Judging the book by its cover

Can you discriminate on the basis of the color of one’s skin in an effort to promote diversity in the workplace?

That’s the question U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn is currently trying to find an answer to after hearing arguments in a case involving a wannabe stock car driver and the sport’s ultimate league, NASCAR. And, it’s not going to be an easy question to answer.

According to a report in The Sporting News, Michael Rodriguez, a driver from Pennsylvania, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in 2010 after he was denied entry into NASCAR’s “Drive For Diversity” combines in 2005 and 2006. Rodriguez says NASCAR and Access Communications, which operated the sanctioning body’s diversity program from its 2004 inception until 2008, denied his opportunity to compete in the program because he “looks too Caucasian.”

Usually, in this case, you have a PR team out there, quietly and quickly working to quash the case and to have it deemed frivolous in the public eye. But, as I said before, this is not an easy, nor usual, case. NASCAR actually accepts Rodriguez’ argument, saying they did, in fact, discriminate against the young driver on the basis of the color of his skin.

NASCAR’s attorneys have argued that in the sanctioning body’s effort to “change the face” of its sport, it has a right to select drivers for its diversity program based on skin color. Absurd, you say? Well, how is that any different than governmental “hiring quotas” and “admissions targets” at public universities brought on by affirmative action?

But, just on its face, you have to say NASCAR probably has a plausible defense. If you were to pair up Rodriguez’ photo with that of almost any other young, aspiring racing star, like Chase Elliott (son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott), Matt DiBenedetto, Brett Moffitt, or even 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, you wouldn’t know which, if any, would qualify for “Drive For Diversity.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is rolling over in his grave — again.

One of the other less-subtle ironies in this case is that NASCAR has had to team back up with Access Communications, which it “fired” as administrator of “Drive For Diversity” in 2008 because it failed to produce very many promising prospects. NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program was created to develop minority drivers and crewmen and help them advance through the NASCAR ranks with the goal of reaching the sport’s top series.

Since its inception, the program has included 41 drivers; there currently are six drivers in the program racing in various NASCAR regional series. Aric Almirola is the only driver from the program to progress to the sport’s highest level, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

That brings me to a very interesting thought. If affirmative action not only fails to provide successful results, and only works to further racial bias, what’s its point? To make someone feel good — and if so, who?

It’s been a long time since I read the article (in a print publication, no less), but here’s a very interesting take on a problem created by “well-intentioned conservatives.” It’s definitely worth the read.