Wednesday, July 16, 2008

African-American Racism, an Underdiscussed Issue

The career counseling client who just left my office is a social worker who works for a government agency in a major city. She is half white and half Latina.

Tearfully, she claimed that she has, for years, been the persistent victim of racism by her Black clients, co-workers, and boss. She said that her black clients frequently call her racist when she, for example, informs them that she needs to make a home visit or denies their claim for benefits. She told of her Black boss letting the Black workers routinely take two-hour lunches and giving them fewer and easier cases to work on. She has complained to her boss and to human resources to no avail.

That reminds me of a number of white, Asian, or Latino clients who, over the years, claimed persistent, blatant racism from African-Americans, and felt miserable and/or felt forced to quit their jobs as a result. In contrast, while a small percentage of my African-American clients have mentioned that they perceive subtle racism in their workplace, not one has ever claimed such severe racism. Of course, it is possible they didn't mention it to me because they're uncomfortable making such an accusation to me, a white person.

The above provides merely skimpy anecdotal evidence that Black racism toward others is more prevalent and severe than others' racism toward Blacks. To obtain more solid evidence, I submitted to 10 publishers a book proposal on the topic of race in the workplace, in which I proposed to place ads in major newspapers and websites inviting readers of all races to email me their stories about race in the workplace. My book would tell their stories and conclude with summary findings and recommendations. In response, I received just one call of interest: from a Harper Collins acquisitions editor, an African-American woman. Her first question: "What's going to be the conclusion of your book?" I said, "I don't know. It depends on what I learn from doing the research for the book." She said, "You know that's a deal killer." I said, "I can't help it. I'm not going to promise the book's conclusion before I do the research." She said, "Oh well." And that was that.

I believe it would be of great value to society if someone attempted to write an even-handed, fully honest book on race in the workplace, based on fair-minded, quality research.

In any event, perhaps you'd like to post a comment here describing the extent to which you believe racism of whatever type(s) exist in your workplace.

A possibly relevant data point: A 2004 Pew Charitable Trust study found that only 65% of registered Black voters registered Democrat, yet according to the latest CNN/Time poll, among Black voters, Obama leads McCain 95% to 4%. While some of the non-Democrats might favor Obama for non-racial reasons, those statistics suggest that significant numbers of Blacks let their desire to vote for a Black trump their political beliefs.


Anonymous said...

I'm a black person, and I can't speak for others, but I've probably heard more racist comments from my own family members, older and younger, than from anywhere else. I grew up hearing prejudiced comments about other races, especially white people, while befriending and going to school with them.

Perhaps I'm not the best example. I turned out a little different than my family, despite having more or less the same upbringing.

I'm not really looking for racism or sexism or other opportunities to be offended in my day to day life, nor do I have the desire to lash out at others. I don't think my life is more difficult than that of an average white American.

It's no surprise at all that almost every black person in that poll supports Obama. Voting for him never crossed my mind. He has yet to convince me that a vote for him means the change for America he is so fond of selling. But he has the black vote, so why bother trying to convince me?

Anonymous said...

Let me address your comment from the prism of my own experience. I am a black male, Ivy-league undergraduate educated, with a MSW from Berkeley, one of the best Social Welfare graduate programs in the world. Currently, I am a Social Worker for state government in one of the New England states. Despite over 30 years of experience in human services, along with my educational credentials, I have not been mentored for promotion in any way whatsoever. White colleagues, and even Hispanics, have been promoted with little to no experience in the field, and, in many cases, without the credential of a graduate degree. I have seen whites, especially females, do little to no work, not be disciplined for obvious incompetence, and take protracted lunch breaks. I would be hard put to posit that their subtle prejudices have not be deleterious to my career, or the other blacks I've noticed who are far more qualified. My experience is real, your opinion is based on anecdotes and the narratives of people who see you for counseling. Not a random sample. To say slavery, and, more importantly, the residual attitudes on the part of other racial groups that emanated from American slavery has not been more impactful on blacks than others is simply being intellectually dishonest. Latent racism on the part of non-blacks also exhibits itself in assortive mating. Asians and Latinos would rather mate with whites, even if those whites are inferior, than with blacks. I would say, without knowing the half-Latina in your office, that perhaps what she took for racism was the latent belief that blacks shouldn't be treated equally, and when they have responsible positions, their own insecurities cause them to see black racism when none exists.

Marty Nemko said...

I want to thank the most recent anonymous commenter for his perspective, even though his position is contrary to that presented in my post. I want this to be a truly welcoming forum for all intelligently and benevolently derived statements on this most controversial of topics: race.

Anonymous said...

A question for you, Mr. Nemko. As a white person, do you feel any so-called "white guilt"? I ask because I live and work in an area where it seems to be felt by a lot of white people, and exploited by a lot of non-white people.

Marty Nemko said...

I do not feel white guilt. Other groups have suffered tremendous and long-standing prejudice. For example, the Jews have suffered great antisemitism from the Roman times through the Inquisition, through the Pogroms, and of course the Holocaust, have never received anywhere near the sort of compensatory programs that have been given to Blacks, yet have done well.

As the data suggests, I, like most white people, make all efforts to treat people on their merits not their skin color, and as long as I do that, I do not feel white guilty.

Anonymous said...

This happened on my bus today:

A Chinese man got on the bus without properly paying his fare. This led to a misunderstanding between him and the bus driver.

A frustrated black woman, about mid 50's, sitting in the front, initially being polite, later began saying racist things like "if you don't like it, go back to China" and "you need to stop eating so much rice." Another older black woman kept agreeing with her.

After about a minute of this, a college-age Latina told the black woman to stop saying such racist things. In response, the black woman said "you should shut up and go back to college" and "what does this have to do with you? you're just adding fuel to the fire."

When I got off the bus, I told the Latina that she did the right thing and to keep speaking up.

There is no justification or explanation for the black woman's remarks. Racism, ignorance, and stupidity is just as obvious and wrong from a black person's mouth as it is from any other mouth.

Anonymous said...

I am an inter-racial Latino who has been discriminated against by both Caucasian Anglo-Americans and African-Americans alike. The notion that a historically oppressed group, of which there are many, have a monopoly on racial oppression and are incapable of discriminating against others is, sadly, totally false.

Anonymous said...

Violent, virulent, overt, unprovoked racism by blacks of all ages and walks of life directed at non-blacks - including Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans -
is a pervasive, ugly fact of life.

Blacks racists should be condemned by all, including the so-called black leadership.


lady said...

I teach at a community college. Last semester I dealt with a black woman who harassed me through out the term. She called me sexually repressed and bi-polar. She told me I needed to do some research and find out whether my forefathers were slave owners. I'm from Eastern Europe and such connections to slavery are impossible. I realized that all the hostility I received was a result of this woman's obsession with race. I lost all of my compassion for her. I started to see her as nothing more than a lazy manipulator who was going to get what she waned by using the race card.
Being white is a burden. You have to be responsible for what you do.If you are poor and white, you have to suck it up and not complain because you are supposed to use your so-called "white privilege." Being black in America, on the other hand, is a green ticket to indulgence and irresponsibility.