Race

Blacks Lose When Whites Help Whites Get Jobs


Blacks Lose When Whites Help Whites Get Jobs

Photograph by Richard Seagraves

There’s nothing illegal about giving a hand to a friend or family member who’s looking for a job. But when whites do it for other whites, blacks get stuck on the outside looking in. Most blacks still lack the networks to boost them into the kind of good jobs that whites take for granted.

That, in a nutshell, is the conclusion of a forthcoming (April 2013) book called The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism. It’s by Nancy DiTomaso, a professor of organization management at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Today DiTomaso spoke on a conference call with reporters that was sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation, the book’s publisher. Three other experts joined her.

Nearly half a century after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and gender, straight-out racism has become rare in the U.S., DiTomaso says in American Non-Dilemma.

The question is, why does the racial divide in employment remain stark? To find out why, DiTomasso conducted 246 interviews with working-class and middle-class whites in New Jersey, Ohio, and Tennessee. The vast majority believed in civil rights and equal opportunity. But they also believed in helping out their friends and family members—who for the most part were also white. DiTomaso’s conclusion, she said today, was that in hiring, “the favoritism of whites towards other whites may be more important than the discrimination of whites towards racial minorities.”

DiTomaso found that the whites she spoke with “did not acknowledge the group-based advantage” they had. Many did not even see themselves as belonging to an ethnic group.

When she asked white people about the ethnic composition of their neighborhoods, DiTomaso says, “They’d say, there’s no ethnicity here, just normal people like me.”

“Whites have the luxury of not thinking about race at all,” said James Francis, one of the other experts on the Russell Sage call. Francis is a founder and currently chairman of the Council of Urban Professionals.

Another speaker, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, presented evidence that progress in reducing workplace segregation between white men and black men in the private sector has been essentially zero since around 1980. He and fellow sociologist Kevin Stainback analyzed data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for a 2012 book, Documenting Desegregation. “Progress is uneven and local,” Tomaskovic-Devey told reporters.

The final speaker, Rashad Robinson, executive director of an activist group called ColorofChange.org, said the weak economy and federal budget-cutting are making things even harder on blacks. “When America gets a cold, black folks get the flu,” he said. Robinson said cuts in government employment would disproportionately hurt the black middle class.

Coy_190
Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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