Black Unemployment Driven by White America’s Favors for Friends

Janell Ross, Huffington Post, March 29, 2013

There’s a comforting-to-white-people fiction about racism and racial inequality in the United States today: They’re caused by a small, recalcitrant group who cling to their egregiously inaccurate beliefs in the moral, intellectual and economic superiority of white people.

The reality: racism and racial inequality aren’t just supported by old ideas, unfounded group esteem or intentional efforts to mistreat others, said Nancy DiTomaso, author of the new book, The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism. They’re also based on privilege, she said–how it is shared, how opportunities are hoarded and how most white Americans think their career and economic advantages have been entirely earned, not passed down or parceled out.

The way that whites, often unconsciously, hoard and distribute advantage inside their almost all white networks of family and friends is one of the driving reasons that in February just 6.8 percent of white workers remained unemployed while 13.8 percent of black workers and 9.6 percent of Hispanic workers were unable to find jobs, DiTomaso said.

{snip} DiTomaso, who is white, has gathered evidence that racism and inequality actively shape the labor market and make it far harder for black workers to find jobs.

“Across all three states where I did my research, I heard over and over again [white] people admitting that they don’t interact very often with nonwhites, not at work, not at home or otherwise,” said DiTomaso about the 246 interviews with working-class and middle-class whites she did over the course of about a decade in Tennessee, Ohio and New Jersey. Her research included detailed job histories and information about the way her study participants obtained jobs over the course of their careers.

“That was true for just about everybody unless they were still in college,” DiTomaso continued. “Others would allude to some college friend or experience. But since then, they had not had much contact with blacks. So how would they pass opportunities and information across race lines?”

DiTomaso concludes, based on her research, that most white Americans engage, at least a few times per year, in the activities that foster inequality. While they may not deliberately discriminate against black and other non-white job seekers, they take actions that make it more likely that white people will be employed–without thinking that what they’re doing amounts to discrimination.

“The vast majority assumed everyone has the same opportunities, and they just somehow tried harder, were smarter,” DiTomaso said of those she interviewed. “Not seeing how whites help other whites as the primary way that inequality gets reproduced today is very helpful. It’s easy on the mind.”

{snip}

It’s not that black workers don’t attempt the same sort of job assists within their own networks, said Deirdre Royster, an economic sociologist at New York University and author of Race and the Invisible Hand: How White Networks Exclude Black Men From Blue Collar Jobs.

African Americans ask neighbors, significant others, the significant others of neighbors, relatives and friends about open jobs, too. But since black unemployment rates were far higher than white rates before, during and after the recession, the number of people in a typical black social network who are in a position to help is far more limited.

{snip}

Black workers are aware of something that researchers are still trying to explain: White bosses often worry, lack of statistical evidence aside, that black workers are more likely to sue them or band together in the workplace and try to change things, Royster said. That seems all the more likely if the black workers already know one another, she said. And many white hiring managers still assume, consciously or unconsciously, that black workers bring undesirable workplace habits and qualities, Royster said.

{snip}

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