I think this is a question that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would ask if he were living today. After protests, marches, civil disobedience, untold violence, tragic deaths and the ultimate passage of anti-discrimination laws, why does so much division and inequality endure in the USA?
Rutgers University white professor Nancy DiTomaso addresses this issue in her book, “The American Non-Dilemna, Racial Inequality Without Racism.” She points the finger directly at the knowing and doing gap for inclusion. In research for her book, DiTomaso interviewed a majority of white people across working, middle and upper class spectrums about their understanding of inequality in the USA. She found that while most whites recognize the harmful effects of inequality, they oppose practices aimed to reduce the same inequality they claim to detest.
Their “it is not my problem” attitude to inequality has actually fueled more inequality:
(1) Politics-In the last presidential election, why did Governor Mitt Romney receive 88% of his support from white voters while President Barack Obama received 44% of his support from people of color voters-The Atlantic, 2012.
(2) Sports-Why are there so few people of color in sports like cycling, softball, kayaking, sailing, bowling, auto racing, water polo, ice hockey and tennis-American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 2001.
(3) Professional Sports-Why is there only 1 black majority owner among 153 teams in the 6 biggest professional major sports in the USA and Canada-The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida’s College of Business Administration, 2013.
(4) Parenting-Why do most people think Black men are absentee fathers when research suggests they are just as active in their children’s lives as other fathers among other racial groups living in similar situations-National Center for Health Statistics, 2013.
(5) Social Networks-Why do white people have nearly 7 times more total people in their social networks than Blacks and Hispanics-Public Religion Research Institute, 2013.
(6) Education-Why do most Black children attend inferior schools-Brookings Institute, 2015.
(7) Poverty-Why do half of Black citizens in the USA who are born into poverty stay in poverty-Brookings Institute, 2015.
(8) Literature-Why are only 10% of the children’s books in the USA written by or for people of color even though they make up nearly 40% of the USA’s population-Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 2014
(9) Relationships-Why does the average white citizen in the USA have only 1 black friend as opposed to the average black citizen who has 8 white friends- Public Religion Research Institute, 2014.
DiTomaso notes that the biggest area where whites pursue their own home field advantage is employment. She concludes that this type of “opportunity hoarding” in the workplace gives whites easier access to social resources that keep them in the haves category of the inequality examples listed above.
DiTomaso reported these white blind spots to inequality play out in three ways:
Whites Do Good Things to Each Other Without Doing Bad Things to Others
Whites fail to realize they do not have to explicitly do anything to people of color to gain an advantage. All they have to do is to claim their whiteness.
DiTomaso reported that 99% of her interviewees had received 70% of their jobs with help from their friends or family members in the form of extra influence or inside information not accessible to other applicants.
Whites Believe in Equal Opportunity but Spend Their Lives Seeking Unequal Opportunity
DiTomaso observed that while most of her interview subjects support equal opportunity, they did not hesitate to take advantage of unequal opportunity when it came to finding a job or landing a promotion.
While most of their claims of success are attributed to pulling themselves up by their boot straps, beyond their job advantage, few of them acknowledged any benefit from others in the remaining balance of their lives.
Whites Play Up Having “Done It On Their Own” and Downplay Having Group-based Advantage
Like a fish is the last one to know they are out of the water, whites are the last ones to know they have an inherent advantage over others according to DiTamaso. They are insulated by segregated schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, social networks and other public institutions where they rely on the power of people who look like them, talk like them and act like them.
DiTomaso concluded that we people of color enable white people by spending an inordinate amount of time trying to stop them from doing bad things to us, and not enough time helping white people understand how they help themselves.
Of course, people of color can exhibit bias too. Asking if people of color can be biased is the wrong question. The issue is can people of color do anything about inequality.
A 2014 University of Colorado study suggests otherwise. This study of 362 executives including Chief Executive Officers and Directors showed that women and people of color who promoted the employment of other women and people of color got lower evaluation scores than white men who supported the hiring of identical groups. When women advocated for other women they were seen as callous. When people of color promoted people of color they were view as incompetent. On the contrary, white men were seen as empathetic and competent when they encouraged more racial and gender diversity in the workplace.
The major take away from the study according to the author Bill Hekman-people who support similar people are seen as self-centered with the exception of white men.
While today’s inequality does not come in the form of nooses, segregated bathrooms, reservations and internment camps, it does seem to exist by favoring people who are similar to us. How do we respond to Dr. King? One possible answer-his dream of an inclusive world appears to still be elusive, at least for some of us.