Racism In The Workplace Lives On

We would all like to believe that racism in the workplace, though it still exists, is slowly going away. Those of us who have been in the workforce for quite a number of years can often look back to when racism in the workplace was more overt, or was not a problem, because minorities were simply not hired unless they appeared to be truly outstanding individuals.

A group picture of many organizations today might just as well have been taken at the United Nations. One will see a happy and smiling collection of black, white, yellow, and brown faces. The leader of the organization, though often white, is more and more apt to be a person of color. Fifty years ago, the same organization may have been mostly white, if not lily white, and any discrimination was apt to be in the area of social status or religion, not race.

Aversive Racism - We have made strides, but not as much as we tend to believe. Racism in the workplace still exists. It is perhaps not as strong as once was the case, but remains fairly strong nonetheless. Rather than slowly disappearing, racism in the workplace, and in other places as well, has undergone a mutation. We still have overt racism in many places and still practiced by many individuals, both white and colored. What we have much more of however is what is referred to as aversive racism.

A Spectrum Of Feelings - What is an aversive racist? The answer is not all that simple, as many of not most of us tend to be aversive racists to some degree. Aversive racism in the workplace is defined in shades of grey. Instead of a white person not liking a black person because that person is black, the white person is a little uncomfortable being around or associating with someone who is black because the person is "different". The black person may of course feel the same way towards the white person.

Averse Racism In Action - In one sense, aversive racism is a natural phenomenon as we tend to be less comfortable around those who are not just like us, and it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with race. That doesn't make aversive racism all right, but helps explain to some degree what is behind it. An aversive racist often consider themselves not to be racist at all. Their racist acts are carried out without thinking, and without intention to be harmful in any way. In the workplace, if two people, one black and one white, are candidates for promotion to a higher position in the organization, and one is head and shoulders above the other in terms of productivity and potential, that person will usually get the promotion. If the two are about equal, the white person will often get "the benefit of the doubt". Those giving the promotion may not be comfortable with having the "different" person in the new position, and may use all kinds of rationalization behind their choice, though never mentioning race. Those making the decision may even feel they've been very fair and objective, though the decision may well have been very subjective. That's aversive racism in action.

Where Are We Headed? - It can be difficult to predict just where racism in the workplace is heading, though it will probably be with us for a long time in one form or another. An influx of Asians into the workforce over the past 20 years has changed the dynamics, and in the United States we see more and more Hispanics in the professions and in the office workplace. One would think that as the workplace becomes more and more of a "melting pot", racism would tend to diminish. What probably will happen is that racism will undergo yet another mutation, and we have little insight as to what the eventual outcome or form of it will be. President Eisenhower, referring to civil rights issues said, "You can't legislate love". While overt racism can be legislated against, and rules for proper conduct in the workplace can be enforced, aversive racism in the workplaces is a different animal, one we don't yet fully understand how to deal with.