Racial Discrimination in the Workplace Research Paper

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Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

Until fairly recent times, blacks and other minority groups were denied almost all economic and educational opportunities, including government programs that distributed homestead lands, oil, gas and mineral rights, television and radio licenses, federally-guaranteed mortgages and business loans and airline routes (Feagin 3). Before the 1960s, most blacks and Hispanics held only menial, low-paying jobs and were denied ownership of land and business or access to white colleges and universities (Feagin and McKinney 24). Even today, on the United Nations Human Development Index of education, income and life expectancy, while U.S. whites ranked first in the world, U.S. blacks were 31st (Feagin and McKinney 28). Up to 76% of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States report at least one act of racial discrimination in the workplace over a 12-24-month period. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which has received tens of thousands of complaints of discrimination every year since its inception, so much so that it has a lengthy backlog of cases that have never been investigated or resolved. In 2008 alone, the EEOC received 34,000 new complaints of racial discrimination in the workplace, "which is thought to reflect only a small proportion of discriminatory incidents" (Settles et al. 138). In a survey of 131 civil cases of racial discrimination and harassment, 63% of the victims were black, 76% were in the private sector, 59% were unskilled and semiskilled workers, and in 66% of cases the employers won (Foegen-Karsten 33). In one study on the Los Angles area, "about 60% of more than a thousand black respondents reported discriminatory barriers in workplaces in just the previous year." A national survey found that one-third of blacks had experienced "discrimination in regard to jobs or promotions." Another survey of 40,000 military personnel revealed that over half of black respondents had "encountered racist jokes, offensive discussions, or racial condescension in the last year alone" -- and the military has a reputation for being a less racist environment than the civilian economy (Feagin and McKinney 26).

Blacks are also frequently subject to retaliation for filing formal complaints about racial discrimination, and in 2009 the EEOC received 33,000 claims of retaliation against employees who had complained (Settles et al. 136). In colleges and universities, up to 98% of ethnic minority students receive "at least one unwanted race-based event every year" (Settles et al. 139). Racial harassment on the job, taking the form of slurs, jokes, insults and derogatory comments generally accompanies discrimination and is commonplace in such workplaces. In a job situation, harassment takes the form of white employees who "typically go out of their way to bother others by behaving in a manner that is unrelated to appropriate work conduct" (Bruce 27). Black women often "experience multiple forms of harassment" and are also more likely to be sexually harassed than white women (Bruce 34).

Challenges/Issues of Racial Discrimination

By law, employers are not allowed to discriminate in hiring, retention or promotion on the bases of color, gender, religion, national origin, relationships with members of minority groups or even hair or skin color or other racial and ethnic features. In practice, of course, given the lax and limited enforcement efforts by the federal government, such discrimination occurs all the time. Studies show that with resumes from persons with identical qualifications except for names that sound 'black', such as 'Jamal James," the persons with "white-sounding names were 50% more likely to receive a call back than applicants with black-sounding names," and that applicants with high qualifications were 30% more likely to be interviewed if their names were perceived as 'white', compared to only 8% of those with 'black' names (Settles et al. 134). Other studies found that white supervisors consistently gave white employees higher performance ratings than black workers, and that over a three-year period, black workers with similar records and credentials were 33% more likely to be fired than whites. White males earn one-third more than black males and two-thirds more than black females, even when corrected age, education, experience, and marital status. Overall, black workers "earned significantly less than white workers" throughout there lives, and so it had always been in the United States (Settles et al. 135). Minority workers are frequently the "last hired, first fired," especially in declining industries or during recessions, and "minorities are less likely than whites to recover economically after a recession" (Settles et al. 143).

Racial discrimination produces a wide variety of negative physical and psychological effects, such as low self-esteem, lack of confidence and resiliency, defensiveness, anger, traumatic stress, high blood pressure, substance abuse, greater job dissatisfaction, poor work relationships and lack of commitment to the organization. In general, it always results in negative "psychological, physical, and work outcomes" (Settles et al. 133). Injuries from ostracism, exclusion, and prejudice may be as severe and long lasting as physical injuries, and at least one-quarter of those who experience racial discrimination will do on to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They are liable to receive compensatory damages from the courts, with the amount of damages dependent on the degree of harm (Goodman-Delahunty and Foote 65). In fact, the "decisions to litigate were influenced more by workplace climate or context than by the severity of injuries to the plaintiff," with a hostile or indifferent workplace more likely to be sued (Goodman-Delahunty and Foote 71).

Black workers feel great stress in such environments and a complete loss of control, and such stress has a "negative effect on a person's cardiovascular, immune and neurological functioning," increasing the probability of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic illnesses (Feagin and McKinney 32). For blacks, "psychological injuries stemming from racial discrimination are particularly profound because of the integral nature of race to individual identity," although the law places more emphasis on physical than psychological injuries (Goodman-Delahunty and Foote 67). They are also discriminated against when seeking health care for job-related stress and receive lower-quality medical care than whites. They have great difficulty fitting into discriminatory, white-dominated workplaces, but blacks, however, are "unable to change their jobs when faced with persisting discrimination because of the need to support their families" (Feagin 219). When they protest against discrimination, whites often describe them as "angry," "difficult" and unwilling to be "team players," which causes poor evaluations, loss of promotions and greater stress. Since the 1970s and 1980s, there has been general denial among whites, including the media and politicians, that racial discrimination continues to exist, despite massive evidence to the contrary, and blacks are often blamed for creating their own problems (Feagin 222).

Although the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not explicitly define racial discrimination, later laws, judicial decisions and legal writings basically found that it meant prejudicial treatment of minority groups, with out without direct intent. In the 1960s, discrimination was still highly overt and the law was designed to "prohibit the intentional infliction of prejudice upon individuals" when this was still commonplace (Craig 26). At that time, the law did not address hidden or indirect discrimination, "class and stratification systems" or "structural and institutional discrimination" in which prejudicial intent is less open and obvious. In recent times, though, especially since the passage of the 1991 Civil Rights Act, the burden of proof has shifted to the employer "to show that he is not in violation of the prohibition against discrimination" (Craig 28). A finding of discrimination requires a comparison between two groups and a determination that one has been disadvantaged. Such discriminatory disadvantage "stems from prejudices and stereotypes, as well as neutral institutional practices and norms tailored for the dominant majority" (Craig 31). Individuals with higher levels of belief in hierarchy, authoritarianism and groups social dominance are also the most likely to engage in racial discrimination against all minorities. (Settles et al. 140). In addition, "recent research suggests that prejudice and stereotypes occur unconsciously and outside people's awareness" (Settles et al., p. 138). In the U.S. courts, racial discrimination is usually proved from studies and statistics that show differential treatment rather than proof of overt racist intent.

In the Johnson Controls case, the Supreme Court allowed some discrimination of the basis of gender, ethnicity or religion provided that the employer could demonstrate that this was a necessary as a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). For example, a religious organization may require that all employees must be members of its denomination or that only males can join the clergy. Women nurses can be hired by nursing homes to care for female patients or an Asian restaurant can discriminate by employing an Asian staff. Even in these cases, the Court stated that all job qualifications "must relate to the employee's ability to safely and effectively perform the essential job duties" (Craig 37). In Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971), the Supreme Court ruled against an employer that had a long history of racial segregation and discrimination, and was using two 'general aptitude tests' to screen out blacks at that hiring stage. Although…

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