1950s and before. Black people are an inferior race.
1960s. Black people lack seniority, experience and educational qualifications.
1970s. Black people are the products of dysfunctional families and a culture of poverty.
1980s. Black people would rather be on welfare than work.
1990s. Black people who appear to be qualified are really beneficiaries of affirmative action.
2000s. Black people have equal rights, and yet they still complain.
2010s. Black people are the real racists, and white people are victims.
Note: This is sarcasm. I don’t actually believe there are valid reasons for refusing to hire black people.
I am not beating a dead horse here. Although racial prejudice has greatly diminished in my lifetime, and overt racism has ceased to be respectable, it is still true that testers find people with stereotypically African-American names have greater than average problems being hired, and employers will hire a white person with a prison record over an identically-qualified black person with a clean record.
In 2001, a pair of black men and a pair of white men went hunting for work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Each was 23 years old, a local college student, bright and articulate. They looked alike and dressed alike, had identical educational backgrounds and remarkably similar past work experience. From June to December, they combed the Sunday classified pages in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and searched a state-run job site called “Jobnet,” applying for the same entry-level jobs as waiters, delivery-truck drivers, cooks, and cashiers. There was one obvious difference in each pair: one man was a former criminal and the other was not.
If this sounds like an experiment, that’s because it was. Watching the explosive growth of the criminal justice system, fueled largely by ill-conceived “tough on crime” policies, sociologist Devah Pager took a novel approach to how prison affected ever growing numbers of Americans after they’d done their time—a process all but ignored by politicians and the judicial system.
So Pager sent those two young black men and two young white men out into the world to apply for perfectly real jobs. Then she recorded who got callbacks and who didn’t. She soon discovered that a criminal history caused a massive drop-off in employer responses—not entirely surprising. But when Pager started separating out black applicants from white ones, she stumbled across the real news in her study, a discovery that shook our understanding of racial inequality and jobs to the core.
Pager’s white applicant without a criminal record had a 34% callback rate. That promptly sunk to 17% for her white applicant with a criminal record. The figures for black applicants were 14% and 5%. And yes, you read that right: in Pager’s experiment, white job applicants with a criminal history got more callbacks than black applicants without one. “I expected to find an effect with a criminal record and some with race,” Pager says. “I certainly was not expecting that result, and it was quite a surprise.”
Pager ran a larger version of this experiment in New York City in 2004, sending teams of young, educated, and identically credentialed men out into the Big Apple’s sprawling market for entry-level jobs—once again, with one applicant posing as an ex-con, the other with a clean record. (As she did in Milwaukee, Pager had the teams alternate who posed as the ex-con.) The results? Again Pager’s African-American applicants received fewer callbacks and job offers than the whites. The disparity was particularly striking for ex-criminals: a drop off of 9 percentage points for whites, but 15 percentage points for blacks. “Employers already reluctant to hire blacks,” Pager wrote, “appear particularly wary of blacks with known criminal histories.
Other research has supported her findings. A 2001-2002 field experiment by academics from the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, uncovered a sizeable gap in employer callbacks for job applicants with white-sounding names (Emily and Greg) versus black-sounding names (Lakisha and Jamal). They also found that the benefits of a better resume were 30% greater for whites than blacks.
via Mother Jones. [Added 7/7/11]
Click on White ex-cons get jobs faster than Blacks with no criminal record for the results of a Princeton University study of employers in New York City. Click on Study shows racial discrimination for a study by the University of Chicago and Massachusetts Institute of Technology on how people with typically white first names are hired much more readily than people with typically black first names. Click on Overcoming Racial Discrimination for evidence of the persistence of racial discrimination in American life. Scroll down for the findings of testers mentioned above. [Added 8/19/13]
I can confirm this by “anecdotal” evidence from my own life. I have a white friend who was fired from her job as manager of a “Christian” book store after she refused to follow her supervisor’s order to not hire any African-Americans or members of other minority groups, and is now working at a less desirable job at Wegmans Food Market. She has no documentary proof that this was the reason she was fired, and the people who won’t be hired by her successor will have no knowledge of why they weren’t hired.
Beyond this overt racial discrimination, there are subtle prejudices which the people who hold them are unaware or don’t think are prejudices. It is good that there are federal civil rights laws to forbid racial discrimination, but there are limits to what laws can do.
There are a lot of white people who think black people have nothing to complain of, but few if any who would be willing to trade places with black people.
Update January 16, 2017
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech said he hoped that his children would be judged by the content of their characters and not the colors of their skins.
More than 53 years later, this is still a dream.
As Michelle Alexander has written, mass incarceration of black Americans, many of them for drug offenses and other victim-less crimes, has provided an excuse to disenfranchise black voters in some states and deprive them of protection of civil rights laws everywhere.
As Greg Palast has documented, Republican state governments systematically cancel black and Hispanic voter registrations for bogus reasons. And as Black Lives Matter points out, black people are sometimes killed by police or gun-toting whites without justification, with no consequences to the shooter.
And, as I have written before, old-fashioned racial discrimination in jobs and housing, which supposedly was outlawed under the civil rights laws, still exists today. That is the main subject of this post.
Testers find that sellers, lenders and employers will favor the less qualified white person over the more qualified black person.
With all the talk nowadays of government favoritism toward African-Americans, I don’t think there is any rational white American who would want to trade places with them
Statistical disparities between races may have some non-racist explanation. But the examples I’m going to mention, and which I listed in a previous post, are set up so as to rule out any non-racist explanation for the biases.
- A group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania sent out 6,500 letters to professors at the top 250 universities in the USA. The letters were identical except for the names of signers – Brad Anderson, LaToya Brown, Depak Patel, etc. The white men got on average a 25 percent better response than white women or blacks, Hispanics or Asians, and that was true even when the professor was female, black, Hispanic or Asian. Professors at private universities were more biased than those at public universities, the study found; the humanities professors showed the least bias; the business professors the most.
- A sociologist at Northwestern University sent out four groups of testers in Milwaukee—whites and blacks, some of which listed criminal records on their job applications and some that didn’t, but otherwise were made to be as identical as possible. The whites with criminal records had a higher chance of success than blacks with clean records.
- Researchers for Abdul Lateef Jameel Poverty Action Lab sent out nearly 5,000 applications in response to more than 1,300 help-wanted ads. They were divided into high- and low-quality applications, each with an equal number white- and black-sounding names. The well-qualified whites got good responses, but the well-qualified blacks got 50 percent fewer.
- Researchers at Harvard Business School found that white hosts were able to charge 12 percent more on average that black hosts for Airbnb rentals for virtually identical properties at similar locations.
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development sent out 8,000 pairs of testers, one white and one black, Hispanic or Asian, to look for places to rent or buy in 28 cities. More than half the time, they were treated the same, which is good. But in many cases, the minority potential renter or buyer was asked to pay more, shown fewer units and/or charged higher fees than the white renter who had come by a few hours before.
- The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston sent out pairs of testers to buy houses in eastern Massachusetts. They, too, found that black and Hispanic buyers were on average charged more and offered less than white buyers.
The evidence shows that black Americans and other minorities compete on a playing field that is tilted against them. Now you could say that represents progress of a sort. In Dr. King’s day, African-Americans were barred by custom and sometimes by law from even getting on the playing field.
White racism was loud and proud in the USA of 50 and 60 years ago. Now racial prejudice is concealed and often unconscious. You could say that this, too, represents progress of a sort, although I would never have the nerve to tell a black American that he or she should feel satisfied or grateful.
Some of us white people think the playing field is tilted the other way—against us. There may be individual instances in which a white person is treated unfairly because of race, but no rational white American would want to trade places with a similarly-situated black American.
We in the USA are still a long way from Dr. King’s dream. We need to remember that.
What, To the Black American, Is Martin Luther King Day? by Chris LeBron, assistant professor of African-American studies and philosophy at Yale University, for The New York Times. The title of this article / talk is based on the title of a speech by Frederick Douglass.
Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist? by Nicholas Kristof for The New York Times.
Five Studies That Prove Racism Is Still Way Worse Than We Think by the staff of Cracked.com. Example No. 3 misquotes a linked article, but there is good information here, presented in a highly readable way.
It Pays to be White by Jeanette Wicks-Lim for Dollars & Sense.
Evidence of Racial, Gender Biases Found in Faculty Mentoring by Shankar Vedantam of National Public Radio.
Digital Discrimination: The Case of Airbnb.com by Benjamin G. Edelman and Michael Luca for HBS Working Knowledge.
Discrimination in Housing Against Nonwhites Persists Quietly, U.S. Study Finds by Shaila Dewan for The New York Times.
Racial discrimination continues to play a part in hiring decisions by Lee Price for the Economic Policy Institute.
Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan for the Abdul Jameel Lateef Poverty Action Lab.
Think you’re not racist? Research uncovers our secret prejudices and ways to overcome them by Alice G. Walton for Chicago Booth Review.