find this sadly unsurprising. The evidence of workplace discrimination is that resumes with recognizeably black names are less likely to be picked out of the pile; it’s natural to assume that this winds its way up through the food chain, although in person presumably personal characteristics mitigate it somewhat. Also, in many countries, like India, those darker-skinned immigrants would have been discriminated against pretty openly in their homeland, which presumably stunts human capital formation. I don’t know what should be done about this, but I think there’s no question that skin discrimination exists.

Discrimination based on skin-color happens with obvious openess in India, sadly bordering on a social malaise. Especially for girls with a dark skin, it is perceived to be a huge drawback in the marriage ‘market’. Go through any Indian matrimonial column and you will be struck by the numerous ingenious adjectives employed to hide the prospective bride’s ‘true colors’ (in Bengali, ‘ujwal shyamborna’, roughly translated as ‘fair dark-complexioned’, is popular, while ‘wheastish’ is the favorite term in English).

However, all this is in a social milieu. One wonders how much discrimination solely on the basis of skin color takes place at the work-place, which is what she is referring to. Either in the hi-tech job sector, from where majority of the immigration to US occurs, or in others, if any discrimination exists, it is in favor of where you got your academic degree(s), your intelligence, and to some extent, your command over English, true especially for management level jobs. None of these factors have a correlation with skin-color AFAIK.

Admittedly I have never worked in India – but I have observed my parents and relatives and parents and relatives of my friends, many among them dark-skinned – and most have attained very high positions within their organizations. (This is not say that nepotism and politics does not advance one’s career in India).

Even in industries such as cinema and modeling, that should be crawling with fair-skinned people (and indeed they are in majority), dusky actresses and models such as Smita Patil, Bipasha Basu, Konkona Sen Sharma, Nandita Das etc have done rather well.

In short, the statement by McArdle is tripe.

One might say that this is a very trivial point and nothing to get worked up over. But it really bothers me that a highly educated blogger like Megan McArdle, who usually employs sound logic and rational reasonings in her writings (often to excrutiating levels) should harbour such mis-conceptions, and do a lets-just-pull-a-conjecture-out-of-my-hat-to-support-my-statements trick.


On a related note, Patrix has a post on beauty and skin color among African-Americans, and points out to a short student film on the subject. Do check it out at his blog.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 20, 2006 at 8:59 am

2 Responses

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  1. It may be presumptuous of McArdle to make an over generalization, but she is partly right. To prove discrimination is quite difficult.

    Currently, I am working on analyzing opportunity and access indicators for affordable housing and the differences are quite obviously tilted against minorities and immigrants. But surprisingly, although these differences wane for second-generation immigrants irrespective of color, blacks (as African-Americans) continue to be disadvantaged. So there is much more than simple prejudice.


    October 21, 2006 at 11:35 am

  2. ha! that’s quite unexpected 😛


    March 26, 2007 at 2:13 pm

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