Elite degrees don’t protect black Americans from racism

Elite degrees don’t protect black Americans from racism February 9, 2015

The social sciences have been showing the depth of our racial prejudice for a while now, so I’m always surprised to see that some people find concepts like “white privilege” hard to acknowledge.

A new study by S. Michael Gaddis, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan, goes even further to show how much harder black Americans have to work to get on the same level as white Americans. Black job candidates from even elite schools like Harvard or Duke only do as well as white candidates from less selective universities like U Mass-Amherst or UNC Greensboro. Lisa Wade at PS Mag reports:

Both phone and email inquiries from people with white-sounding names elicited a response more often than those from black-sounding names. Overall, white-sounding candidates were 1.5 times more likely than black-sounding candidates to get a response from an employer. The relationship held up when other variables were controlled for with logistic regression.

Response by race

Gaddis goes on to show that when employers did respond to candidates with black-sounding names, it was for less prestigious jobs that pay less.

This is a topic on my mind lately, and it can’t help but feel personal—in part because I was sent this article by my girlfriend (who is black, went to Harvard, and is now doing her PhD at Duke) but because my own alma mater has been in the news lately for racial prejudice. Tahj Blow, Yale class of 2016 and the son of New York Times columnist Charles Blow, was apprehended by a police officer at gunpoint while leaving a library. The elder Blow writes:

If indeed my son matched the description of a suspect, I would have had no problem with him being questioned appropriately. School is his community, his home away from home, and he would have appreciated reasonable efforts to keep it safe. The stop is not the problem; the method of the stop is the problem.

Why was a gun drawn first? Why was he not immediately told why he was being detained? Why not ask for ID first?

What if my son had panicked under the stress, having never had a gun pointed at him before, and made what the officer considered a “suspicious” movement? Had I come close to losing him? Triggers cannot be unpulled. Bullets cannot be called back.

My son was unarmed, possessed no plunder, obeyed all instructions, answered all questions, did not attempt to flee or resist in any way.

This is the scenario I have always dreaded: my son at the wrong end of a gun barrel, face down on the concrete. I had always dreaded the moment that we would share stories about encounters with the police in which our lives hung in the balance, intergenerational stories of joining the inglorious “club.”

When that moment came, I was exceedingly happy I had talked to him about how to conduct himself if a situation like this ever occurred. Yet I was brewing with sadness and anger that he had to use that advice.

I am reminded of what I have always known, but what some would choose to deny: that there is no way to work your way out — earn your way out — of this sort of crisis. In these moments, what you’ve done matters less than how you look.

There is no amount of respectability that can bend a gun’s barrel. All of our boys are bound together.

 

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