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Whites and discrimination: who fights for them?

Only once has a person ever stood up during one of my diversity workshops to announce, in a chilling voice drenched with pride, that she was a racist.
 Linda S. Wallace

Only once has a person ever stood up during one of my diversity workshops to announce, in a chilling voice drenched with pride, that she was a racist. That young woman happened to be an African-American college student.

Rather than scold, I asked a few simple questions regarding her future goals: What affect might her beliefs have on her ability to get a job and have a successful career? Did she feel her beliefs made it more difficult for her to succeed in a college, where more than 70 percent of the faculty was white? Finally, I asked her to consider how she might react if one of the European Americans had stood up and said, “I am racist.” (The young lady did not respond.)

Though it attracts far less attention in the media, racial bias and color bias among African Americans has emerged as growing workplace problems. Discrimination complaints involving skin color – light skin v. dark skin – are a fast-growing segment of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuits. Discrimination against whites is an issue as well.

Consider these cases:

• In Sept. 2009, the EEOC filed a workplace discrimination lawsuit against a North Houston new and used car dealership and service center for subjecting a Caucasian male over age 40 to unlawful harassment based on his race, age, and sex by his African-American male supervisor. (EEOC v. Worldclass Automotive, d/b/a Planet Ford, C.A. No. 4:09-cv-3096)

• In May 2009, Jack in the Box agreed to pay $20,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the company did not take prompt action after a white hostess at its Nashville restaurant complained (that) she was being harassed by black co-workers who called her racial epithets and insulted her when they learned she was pregnant with a mixed-race child. (EEOC v. Jack in the Box, No. 3:08-cv-009663 Settled on May 19, 2009)

• In April 2009, a private, historically black college located in Columbia, S.C. agreed to settle a Title VII lawsuit alleging that it discriminated against three white faculty members because of their race when it failed to renew their teaching contracts for the 2005-06 school year. (EEOC v. Benedict College, No. 3:09-cv-00905-JFA-JRM (D.S.C. April 8, 2009)

In a recent study, Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School found white respondents were more likely to view anti-white bias as a bigger societal problem than anti-black bias. They felt bias against Africans Americans has decreased while anti-white bias is on the uptick. After the report was released, many civil rights organizations and anti-racism groups either were defensive or eerily silent.

Though it is hard to find reliable data on anti-white discrimination, I hear frequently from whites who are subjected to taunting and hate. Reverse discrimination is a problem for all of us.

Several years ago, I wrote a recommendation for a gifted European-American reporter who had written the best story on a poor, predominantly black town of Chester, Pa. that I had ever read. The then-mayor of the town called me afterward to say it had been the fairest story my newspaper had ever published on his city. Yet this culturally savvy journalist – an asset to any newsroom – later was rejected for a job because he was the wrong color. “They were looking for a black,” he explained, dejectedly.

In a sagging economy where fears over job security, pensions, healthcare and homelessness reduce hope and give rise to racial and ethnic tensions, we must find the courage to ask: Will African Americans join the 2011 fight for equality or be content to focus on those who discriminate against us?

The civil rights movement is fading into the era of inclusion, where diverse organizations must collaborate on creating learning cultures where all humans have the freedom and confidence to flourish and fully contribute their gifts, intelligence and talents.

Michael, a white man from Memphis, spoke of our community’s interdependence in a recent comment on my Cultural IQ blog. “I have witnessed, and at times, even participated in racial harassment directed toward black people and, on almost a daily basis I am the victim of racial harassment, or discrimination, directed at me from black people. To suggest that one side is more culpable than the other is wrong. I would love to see this type of behavior come to a stop and it is going to take people from all sides working together,“ he wrote.

Somewhere along the line, some of us lost the ability to recall the love of humanity in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s thunderous voice.

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity,” he told all Americans.

It is up to us to decide if we will listen to Dr. King or hear only what we want to hear.

(Linda S. Wallace is The Cultural Coach. Read her blog, Cultural IQ, at http://theculturalcoach.typepad.com/cultural_iq/)

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