The New York Times article today on the disappearance of “black caddies” from the professional golf tour is one of those pieces that has to make one wonder whether the media’s race consciousness has gotten just a little out of hand. It’s not an uninteresting piece. Essentially, the author, Karen Crouse, notes that once upon a time, blacks pretty much dominated the caddy profession, particularly in the South. She quotes one of the founders of the famed Augusta National Golf course: “As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”
These days, there are no such rules. Not only does that mean we have some black golfers out there, but it also means that caddying as a profession has become more open to people of all races. And with the money on the professional golf tour being what it is, there is a lot of competition for those caddying slots. So on the one hand, you might find reason to cheer that carrying around a golf bag is no longer a black man’s job. (Observers will point out that caddying involves more than this, but that’s how it looks to 0utsiders.) On the other hand, you might think, there might be a few black people out there who could use that kind of money.
Finally, the article turns to the question of who decides to become a caddy. Of course, it’s people who are exposed to golf. So since minority kids are less likely to be exposed to golf, they will be less likely to be caddies. But then one expert suggests that maybe they just prefer to play basketball or football instead of golf.
So is the shortage of black caddies a good thing or a bad thing? This is essentially the problem with headcounting in a variety of professions—counting by race, sex, sexual orientation, class, etc. There are complex reasons why people choose different jobs. Some people just care about the paycheck. Some people care about how the profession looks to others (there are probably any number of upper-middle-class kids who would just as soon become electricians but that’s not really something upper-middle-class kids do, generally). Some people know that a profession offers other rewards that are not visible to the outside world—advising someone behind the scenes even if you don’t get the attention. Some just want to find a job that allows them time to be with their families, even if it is less prestigious. And some see their role as breaking down social barriers.
In other words, discrimination is not at the root of every disparity. And the end of discrimination may even cause greater disparities.