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.