Q: Lately when speaking about race with My white friends I hear again and again how they believe POC have a leg up in the world just for being minorities and how they have more chances in life because of our bleeding heart government who give them all handouts all the time. I always become really upset and feel like I get derailed in these discussions. Is there some factual information I can spout back at them instead of getting red in the face and screaming you are so wrong!?
A: Yes, this is a tiring and exhausting issue to discuss. It is difficult to address these issues without screaming or just walking away. This is why the discussion is so important. The more our white friends hear other white people discussing white supremacy the more we can change the discussion. This question of having a “leg up” is an important one to discuss. What we really need to look at here is systemic privileging of white skin and white sounding names, etc. over others.
Let’s look at employment. Devah Pager from Princeton University did some research about discrimination in employment. Her findings, reported on CNN are interesting:
I recently conducted a series of experiments investigating employment discrimination. In these experiments, which took place in Milwaukee and New York City, I hired young men to pose as job applicants, assigning them resumes with equal levels of education and experience, and sending them to apply for real entry-level job openings all over the city.
Team members also alternated presenting information about a fictitious criminal record (a drug felony), which they “fessed up to” on the application form. During nearly a year of fieldwork, teams of testers audited hundreds of employers, applying for a wide range of entry level jobs such as waiters, sales assistants, laborers, warehouse workers, couriers, and customer service representatives.
The results of these studies were startling. Among those with no criminal record, white applicants were more than twice as likely to receive a callback relative to equally qualified black applicants. Even more troubling, whites with a felony conviction fared just as well, if not better, than a black applicant with a clean background.
Racial disparities have been documented in many contexts, but here, comparing the two job applicants side by side, we are confronted with a troubling reality: Being black in America today is just about the same as having a felony conviction in terms of one’s chances of finding a job.
Names that sound “white” also get more traction in the job market, look at José’s experience:
In 2002 a study was released showing that resumes with white-sounding names received 50 percent more callbacks than those with black names. (Discrimination in the Job Market in the United States).
The ACLU explains that: According to 1998 U.S. Department of Labor statistics, blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be unemployed. The unemployment rate is also higher for Latinos than it is for whites. Blacks and Latinos generally earn far less than whites do. In 2000, the median weekly earnings for blacks were $459; for Latinos, they were $395. In that period, average weekly income for whites was $590. Workers of color are still concentrated in the lower-paying, unskilled sector. In 1993, black and Latino men were half as likely as whites were to be employed as managers or professionals and much more likely to be employed as machine operators and laborers. Barriers to equality also remain for women.
President Lyndon Johnson said in 1965, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say you are free to compete with all the others, and still just believe that you have been completely fair.” (obviously some of the words President Johnson used are problematic but you get the point)
As white people who don’t face barriers because of our race (note we may face barriers because of our socio-economic class, gender, ability, etc) we often think that when barriers for others are taken down, that means there is less access for us. This dynamic is because we are used to getting all the jobs, into all the schools, getting all the promotions. It is also because we see the pie as being a set space. In reality, there are pies, cakes, etc for all if we work together.
In regards to affirmative action, The Leadership Conference explains that the emphasis is on opportunity: affirmative action programs are meant to break down barriers, both visible and invisible, to level the playing field, and to make sure everyone is given an equal break. They are not meant to guarantee equal results — but instead proceed on the common-sense notion that if equality of opportunity were a reality, African Americans, women, people with disabilities and other groups facing discrimination would be fairly represented in the nation’s work force and educational institutions.
What this means is that if there are 2 resumes, or school applications of equal strength, skills, etc., and either candidate would be great, you would pick the person from the historically underrepresented group. Men said the same thing when schools started going co-ed (and still bring this up in some fields).
The Leadership Conference goes on to explain that: The continuing need for affirmative action is demonstrated by the data. For example, the National Asian and Pacific American Legal Consortium reports that although white men make up only 48% of the college-educated workforce, they hold over 90% of the top jobs in the news media, 96% of CEO positions, 86% of law firm partnerships, and 85% of tenured college faculty positions.
So, this information doesn’t meet the needs of your friends? Infographics with data can be useful. Here are a few good ones:
This information shows that overall, white people in the US, because of our skin color, have greater access to health care, education, higher net worth, less violence, less incarceration and more. Systemic racism is real.
The system is what is fucked. People’s individual experiences might differ. I know when speaking to my lower income white friends who are struggling to survive, this conversation is much more difficult. They often bring up examples of people of color succeeding, getting the job, getting into the “good school” etc. The systems that prop up racial discrimination are similar to the systems that prop up gender and class discrimination. This is why we all need to fight together to make the world a more equitable place with better access for all.