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George on Georgia – The Black Lives Matter endgame: jobs

Decatur Editor's Pick George on Georgia

George on Georgia – The Black Lives Matter endgame: jobs

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George Chidi


Once upon a time, I was a spy.

Well, sort of. I provided competitive intelligence to corporations. Sales data, pricing, supply chain visibility, marketing strategies — whatever someone needed to know, the weirder the better. And I was reasonably good at it. It’s what got me through the recession.

I spent a lot of time trawling through LinkedIn compiling employee lists. And, almost always, I was looking at a hit parade of youngish to middle-aged white people, mostly men. I’d sit there and wonder which one got their break because their fathers worked together, or which one met the right white guy at college. I wondered how many won their job because qualified Black people were never considered.

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White people reverse this when they see a Black person in a position of corporate authority. “A diversity hire,” one mumbles, never considering all of the breaks one might have gotten that were denied to others. I can go through the math of this if you like: less than five percent of racial job discrimination affects white people, but you would think that’s the only kind that matters … until you look at corporate boards and executive teams and middle management that are usually 90 to 95 percent white.

Fortune 500 firms have been taking steps at the board level to diversify their officers. Management remains largely monochromatic. For the smaller firms that make up two-thirds of American employment, nothing has fundamentally changed. This, even though about 43 percent of all employees 40 and younger are nonwhite.

If you’re wondering what the endgame is for Black Lives Matter: this is it. Racism exists to save the jobs of mediocre white guys. That’s why we have it. That’s its purpose. If it doesn’t work anymore, it will die. 

White people: there is a thing you can do to help end racism in America. Count all the other white people at work, and then tell us.

We all believe that there is some human resources magic that prevents companies from getting sued when it’s obvious that people of color aren’t being hired and promoted. There isn’t. It’s next to impossible to prove that you weren’t hired because you’re Black — you don’t see the hiring process or the result.

The EEOC stuff at the bottom of a job application? No one looks at it. Unless a company is a government contractor, the racial composition of your workplace is not public information. Public reporting is voluntary, which means it will be cherry-picked.

Even then, bringing a discrimination lawsuit is a huge legal barrier for anyone. The burden of proof, absent utterly incontrovertible statistical evidence, is simply too high. The pipeline is wrecked from the start. So, even though Black people form 10 percent of the professional workforce, they’re only about 3 percent of managerial jobs. Black people tend to be overrepresented in government service because the government has much stronger anti-discrimination protection than the private sector — so much so that white people can actually benefit from it, too.

America has near racial parity in high school graduation rates. About 30 percent of Black people over 25 have a college degree but earn $15,000 a year less in Georgia with that degree. If earnings had parity, the graduation rates would have parity, too. We do not have a “skills” problem. It’s not “available talent.” It’s not job applicants. It’s racism. Flat out. Anyone saying otherwise is lying.

Let me make explicit the connection between this and police misconduct. Police target Black people because they can. It is a function of economic weakness. We are seeing a backlash because cell phones make the gathering of evidence inexpensive. But Black people usually still can’t afford private lawyers because of job discrimination. And arrests take Black people out of the competitive labor pool.

A white person with a recent felony conviction is still more likely to be called into a job interview than a Black person with an identical resume and a clean criminal record. Any criminal conviction renders Black people — particularly young Black men — all but unemployable. Job discrimination has not improved in the last 30 years of recorded testing.

“Oh, but quotas are evil!” Well, sure. But the kind of job discrimination Black people face is worse: it’s causing social chaos. Corporate America has had 30 years to sort this out on its own. This is where that got us. All I’m saying is that the talent is there, but for the discrimination we face.

We are awash in companies pledging their fealty to Black Lives Matter while doing absolutely nothing material to change Black lives. We are offered comically cosmetic changes — Aunt Jemima, anyone? — with no material benefit.

That’s where you come in, white people.

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If you’re serious about fixing this stuff, get ready to publish the racial composition of your workplaces. Black people by and large won’t have an inside track to see it unvarnished and face far more serious job risks by revealing it.

If we see it published, then people can vote with their dollars. Companies that reflect society best can win our patronage, Black and white. Companies that make lame excuses for having next to no Black people in positions of authority can fail and die.

I’m going to approach the media team at Glassdoor shortly, to ask them to publish detailed diversity information in addition to other work. Detailed — like exact numbers. If they won’t do it, then I’ll start a site of my own and take the leaks from inside companies. That’s a hill worth dying on, and there’s a nation of employment lawyers ready to die on it.

But let us start that conversation here. Tell me why I’m wrong.

– George Chidi is a political columnist and public policy advocate.

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