Racist Employment Practices in a Recession

The New York Times has a useful article touching on some recent research on discrimination in employment against black workers with college degrees:

College-educated black men, especially, have struggled relative to their white counterparts in this downturn, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for black male college graduates 25 and older in 2009 has been nearly twice that of white male college graduates — 8.4 percent compared with 4.4 percent. Various academic studies have confirmed that black job seekers have a harder time than whites. A study published several years ago in The American Economic Review titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” found that applicants with black-sounding names received 50 percent fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names. A more recent study, published this year in The Journal of Labor Economics found white, Asian and Hispanic managers tended to hire more whites and fewer blacks than black managers did.

The focus seems to be just on black men. But black women also face much racial discrimination, as well as gendered-racist discrimination in workplaces, doing business, and elsewhere.

The journalist adds this about the well-educated black men featured in the article:

It is difficult to overstate the degree that they say race permeates nearly every aspect of their job searches, from how early they show up to interviews to the kinds of anecdotes they try to come up with. “You want to be a nonthreatening, professional black guy,” said Winston Bell, 40, of Cleveland, who has been looking for a job in business development

The article reports that many black men hide their racial identity in their resumes because that reduces the discrimination, at least initially, against them.

Not once in the article, however, are the main and major perpetrators of this employment discrimination, mostly white male managers and executives, featured as the central creators of this deep U.S. problem. There is a tone here and there of “they say race permeates,” which softens the analysis of racism. There is of course much evidence and research such journalists could have examined on the white racist framing in the heads of many white executives, whose racialized thinking and action out of that framing needs to be the center of such stories. Such racist practices are old, foundational, and systemic. For even the more “liberal” analysts, yet, they still mostly get presented as episodic and/or tacked on to an otherwise unproblematical society, with white perpetrators seldom problematized.


  1. marandaNJ

    Joe tells us:The Journal of Labor Economics found white, Asian and Hispanic managers tended to hire more whites and fewer blacks than black managers did.
    Here again, like I stated in the post about why whites don’t hold more anti-racist rallies, Americans of Every Ethnic Group are hesitant to trust the black community. I think it’s interesting that Hispanics [who consider themselves oppressed..and I agree they are] won’t identify with blacks and distrust blacks.
    Why? Because the black community refuses to take responsibility for their Image. They perpetuate crime and then use the Racism! logo to extricate themselves from punishment. Again, Very Revealing that Hispanics trust Whites more than Blacks. Anybody agree?

  2. Joe

    Actually, some managers of color also think out of the white racist framing of black Americans as well. This highly stereotyped, biased, and racist framing is sold to all Americans from the time we are one years old. Whites encourage a racist framing of all Americans color, but esp. black Americans. The racist antiblack imagery is often 300-400 years old, much older than any shifts in official crime rates. Again, I must point out that the data show high rates of whites doing crimes, yet the media rarely point that up. White youth are more likely to do drugs/alcohol abuse than black youth, for example. Where are the reports on that in the media?

    And, in any event, there is no excuse to discriminate against well-qualified people, whatever notions you have in your head about crime. In no group of Americans are street criminals any way near a majority.

    Please Check out the research data often cited on this site before you jump to racist conclusions.

  3. Kristen

    Thanks for this post, Joe. It’s important to point out when mainstream media (rarely) pay attention to racial inequality research, and also to offer critique when they soft pedal on white people’s culpability.

    But journalists know that they don’t have to explain in more specific terms that phrasing such as “they say race permeates” means that they’re talking about anti-black racism on the part of mostly white people (in this case, white male employers). Everyone collectively understands that’s the implication. The interesting thing about this, though, is that we all “get it” on this level, but so many people will still claim that racism is some equal-opportunity thing, like racial animosities work in all directions and in equal ways. Of course if that were the case, we couldn’t have this shared understanding that when “race is permeating” employment, it’s black folks’ resumes that hit the shredder.


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