Racism is Alive and Well in Job Discrimination

When Matt Dillahunty linked to a Facebook post I wrote about white privilege, several of his followers chimed in to deny that racism is still a problem in society at all. But a review of every job discrimination study in the last three decades finds that black people are still discriminated against in hiring at the same rate they were before.


A new study, by researchers at Northwestern University, Harvard, and the Institute for Social Research in Norway, looked at every available field experiment on hiring discrimination from 1989 through 2015. The researchers found that anti-black racism in hiring is unchanged since at least 1989, while anti-Latino racism may have decreased modestly.

They looked at two kinds of experiments: résumé and in-person audits. In the first, researchers send out résumés with similar levels of education, experience, and so on, but the names differ so some résumés have a stereotypically black or Latino name and the others have a stereotypically white name. In the second, applicants go in-person to apply for a job; they each share similar qualifications, but some are white while others are black or brown.

In total, the researchers produced 24 studies with 30 estimates of discrimination for black and Latino Americans, collectively representing more than 54,000 applications submitted for more than 25,000 positions.

They concluded that, on average, “white applicants receive 36% more callbacks than equally qualified African Americans” while “[w]hite applicants receive on average 24% more callbacks than Latinos.”

They also found no evidence of changes over time in rates of hiring discrimination for black people, with anything but the slight possibility of “a slow decline” ruled out by the studies.

And here’s the thing: This doesn’t have to be a conscious decision to discriminate on the part of those doing the hiring. I would bet that most people who do the hiring that were targeted in those studies (which they were unaware of, of course) would agree that diversity is important and that discrimination is absolutely wrong. But the result is still the same. Why? Implicit racism.

We know from study after study that even those who have strongly anti-racist views — even people like me and, presumably, you — on a conscious level will have subconscious reactions to those of other races, particularly black people. And this is true even of black people themselves, who have internalized racism at a subconscious level as well.

We are bombarded with images of black people that fit a narrow set of stereotypes — rappers, athletes, gang members. Black actors find themselves continually being cast in such roles. And when our brains are subjected to such unrelenting images — remember, images are far more powerful than data in shaping our view of the world — the result is implicit racism operating at a subconscious level that we aren’t even aware of most of the time. That’s exactly why there’s been little change, because this kind of bias is hidden and incredibly difficult to change.

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