A group of white firefighters who persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to sanction their promotions over black colleagues are receiving their new badges Thursday in a ceremony that provides symbolic recognition of their victory.
That's not quite what they did. They did not want their promotions over the promotions of black firefighters. They wanted their promotions because they fulfilled the requirements to get those promotions. They wanted the promotions based on their merits.
The firefighters were told to take a test and fulfill other requirements in order to get promotions. Some firefighters met those requirements, others did not. The ones that passed are now getting the badges they earned, regardless of their skin color, ethnicity or sex.
After posting the above link on my Facebook page, a friend linked me to the very inspirational story of Ben Vargas. Lieutenant Vargas was the only non-white to pass the exam given by the fire department. From his story:
Lieutenant Vargas decided to follow the path of an older friend, John Marquez, whom he looked up to. Mr. Marquez had worked his way out of the neighborhood by joining the Fire Department.
“I used to tell him, ‘You know where I came from — if I can make it, anyone can,’ ” Mr. Marquez, now a deputy chief in the department, said in an interview. “ ‘But don’t expect anything to be handed to you. Work for it.’ ”
But Lieutenant Vargas’s aspirations were stymied by a 1988 lawsuit, filed by black firefighters, that shut down hiring for years. The lawsuit challenged a written test that relatively few nonwhites passed. In 1994, the city agreed to disregard the test, over union complaints, and hire 40 firefighters — 20 white, 10 black and 10 Hispanic, according to The New Haven Register.
Lieutenant Vargas was among those hired. That later led some people to criticize him as trying to shut the door that welcomed him, though he maintained that it was impossible to know how he would have done under the old hiring process.
Even Vargas’ own brother refused to support him. It’s sad that this is what a principled, honest person must endure in today’s society, but his story is truly inspiring and well worth a read. The article ends with:
Gesturing toward his three young sons, Lieutenant Vargas explained why he had no regrets. “I want them to have a fair shake, to get a job on their merits and not because they’re Hispanic or they fill a quota,” he said. “What a lousy way to live.”
It’s comforting to know there are people out there who think this way, and that they’re passing these values on to their children, the future.