"I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not"

John McWhorter, writing for The New Republic, has an excellent commentary on the current Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano. His explanation of the cultural problems and the educational hurdles that face many people coming from poor, inner city backgrounds is first rate, but he does not offer them as excuses.
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.

"I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not," W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1903. A century later, the International Association of Professional Black Firefighters tells us, "Cognitive examinations have an adverse effect upon blacks and other minorities." Du Bois crowed, "Fifty years ago the ability of Negro students in any appreciable numbers to master a modern college course would have been difficult to prove," and proudly documents 2,500 black college graduates. Imagine Du Bois listening to a rep from the black firefighters' association now sneering that the promotion test merely measures "the ability to read and retain"--i.e. engage in higher-level thinking processes! O tempora, o mores.

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?
This is an excellent article. I tried to make the same argument in my stance against the holistic admissions for the UW System - though not nearly as eloquent as McWhorter. The problem remains that we need to address the failure of inner city schools - particularly in Milwaukee - not the tests or admissions criteria.

If you want to see modern-day racism, it's the notion that some of our fellow citizens cannot succeed without special help. This is a not-so subtle statement that blacks cannot advance on their own. It is a horrible message to send, yet one we are sending loud and clear every time we say the test is flawed or biased, rather than "how can we help them do better?"

H/T Althouse