Posts Tagged ‘Racial Discrimination’

My life history as a story of race

March 29, 2018

My previous two posts were about my reactions to Debby Irving’s Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race.  As I stop and think about it, I have been entwined with race and racism my whole life.

My parents

Some of my earliest memories of growing up in the little town of Williamsport, Md., are of my mother and father arguing about white guilt.  My mother would go on about how badly black people and native people were treated.  Finally my father would say, “I am not impressed with the American Negro.”

My mother would resume talking about how Negroes were denied basic rights and forced to ride in the backs of buses.  “Exactly!” my father would say.  “I’d never let anybody treat me that way.”

Or my father would say, “I am not impressed with the American Indian.”  My mother would resume talking about how whites stole the Indians’ lands and forced them to live on reservations.  “Exactly!” my father would say.  “If the Indians had what it takes, we would be the ones living on reservations.”

My father was not, in fact, unfriendly or unjust to black people or anyone else.   He was friendly and at ease talking to anyone, whether an African-American janitor or the Governor of Maryland.   He was not impressed by wealth or social status, and he did not look down on anyone.

I think this ability stemmed from a genuine liking for people, and interest in them, but also from a self-confidence based on knowledge of his own strength and competence.  He would not let anybody take advantage of him.

My mother was kind to everyone, but she had genteel standards of behavior, which included good table manners, correct grammar, no cursing and swearing, no dirty jokes and no racist epithets or remarks.

My mother was the daughter of a lawyer who’d fallen on hard times.  My father was the son of a poor farmer whose life consisted of unending physical labor.  My maternal grandfather died in bed.  My father’s father was found dead in his barn one day where he’d gone to do the morning milking.

Both my mother and my father were respected members of their community.  My mother was a school teacher all her working life, and lived to see the children and grandchildren of her first pupils pulling strings to get their own children into Mrs. Ebersole’s class.

My father was part of the first generation of his family to attend college, which is where he met my mother.  He had a varied career; at the time I was born, he was a clerk for the Works Progress Administration (WPA).    He ended up as a civil servant in the Maryland State Employment Service, which administered unemployment compensation benefits and a job referral service for the unemployed.

When he reached retirement age, he chose not to retire, which was contrary to the plans of his superiors.  They sent someone—who happened to be a black man—to take over the duties of his office, while my father sat on the sidelines.  He understood what was going on, and decided to retire after all.

He had no resentment of the black man who replaced him.  On the contrary, he praised him.  He said the man had the quality he most respected—”quiet competence”



Both my parents taught me to treat everyone with courtesy and respect, unless and until I had a good reason not to.  My mother in addition taught me to think of racism as both unjust and low-class.

In those days Maryland schools were still segregated.  I had a black playmate named Jim Tyler when I was a small boy.  He was a member of the Tim Mix Ralston Straightshooters club I organized, which was based on living up to the ideals of Tom Mix, the hero of a radio serial, and eating Shredded Ralston breakfast cereal.   As I grew older, I lost touch with him and never thought about him.

I was bookish, precocious and opinionated, and included to argue with my elders about matters of race and other things, mostly to their amusement.

“Be honest, Phil,” they would say.  “Would you be willing to have one of them marry your sister?”

I would answer that I didn’t have a sister, but if I did have a sister, in the highly unlikely event that she wanted to marry a black man, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but, if she really loved him, I could accept it.

The attitude of my elders was that I would give up my foolish theories when I became a mature adult.  Neither of these things happened.


College Days

At the age of 15, I won a Ford Foundation Pre-Induction Scholarship to the University of Wisconsin.   This scholarship enabled boys to go from the 10th grade of high school directly to college, on the theory that they could complete their college educations before becoming eligible to go fight in the Korean Conflict.   I learned later I got the scholarship based on a form of affirmative action.

Prof. Herbert Howe, who administered the scholarship program for the University of Wisconsin, initially decided to award the scholarship based on test scores and the letter of application.

What happened was that all the applicants with the highest test scores were from two high schools in New York City, the Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School.   In the interests of diversity, Prof. Howe decided to restrict students of those high schools to 50 percent of the scholarships, and to set aside 10 percent for Wisconsin residents.

He told me later that my own test scores were little better than average.   He decided to take a chance on me because I was an interesting outlier—someone who chose to be tested in history and English rather than the sciences, and someone from a rural high school in the South (he thought of Maryland as the South) rather than a big city.

My college grades were all right, but below the Ford average.  My subsequent career was all right, but not as distinguished as my college classmates.  All the arguments against affirmative action applied to me.

I don’t feel guilty or embarrassed about having taken advantage of an opportunity that was offered to me.  I don’t criticize anybody for taking advantage of an opportunity that is offered to them.

During the time I was in the program, I knew of no black Ford scholar.  Maybe there was one later or at a different college.  I never thought about this at the time.

My student days were the first I ever had a serious conversation with a black person or a Jewish person.   One of my favorite professors was a Dr. Cornelius A. Golightly, a teacher of philosophy.  He was a brilliant man, and kind to me.  I heard that he didn’t get tenure, supposedly because he was a pragmatist, and the philosophy department only wanted logical positivists.

As a student, I wrote for the college newspaper, The Daily Cardinal.  I was a champion of academic freedom, an opponent of Senator Joe McCarthy and an opponent of fraternity charters that excluded black members.


Military Service

After graduating from college in 1956, I volunteered for military service, including two years active duty.  This was in peacetime, and military service can be a good experience in peacetime.

The U.S. armed forces were probably the most diverse and multicultural institution in American society, and still are.   I met people from even more varied backgrounds than I did in college.  I encountered more black people then in positions of authority than I did for a long time afterward.

Now is as good a place as any to say that I never had any problem taking orders from black people, I never had any fear of black people and I never, so far as I know, was ever harmed by a black person.


Journalism in Hagerstown, Md.

I worked for The Daily Mail in Hagerstown, Md., from 1958 through 1974.   I made a special effort to write about racial discrimination, civil rights and Hagerstown’s tiny black community, although I was often blundering and naive in the way I went about this.

My friend Jim Yeatts, who was white, married Georgiana Bell, who was black, and I attended their wedding.  The Chief of Police had a detective park in a police cruiser outside and take note of every wedding guest.  That night he phoned my publisher to let him know that I was the kind of person who’d attend an interracial wedding.  I never thought my job was in danger, but this shows the predominant attitude in those days.

The story I’m proudest of having written was about a black riot when Gov. George Wallace of Alabama came to town during his 1972 presidential campaign.   The Wallace staff had a policy had a policy of having campaign appearances on National Guard armories, and the armory in Hagerstown was on the outskirts of the black community.

In the middle of Wallace’s speech, a group of young black men started to interrupt Wallace’s speech by chanting.  Their leader was named Ken Mason.  He happened to be the son of Bill Mason, the chief sheriff’s deputy, whose appointment was resented by white racist rank-and-file deputies.     A group of deputies grabbed Mason and started beating him, while a city detective blocked me from getting close enough to see what was going on.

I was later able to quote eyewitnesses, including the chair of the local Wallace for President committee, as to what happened.  He was willing to speak to me because I had always reported on the Wallace people fairly.

Anyhow, I ran over to the nearby county jail, which was besieged by angry black people.  They went on a rampage all that night, but only within their own neighborhood, which, however, was on a main through street.  Bill Mason pleaded in vain to do the obvious thing, which was to set up roadblocks to divert traffic.

None of the heavily armed deputies or police ventured into the riot area.  Only I walked through it—admittedly walking very quickly.

After the bars closed, many drove their cars through the area.  One driver—a recently-discharged combat veteran of Vietnam—was killed by a brick thrown through his windshield.  Ken Mason was later tried and convicted on charges of inciting a riot, and given a suspended sentence.

I was able to write a fair and accurate article as a result of having previously written fair and accurate articles about all concerned.  I am proud that people who wouldn’t talk to each other would talk to me.


Diversity is not a substitute for justice

February 20, 2018

Racial and cultural diversity is a good thing.

Adolph Reed Jr.

I, a straight white male, benefited from diversity during my college days in two ways.

I won a college scholarship because I was the only applicant from a small town below the Mason-Dixon line, and because I was one of the few applicants for this particular scholarship who took tests in the humanities rather than the sciences.

The other way I benefited was in meeting a more diverse group of people than I had known before.  I never had a meaningful conversation with anyone who was not white or Christian until I went to college (in the 1950s) and meeting people of different backgrounds was an important part of my education.

But diversity is not a substitute for social justice.  Diversity will not, in and of itself, end plutocracy or war or police brutality or unemployment or divisiveness.

The reason so many powerful people and institutions embrace diversity and reject social justice is that diversity leaves the existing structure of political and economic power intact.   Diversity is a good thing.  But it’s not enough.


Diversity: A Managerial Ideology by Darel E. Paul for Quillette.  Hat tip to Alex Small.

Black Politics After 2016 by Adolph Reed Jr. for (Emory College).  This is long, but well worth reading.

The Political Economy of Anti-Racism by Walter Benn Michaels for (Emory College).  A companion piece to Reed’s article, it also is well worth reading.

Still judged by the color of their skins

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.

martin.luther.king.jrMore 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.
  • racism-in-a-resume-92ebdafd521c4b23b83023db292f4f40Researchers 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.


Home ownership and middle-class black people

October 1, 2015

I sometimes hear white friends wonder why so few poor native-born African Americans have been able to rise into the middle class, compared to poor immigrants.  Senator Elizabeth Warren, in a speech last Sunday, said that one reason is the policies of the federal government on home ownership.

For most middle class families in America, buying a home is the number one way to build wealth. 

It’s a retirement plan — pay off the house and live on Social Security.  

An investment option — mortgage the house to start a business.

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren

It’s a way to help the kids get through college, a safety net if someone gets really sick, and, if all goes well and Grandma and Grandpa can hang on to the house until they die, it’s a way to give the next generation a boost — extra money to move the family up the ladder.

For much of the 20th Century, that’s how it worked for generation after generation of white Americans — but not black Americans. 

Entire legal structures were created to prevent African Americans from building economic security through home ownership.  Legally-enforced segregation.  Restrictive deeds.  Redlining.  Land contracts.

Coming out of the Great Depression, America built a middle class, but systematic discrimination kept most African-American families from being part of it.


The limits of “anti-racism” ideology

August 4, 2015

When liberal white Americans talk about doing “anti-racism work,” it probably doesn’t mean that they are taking part in #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations or acting as testers to document racial discrimination in hiring and lending or working to change voting laws aimed as discouraging black voters.

Rather it means that they are examining their hearts and minds to uncover unconscious racial prejudice and to make themselves aware of “white privilege.”

bus_stop_colorI think that this rests on a false assumption—namely, that racial injustice consists solely or mainly of the prejudices of individual white people against individual black people, and that the way to fix it is to change the attitudes of white people.

One problem with this is that “anti-racism work” works only on a relatively small number of white people, those who are already predisposed to sympathize with black people.   Another is that it ignores the degree to which the majority of black people have a common interest with the majority of white people.

The civil rights protestors of the 1960s weren’t especially concerned about how prejudiced people felt in their hearts.  They aimed at changing laws and institutions so as to bring about equal justice, so that African-Americans had the right to vote, the right to equal access to public facilities, the right to equal educational opportunity and the right to equal employment opportunity.

That fight is not over.  Michelle Alexander, in The New Jim Crow, has shown how enforcement of the drug laws is targets African-Americans, who then become legitimate targets for voting disenfranchisement and employment discrimination.


Racial discrimination is alive and global

April 6, 2015

race.cardRacial minorities, older workers, gays and lesbians and others face unfair discrimination all over the Western world.

That was the conclusion of a British economist named Judith Rich after studying field experiments in 17 countries using equally-qualified testers of different races, ages and so on.

The 70 studies have investigated if discrimination exists on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, obesity, caste and religion. Significant and persistent discrimination against the vast majority of these groups in all markets was found.

High levels of discrimination in hiring were recorded against ethnic groups, older workers, homosexuals and men applying to female-dominated jobs.

Immigrant groups were discriminated against despite being educated in schools, and proficient in the language, of the country of residence.

Middle Eastern and Moroccan groups across Europe and African-Americans in the United States were discriminated against when seeking jobs or housing.

An African-American applicant needed to apply to 5o percent more job vacancies than a white applicant to be offered an interview.

Having a higher qualification made virtually no difference for African-Americans but it made a significant improvement in interview offers for whites.

Even more disturbingly, white applicants with a criminal record received more interviews than African-Americans with no criminal record.

Older workers needed to make between two to three times as many job applications as a young worker to get an offer of interview.


The persistence of racial prejudice

August 31, 2013

A lot of my friends, including my fellow white liberals as well as Tea Party Republicans, think that racial discrimination in the United States is a thing of the past.   The only problem, as many of them see it, is the bad behavior of the black underclass.

I accept that there is such a thing as a black underclass, in which crime, addiction, ignorance and irresponsible sexual behavior are acceptable.  I don’t know enough to say to what degree these are problems of the African-American culture specifically and to what degree they are problems of the larger American culture, although I suspect the latter.

But I do not believe that members of the black underclass represent African-Americans.  They are not a majority of the African-American population.  The black people I’m acquainted with are all middle-class professionals like myself, or struggling poor people with middle-class values.   Most of them had harder struggles than I have had to get where I am.  This is not something I feel guilty about.  It is fact of life which I recognize.

My opinions are based partly on stories they’ve told me about how they have to shape their behavior around the fears and prejudices of what people—how they feel in danger when they encounter a police officer, or they have business in an all-white suburb, or how they have to make a special effort to seem mild-mannered because white people are afraid of aggressive black men.

A minister friend of mine told me about his brother, an aerospace engineer, who was stopped while riding his bicycle by police who believed he had committed a robbery or larceny nearby.  He showed them his corporate ID to no avail; they simply assumed he had stolen somebody else’s wallet.  It was only when he phoned his employer to have someone vouch for him that they believe he was who he said he was.  The important thing about this story is that it happened to the same person twice, in two different cities.

I remember once when I was a reporter for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, and was working on an article on what kinds of things people were buying as Christmas gifts that season.  To make the article more readable, I went out to stores and interviewed shoppers.

I approached a well-dress black man, and was struck by his stricken here-we-go-again expression.  Obviously he thought I was some kind of store official who thought I suspected him of shoplifting or something.  A great expression of relief came over his face, when I identified myself and he told me what kind of computer games he was buying for his grandchildren.

The white-sheet racism that dominated so much of the country in 1963 has been pushed to the margins of society.  American society has changed for the better, and white people of my generation who’ve made an effort to change their attitudes can take some of the credit for that.  But racial prejudice is still a part of American life.

The video above, which shows how differently people react to a white guy, a black guy and a pretty white girl doing the same thing, is an example of this.  Testers have found that a white person with a criminal record has a better chance of getting a job than a black person with a clean record.  Use of illegal drugs is just as common among white people as black people, yet the vast majority of arrests and jail sentences are of poor black men.

In New York City, the police with Mayor Bloomberg’s approval engage in racial profiling—singling out young black men in poor neighborhoods to be stopped and frisked in humiliating ways.  Black people that I know argue for affirmative action on the grounds that if they are singled out for bad treatment, it is only fair to get some special advantage as an offset.  I oppose both racial profiling and affirmative action, but my righteous indignation is reserved for the former.

But what about the dysfunctional culture of the black underclass?   I was brought up in the Christian tradition, which teaches that you should be more concerned with your own faults, the beam in your own eye, than with your neighbor’s faults, the speck in his eye.

I don’t believe that being lectured by someone like me is going to change the behavior of any black person, but maybe there is some slight possibility of influencing some of my fellow whites.


Drugs: crime, punishment and race

January 27, 2013


This graphic, which illustrated a two-part series of articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2008, shows how the war on drugs targets African Americans.

Click on If you’re arrested for drugs, you’re more likely to get a second chance if you’re white for the first part of the series.

Click on In Cuyahoga County, you’re more likely to get a plea deal if you’re white for the second part.

How race discrimination became legal again

January 27, 2013


Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, showed how racial discrimination has returned to the United States in the guise of the so-called war on drugs.

Young black men, and black people in general, are singled out for searches, arrests and punishment based on their race.  Surveys show little difference between drug use by white and black Americans.  Yet the vast majority of people in prison on drug charges are poor young black men, and the vast majority of black people sentenced to prison are guilty only of drug use.

Then by virtue of their criminal records, blacks convicted of drug use become second-class citizens.  As felons, they become ineligible by law to serve in the armed forces, to receive federal housing, aid to education or public assistance.  In some states, they lose the right to serve on juries or to work in many fields requiring occupational licenses.  Very often they lose the right to vote.  Moreover, while it is illegal with few exceptions to discriminate against people in hiring, renting or lending on the basis of race, it is perfectly legal to refuse jobs, apartments or loans to convicted felons.

This is no small matter.  Alexander pointed out that 80 percent of Chicago’s black male work force are felons.  Most black felons are guilty only of drug use, a victimless crime.  Yet they can go to prison for life for drug use, based on one conviction and two counts on another conviction.  Prior to 1988, according to Alexander, the maximum sentence for mere drug use was one year in prison.

alexander.m.newjimcrowShe said the war on drugs was part of a backlash against the victory of the civil rights movement.  Through the 1960s and 1970s, right-wing leaders such as Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan argued that the real problem was not poverty or racism, but lawbreaking.  They said the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King and the sit-in demonstrators legitimated violent crime and the rioting by poor black people in large American cities from 1964 to 1971.  When President Reagan announced the war on drugs in 1981, his target was the poor black neighborhoods.   Every President since Reagan, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, has continued or stepped up the war on drugs.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable and warrant-less searches and seizures.  Civil rights laws prohibit applying a different legal standard to blacks than to whites.  But this protection was broken down, court decision by court decision.  Police officers are entitled to stop and frisk individuals on the street, or motorists in their cars, based on their personal judgment, provided the decision is not based solely on race.  And it is up to the individual to prove that racism is the motive, which is impossible unless the police officer comes right out and admits it.

Police have the same discretion in home break-ins.  A typical drug search involves a SWAT team breaking down a door in the middle of the night, throwing in smoke grenades and pointing guns at everyone in sight, including children and young people.

It doesn’t matter if 90 percent of the searches are of black people, even though black people are not by any measure 90 percent of illegal drug uses.  The Supreme Court has ruled that statistical disparities are not relevant in search and seizure cases.  You have to prove the individual search was motivated by individual racism or a policy of racism and, in a Catch-22, you do not have standing to subpoena records to provide discrimination unless you already have proved discrimination.

The same applies to statistical disparities in sentencing and in everything else.  Barack Obama, who was not a poor young black man, admitted to using illegal drugs in his youth, as have Al Gore and Newt Gingrich.  If they had been arrested and charged, they would not have had political careers.  I’ve never used drugs myself, but I’ve come across a number of people in my life—all of them white, and including many newspaper reporters—who have.

Applicants for public housing are barred if they have criminal records.  Tenants are expelled if any family members or visitors are involved in drug use, whether on or off the premises and whether or not there is any evidence the tenant knew about it.  This is a policy that dates from Bill Clinton.

Police have the right to seize cash, automobiles or houses if they can show they have reason to believe the property was involved in drug use.  At one time they had free rein to take property and use the proceeds for the budgets of their departments.  Now there is an “innocent owner” defense, but the burden of proof is on the owner.  If your property is seized, but you are not charged with a crime, you have no right to a court-appointed attorney.

Now it is true that these abuses of police power fall on middle-class and white people, and not just on poor black people.  Abuses of power are not self-limiting.  But being subject to police abuse, going to prison and being cut off from the opportunity to work or to function in society ever after is a typical experience and expectation of young black men in large American cities.

And it also is true that there are a lot of things wrong in poor black city neighborhoods, including violent crime, that arise for other reasons.  But the war on drugs is not a solution or part of a solution.  It is a problem that makes other problems worse.

To sum up:  It is legal to single out young black men for searches, arrests and prosecution provided you don’t say it is because they are black.  And it is legal and in some cases mandatory to bar them from access to employment, housing, education and federal benefits, and from military service, jury service and voting, which are the defining characteristics of citizenship.

Click on The New Jim Crow for Michelle Alexander’s summary of her book in Mother Jones.

Click on What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Jobs for a report by Andy Kroll in Mother Jones.

Click on Stopped-and-Frisked For Being a F**king Mutt, for an an audio recording of a routine encounter by New York police and a young black man, along with commentary in The Nation.

Click on Drug, Alcohol, Tobacco Use Broken Down By Race, Ethnicity for statistics from the U.S. government’s National Study on Drug Use and Health.

Click on Race, Drugs and Law Enforcement for a report on U.S. drug enforcement by Human Rights Watch.

Click on The trouble with “colorblindness” and Baltimore: casualty of a failed drug war for earlier posts of mine.

The other unemployment crisis

July 8, 2011

The current jobs recession affects almost all Americans.  Nearly 10 percent of us are unemployed, and a lot of us are staying employed only by putting together a patchwork of part-time and temporary jobs.  But as bad as it is for white workers, it is worse for white workers.   Unemployment among black workers is roughly twice as high as among white workers, as it has been for 60 years.

Being white, I prefer to think that this is because of neutral factors that just happen to affect black people on average more than white people.   But this isn’t so.  Andy Kroll, in an article in Mother Jones, examines these supposed neutral objective factors, and explodes them one by one.

  • The disappearance of manufacturing jobs from the inner cities, where African Americans are concentrated?  This may have been important once, but now the whole nation’s manufacturing base has been hollowed out.
  • Differences in the average educational level of black and white Americans?  The education gap has narrowed over the years, and so has the wage gap, but the jobs gap remains the same.
  • The fact that so many African Americans are in prison or have prison records?  That’s part of the story, but not all of it.  Studies using paired testers show that a white ex-convict has a better chance of getting a job than an equivalent black applicant with a clean record.


Birthers and the black middle class

May 6, 2011

The original title of this post was “Do we live in a post-racial society?”

This video by Baratunde Thurston is all over the Internet.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a black professional person, and have to listen to Donald Trump and all the other malicious fools who have questioned President Obama’s birthright citizenship.  It means that, if you are black, you will always have to be on the defensive, no matter how high a station you attain in life, or what you achieve.

You can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation, like Ursula Burns of Xerox Corp., and there will be broadcasters who will say you appointment to a Presidential Commission is an “affirmative action hire.”  You can be a respected scholar like Henry Louis Gates of Harvard, and a police officer can enter your home, insult you and engineer your arrest on trumped-up charges if you talk back.

Donald Trump’s questioning of President Obama’s birth certificate has been shown to be nonsense to anybody with a remnant of sanity.  But Trump, who evidently is without shame, is now raising the issue of whether he got into Harvard by means of affirmative action.  He of course has no evidence of any of this.  He is just raising questions, and, no matter how little basis there is for the questions, there will be people who take them seriously.

He is like the people of an earlier era who said that Frederick Douglass and Phyllis Wheatley couldn’t possibly have written the books that appeared under their name, that some white person must have written them instead.

I remember once, when I worked for the Democrat and Chronicle, I was assigned to write a feature article on what kind of Christmas presents adults were buying for their children that year.

One of the places I went was a computer game store, where I saw a well-dressed black man.  As I walked toward him I saw a look of acute distress, a kind of here-we-go-again look.  It didn’t take much insight for me to realize he must have had a lot of bad experiences with store managers and detectives.  I will always remember how pleased and relieved he looked when I identified myself as a newspaper reporter, and began to ask my questions.

As I say, I can’t imagine what it is like to be in that situation – to always have to be on guard, to always think you are being judged by hostile eyes.

This is not a phobia.  Racial discrimination against black people is a thing of the present, not just the past.  Black and white teams of testers in New York City that half the time employers will take a white man with a criminal record over an equally qualified black man with a clean record.  Other testers have shown that employers will chose someone with a standard white American name over someone with a typical African American name.  Other testers shown discrimination in lending.

I am not talking here about the legacy of slavery and segregation, although these things do affect the present.  I am not talking about socioeconomic factors or culture, although those things also matter.   I am talking about prejudice and discrimination in the here and now against black people based solely on their race.


Reasons for not hiring black people

August 17, 2010

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.


Reparations for slavery?

April 1, 2010

The problem I have with the idea of reparations for slavery is the underlying assumption that the problems of black Americans are mainly due not to injustice in the present, but to things that happened in the past.

We face the historical consequences of more than 200 years of slavery and a century of Jim Crow enforced at gunpoint. But all of us, except a few kings and aristocrats, are descendants of poor oppressed people. What’s more relevant is the fact that a law-abiding black person has less chance of getting a job than a convicted white felon right out of prison.

Take as an example three young girls in the same class in an inner city school. One is the descendant of black slaves; another is the daughter of black immigrants from Jamaica or Nigeria; the third is a white girl whose ancestors did, in fact, own slaves. Is there any reason why any of these girls is more or less entitled to a good education and the chance for a good job than any of the others?  To say “yes” is to set them against each other, and lessen the chance of changing the system.

The same thing is true of hate crimes legislation.  The underlying assumption is that the problem is the lack of extra punishment for crimes of hate, whereas the real problem is that people who commit crimes against hated minorities may not get any punishment at all.

Like most human beings, I tend to think that any advantages of the group to which I belong are part of the nature of things.  I will reluctantly give up advantages in the name of equal justice for all.  I will not agree that some group other than my group deserves special treatment, no matter what historic injustices they’ve served.

If you really did want to make reparations for African-Americans for the effects of slavery, the best way to do it would not be through a token payment of money, such as the government of West Germany made to the government of Israel. It would be to assure that the children of African-American families had the opportunity to get good educations, and then good jobs that would reward work and ability.

And the only way to do that would be to provide a good school system and a high-wage full-employment economy for everyone.