Speaking truth to error about racism today

Photo by photologue_np , published under Creative Commons license.

Photo by photologue_np <https://www.flickr.com/photos/44313045@N08/&gt;, published under Creative Commons license.

Racism pervades all of American society, not just police interactions with people on the street. Even when people are not consciously racist, their actions show bias and that bias affects Black Americans every single day. Yet many, maybe most, white Americans do not see or understand or believe in the constant and corrosive effects of racism. The January 4 New York Times Upshot section listed some of the many studies showing bias in action in employment, apartment rentals, cardiac care, graduate education, used car sales, jury verdicts and even eBay auctions. Nothing new there — but a powerful reminder of the need to keep on talking, writing and educating people.

Let’s start with getting a job, that most basic way of participating in American economic and social life. All kinds of laws prohibit racial discrimination in employment. Yet Black unemployment is consistently much higher than white unemployment. Why?

Two 21st-century research projects demonstrate the powerful impact of racial discrimination in employment. A 2004 study in the American Economic Review demonstrated racial bias on the basis of names that sound Black or white. The authors of Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination summarize their results:

“We study race in the labor market by sending fictitious resumes to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers. To manipulate perceived race, resumes are randomly assigned African-American- or White-sounding names. White names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. Callbacks are also more responsive to resume quality for White names than for African-American ones. The racial gap is uniform across occupation, industry, and employer size. We also find little evidence that employers are inferring social class from the names. Differential treatment by race still appears to still be prominent in the U. S. labor market.”

Researchers from Harvard and Princeton collaborated on a study published in the American Sociological Review in 2009, Discrimination in a Low-Wage Labor

Market: A Field Experiment. They reported:

“To study contemporary discrimination, we conducted a field experiment in the low-wage labor market of New York City, recruiting white, black, and Latino job applicants who were matched on demographic characteristics and interpersonal skills. These applicants were given equivalent résumés and sent to apply in tandem for hundreds of entry-level jobs. Our results show that black applicants were half as likely as equally qualified whites to receive a callback or job offer. In fact, black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison.”

Discrimination perpetuates the economic gap between Black and white Americans. The wage gap has widened since the 1960s, with household incomes of $67,175 for white Americans and $39,760 for Black Americans in 2013, according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of census figures. The wealth gap is wide and growing, with white household net worth at $141,900 and Black household net worth at $11,000, also according to Pew Research.

The dismal numbers just get worse, despite Black progress in education, with 84 percent of Black Americans over the age of 25 holding high school diplomas in 2010 (compared to 31 percent in 1970) and 20 percent holding college degrees (compared to 4 percent in 1970.)

A Mother Jones article calls on people to Share These Stats About Black America With the Racist in Your Life as a way of debunking racism. No single article is going to do that. No single argument will convince someone. Over time, though, with respect and perseverance, we can change some minds.

The work of talking about race and dismantling racism has taken lives and will take lifetimes. Ricardo Levins Morales offers lessons in how to go about that important task in What Interstate 80 Taught Me About Fighting for Justice. One step, he writes, is hearing the stories of the people that Mother Jones calls “the racist in your life.”

“Hurtling down the highways of a continent I learned to listen with compassion to the dreams and fears of my presumed enemies; to the secret ambitions of people from communities like my own; and the private fascinations of curious, worried and determined humans from every tattered corner of the social fabric. Each with their wounds to bear.”

Having listened, it’s time to speak truth to error, though in a softer voice than we use in the streets to speak truth to power.

Want more info?

Sendhill Mulainathan. “Racial bias, even when we have good intentions.” New York Times, 1/4/2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/upshot/the-measuring-sticks-of-racial-bias-.htm&gt;

AJ Vicens and Brett Brownell. “Share these stats about Black America with the racist in your life.” Mother Jones, 2/19/2014. <http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/02/black-stats-racism-debunk&gt;

A. Riach and J. Rich. “Field experiments of discrimination in the marketplace.” The Economic Journal. (Vol. 112, Issue 483, November 2002, pages F480-F518) <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-0297.00080/abstract;jsessionid=37C32716C452C71BD63570346F017409.f03t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false&gt;

Andrew Hanson, Zackary Rawley, Aryn Taylor. “Subtle discrimination in the rental housing market: Evidence from e-mail correspondence with landlords.” Journal of Housing Economics. (Volume 20, Issue 4, December 2011, pages 276–284.) <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1051137711000477&gt;

Jan Ondrich, Stephen Ross, John Yinger. “Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Why Do Real Estate Agents Withhold Available Houses from Black Customers?” The Review of Economics and Statistics. (November 2003, Vol. 85, No. 4, Pages 854-873.) <http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/003465303772815772#.VKmh_WTF-9M&gt;

Debra Pager, Bruce Western, Bart Bonikowski. Discrimination in a Low-Wage Labor Market: A Field Experiment. (American Sociological Review, 2009, Vol. 74 October:777–799.) <http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/bonikowski/files/pager-western-bonikowski-discrimination-in-a-low-wage-labor-market.pdf&gt; 

Bertrand, Marianne, and Sendhil Mullainathan. 2004. “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” (American Economic Review, 94(4): 991-1013.) <https://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/0002828042002561&gt;

Rakesh Kochhar and Richard Fry. “Wealth inequality has widened along racial, ethnic lines since end of Great Recession.” Pew Research Center, December 12, 2014. <http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/12/racial-wealth-gaps-great-recession/&gt;

NOTE: I have recently begun capitalizing Black, when referring to race. The best explanation I have read is from O.M. Williamson at the University of Texas: “When referring to African American people, the word ‘Black’ is capitalized. The reason for this is that in this case, ‘Black’ refers to a nationality or ethnic group, just like ‘Hispanic,’ ‘Romanian,’ or ‘Apache.’ The word ‘white,’ when used to refer to ‘Caucasians’ need not be capitalized, since ‘whites’ are not a nationality or ethnic group (‘whites’ can be American, Mexican, Iraqi, or whatever). When ‘black’ is used to refer to a skin tone, … it is not capitalized, since, just like ‘white,’ it does not refer to a nationality or ethnic group, and the imaginary colors of so-called ‘races’ are not capitalized.”

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