By Frank T. Scruggs The Afro News International
Across the world today many people have come to believe that with the election of Barack Obama to the Office of President of the United States that somehow racism magically vanished. Many institutions in North America still retain a culture that favors white males over everyone else.
The practice of white privilege, micro-aggression and subtle racism confront Black people in North America on a daily basis. Although people like former General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch present the idea of a healthy corporation in terms of healthy corporations as having the ability to do the right thing, the Glass Ceiling Commission found three major individual barriers for Black people: 1) subtle racism and prejudice, 2) managing duality and bicultural stress and 3) tokenism and presumed incompetence. It is believed that racism is the most insidious and tenacious of the barriers of this category and carries the strongest implications for both the group and the organizational barriers. Mary C. King author of Occupational Segregation by Race and Sex stated that: There is a myth that companies are colorblind…more accurately; discrimination is ever present but a taboo topic for blacks as well as whites. This is the kind of racism that is being referred to as a subtle form of racism.
Unlike overt bigotry and outright hostility, subtle racism is hidden deeply below the surface. Its impact can be far more psychologically damaging to the victim due to its covert nature. President Obama while holding onto a hopeful vision of America in terms of race relations has also been open about the problems of race relations and the misperception of a color-blind America. He does hold steady to Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of an America where everyone is judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He is also mindful that Americans have a long way to go to achieve the equality and fairness that a color-blind society offers. He also advised Americans to consider the racial demographics of America’s human tapestry:
Already, Texas, California, New Mexico, Hawaii and the District of Columbia are majority minority. Twelve other states have populations that are more than one third Latino, black and/or Asian…Shortly after 2050; experts project America will no longer be a white country—with consequences for our economics, our politics, and our culture that we cannot fully anticipate. (p.275)
The idea of a colorblind organization is believed by some to be a myth and achievable by others leave race, workplace conflict and African American corporate managers as an important discussion for Corporate America. Part of the discussion for Corporate America is to consider that race and racism still matters in America. Obama (2006) also stated that:
Still, when I hear commentators interpreting my speech to mean that we arrived at a post racial politics or that we already live in a color-blind society, I have to offer a word of caution. To say that we are one people is to suggest that race no longer matters__that the fight for equality has been won, or the problems that minorities face in this country today are self-inflicted. (p. 275)
He further admonished these pundits to consider the social economic statistics and consider the racial attitudes and composition of corporations, the U.S. Senate and other institutions in America and weigh the reality of color-blindness in America. (Obama, 2006: 275)
Notably, Obama (2006) as a U.S. Senator recognized that America is definitely not a color-blind nation when he candidly discussed the different types of racial indignities that he as a black man has endured. In his recollection he said
Moreover, while my own experience hardly typifies the African American experience—and although largely through luck and circumstances, I now occupy a position that insulates me from most of the bumps and bruises that the average black man must endure—I can recite the usual litany of petty slights that during my forty-five years has been directed my way: security guards tailing me as I shop in department stores, white couples who toss me their car keys as I stand outside a restaurant waiting for the valet, police cars pulling me over for no apparent reason. I know what it’s like to have people tell me I can’t do something because of my color, and I know the bitter swill of swallowed-back anger. (p. 276)
Robert Anthony Watts (2009) also has examined the many different types of snubs and slights experienced by many other successful black people like Obama; things such as being asked for identification for receptions, being mistaken for parking valets and ignored in clothing stores. He stated that no matter how well-dressed you are; you are still black. For many black Americans, those kinds of snobs are common experiences. Usually subtle and almost never involving slurs, the incidents are far less obvious than Jim Crow laws that prevailed in the South four decades ago. But for many blacks these behaviors are jarring and lead to simmering anger and widen the divide in America. Dr. Carl Bell a Chicago psychiatrist known for his work on racism says such behavior is called micro-insults or micro-aggressions. These experiences for blacks can be particularly frustrating because they are so personal.
In many cases Black managers, government officials, police authorities and professionals and blue collar journeymen and factory supervisors have invested time, money, resources and effort to achieve the required education, training and necessary skills to command respect in their various work areas. As one might predict; when their vision, work efforts and ability to control their own destinies within their organization’s structure was thwarted, people react to this type of suppression of their efforts. Psychologist Lester A. Lefton has described the feeling of acquiescence as learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is the behavior of giving up or not responding which is exhibited by organisms exposed to negative consequences or punishment over which they have no control. According to Lefton, the major cause of learned helplessness is someone’s belief that its response will not affect what happens to it in the future. The result of this belief is anxiety, depression and eventually, non-responsiveness. Some professionals have expressed that they have witnessed others having racist and in some cases both racist and sexist experiences felt helpless to intervene. There is a belief by many black corporate managers that no matter what, racism is so deeply entrenched in American society that it cannot be eliminated from Corporate America.
Learned helplessness in similar fashion to Charles Horton Cooley’s Study of the Looking Glass Self, many black people in positions of authority may subjugate themselves to their experience in their workplace. This goes to say that since by the way people interact with others, they come to see themselves the way they think others perceive them thus the looking-glass self. Successful Black people then may want to become aware that their interactions with others in their workplace can create a looking-glass self. According to James Henslin this would involve three elements which would include 1) how we think we appear to others, 2) how we think others feel about what we they perceive and 3) how we feel about the reflected image. Our self-esteem depends on our looking-glass self. Interactions with peers, superiors and subordinates then becomes very crucial in the in the workplace since this is where a great deal of interaction occurs on a daily basis. Let us not give in to learned helplessness and recognize that although racism persists it can be vanquished in out lifetime. Share what’s on your mind. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org