Landmark Case Addresses Racial Bias in Hiring

State Seal of Iowa.
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In his book, Faces at the Bottom of the Well, the late Professor Derrick Bell argues that racism is permanent; in other words, it will never go away.

That thought registered today as I read about a pending case that is being decided in Iowa.  In a story posted on Yahoo News, the Associated Press reported that there is a class action suit that has been filed against the entire state government of Iowa. ( The plaintiffs – 6,000 African – Americans – have charged that they have been denied jobs on the basis of their race.

The plaintiffs say that the racism has not been overt; rather, they say potential state employers subconsciously harbor feelings of racial bias, a charge they back up by the results of a test developed by University of Washington psychologist Anthony Greenwald, called the “Implicit Association Test.” According to the AP report, results of that test taken by white employers show a high degree of racial bias – though many of those who took the test would not have considered, or do not consider, themselves to be racist.

The words of Derrick Bell come back: racism is permanent. It is not going away.

I thought of his words when I listened to Dr. Jeanne Middleton Hairston, who is the national director of the CDF Freedom Schools® program. An historian, she was giving an absolutely mesmerizing summary of some things that had happened in African-American history that helped convince Civil Rights workers in the 60s of the need for social justice work to extend to public education. I wondered to myself why it is that what she was teaching is not taught in schools – public and private, but then I had to remember: the institution of racism keeps much of what is true underground.

In the Iowa case, which will be decided by Judge Robert Blink, the plaintiffs could win many dollars from cases of alleged discrimination dating back to 2003, but some say the money is not the goal. What is needed, they say, is a change in hiring practices, using tools which can test or measure implicit bias in those doing the hiring. Test results of people given the test so far show that up to 80 percent of employers have a subliminal preference of whites over blacks.

It is not surprising, but it is disappointing that racism has not hastened from the American scene. I have recently learned that so much about America – even the naming of states in the Union – was based on race. In the new book, Slavery by Another Name, author Douglas A. Blackmon describes how slavery under the peonage system existed in this nation until 40 years ago! The research is riveting, but at the end of the day, it is just so exhausting, this racism issue.

Certainly, scores of African-Americans who have been passed over for jobs by less-qualified whites are not surprised that a test finds implicit bias in those who hire. It is good, though, to have a scientific tool by which to measure what so many people have complained of for so long; the presence of hard data tends to verify what emotional testimony of the same cannot.

It will be interesting – and critical – to see how this case plays out.  My hope is that the judge is able to look at the data and be objective – and be able to withstand the certain criticism that will come if he rules in favor of the plaintiffs.

But my bigger hope is that this racism thing – America’s disease – will be the focus of more scientific study with hard results, so that solutions might be found to problems that have kept African-Americans and other minorities in underclass status for far too long.

A candid observation …

Paul, Santorum Need Come to Jesus Meeting

, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.
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I keep thinking that somebody ought to tell Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum that racism is…not presidential.

Both gentlemen fared well in the Iowa caucuses, and both seem to have a hunger for the nation’s highest office.

But Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum, can we talk?

Just a couple of days ago, Rick Santorum said that he “didn’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them other people’s money.”  He was speaking to a group of white people, and I guess…well, I guess he was comfortable and he knew what they’d want to hear.

In the name of God, some white folks just think black folks ought to just …shape up, right?

He later on said that he didn’t recall making the statement, but that’s only after he said, in an earlier statement, that he had probably been thinking about what he saw in the movie “Waiting for Superman,” which focuses on black kids trying to get into charter schools…

Santorum said to Sean Hannity on the latter’s television program that, well, he doesn’t make racial distinctions, and, by golly, he has some black friends! Yep, sure does. Michael Steele and J.C. Watts, both black, are his friends.

Never mind that neither of those gentlemen seem to relate to the real plight of many African Americans.

And then there’s Mr. Paul, who, back in the day, had newsletters written under his name. Now, he says he didn’t read any of “that stuff,” but the fact is  that “that stuff” appeared in these newsletters and he did not disavow any of it.

What didn’t he disavow, you ask? Well, for one, his statement, “If you’ve ever been robbed by a teen-aged male, you know how fleet-footed they can be.” (italics mine) In that same newsletter, published in 1992, he said that “we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males (in Washington D.C.) are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.”  He was the only member of Congress that opposed giving a Medal of Honor to Rosa Parks and opposed to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mr. Paul said he is not a racist; in a 2008 CNN interview, he said that he’s the one who protects blacks in the inner city. He says that the statements show the tendency of the media to take things out of context.

That’s fair. The media does have a tendency to take things out of context.

He said in the 2008 interview that he repudiates all of the statements in the newsletters, and that is good. He said he has never read the stuff written under his name.

He said that the real issue is the drug laws that so unfairly impact black people, and he’s right on that.

But it’s the little things, the little tongue-in-cheek things that are said that help keep racial tensions alive, and keep marginalized people feeling, well, marginalized. It is a myth that most of the people on welfare are African American; though proportionately, the poverty rate for African Americans is higher than that for whites, statistics show that more white than black people are on welfare.

One of these presidential politicians ought to say that, don’t you think?

I know it is the job of a politician to get elected, and politicians will say anything to get elected. Ironically, I think of the words of the Apostle Paul, who said in 1 Cor. 9: “Though I am free, and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” (9:19) Later he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way to get the prize.” (9:24) I chuckled as I read that entire passage of scripture and wondered if Paul, in addition to fiercely loving Jesus the Christ was not also a politician?

It seems to me, though, that a good politician ought to have the adjectives “honest” and “sensitive” somewhere in his or her resume. Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul need to  “fess up” to saying, or allowing to be said in their names, some pretty racist stuff. It happens. This is America, and it is no secret that many to most white people have grown up with disparaging views and opinions about black people. How great it would be to hear a white politician just “own up”  and admit they’d said some things that reflected how they grew up and were taught?

When we admit our goofs, we can begin to fix them.

And fixing their apparently racist ways of looking at black people is a must, in my view, for anyone who is striving to get to the White House. The American government has not been a friend to black (or brown) people, or to women or other oppressed groups. The American government turned its head to the injustices suffered by black people and would not, did not, protect its black citizens.

The country has suffered as a result of that.

Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum would do themselves and their campaigns a favor if they would just have a “come to Jesus” meeting with Jesus, and ask Jesus to change their thoughts and beliefs when it comes to black people, black life and black culture.

Because the country is not a lily-white place, gentlemen, and the country cannot be as great as it has the potential for, if all of its people are not treated having been created equal.

A candid observation.

© 2012 Candid Observations

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