Are white people picked on?

Some white people think they are victims of racial discrimination.  They object to a Black Congressional Caucus, a United Negro College Fund or a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on the grounds that any distinction based on race is, by definition, racist, just as a white congressional caucus or a united Caucasian college fund would be.

I doubt, however, that very many of the people who raise this objection would be willing to change places with black people, and be treated as black people still are treated in American society.

I have heard of black people passing for white, but I never heard of any white person passing for black. (I am not talking about people like the white firefighter years ago who claimed he was an affirmative action hire because he had a native American grandmother.)

The experience of black and white testers – equally qualified black and white people who apply for apartment rents, mortgage loans or jobs – shows that black Americans are not playing on a level playing field.  So long as black people are singled out for discrimination on the basis of race, they have a need and a right to organize on the basis of race.

The other relevant distinction is that the descendants of black American slaves are an ethnic and cultural group as well as a racial group.  Out of their experience, have created a distinctive music, art and literature as well as movements for social reform.  The black experience has significance for everyone, not just for black people.   If you interpret American history as a history of the struggle for freedom, African-American history is a prime example and central part of that struggle.

African-Americans as an ethnic group are comparable not to white people as a whole, but to particular groups such as New England Yankees, Polish-Americans, Appalachian mountaineers or American Jews.  We white Americans have nothing in common that we do not share with Americans of all colors, except for the history of white racism.  I am not one of those who says that American history and European history as a whole constitute White Studies, because that implies these subjects are not of equal interest to members of all ethnic groups, but certainly the contributions of Anglo white males are not ignored.

So it is not discriminatory to have African-Americans studies programs in universities and not European-American studies or white studies.  When I attended the University of Wisconsin in the 1950s, there was a Department of Scandinavian Studies.  I heard that a liberal arts college in the Rochester area is thinking about starting an Irish Studies program.  These would be the true parallels to African-American studies programs.

Click on The White Working Class: the Most Pessimistic Group in America for a report by Robert Brownstein in The Atlantic magazine on why white men without college educations feel discouraged and angry.  The anger of white working men is thoroughly justified, but their problem is that members of minority groups are getting ahead of them.  Their problem is a dysfunctional economic structure.  The solution to this problem is for whites, blacks and other groups to work together to create a system in which there is a job for anyone who is willing and able to do useful work.

If you think racial discrimination is a thing of the past, consider this.

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 a report based on testers on the experience of black and white job applicants in New York City using testers.

Click on Study shows racial discrimination for evidence based on testers that people with typically white first names get hired faster than people with typically black first names.

Click to view

Click on Racial Discrimination in the U.S.: Evidence from the 2000 HUD Study for evidence using testers of racial discrimination in housing.

Click on Overcoming Racial Discrimination for other studies of racial discrimination (scroll down for studies using paired black and white testers).

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