The White Privilege Series: Equal Opportunity Employment

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This post is part of a series about white privilege, in which I discuss my views on the topic and how it affects our greater community.  Click here to read the entire series.

Equal Opportunity Employment: The Great White Myth

“We’re an equal opportunity employer” 

I’ve heard this phrase more times than I can count and it’s one that I’m tired of hearing.  It’s not something that’s said from a place of understanding or acknowledgement, it’s a cop-out…a way to cover yourself legally.

Interesting that so many say it.  Probably 9 out of 10 businesses will tell you that they are an “Equal Opportunity Employer” when a person of color inquires, but do they even know what that means?

It’s difficult to believe that they do when they have an all white staff, an all male staff, a track record of limited advancement for people of color.  So, how is it that so many employers really do believe that their hiring and management practices are “equal” when they’re clearly not.

How do I know that they’re not operating without bias?  Just look at unemployment for people of color…they equal less than 1/3 of our population, and yet there’s still no room for opportunity.  Have you seen white unemployment?  It’s like a dream in comparission.  Have you seen white incomes?  A dream.

And if you’re a person of color in this country, you already know that you’re the first to be laid off in a bad economy, because let’s face it, white people work together to keep each other in the green.  Without fail, every recession leaves people of color fighting with each other at the bottom of the barrel when whites come out if full force to “protect their jobs”.  It’s interesting to see just how many whites will claim that “_______s are stealing their jobs” in a bad economy…as if only whites should have rights to them.  You don’t have to look very hard to see that there is a good ‘ole boys club ruling the roost.

One of the most interesting facts though, is that most white people don’t even know that they discriminate.  Seriously??  Yes!  And it’s not just direct discrimination that’s a problem, it’s white people of privilege passing along job openings ONLY to their friends and family.  It’s white people who see those who are different from them as “not being the right fit” in their office and those who “refuse to tip toe around some ________ who’s overly sensitive about race”.  In reality though, it’s white people who have to be tip toed around, because God forbid that they might have to be held accountable for their prejudices or answer to a person of color.  Blasphamy!!

So, how can whites move beyond prejudice in the workplace?

  • Be open to alternate opinions.
  • Don’t let a hairstyle dictate what character qualities you envision.
  • Hire based on qualifications and attitude.
  • Don’t avoid hiring employees of color because you feel uncomfortable.
  • Leave opportunities for new employees by giving consideration to them, rather than solely your personal connections.
  • Don’t avoid people of color, women and those with special needs or spirituality differences because you “fear” there may be conflicts one day.
  • Realize that change and embracing a diversity of perspectives is actually a GOOD thing for your business.
  • Don’t use skin color as a method of determining social class or pay scale.
  • Realize that they way someone speaks isn’t an indication of their education level or character; if I’m Guatemalan with a heavy accent, does that mean I’m uneducated…even though I have a PhD??
  • Don’t assume that people of color aren’t qualified for management or prevent them from advancement because white employees will be uncomfortable working under their authority.
  • Realize that your privilege affords you the opportunity to ignore discriminatory practices and make an effort to check yourself on it.
  • Don’t assume that if you don’t hear about discrimination in your office, that it isn’t happening.  Most people of color don’t report discrimination because they fear retaliation.  I can speak from experience, my husband has had his hours cut and even lost jobs after mentioning discrimination to his employers.  The trick is, that employers find other ways to dismiss you and “explain” why your being let go.


Facebook Comments


  • mrs_iraheta
    January 27, 2012 at 8:18 am

    This drives me crazy too! I brought it up once and a family member mentioned that those businesses are 'Equal Opportunity' because you don't have to put your race on the application. That's ridiculous because you have to put your name on an application, and sometimes just by your last (or first) name, people will assume your race. I had to have a background check done for a job recently and I went to the police station for them to take my fingerprints. The cop asked me if I was 'a half breed or something' because I'm pale, but he recognized my Hispanic last name (Iraheta is my married last name. I am very obviously Caucasian.) And I will say this, it was much easier for me to get job interviews when I had my maiden name. Maybe it's a coincidence?

    • biculturalmom
      January 27, 2012 at 9:50 am

      @mrs_iraheta No, I agree. Since using my husband's name, I don't get the same reception with employers. Most times I never get a call back, which I'd never experience before my hubby…every now and then I'll get a double take like, "Why aren't you Hispanic?"I can't believe they asked if you were a "half-breed"…wow!

      Yeah, the whole "equal opportunity" is a bit of a hoax. It really doesn't mean much and once someone recites it, you pretty much know what team their on…

  • avgjoegeek
    February 4, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    As a person who has interviewed 1000's of people. I always hired based on skillsets first then personality. I could care less if you were a martian as long as you could perform the job tasks outlined.

    What I am opposed of is people who think they have a "right" to work…. um, no you don't if you don't have the skills I'm looking for. As for people never getting a callback based on a last name? Ridiculous! The hiring manager should be fired.

  • Chantilly Patiño
    Chantilly Pati&ntild
    August 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Sorry I missed this comment. I definitely agree…discrimination should never be permitted. I think the most important thing is for us to realize our prejudices so that we don't slip into discriminatory practices. It's very easy to slip into it, so we definitely have to be cautious. Thanks for chiming in!

  • Sandra
    December 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I just stumbled upon your blog today and I am impressed with you. I am a latina who is married to a latino, but I was engaged to a Caucasian guy who I dated for seven years previously (I've been with my husband for 12 years). My ex never understood what 'we' go through and always wanted to sweep every problem he wasn't experiencing under the rug. That is so difficult for a woman to take! I have found true happiness with my husband. I like that you understand the real things that latinos go through and how it affects your husband; and ultimately, your family. I know it is hard to overcome people's disapproval, but you really seem to get it. It just depends on the person. My husband and I are both part 'white' in a way since his father was a very white Cuban and my parents are both part European – Italian grandmother & the other was Basque I think. We are both tan like your husband but our daughter looks similar to yours- which really confuses some people. Anyway, I was thinking that I would discourage her from ever getting involved with a Caucasian guy because I didn't think it would work…but you prove otherwise to me. It is better to see people as individuals.

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      December 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm

      Wow…thanks so much Sandra. I'm so glad that you found my blog and took the time to share your thoughts. I'm sorry that you had that experience with your ex, but I'm glad that you found someone who can understand and relate to your experiences. So, so important.

      I think it can be difficult for many white Americans to understand racial privilege and discrimination, but our numbers are growing. :) Part of the problem is that it's such a taboo topic in the white community that people end up hearing very little about it or gaining much understanding.

      If you're interested in reading blogs by other white moms who are equally acculturated into communities of color, here are some of my favorites:

      http://www.balancingjane.com/ http://www.chocolatehairvanillacare.com/ http://jenmardunc.blogspot.com/ http://www.musingmomma.com/ http://www.thisnest.com/

      Thanks again for stopping by and sharing! I really appreciate your comment. :)

      • Sandra
        December 10, 2012 at 9:10 am

        Thanks for responding. They seem like interesting links.

  • Addressing White Privilege: Workplace Discrimination - Bicultural Mom™
    May 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    […] long ago, I wrote a post about workplace discrimination and how white Americans get trapped in believing they are “equal opportunity […]