Correcting Subtle Racism Requires Keen Eye, Creative Solutions

Last Month Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor caught the brunt of conservative criticism for certain comments made regarding race and how it factors into a judge’s decision-making. Sotomayor said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Then Monday the Supreme Court ruled white firefighters in the New Haven Fire Department were victims of reverse discrimination when the city threw out a promotion exam after minority candidates categorically tested poorly. The measure was intended to promote diversity in the workplace. The Supreme Court overturned the decision previously upheld by Sotomayor and two other judges on a panel to determine the legitimacy of New Haven’s policy.

A quick read through our headlines shows desperate need for a new understanding of bias. The Right’s stubborn faith in the myth of the American meritocracy depends on an outmoded conception on how discrimination is exercised. They argue that because official channels of slavery and segregation ended generations ago, the field is level. But only rarely is racism explicit these days.

More frequently, racism continues to be exerted through inherited disadvantage, and conversely, inherited privilege. In order to counteract racial inertia, many liberals argue the need for corrective measures which temporarily give favor to minority candidates in the workplace/schools/etc. in service of long-term equality.

It is a common myth that after Brown v. Board of Education everyone was equal. While all became supposedly “equal” under the law, whites had a head-start--better-funded schools, inherited wealth, 200 years control of government--not to mention the failure of many states to comply with desegregation.

In yesterday’s Huffington Post, Mitchell Kapor, Freada Kapor Klein, and Martha Tae-Shin Kim address the need for creativity when it comes to deracinating institutionalized and structural discrimination.

“The [New Haven] case itself, while raising complex questions about workplace bias, involved civil rights law fashioned in an era that saw far more blatant discrimination. Back then, the urgency of segregation and widespread, institutional racism did not allow for a thoughtful undertaking of more nuanced forms of bias. Now, subtle bias has become more insidious.”

Check out the full article here.

This is an issue steeped in nuance and requires compassion for all parties involved. White firefighters don’t want to be discriminated against for their race any more than black, Hispanic, or Asian firefighters for theirs. No one wants to feel indicted for something they didn’t choose. But affirmative action is not about blame. It is about starting to amend past injustices that echo still today. It is not enough to eliminate the barriers; true equality requires a cathartic process of diminishing white privilege and providing access to beneficial social programs.

Now how do we make that a reality?
Groups like Racial Justice 911, the ACLU, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice are all currently involved in projects to counteract economic and social discrimination. For ways you can get involved in the fight against racism, sexism, and class antagonism, check out their websites.

Anyone with suggestions about involvement, links to groups that do anti-discrimination work, policy ideas, here’s your chance to sound off. I’m sure you liberals out there in the grassroots, netroots, and beyond have your fingers on the pulse of some great organizations. Let’s get a list going in the comments section.