Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Race and Racial Groups

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice African American History Month Program

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.

 

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nations history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must - and will - lead the nation to the "new birth of freedom" so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.

 

We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding.

 

As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by "American instinct" and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of ones character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.

 

As a nation we should use Black History month as a means to deal with this continuing problem. By creating what will admittedly be, at first, artificial opportunities to engage one another we can hasten the day when the dream of individual, character based, acceptance can actually be realized. To respect one another we must have a basic understanding of one another. And so we should use events such as this to not only learn more about the facts of black history but also to learn more about each other. This will be, at first, a process that is both awkward and painful but the rewards are potentially great. The alternative is to allow to continue the polite, restrained mixing that now passes as meaningful interaction but that accomplishes little. Imagine if you will situations where people- regardless of their skin color- could confront racial issues freely and without fear. The potential of this country, that is becoming increasingly diverse, would be greatly enhanced. I fear however, that we are taking steps that, rather than advancing us as a nation are actually dividing us even further. We still speak too much of "them" and not "us". There can, for instance, be very legitimate debate about the question of affirmative action. This debate can, and should, be nuanced, principled and spirited. But the conversation that we now engage in as a nation on this and other racial subjects is too often simplistic and left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own, narrow self interest. Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters and that is why those, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief in easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, are embraced. We are then free to retreat to our race protected cocoons where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made. If we allow this attitude to persist in the face of the most significant demographic changes that this nation has ever confronted- and remember, there will be no majority race in America in about fifty years- the coming diversity that could be such a powerful, positive force will, instead, become a reason for stagnation and polarization. We cannot allow this to happen and one way to prevent such an unwelcome outcome is to engage one another more routinely- and to do so now.

As I indicated before, the artificial device that is Black History month is a perfect vehicle for the beginnings of such a dialogue. And so I urge all of you to use the opportunity of this month to talk with your friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters. In this way we can hasten the day when we truly become one America.

 

It is also clear that if we are to better understand one another the study of black history is essential because the history of black America and the history of this nation are inextricably tied to each other. It is for this reason that the study of black history is important to everyone- black or white. For example, the history of the United States in the nineteenth century revolves around a resolution of the question of how America was going to deal with its black inhabitants. The great debates of that era and the war that was ultimately fought are all centered around the issue of, initially, slavery and then the reconstruction of the vanquished region. A dominant domestic issue throughout the twentieth century was, again, America's treatment of its black citizens. The civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's changed America in truly fundamental ways. Americans of all colors were forced to examine basic beliefs and long held views. Even so, most people, who are not conversant with history, still do not really comprehend the way in which that movement transformed America. In racial terms the country that existed before the civil rights struggle is almost unrecognizable to us today. Separate public facilities, separate entrances, poll taxes, legal discrimination, forced labor, in essence an American apartheid, all were part of an America that the movement destroyed. To attend her states taxpayer supported college in 1963 my late sister in law had to be escorted to class by United States Marshals and past the states governor, George Wallace. That frightening reality seems almost unthinkable to us now. The civil rights movement made America, if not perfect, better.

 

In addition, the other major social movements of the latter half of the twentieth century- feminism, the nation's treatment of other minority groups, even the anti-war effort- were all tied in some way to the spirit that was set free by the quest for African American equality. Those other movements may have occurred in the absence of the civil rights struggle but the fight for black equality came first and helped to shape the way in which other groups of people came to think of themselves and to raise their desire for equal treatment. Further, many of the tactics that were used by these other groups were developed in the civil rights movement.

 

And today the link between the black experience and this country is still evident. While the problems that continue to afflict the black community may be more severe, they are an indication of where the rest of the nation may be if corrective measures are not taken. Our inner cities are still too conversant with crime but the level of fear generated by that crime, now found in once quiet, and now electronically padlocked suburbs is alarming and further demonstrates that our past, present and future are linked. It is not safe for this nation to assume that the unaddressed social problems in the poorest parts of our country can be isolated and will not ultimately affect the larger society.

 

Black history is extremely important because it is American history. Given this, it is in some ways sad that there is a need for a black history month. Though we are all enlarged by our study and knowledge of the roles played by blacks in American history, and though there is a crying need for all of us to know and acknowledge the contributions of black America, a black history month is a testament to the problem that has afflicted blacks throughout our stay in this country. Black history is given a separate, and clearly not equal, treatment by our society in general and by our educational institutions in particular. As a former American history major I am struck by the fact that such a major part of our national story has been divorced from the whole. In law, culture, science, athletics, industry and other fields, knowledge of the roles played by blacks is critical to an understanding of the American experiment. For too long we have been too willing to segregate the study of black history. There is clearly a need at present for a device that focuses the attention of the country on the study of the history of its black citizens. But we must endeavor to integrate black history into our culture and into our curriculums in ways in which it has never occurred before so that the study of black history, and a recognition of the contributions of black Americans, become commonplace. Until that time, Black History Month must remain an important, vital concept. But we have to recognize that until black history is included in the standard curriculum in our schools and becomes a regular part of all our lives, it will be viewed as a novelty, relatively unimportant and not as weighty as so called "real" American history.

 

I, like many in my generation, have been fortunate in my life and have had a great number of wonderful opportunities. Some may consider me to be a part of black history. But we do a great disservice to the concept of black history recognition if we fail to understand that any success that I have had, cannot be viewed in isolation. I stood, and stand, on the shoulders of many other black Americans. Admittedly, the identities of some of these people, through the passage of time, have become lost to us- the men, and women, who labored long in fields, who were later legally and systemically discriminated against, who were lynched by the hundreds in the century just past and those others who have been too long denied the fruits of our great American culture. The names of too many of these people, these heroes and heroines, are lost to us. But the names of others of these people should strike a resonant chord in the historical ear of all in our nation: Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Charles Drew, Paul Robeson, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Vivian Malone, Rosa Parks, Marion Anderson, Emmit Till. These are just some of the people who should be generally recognized and are just some of the people to whom all of us, black and white, owe such a debt of gratitude. It is on their broad shoulders that I stand as I hope that others will some day stand on my more narrow ones.

 

Black history is a subject worthy of study by all our nation's people. Blacks have played a unique, productive role in the development of America. Perhaps the greatest strength of the United States is the diversity of its people and to truly understand this country one must have knowledge of its constituent parts. But an unstudied, not discussed and ultimately misunderstood diversity can become a divisive force. An appreciation of the unique black past, acquired through the study of black history, will help lead to understanding and true compassion in the present, where it is still so sorely needed, and to a future where all of our people are truly valued.

Thank you.

The Cherokee Nation v. Descendants of Cherokee Freedman

Abstract

Memorandum Opinion the Cherokee Nation V, Raymond Nash, et Al., Marilyn Vann, et Al., Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, and the United States Department of the Interior, United States District Court for the District of Columbia , Civil Action No. 13-01313 (2017)(FULL OPINION) (100+ pages)

 

Freedman EnrollmentAlthough it is a grievous axiom of American history that the Cherokee Nation’s narrative is steeped in sorrow as a result of United States governmental policies that marginalized Native American Indians and removed them from their lands, it is, perhaps, lesser known that both nations’ chronicles share the shameful taint of African slavery. This lawsuit harkens back a century-and-a-half ago to a treaty entered into between the United States and the Cherokee Nation in the aftermath of the Civil War.

In that treaty, the Cherokee Nation promised that “never here-after shall either slavery or involuntary servitude exist in their nation” and “all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as all free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months, and their descendants, shall have all the rights of native Cherokees . . . .” Treaty With The Cherokee, 1866, U.S.-Cherokee Nation of Indians, art. 9, July 19, 1866, 14 Stat. 799 [hereinafter 1866 Treaty].

The parties to this lawsuit have called upon the Court to make a judicial determination resolving what they believe to be the “core” issue in this case, which is whether the 1866 Treaty guarantees a continuing right to Cherokee Nation citizenship for the extant descendants of freedmen listed on the Final Roll of Cherokee Freedmen compiled by the United States Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, also known as the “Dawes Commission.”

Treaty guarantees that extant descendants of Cherokee freedmen shall have “all the rights of native Cherokees,” including the right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation, the Court will deny the Cherokee Nation’s motion for partial summary judgment and grant both the Interior’s and Cherokee Freedmen’s motions. The Cherokee Nation’s motion to strike will be denied as moot.
. . .

The ultimate issues in this case are weighty and the competing interests and equities reflect the casualties of profound acts of injustice, indignity and demoralization committed during anguished times in our nation’s history. And while both the Cherokee Freedmen and the Cherokee Nation are victims of that history in different, albeit intertwined, respects, it cannot be gainsaid that the Cherokee Freedmen bear no culpability for the course of historical acts and agreements that ultimately ushered them to this Court and over which they commanded no voice, representation or power. The Court finds it confounding that the Cherokee Nation historically had no qualms about regarding freedmen as Cherokee “property” yet continues, even after 150 years, to balk when confronted with the legal imperative to treat them as Cherokee people. While the Cherokee Nation might persist in its design to perpetuate a moral injustice, this Court will not be complicit in the perpetuation of a legal injustice.

There appears to be no dispute that the Cherokee Freedmen are descendants of freedmen who were held as slaves by Cherokees and ultimately listed on the Dawes Freedmen Roll. Article 9 of the Treaty of 1866 entitles them to “all the rights of native Cherokees,” 14 Stat. at 801, which means they have a right to citizenship so long as native Cherokees have that right. Nothing in the 1866 Treaty qualified that right by subjecting it to a condition antecedent that would terminate it, including the extinction of Indian Territory upon Oklahoma statehood. Although the Cherokee Nation Constitution defines citizenship, Article 9 of the 1866 Treaty guarantees that the Cherokee Freedmen shall have the right to it for as long as native Cherokees have that right. The history, negotiations, and practical construction of the 1866 Treaty suggest no other result.

Consequently, the Cherokee Freedmen’s right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation is directly proportional to native Cherokees’ right to citizenship, and the Five Tribes Act has no effect on that right. The Five Tribes Act did not abrogate, amend or otherwise alter Article 9’s promise that descendants of freedmen shall have all the rights of native Cherokees. The Cherokee Nation’s sovereign right to determine its membership is no less now, as a result of this decision, than it was after the Nation executed the 1866 Treaty. The Cherokee Nation concedes that its power to determine tribal membership can be limited by treaty. Cherokee Nation’s Mem. In Support of Mot. for Summ. J. 21, ECF No. 233.

The Cherokee Nation can continue to define itself as it sees fit but must do so equally and evenhandedly with respect to native Cherokees and the descendants of Cherokee freedmen. By interposition of Article. 9 of the 1866 Treaty, neither has rights either superior or, importantly, inferior to the other. Their fates under the Cherokee Nation Constitution rise and fall equally and in tandem. In accordance with Article 9 of the 1866 Treaty, the Cherokee Freedmen have a present right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation that is coextensive with the rights of native Cherokees.
. . .

For all the foregoing reasons, the Court will deny the Cherokee Nation and Principal Chief Baker's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, and grant the Cherokee Freedmen's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as well as the Department of the Interior's Motion for Summary Judgment. Because it was unnecessary for the Court to either review or rely on the expert report that was submitted as Exhibit 3 to the Department of the Interior's Motion for Summary Judgment, the Cherokee Nation and Principal Chief Baker's Motion to Strike Expert Report of Emily Greenwald will be denied as moot.

The Color of Post-ethnicity: The Civic Ideology and The Persistence of Anti-Black Racism

Sami C. Nighaoui

Sami C. Nighaoui, The Color of Post-ethnicity: The Civic Ideology and The Persistence of Anti-Black Racism, 20 Journal of Gender, Race and Justice 349 (Spring, 2017)

 

For nearly two centuries, racial integration has been contingent upon successful Americanization--a policy of mainstreaming norms of conduct and codes of behavior enforced upon ethnic and racial minorities. Americanization is considered to be in line with the spirit of what the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal calls “American Creed.” “American Creed” is based upon the belief that the ideal of a democratic society is where citizens--without regard to race, religion, or national origin--abide by the civic codes and enjoy, in return, freedom, equality, and justice. “American Creed” has also meant that, to be considered a “true” American, one needs to renounce his ethnic culture and unconditionally embrace that of white Anglo-Americans. Similar to most other ethnic and racial minorities, African Americans were encouraged to abandon their ethnic histories and cultures to achieve effective integration. Although several *350 groups have facilitated their integration into the mainstream, successful integration for a sizeable section of the African American community remains one more dream deferred. The failure of the Americanization mode of integration is a major cause of this community's disillusionment with integrationist ideology. Despite this, several conservative scholars of race believe that all types of social and economic adversities from which this community suffers are of its own making. It is typical of such conservative scholars to recommend that blacks “cease viewing themselves as victims of white racism, [and] accept responsibility for their own fortunes .... Rather than place their hope in politics and government, they should emulate other ethnic groups ... who achieved success through their own strengths.” This is specifically the kind of victim-blaming denounced by several other contemporary scholars of race. Americanization-style integration, as advocated by many influential scholars of race such as Thomas Sowell, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., David Hollinger, and Ronald Dworkin, postulates that the free-market system is the sole guarantor of socioeconomic advancement since economic institutions are supposed to have every reason not to discriminate. This article finds that the argument for black self-help suffers from a serious logical fallacy given that it may not be applicable beyond a hypothetical situation where no ethnic and racial stereotyping and categorizing are involved. Yet, while it can be difficult to ignore the existence of specific patterns of anti-social behavior among members of the *351 black underclass, it is quite safe to assume that much of their resistance and dissent is a reaction to denial and marginalization rather than a planned conspiracy against American civic republican traditions. The notion of the African American as “anti-citizen” is criticized in this article for reinforcing anti-black stereotypes that are widely shared by working and middle-class white Americans.

A second major argument in this article is that popular white perceptions of blackness run counter to efficient integration because they emanate specifically from real, time-honored psychological and cultural representations of the “black other” that simply do not wither, despite the increased white tolerance towards blacks in the post-civil rights era. The persistence of anti-black racism is explained by the tension inherent in specific patterns of black-white relations that have a strong bearing on the very universalistic values and moral premises of American liberal nationalism. It follows that the claim that the free-market system is a better guarantee against anti-black racism is questionable because the absence of de jure discrimination does not necessarily entail its demise. Rather, more subtle forms of anti-black racism have taken shape, and so, the black-white divide is even more difficult to cro


II. The Integrationist Illusion and the Myth of Racial Comity

The African American community's gains from the Civil Rights Movement are indisputably significant. The community transitioned away from second-class citizenship and political disenfranchisement in merely four decades. Substantial improvements were made amidst the frenzy of the racial mayhem of the sixties and early seventies where African American radical activists and leaders constantly decried--with all the force and vehemence that come with *352 embitterment and disillusionment--the evil white communities. There was first optimism that postwar prosperity would trickle down to the bottom ranks of the African American community--that the day when this community would be liberated from the shackles of poverty and marginalization had finally come. The integrationist movement was growing full-fledged, allured by the liberal discourse of black and white mainstream politicians and by the concrete material assets spread across class and racial lines in a new age of “equal opportunity” for all, regardless of race and ethnicity. The struggle to desegregate schools, colleges, and public facilities finally paid dividends when, enticed by a new generation of enthusiastic young liberals, the federal government started its long-term crusade against racism, discrimination, and poverty. Even by contemporary standards, the legal and legislative gains of the mid-sixties were profoundly sweeping and revolutionary, and yet landmark legislations such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act were only a stepping-stone for further legislation and policies that marked the evolution of race relations in the United States for decades to come. Early integrationists' optimism was nonetheless short-lived, and black social mobility over the next forty years significantly slowed. By 2013, for example, the unemployment rate among African Americans was about twice as high as that among white Americans. All that the racial riots of the late sixties and early seventies did was question the ability of politics to change a social and cultural *353 reality that African Americans suspected from the outset was irredeemable. The relative socioeconomic progress achieved by this community during the second half of the 1970s was not sufficiently reassuring, and other minority activists and intellectuals started to question the basis of white power structure from an academic, political, and activist's perspective. Minority intellectuals and activists' denunciation of the methods by which knowledge was produced and transmitted focused on schools and colleges, the classic bastions of white knowledge systems. This movement was later referred to as multiculturalism. What is important to note, however, is that the latter helped organize and channel the disparate discontented voices from among the portions of the African American community that failed to take advantage of the expanding economic opportunities of the age.

The revival of black radicalism in the 1980s and 1990s was, therefore, preconditioned by the gradual erosion of the previous socioeconomic gains and the increasing popularity of the multicultural movement. The recurring racial incidents--the best known of which were the 1992 Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of the officers who had beaten Rodney King, a black taxi driver who allegedly resisted arrest--gave second thoughts to several former, moderate black leaders who began to gravitate toward Black Nationalism, which continues to benefit from the support of substantial numbers of intellectuals, students, and *354 activists up to this day. This time, the critique of white racism took on better organized forms. Easier access to information and the diversification of the mass media gave African Americans the opportunity to publicize racist and discriminatory practices, while an influential academic elite began speaking on their behalf. They started refining the earlier Afrocentric theories which a scholarly and political framework within which African Americans grounded their expressions of separateness. The final outcome is that, today, the call for a separate identity and a common destiny for African Americans has become all the more legitimate and better structured theoretically and methodologically than it used to be in Malcolm X's time.


A. The Psychology of Anti-Black Racism

In 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois, then embittered by the increasing social pathologies and economic deprivation among the black migrants of the northern ghettos, prophesized that the race issue (or “Color Line”) would become a dynamic constituent of public opinion in the twentieth century. In the early fifties, at the dawn of an era of prosperity and abundance, the black residents of the northern and northeastern ghettos still suffered economic deprivation and social marginalization. At the turn of that decade, Ralph Ellison deplored the social and economic condition of this “invisible man,”--this dark-skinned man who was not so much invisible after all, as he stood out “damned” because he was black and “damned” again if he tried to integrate. Today, as author and journalist Farai Chideya argues, we still continue to depict the United States as black and *355 white, despite the fact that its racial composition is constantly changing and that it is projected that whites will become a minority in less than forty years. Just as the racial geography of the United States has not changed much in decades, the psychology of anti-black racism--meaning the attitudes and perceptions that have fostered white negative judgments about blacks and black culture--has remained essentially the same, perpetuating a “thought system accenting white superiority and black inferiority,” a “slavery [that is] unwilling to die.” And it is unlikely that it will change, as long as the inner fears, distrust, and suspicions that have previously bred prejudices and misjudgments about blacks persist. The main focus here is not so much on the reasons why anti-black racism has not ceased--despite the fact that the debate on race and racism in mainstream media has lately decreased--as it is on the psychological roots and motivations that sustain this old hostility toward dark-skinned individuals in general.

Notwithstanding some common systemic and cultural accounts of anti-black racism, the rejection--or loathing--of those with a darker skin seems to be grounded in psychic conflict, betraying an innate fear and anxiety about the potential evilness of the self. While darkness stands for the unknown recesses of this potentially vicious self from which the white individual incessantly tries to evade, anti-black racism is a projection onto individuals who are different in appearance form one's “white self” of that fear which the individual must live through his entire life. It is an evasion from oneself, or from what one could have been. From the perspective of the Cress theory of Color-Confrontation, the alienation from the self has eventually developed into alienation towards others--in this case, it is directed against blacks. For as Frances Wesling puts it, “[t]he destructive and aggressive behavioral patterns displayed throughout the world by white peoples towards all non-white peoples is the evidence of the inner hate, hostility and rejection they feel towards themselves and of the deep self-alienation that has evolved from their genetic inadequacy.” The projection of the white individual's assumed evilness onto individuals from the darker races is supposed to relieve him from his own anxiety--itself connected to a common core of alienation and narcissism--and serve as a constant reminder of “what” he should *356 not be. The black man, a host for the most reviled images and reflections, becomes the white man's alter-ego and must endure hatred and abhorrence in order for the white man to live in peace with himself.

Anti-black racism (and certainly racism in general) is by definition misanthropic, since it sacrifices a section of the society for the other section to surmount its debasing perceptions about itself. Also, it is only a provisional escape from the self as it just postpones white anti-white racism, for, as Lewis R. Gordon has argued in his influential work Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism (1999), white Americans would have considered Europeans black if there had been no Africans. Blackness then becomes a psychological construct, a reinvention of the white self, and an image of it that is purposefully distorted and disfigured in such a way as to look as different as possible from the “original.” This depreciation of blackness has affected the whole African American community, which explains the disaffection of the better-off fringes of the community which often turned to black cultural nationalism for self-identification, specifically because of the resistance they faced in their progress toward integration. Today, white expectation that African Americans will not be able to “make it on their own” is in itself a racist message, a self-fulfilling prophecy which suggests that the latter lack the cultural and ethical requisites (the work ethic, commitment, integrity, etc.) likely to help them climb the socioeconomic pyramid. For example, the idea that President Barack Obama, an African American man, could serve in the highest executive position in the United States came as a surprise to many; indeed, the 2008 election marked a significant *357 demographic change in the United States towards a greater recognition of diversity. Newspaper headlines nationwide celebrated America's entry into a new era of racial comity and social justice, when even a black man was able to climb up the most prestigious career paths if he had the necessary credentials to do so. On the front page of The New York Times, for example, one could read that “Obama [was] Elected President as Racial Barrier Falls.” This could be either an extremely naïve statement or simply a deluding assumption about a long-wished-for condition of racial equality. When one learns that, a few weeks before, an article by a prominent columnist in the same newspaper strongly argued that, in the process of choosing a president, racial considerations could not be ignored, and that substantial numbers of white voters were not yet prepared to support a black candidate, one's skepticism only increases. As he put it, white voters in Ohio and West Virginia, for example, “were wary of a black president even if he might be better for them economically.” The same journalist reported that a Republican voter from Wheeling, West Virginia stated “[w]hat you hear around here is, would you rather have a black friend in the White House, or a white enemy?” An additional statement in the same article explains how the race issue of the election was, according to this journalist, decisive for a great number of white voters. The journalist reports Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, as saying that “the fact of the matter is that some voters--we can't know yet how many--will not get past [Barack Obama's] race. And [that he] very much believe[s] that the McCain-Palin ticket is tapping into that.” A more sincere headline appeared on the first page of The Boston Globe, another mainstream newspaper, reading “Among blacks, joy and tears, at journey's end.” This may be a more realistic description of the way a majority of African Americans felt. The only question, then, is what are the tears supposed to convey? Those were definitely tears of non-belief and puzzlement about something that many African Americans expected would perhaps never happen, at least during their lifetime. The man who was referred to at the Republican rallies a few weeks before his election as “not one of us,” and who was called, *358 according to The New York Times columnist Patrick Healy, “Arab, Muslim, traitor, terrorist, friend of terrorists, Barack Hussein Obama,” finally became the first African American president. If anything, such reactions on the part of many African Americans speak to their awareness that anti-black racism is deep-seated in a large number of white people's psyche and that much remains yet to be done to help reduce racial prejudice.

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama, in turn, was aware of the importance of the racial factor in the election process. Speaking of the psychological and cultural legacy of centuries of human bondage and the persistence of anti-black racism and hostility, he once admitted that “[he] ha [s] never been so naïve as to believe that [Americans] can get beyond [their] racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy, particularly [with] a candidacy as imperfect as [his] own.” If, with the election of Obama, the black/white divide seemed to come down suddenly, it was not because white perception of African Americans and their culture changed. The former has certainly improved; otherwise, one would not witness the election of an African American to the White House. It was specifically because, among other things, the political and economic conjuncture of the late 1990s and 2000s determined this drastic change in public attitude toward federal politics. Candidate Barack Obama's election catchphrase “Change We Can Believe In” appealed to a large majority of disaffected youths and educated whites, and, as the serious economic recession worsened, Obama won even more votes from working-class whites in several states. But the largest votes came from the black community, and here is where racial politics come to the fore. Eight in every ten black voters gave their voices to Obama, while this particular election saw a black turnout that was unequalled in history. In brief, Mr. Obama's election was rather a personal odyssey, an individual achievement, and was no way a sign that anti-black racism *359 has completely disappeared. It was an exceptional achievement by an upper-middle class, Harvard graduate, biracial politician.

The importance of Mr. Obama's racial background for large numbers of voters, as revealed by the 2008 election, reflected the persistence of anti-black racism in contemporary America. Many voters, as noted earlier, expressed their distrust of a black candidate and even gave him offensive names. Others, especially politicians and public figures at both local and national levels, were particularly cautious when they discussed Mr. Obama's racial background, reminding us that race remains a taboo, an uncharted territory to stay away from. The fact that, today, if you are a politician and want to pursue a successful political career, you need to avoid bringing up racialist topics, may in itself be solid evidence of the precariousness of interracial relations and, more specifically, black/white relations. For fear of being charged of anti-black racism, whites can sometimes be quite watchful of their language in the presence of black colleagues. Incidents where whites are accused of being racist because they use words judged inappropriate by their black colleagues, employees, or teammates are quite common. When, for example, the white ombudsman to the newly elected mayor of Washington D.C., Anthony Williams, used the word “niggardly” to mean “thrifty” when talking about his plan to manage the funds at his disposal, he was accused by a black co-worker of racism and was eventually compelled to resign. Whether the word was used unwittingly or on purpose, no such incident was ever likely to turn into a scandal in the first place if the relations between blacks and whites were not weighed down by suspicion and mistrust.

*360 The above incident with Williams occurred in 1999, but many more incidents where black employees accused their white colleagues or employers of using language that had racist overtones have been reported throughout the national media. The point, however, is that the improvement in black/white relations observed over the past decade should not downplay the fact that anti-black racism has often played a role in determining white identity and culture, as opposed to black or African American identity and culture. It is eventually structured along old beliefs and values that have transformed over time into cultural symbols and that have become difficult to dismantle.


B. The Culture of Anti-Black Racism

It can be quite difficult to dissociate the cultural framework within which anti-black racism develops from the purely psychological motives that are likely to promote the latter's growth. In other terms, one cannot comfortably argue for a cultural basis for anti-black racism without referencing the personal experience(s) of the individual(s) who engage, whether consciously or unconsciously, in the practice of discriminating against dark-skinned people. One common description of culture is that it consists of a set of attitudes, values, and beliefs which allow individuals to identify with a given community. An individual's experience with racism is, therefore, theoretically part of the larger group experience. If, in the minds of many whites, “blackness” is a compelling reason why blacks should be treated differently, then anti-black racism should be considered a cultural phenomenon. It should also be considered a cultural phenomenon for blacks to consider being white a reason to perceive someone as evil-minded and racist. In either case, “difference” (both in essence and treatment) is a shared perception. Sharing roughly the same perceptions about something with members of the community to which one belongs is one of the basic characteristics of culture. In this particular case, whites and blacks have systematically opposing views about one another's ethnicity, race, and culture--views that are shared by whites (in general) about blacks (in general) and vice-versa. The negative stereotypes that many whites have about blacks are likely *361 based on the latter's personal interaction with blacks, but such stereotypes are part of a wider structure of symbols, connotations, assumptions, and beliefs that can be referred to as a culture, since it affects whole groups of people. As repeatedly demonstrated throughout the history of race in the United States, this (anti-black) culture has had disparate influence on the behaviors and attitudes of people, depending on location, culture, socioeconomic status, and personal history.

As noted earlier in the discussion of the 2008 presidential election, many whites still feel little embarrassment in expressing in public their apprehension about having an African American president. Such an apprehension, or uneasiness, is quite common among small-town, working-class white Americans, while a better acceptance of an African American president was clearly observed in the cities, where people have access to better education, better employment opportunities, and are accustomed to racial and ethnic diversity. This apprehension bears out two key assumptions about race and racism in contemporary America. First, the geography of race has not significantly changed since the civil rights era. More than four decades after the passage of the civil rights legislation of the sixties, the traditionally conservative regions of the south and west remain incontrovertible bastions of racism. These regions are where African Americans tend to have the lowest average annual income per household. The regions with the lowest annual income per household (including African American households) are those known for hostility toward African American presence, namely the south and west. Secondly, the personal profile of an individual counts for much in determining his racial attitudes and behavior, independent of the larger community culture with which he might identify *362 himself. Younger and more educated individuals tend to be more tolerant of people from different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. The negative stereotypes about the black community arise from the dogmatic representations of blacks as an inferior race. Being the product of repeated distortions of African history and civilization, they reproduce themselves and gradually gain acceptance among the least educated, conservative fringes of the white community. Time all but helps consolidate such misconceptions as deviant patterns of behavior, made almost inevitable by the lack of genuine opportunities for blacks to integrate, become tantamount with black culture. In the collective memory of white society, blackness is then more than just a symbol for the nonstandard and the odd; mystification ultimately gives way to an organized structure of beliefs and attitudes meant to perpetuate the perceived cultural differences between black and white communities. Anti-black racism, which originates from the negative stereotyping of black culture, therefore becomes a world-view--a whole way of life in which fantasies about difference and otherness combine with the historical and contemporary realities of black/white relations. Images of past white subjugation of blacks further reinforce anti-black sentiments as racism is more than just a “simple delusion of a bigoted and ignorant minority,” as race historian Joel Kovel points out. It is “a set of beliefs whose structure arises from the deepest levels of our lives--from the fabric of assumptions we make about the world, ourselves, and others, and from the patterns of our fundamental social activities.” This fabric of assumptions about the world is specifically what makes racism a cultural phenomenon that is deeply anchored in the individual's personal experience. The fantasies and images about blackness that white society transmits to the family are systematically bequeathed to the younger generations and are *363 then assimilated and reproduced in the form of anti-black prejudice. This is obviously a highly complex psychological process where memories of infancy build on social and cultural experience to finally give shape to the particular way an individual perceives the color distinctions around him. Blackness and whiteness are projections of the white individual's internal fear from a possible blurring of the demarcation line that separates the self from the other and the known from the unknown. Yet, from being a promising way of self-definition, the distinction between black and white soon turns into a source of anxiety, as the white individual becomes obsessed with keeping images of “blackness” down the color scale.

Blackness comes to connote shadow and darkness in the mind of the white individual in early childhood, as the negative stereotypes about it are transmitted through stories and tales. A toddler, scared by the glimpse of dark shadows in his room who runs up to his father saying that he saw “black people” in his room, definitely has no idea why the dark shadows should be “black people” in the first place. The frightening glimpse that the child caught could as well be of anything from a toy to “a pair of black shoes.” The reason why he should assume that the shadows were those of black people has to do with the negative images with which culture has filled his imagination. The cultural association between “black” and “dark” (as opposed to “white” vs. “light”) is thus “inculcated” in the child's subconscious and is later consolidated through social experience.

The negative stereotypes about blacks in general have often proved to be particularly difficult to obliterate from the collective consciousness of white Americans. As recently as 2008, jokes about African Americans were still those about the latter being prone to decadent behavior, licentiousness, and extravagance. White comedians did not often articulate such stereotypes. Instead, they often pass through African American comedians especially in ceremonies, movies, and news shows, reflecting what black feminist bell hooks *364 describes as “internalized racism.” Some of the best known African American comedians with whom Americans tend to associate controversial racial jokes are Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney, Eddie Murphy, and Chris Rock. Commenting on President-Elect Barak Obama's proposed Affordable Care Bill, comedian D.L. Hughley, who hosts a weekly show on CNN called “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News,” joked that the plan was going to “provide ‘grills,’ or metal teeth caps for all.” While the joke was certainly not meant to hurt, and despite Mr. Hughley being an African American himself, he was severely criticized by bloggers from his own community, for whom the joke all but reinforced the old stereotype about the African American as a “thug” (or gangster) with gold-capped teeth and eerie tattoos. A popular culture icon, the African American gangster, in turn, epitomizes the “delinquent [African American] culture” with which he is associated and for which he is a metaphor. Finally, the psychological processes involved in the negative representations and perceptions of blacks and blackness are not exclusively detectable in the media. The stereotyping of blacks as members of a “deviant” culture can be observed even in the way black students are treated in class. A recent Stanford University study conducted on the race-based disparities in school discipline found that black students were perceived by their non-black teachers as needing tougher disciplinary treatment “if led to believe [an infraction] was committed by a Black student than if they thought it was committed by a white student.” The study, whose findings invoke the research results of a 2002 study by Skiba et al., concludes that such disparities in school discipline can be explained in terms of the “racial stereotypes that can lead teachers to escalate their negative responses to Black students over the course of multiple interpersonal [ ... ] encounters.” *365


III. African American Identity and U.S. Universalism: Denial and Dissent

The Black Nationalist project, which is fundamentally concerned with creating a common cultural, economic and political space for the black community, is in large part a reaction to the degrading treatment and debasing representations to which blacks have long been subject. The Afrocentric movement, on the other hand, was initially framed as an ideological response to these very hostile attitudes toward blacks and blackness. Both movements, however, attempt to create alternative discourses expected to promote black self-esteem and improve the community's view of itself, its past, and its future. In fact, one can safely place the Afrocentric discourse within the larger Black Nationalist movement as the kind of theoretical mold that gives it form and structure, while revolving essentially around African and African American histories and cultures. This is specifically what Black Nationalism and Afrocentrism have in common--a relationship built upon cross-fertilization and complementation.

This brief reminder of the main goals of these two central movements within the larger struggle of African Americans to achieve a better socioeconomic standing may serve us as a gateway to discuss the identitarian crisis of the community in question. This crisis no doubt borrows many of its features from similar ones experienced by communities and nations throughout the postcolonial world; the most typical of such features is a characteristic rage and a pungent expression of anger and protest. The cost of identity reinvention for African Americans, however, has been a more serious form of alienation and denial, as it implies a struggle against the very ideals and values that the community has been struggling to protect.

American liberal nationalism has, in theory, set up the framework for a participatory, inclusive social model, where racial and ethnic minorities are expected to give antecedence to the civic principles of the republic as they put aside the narrow interests of their communities for the common good of society *366 at large. It was essentially a civic philosophy, constructed around right, duty, and shared responsibility, reinforced by the set of democratic ideals of freedom, equality, and justice. However, what finally emerged was a completely different sociocultural construct from the one its early theorists, such as Cr‚vecoeur, initially conceived. For the universals generated in the process of nation-making were essentially exclusionary, as they associated Americanness--or being American--with whiteness, creating an enduring paradox that continues to fuel interracial antagonisms: how is it possible to be American, and yet feel comfortable in one's colored skin? American Universalists, including some prominent integrationists such as Thomas Sowell, claim that the democratic values upon which the nation was founded have always constituted a type of guiding rules applied indiscriminately to all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin, despite the episodic crises in interracial relations. Sowell is only one among several other thinkers representative of this integrationist trend in contemporary scholarship on race and ethnicity. Together with other prominent integrationists, such as David Hollinger and Arthur M. Schlesinger, he supports the idea that American Universalism has always provided a defensive line against racism and that this particular system of values and principles still works, despite the past and current injustices done to the black community. But history teaches us a different lesson. The spearhead values of American Universalism, namely freedom, equality and justice were, and still are, constantly challenged by white supremacy and the cultural narratives associated with it.

*367 Of all the racial and ethnic groups that make up American society, the African American community has been the only one to be denied the right to maintain a cultural identity, foster supportive networks of relationships among its individuals, or claim uniquely ethnic values and be proud of them. On one hand, if large numbers of African Americans are still on the margins of the socioeconomic mainstream, all the blame is put on the “degenerative” habits and patterns of behavior, whose bedrock is the ghetto culture. On the other hand, attempts to integrate into the mainstream are countered by deeply-entrenched prejudices against the community at large, creating a double-bind where even meritorious individuals can have difficulty improving their socioeconomic conditions. This situation is, of course, reminiscent of Ralph Ellison's antanaclasis where the black man is “damned” twice, once for wanting to integrate and once for wanting to “separate.” The deceitful discursive practices of Universalists (and of many integrationists, for that matter) trap the African American in an unsolvable paradoxical situation where, for many individuals, only ethnocentric monoculturalism appears to provide a way out. Ethnocentric monoculturalism, which, in the context of our discussion, refers to any type of community-centered ideology seeking to support identitarian values by attempting to avert external cultural influences, has served as a means to protest against the structural barriers erected by social practice and tradition to hinder the integration of the African American community. Both Afrocentrism and Black Nationalism have played a key role in fostering a uniquely African American identity by, first, regenerating old African cultural values and symbols, and then, by popularizing them. The tasks of “regenerating” and “popularizing” such ethnocentric values and symbols have been facilitated by influential black thinkers such as Ron Karenga, Baraka, and Molefi Kete Asante, to mention but a few. yet, some of them have been considered “not radical enough” to help promote real African American autonomy by certain cultural Nationalist groups, such as the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense *368 (NBPP), which has recently engaged in designing an even more radical discourse. Against the backdrop of a rebelliously antisocial and anti-white discourse, one witnesses the emergence of a dissent movement that questions the very principles and values around which the liberal republican system revolves. When, in the view of several Black Nationalists, such long-cherished dogmas as color-blindness and equal opportunity come to be associated with whiteness, then the whole integrationist movement is put in serious jeopardy. It follows that the African American community at large would suffer even more serious divisions and controversies on how best to preserve a common identity while seeking a better socioeconomic standing. It is this very ideological polarization that made Thomas Sowell, among other classical liberals, correlate the “Negro community” with “social pathology” throughout all his works. It may be for that same reason that Gunnar Myrdal, well before Sowell, had associated the black community with a serious “cultural lag” and argued for immediate integration. Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans have been grappling with a knotty dichotomy. This may be one possible description to depict the enduring friction which has typified African American “position” on integration. But, regardless of which ideology one may consider to better serve the interests of the community, one fact remains obvious to the critic of liberal nationalism--namely that blackness has often been reputed antithetical to Americanness, and therefore, as Etienne Balibar argues, has been “replaced” by a “fictive ethnicity” (Americanness) for the sole purpose of obliterating any remaining vestiges of its early existence. Substituting “blackness” for “Americanness” and accepting this new “configuration of values” as an alternative to true blackness (as an ethnicity and a world-view) defeats the very soul and spirit of democracy, of which even would-be “total integrationists” can be accused. Again, this thesis postulates that maintaining a black ethnic identity *369 remains an important component of the community's search for a better position in American society, a postulate counter to Sowell's constant denunciation of ethnic identification.

With African Americans accounting for about 38% of the prison inmate population, despite comprising only 13.3% of the U.S. population, there is reason enough to expect a resurgence of old anti-integrationist sentiment inside the community. In effect, this higher frequency of incarceration within the black community, compared proportionally to other groups, gives reason for Black Nationalist and separatist groups to criticize the judicial system for allegedly victimizing blacks. An unusually large prison population also provides them with a sizeable pool of potential adherents, which has specifically been a focus of the Nation of Islam over the past few years, as it recruited many of its “revolutionary nationalists” from this particular category of blacks. This resulted in a rising threat to the integrationist heritage of the civil rights movement, which generations of black moderates have painstakingly attempted to preserve.


A. The African American as Anti-Citizen

That African Americans should renounce their ethnic culture as a prerequisite for efficient integration is not an exclusively integrationist demand. This was the same old claim put forth by American Universalists, both black and white, which was later reformulated and theorized by contemporary classical liberals such as Thomas Sowell. Thus starting from a closely related premise, namely the conception of Americanness as inevitably exclusive of ethnic identity, the latter can be described as a typical representative of American Universalism. But, as African Americans' commitment to a common ethnic identity and cultural authenticity has often been represented as anti-American, African American intellectuals like Sowell, who pretend to be seeking a better predicament for their community, only reinforce the stereotypes and biases against it. One such widely- *370 shared stereotype is the African American as a transgressive citizen (or anti-citizen).

Anti-citizenship, which refers to the condition of non-conformity to, or rejection of, the civic norms and principles of a particular democracy, is probably one of the worst insults that the African American has endured over the past few decades. After the quasi-deception of the late sixties, when African Americans started to realize that the racial divide was most likely to get even wider, and therefore began to resist the integrationist efforts of moderate black organizations, they had to take all the blame for impeding the progress toward a post-ethnic society. In light of the Constitution, American society was meant to be capable of transcending group-centered interests through what came to be referred to as a “creed,” namely the ideal of living up to the democratic values of freedom, equality, and justice, despite its disparate racial, ethnic, and religious composition. But, as has already been argued, minorities were constantly forced to acculturate so as to be considered true Americans. And yet, certain minorities, such as Italians or Jews, have, to this day, retained some core cultural specificities through community-centered associations and networks, and are, nevertheless, accepted as they are--Italians and Jews, but essentially Americans. When African Americans, often against their wishes, tried to keep up a measure of group solidarity--through churches, for example--they have been accused of perpetuating racial and ethnic divisions. There is as much irony in this kind of double-dealing as there is hypocrisy with the concept of post-ethnicity. By designing the norms and standards by which Americanness is to be measured, white Anglo-Saxons have reserved the right to be the exclusive holders of truth and the sole dispensers of judgments and decisions. Thus, while white ethnic associations are accepted as sources of civic and cultural enrichment, respective black associations have been shunned as citadels of separatist ideology. Early German, Swedish and French parochial schools and associations, for example, were publicly criticized but nonetheless accepted as part of the American cultural mosaic. If tolerated, similar all-black *371 institutions were part of systems and social practices that encouraged them in the first place, such as racial segregation during and after Reconstruction. After the collapse of official segregation, several progressive African American movements and organizations were accused of spreading anti-white sentiment and therefore came to be deemed racist and anti-American. Note that, today, white Anglo-Saxons tolerate the use of languages other than English (Spanish for example) in public institutions but deny African Americans the right to maintain a separate cultural identity, despite the fact that language and cultural identity are two sides of the same coin. Post-ethnicity can be a highly misleading concept when it comes to describing contemporary American society. In contrast with multi-ethnic identities which are primarily the by-product of total or partial commitment to ethnic culture, post-ethnic identity takes shape through absolute compliance with the prevailing system of civic ideals and values. In this particular sense, a post-ethnic American identity corresponds exactly to the original hypothetical identity that the Universalists of the mid-nineteenth century thought they were creating. It was supposed to illustrate the commitment of a whole nation to a common and unique set of beliefs that transcended ethnicity, religion, and national origin. Centuries of immigration have only deferred this dream, as identification with the original cultural group has proven to be a common pattern that white nativism repeatedly failed to reverse. But when absolute compliance with the civic culture implied complete repudiation of the original culture for some groups, while others were exempted, the attempts by the groups forced to comply to achieve freedom of choice were bound to be depicted as anti-American.

Post-ethnicity is a nostalgic concept that attempts, in vain, to recapture an image that was never really fulfilled. For how can one possibly explain the systematic exclusion of African Americans from private and public mainstream institutions for centuries, except by admitting that the United States, as Harold *372 Cruse argues, remains a nation of minorities that is “ruled by a minority of one”? This “minority of one” is the same minority that is struggling today to reclaim its authority after losing it to the multicultural revolution of the late eighties. Its goals have remained the same, but its plans have certainly changed. Adopting an ostensibly liberal discourse based on a better acceptance of cultural diversity, this elite (of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) has redefined its priorities in light of the new demographic realities, namely the increasing size of immigrant communities, and allowed for a “‘pluralistic society in which a variety of subcultures and racial and ethnic identities coexist.”’ If it finally conceded that America's destiny was to be a multi-ethnic and multicultural society--that Americanization should no longer be equated with assimilation--then it was solely to impose the civic culture as a common denominator for all this diversity. But the problem is, if you turn liberal and tolerate cultural differences, then you should also tolerate ethnic identities as agents of minority subcultures. Integrationists, such as Thomas Sowell, continue to consider ethnic identities in general, and African American identity in particular, as representation of a delinquent--or deviant-- culture. Caught in a perpetual cycle of denial and censure, the African American has had to prove that his quest for an autonomous identity, one that is not anchored in shallow civism, is a legitimate quest. He has also had to prove that possession of an authentic African American identity taking pride in its African past does not cancel out his ability to be a good American citizen. Dealing successfully with this major challenge will determine the whole course of integration for a large section of the African American community.


B. African Americans and the Civic Ideology: Subverting White Cultural Supremacy

After the multicultural revolution of the late twentieth century, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture ceased to be the hallmark of American identity and the means to differentiate Americans from peoples around the world. The emergence of subnational identities anchored in diverse immigrant and native cultural backgrounds gave fresh impetus to the original ideals of American democracy (the “American Creed”) and a new liberal nationalism that was, in *373 theory, more tolerant of ethnic and cultural diversity. However, many of the expected benefits of this liberalization of the American cultural arena have been postponed, as the promises of a civic-based, market-oriented mentality failed to change many of the old biases and discriminatory practices against specific minorities and, more particularly, against African Americans. The failure of the nation to live up to its liberal credo is, thus, the most serious challenge that it has lately had to face.

The whole rationale behind civic nationalism is that dedication to the liberal principles of American democracy should play down ethnic and cultural differences for the common good of the nation at large. The civic/nationalistic credo is supposed to provide an ideological framework for a reinvention of the American identity in light of the demographic transformations that the nation has witnessed since the end of the First World War. However, the shift from the fixed paradigm of a nation held together by a common core culture, language, and religion to a nation of multiple national, ethnic, and language groups has not passed without generating a great deal of resistance from conservative nationalists who still see no better alternative to the Anglo-Saxon cultural mold for an American identity. Huntington refers to this ideological clash as a “deconstruction war,” where the civic/nationalistic agenda has yet to overcome further resistance to finally contain the purist, classical liberal resurgence. The cost incurred upon ethnic minorities as a result of the return to civic nationalism as a marker of American identity has been higher than that incurred upon the white majority. The truth about civic nationalism is that it, in fact, implies a compromise between ethnic minorities and the white majority revolving around one basic priority: the renunciation of ethnic identity in return for integration and the material gains and benefits that come with full citizenship. It is important to note that, in theory, this compromise equally compels the white majority to give antecedence to the liberal democratic principles of civic republicanism over its Eurocentric values and ideals. More specifically, it is expected to acknowledge the right of ethnic minorities to have access to an open market where the chances of self-improvement and progress through education and employment are equal for everyone. The ideal of equal partnership between ethnic minorities and the white majority was, of course, disregarded for centuries, *374 as full citizenship, the concept around which civic nationalism revolves, was granted based on the degree of assimilation into the Anglo-Saxon world. The persistence of discrimination against specific groups and communities in the various areas of social and economic life, however, proves that the terms of the compromise have been constantly violated. The afore-discussed African American underachievement in education and the economy is a case in point, but, when combined with blame and denial, underachievement can only further weaken this community's commitment to the civic credo. One can also argue that the terms of the compromise have not been fair to this community from the very beginning because, as observed earlier, specific discriminatory practices can be quite difficult to prove, especially when the “burden of proof,” as the Supreme Court has decided, should be laid on the party claiming to be discriminated against. Thus, the representation of the African American as an anti-citizen is again highly misleading, since it describes only part of the larger picture, the end result, and not the whole ideological and sociocultural context. African Americans have been led to expect more of the civic ideology than the latter was truly capable of offering them. In other words, they were deceived, regardless of whether that was the original intention of the theorists of civic nationalism. Let us not forget here that Sowell, as an unconditional integrationist, has been one of the most fervent advocates of this new civic credo and that he never misses an opportunity to stress the need for African Americans adherence if they really aspire for socioeconomic advancement. Putting Sowell's honesty in question is, of course, not the purpose of this argument. But when a theorist of his caliber fails to explain the actual reasons behind African American recalcitrance, one is left guessing as to the validity of his assessment. It may be also for this very reason that he is called an “apologist” by many reviewers, and an “apologist” is not expected to find fault with the party he is apologizing for. *375 In contrast with what Sowell and several other integrationists maintain about African Americans, rebelliousness is hardly a choice and by no means a characteristic cultural feature of this community. It has quite often been part of its response to continual disillusionment in a nation that is supposed to be based on a political contract but which acts as a white cultural monolith. On the other hand, the difficulty with achieving a post-ethnic society lies in this very disillusionment with the “American Creed,” or America's failure to live up to her political ideals. The assumed African American anti-citizenship is, again, a function of this community's reaction against the status quo. One should perhaps recognize it as an expression of disenchantment of a group caught in a vicious circle of promises and deceptions, of perpetual expectation and deferral.

Color-blind integrationists and apologists herald the rebirth of America as a color-blind nation where minority cultures fit in as nexuses of a richly varied national culture. On the other hand, they celebrate the endurance of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture because, they presume, it is the only culture that is capable of offering ethnic minorities real opportunities of progress and improvement. Such a self-contradictory position reveals that a color-blind approach to integration, which is basically a civic-based approach, suffers from structural weaknesses that the current demographic data further expose. For it is only true that America is turning brown--as several scholars of race like to argue in reference to the growing size of non-white minorities--and that it has become more acceptable to refer to her as a nation made up of minorities rather than of a white majority dominating a number of ethnic minorities. For African Americans, this identitarian mystification can well be a blessing in disguise, as it helps them “deconstruct” the civic discourse as it stands today. Eventually, a better recognition of the right of African Americans to self-improvement through their ethnic culture may help unravel part of its contradictions.


*376 C. The Cult of the Civic Ethos and the Realities of the Free Market Economy

The sizeable disparities in income and employment, as well as in educational achievement, between blacks and whites are in large part the result of the discrepancy between the civic ethos as a set of principles and as a concrete way of life. This failure to translate it into a lived reality reflects, in turn, the tenacity and persistence of the white supremacist discourse and the culture that it has sustained for centuries. In this culture, which color-blind integrationists assume is propitious for integration, equal partnership between the different ethnic groups is still difficult to achieve, simply because the ethnic and racial barriers have not been completely dismantled. Growing subtle, these barriers have, on the contrary, become even harder to overcome. So long as African American income, employment, and educational figures are not even close to whites', the civic compromise, as it currently stands, is still considered unfavorable to African Americans. The fact that color-blindness and equal opportunity have not helped change much of the socioeconomic reality of the African American community gives us reason enough to suspect that, in fact, they are not meant to serve its interests in the first place. What commitment to the liberal ideals and principles of American republicanism--to the detriment of ethnic cultural values and ways of life--has very often meant for white purists is the antecedence of an archetypal mode of existence that is basically Eurocentric. Within the framework of this mode of existence, allegiance is meant to be exclusively to a set of universals which whites themselves have designed. All existence outside the sphere of these universals is straight away annihilated and otherwise vilified and denigrated. The current civic discourse, which preaches a return to the original spirit of American republicanism, does nothing to change the status quo. Quite the opposite, it reintroduces the same ideological agenda that has served the interests of the white majority for centuries.

*377 Yet again, black/white disparities in economic performance over the nineties and 2000s, decades that witnessed the resurgence of the civic discourse which was championed by key classical liberal figures such as Sowell and Hollinger, direct us to speculate on how a return to the civic credo would possibly help minorities better integrate. The fact that African Americans continue to have lower income levels and higher poverty rates than whites means that commitment to the civic ethos alone was of very little help to them. Figures from the last decennial census illustrate the continuing socioeconomic discrepancies between African Americans and the other groups in a supposedly color-blind, free market system. The difference in income per household between the former and white Americans in 1999, for example, amounted respectively to more than $15,000--$29,400 and $45,400. Asians had the highest income, with $51,900 per household. Moreover, households with an African American/black householder (the census uses both terms interchangeably) accounted for 19.1% of households with incomes below $10,000. As for poverty rates, African Americans were over-represented in the poorest category, with 24.9%, compared to white Americans whose poverty rate was as low as 8.1%. At the time, $13,410 was considered to be the poverty threshold for a family of three with one member under 18 years of age. Considering that economic recession often more seriously affects African Americans than white Americans, economic analysts expected that the impacts of the 2009 recession would be particularly hard on this group. Unemployment, for instance, was expected to rise to an estimated 20% or more. Between 2000 and 2007, black employment and income already decreased by 2.4% and 2.9% respectively. But, while blacks in 2009 earned a bare 15 cents of every white *378 dollar, 30% of black households have “zero to negative net worth,” meaning that these households which are already living well under the poverty line are expected to sink even deeper in poverty. The black middle classes are, in turn, expected to decrease by 33%. There are a number of reasons why African Americans are more seriously affected by economic recession than whites. Lack of competitiveness as a result of inferior educational achievement is, as argued earlier, the most probable cause. However, to deny the responsibility of the free market environment for at least part of the problem is to ignore the existence of a culture that favors the groups that are already socioeconomically advantaged and that this culture is vindicated in the name of commitment to the civic ethos. The ultimate objective is to equalize the civic ideology with the free market ideology (which is inherently deficient because, as observed earlier, it favors the privileged over the less privileged), and therefore, if you criticize the mechanisms of the free market, you are accused of being hostile to the very principles of the civic ethos. This explains, to a large extent, why African Americans are often accused of anti-citizenship. They have nothing against the civic credo or identity. Their reservations are, rather, against the distortions made to the civic culture--the misapplication of the liberal standards so that they meet the expectations of the privileged groups. If this were not the case, how could one then possibly explain the fact that, in almost all markets, blacks are treated differently from whites, from having to pay higher prices for the same services to being sold low-quality products for the same prices?


IV. Conclusion

Because commitment to the civic ethos alone has failed to guarantee equal opportunity for African Americans, it is critical for them to attempt to seek solutions in alternative commitments and identifications. Self-improvement through the conventional channels of the free market remains an option. However, resorting to the community for identification and self-esteem should not be considered to counter this effort. It can well be an ideal space to start a constructive criticism of the current social, economic, and cultural hierarchies.

*379 Despite its seeming anarchical and impulsive character, black “anti-citizenship” in this article is seen as a full-blown strategy of resistance against white cultural hegemony. In a multiethnic society, the civic ideology cannot be an exclusive source of cultural identity. By designing new strategies to reinvent and preserve their history, African Americans create infinite opportunities for equal cultural partnership with the superordinate groups. Blacks have been victims of the civic ethos and the humanistic universals upon which it is built because they have been constantly denied opportunities to take pride in an autonomous cultural identity. The denigration of specific patterns of black social behavior has been a source of tension between blacks and whites for decades, as it has promoted the growth of radical ideologies that might have exacerbated hostilities.

However plausible it might seem, the black self-help proposition remains unrealistically optimistic, as the history of black economic performance demonstrates that the odds for this disadvantaged community to achieve efficient integration are incontrovertibly flimsy when most societal forces work against it. The “free market solution” to the problem of integration is hardly any solution at all. In the absence of drastic policy measures to go about the problem of family break-up and some of the issues associated with it, such as poverty and anti-social behavior, self-help clearly provides few clues as to how to break down the initial disadvantage that comes with prejudice and marginalization.

The Many Costs of Discrimination: the Case of Middle-class African Americans

Joe R. Feagin, Kevin E. Early and Karyn D. McKinney, The Many Costs of Discrimination: the Case of Middle-class African Americans , 34 Indiana Law Review 1313 (2001)(186 Footnotes)

A century ago the pioneering social psychologist, William James, noted that there is no more serious punishment for human beings than social isolation and marginalization. An "impotent despair" often develops among those who are isolated and treated as less than human in social interaction. In the last two decades social scientists have documented the severe effects that marginalization and dehumanization have on the physical and emotional health of human beings in a variety of settings.

Writing in the 1940s, Gunnar Myrdal underscored the link of discrimination to social isolation and caste-like marginalization. From this perspective, which we extend in this Article, the serious damage that discrimination inflicts on its victims includes marginalization and dehumanization, which in turn can have serious physical and psychological consequences. In various accounts, African Americans see themselves as "outsiders" excluded from recognition, important positions, and significant rewards in predominantly white settings. In the workplace, which is our focus here, they cite discriminatory training and promotions, racial threats and epithets, racist joking, subtle slights, and lack of social support.

Over the last decade very little systematic, in-depth research has been conducted in the social and health sciences on the personal or family costs of racial exclusion and lack of social integration in the workplace. The early research exploring racial differences in health primarily blamed African Americans' biological characteristics for the high morbidity and mortality rates in their communities. Today, much public health research similarly focuses on the supposed deviant lifestyles of African Americans as the cause of their unique health problems. From our perspective, there needs to be a renewed social science focus on the costs of racial animosity and discrimination to African Americans, to other people of color, and to U.S. society generally. In this Article, we begin this major project by describing and analyzing the character and range of racial discrimination's costs by examining the African American experience in workplaces. Our exploratory research questions are the following: Is there a link between reported workplace discrimination and personal stress for African Americans? If so, what are the psychological and physical consequences of that racially related stress? In addition, what are the family and community consequences of that racially related stress? Finally, what are the broader implications of these findings for questions of racial discrimination and hostile racial climates in U.S. workplaces?


I. Integration and a Hostile Racial Climate

One might query what is the legal and constitutional relevance of our research about the consequences and effects of everyday racism. We argue here that many U.S. workplaces cause great harm to black workers, and probably to other workers of color. Although the legal standard for proving a "hostile work environment" was originally extended from racial discrimination cases to sexual discrimination cases, the courts have thus far not allowed the kind of evidence to demonstrate a hostile racial climate that is currently allowed to demonstrate a hostile sexual climate. In Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, the Supreme Court observed: "Although racial and sexual harassment will often take different forms, and standards may not be entirely interchangeable, we think there is good sense in seeking generally to harmonize the standards of what amounts to actionable harassment."

At this point in time, although the legal standards are ostensibly the same for proving hostile racial and sexual climates, the courts tend to be more lenient in the evidence they allow to prove hostile sexual climates than they are in the case of evidence for proof of hostile racial climates. This tendency for leniency may be due in part to the fact that while two female Supreme Court justices (particularly Ruth Bader Ginsberg) actively rule to protect the rights of women, and in so doing set legal precedents for the lower courts, African Americans have no strong voices or allies on the high court. Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens and Stephen Gerald Breyer have sometimes acted as "allies" to African Americans in their decisions. Justice Clarence Thomas is the only person able to know first hand what it is like to be an African American, but as yet he has failed to strenuously represent the needs or protect the interests of African Americans.

We see no reason that this workplace standard should diverge, for, as we show below, many workplaces can be very hostile and damaging for African Americans. Not only is workplace integration a potential cause of stress for African Americans, they are also not adequately protected by the law in these often hostile environments. In 1993, in Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., the Supreme Court decided that a victim of sexual harassment did not have to prove "severe psychological injury" in order to be compensated for sexist discrimination. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor made it clear that a hostile sexual climate could be demonstrated by evidence of a string of humiliating actions or offensive comments by an employer

whether an environment is "hostile" or "abusive" can be determined only by looking at all the circumstances. These may include the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance.

Thus, the court determined that a single major act of discrimination is not necessary to prove sexism in the workplace. Continuing patterns of minor acts are sufficient. In contrast, in cases alleging a hostile racial climate, African Americans and other people of color attempting to remedy racial discrimination in the workplace are subject to a much more stringent burden of proof. Moderately derogatory racial comments made over time are generally not enough.

Under the Harris standard, harassing conduct need not have caused serious psychological distress, but it had to be "severe or pervasive enough to . . . alter the conditions of the victim's employment." A distinction was also to be made between physically threatening behaviors and "mere offensive utterance[s]." In Faragher, the Supreme Court further clarified this standard, explaining that the Harris factors should serve as a filter to eliminate complaints regarding "ordinary tribulations of the workplace" such as "occasional teasing." The Second Circuit was correct, according to the Faragher Court, in holding that statutory relief should not be given for "episodic patterns of racial antipathy," but only for "incidents of harassment [that] occur . . . with a regularity that can reasonably be termed pervasive." Thus, under Faragher, it is left up to the courts' discretion to decide when a company or defendant should be held liable for allowing a hostile environment to exist. It is also up to the courts to determine when that hostile environment is "pervasive as to alter the conditions of the victim's employment." Often what may be a hostile racial environment to most people of color is not regarded as such by courts on which Americans of color are not significantly represented. As presented in our data below, many middle class African Americans report work environments where harassment and discrimination reshape the conditions of work.

In one 1996 case, Aman v. Cort Furniture Rental Corp., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided that white supervisors and coworkers' repeated use of terms such as "another one," "one of them," and "poor people," in referring to two black employees constituted racial "code words," which created a "complex tapestry of discrimination" for which the company was liable. The court recognized that subtle discrimination is constituitive of a hostile workplace. The standards the court asserted for proving a hostile workplace were that the employee suffered intentional discrimination, that the treatment was pervasive and regular, that the discrimination detrimentally affected a particular employee, and that the discrimination would also detrimentally affect "a reasonable employee in a similar situation." These four standards are similar to those set forth in the hostile sexual climate cases.

Most recently, however, it seems that the courts are backpedaling on issues regarding racial discrimination. For example, in a case heard in the California Court of Appeals, Etter v. Veriflo Corp., frequent racist epithets directed at a black man were not "severe or pervasive" enough to warrant legal remedy. Etter alleged that his supervisor directed toward him and other black employees racially derogatory terms, among them "Buckwheat," "Jemima," and "boy," and that she mocked supposed black pronunciation of certain words. However, the court asserted that Etter was referred to as "Buckwheat" by his supervisor "only" twice, and also noted that Etter could not remember the precise dates when his supervisor called him "boy." Further, the court opinion referred twice to the fact that Etter laughed at the racially insulting comments of his supervisor, implying that the negativism of racist comments was only "in the head" of the victim and thus legally benign. In fact, Etter may have laughed nervously or only in an attempt to get along with his boss at the time, a common report of black employees. The Etter court reaction reminds one of Justice Henry Brown's opinion Plessy v. Ferguson:

We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it. The argument necessarily assumes that if, as has been more than once the case, and is not unlikely to be so again, the colored race should become the dominant power in the state legislature, and should enact a law in precisely similar terms, it would thereby relegate the white race to an inferior position. We imagine that the white race, at least, would not acquiesce in this assumption.

Here the Chief Justice and his associate judges, all white, explicitly say that it was only Plessy's perception that he faced humiliating segregation. As the white justices saw it, any feelings by Plessy or other African Americans that whites saw them as inferior were just in their heads-a classic example of blaming the victim, highlighting the pervasiveness of extreme antiblack racism at the turn of the century.

The Etter court implied a similar view of African Americans' experiences with discrimination in that they found it relevant to their decision that Etter had previously filed discrimination charges against another employee. The likely reason for the court to mention this fact was to imply that Etter was overly sensitive, or "paranoid," or was using his racial classification for the financial gain that might be won through a successful discrimination suit.

The jury in Etter was instructed to consider whether "a reasonable person of the Plaintiff's race would have found the racial conduct complained of to be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the person's employment and create a hostile or abusive working environment." However, one may question whether a predominantly white jury, or a white judge, is able to determine what is "reasonable" for an African American plaintiff. Social science research has shown that very few whites have any significant understanding of the depths and severity of the everyday racism faced by the majority of black Americans. The Etter court, in deciding that the plaintiff's experiences were merely "episodic," and not "pervasive," may have failed to understand the severity and impact of those experiences for black employees. One might speculate, based on the relative success of such cases regarding gender, that had Etter been a white female charging a sexual hostile workplace environment, the same number and severity of comments might have been enough for the court to find for the plaintiff. We will discuss possible reasons for this "selective sympathy" later in the paper.

In this Article we show how damaging the racial work climate can be, and why the courts need to take African American reports of a hostile racial work environment seriously. African Americans and other plaintiffs who allege discrimination must show how their workplaces actually do harm. Here we provide some clues on how to gather and present such evidence. The type of evidence we have gathered clearly shows how and why workplace climates can be hostile.

Racial integration has not worked well for African Americans, as evidenced by the continuing huge inequalities in income, education, and life expectancies between African Americans and whites. On the average, black families have an income of only about sixty percent of that of white families and family wealth is only about ten percent of that of white families. Additionally, on average white Americans live about six to seven years longer than black Americans. A major problem with racial integration, as it has operated so far, is that it has mixed varying numbers of people of color into predominantly white institutional settings without giving them enough power to alter those settings or enough resources to significantly improve their material standards as a group. As it is practiced and implemented, racial integration in the workplace has caused many black Americans much anger and pain. Roy Brooks has documented the limitations of current integration, suggesting that African Americans might do better to practice "limited separation," for their economic, physical, and psychological well-being. Racial integration, as it has been implemented in U.S. society, is at best, one-way assimilation into a white-framed culture and institutions. This haphazard mixing is not the appropriate standard for racial integration designed to undo past wrongs.

In order to have real integration rather than one-way assimilation, African Americans and other people of color must be given the same opportunity as whites to change the contours of the workplace by their presence in it - hence requiring two-way (or more) assimilation. At the very least, they must not be required to become "whitewashed" and thus to give up significant parts of their identity in order to be accepted as coworkers, employees, and supervisors. Recent cases involving language issues for Latinos illustrate that these Americans of color are willing to make some concessions to be integrated into workplaces, but not to give up their language-a critical carrier of their culture-just because whites arbitrarily insist that they do so. The parallel question is how much should African Americans have to give up in order to assimilate to historically white workplaces and other institutional settings? Clearly, they are willing to make concessions, but not to suffer nearly as much as they must under current circumstances.

The goal of real integration is much more than one-way assimilation into the workplace. As we see it, the goal should be two-way accommodation. Whites need to make major adaptations to those entering their institutions. They need to allow full incorporation into the workplace and give up racist practices, including the many practices that create a hostile climate. They need to change the number of employees to create a critical mass of African Americans and other workers of color. In defense of the critical-mass argument Richard Delgado posits that middle-class African Americans, because they are often alone in their workplace, are by necessity one-way assimilationists. Because of their small numbers, African Americans often have little power to change the culture of the workplace and thus create two-way integration.

Most of our study participants are among the most economically successful middle and upper-middle class African Americans. These middle-class African Americans have often been viewed as having achieved the American dream like the middle classes of white ethnic groups before them. Ironically, integration into the white workplace has in many cases created stressful situations for African Americans. For example, many of the first African Americans to integrate white workplaces were assigned to racialized jobs, such as positions as "community liaisons" or heads of affirmative action compliance departments. In these positions, they served to calm the potentially disruptive African American communities of the late 1960s, and many have been subsequently unable to move out of those jobs. Accordingly, because the African American middle class was to a significant degree politically facilitated, it is vulnerable to political changes that make economic attainment more difficult. For individual middle class African Americans, workplace integration may be accompanied with forced assimilation, everyday discrimination, and the sense of being constantly watched and outvoted. Indeed, workplace integration has currently been primarily one-way-African Americans and other people of color have been required to accept white norms without being given the power to affect the workplace culture.

Nathaniel R. Jones, a judge in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals remarked that it seems that Justice Harlan's statement in his dissenting opinion in Plessy, that "justice is colorblind," is now being used against African Americans. Several legal scholars have suggested race- conscious ways that standards might be changed to make it easier to show the damage caused by hostile racial workplaces. Barbara Flagg has discussed a situation that exists in predominantly white workplaces which she calls the "transparency phenomenon." Because whites are generally unaware of race, they are not conscious that decision-making in the historically white workplace that appears "neutral" often benefits whites and disadvantages people of color. We suggest that this type of discrimination, which automatically advantages whites and disadvantages people of color but is nonetheless thought of as "neutral standards," is better referred to as "woodwork racism" because it is not transparent. Rather, it is commonplace, tough, and real.

Flagg suggests that instead of a disparate treatment test for racial discrimination, which relies on proof of intentional discrimination, courts should consider finding employers liable for failure to create a culturally diverse workplace environment that imbeds the sometimes divergent norms of newly integrated groups. Flagg suggests two possible new standards, a "foreseeable impact" approach and an "alternatives" approach. Both approaches would make it necessary for courts to consider the transparency phenomenon in deciding what constitutes a racially hostile workplace. Flagg advocates the alternatives approach, in which a historically and predominantly white workplace likely means white norms of decision-making, and thus requires strict judicial scrutiny. The employer is then responsible for explaining the criteria used in the particular workplace standard that led to the suit, after which the plaintiff may propose alternative criteria that would not have a disparate impact on the employee of color.

Another race-conscious solution to the difficulty of proving a racially hostile workplace has been suggested by Charles Lawrence III. Lawrence asserts that the courts' reliance on proof of intent and a show of individualized fault should be replaced with a "cultural meanings" standard. Such a standard would take into account the unconscious and half-conscious discrimination practiced every day by whites who have grown up in a racist society. Lawrence advocates that legal scholars might look to social science research to offer evidence of the racially derogatory cultural meanings of seemingly "neutral" acts. Although he admits that his approach will not be readily accepted and easily applied, and that it is optimistic in its challenge of commonly held beliefs, Lawrence's insights might be useful in creating a new standard for judging the "reasonableness" of African Americans' complaints of discrimination in their workplaces. Their longterm experience and collective memory must be factored into any meaningful legal approach that tries to judge hostile racial climates.

This Article contributes to the creation of this new standard by describing the character and impact of hostile workplace environments endured by many middle class African Americans, and the severe physical and psychological effects this workplace climate can have on their health and well- being. Some of the most harmful treatment by white perpetrators that is described by our respondents may be half-conscious or even unconscious. In line with Flagg's transparency phenomenon, it is our suggestion that, until true racial integration is attained in predominantly white workplaces (with its impact on white attitudes and behavior), most of these places have the potential to be hostile to black Americans and other workers of color.

The transparency phenomenon should also be applicable to the judicial system, which ordinarily and routinely operates according to white norms due to the predominance of white judges, prosecutors, and juries in most court systems. For example, a recent Amnesty International report on the U.S. justice system reported that in 1998 almost all (1,816 out of 1,838) of the district attorneys and similar officials with the power to make decisions about the death penalty were white. The report also cited evidence on the use of peremptory challenges by prosecutors to keep juries as white as possible. Flagg does not believe that transparency applies to "maleness" as it does to "whiteness" in the workplace. This could perhaps be part of the reason that women have been more successful in proving hostile sexual workplace climates in the courts. Almost every white male judge and jury member has some close contact with a woman, whether she be his mother, daughter, wife, or friend. Thus, most will have some idea of what a "reasonable woman" might find offensive, as well as some sympathy toward a white woman. However, evidence of racial hostility in white workplaces is also usually assessed by white juries and judges, and that evidence is often considered to be merely the "perceptions" of "oversensitive" African Americans. Thus, the test presented by the courts, in which the standard of "a reasonable person of the plaintiff's race" is invoked, lacks meaning. Most white people have very little understanding of what African Americans' experience in white workplaces is like. The purpose of this Article is to contribute to a more race conscious standard for assessing the damage often done to African Americans in white workplaces.


II. Research Methods

To begin this serious sociological examination of the perceived costs of racial discrimination, we conducted five exploratory focus groups with economically successful African Americans, two in the Midwest and three in the Southeast. We secured thirty-seven participants, sixteen in the Midwest and twenty-one in the Southeast. Of those who reported their age, the majority (seventeen) were between thirty-one and forty years of age, with five between twenty-one and thirty and twelve between forty-one and sixty. Among those reporting their education, most (nineteen) had pursued graduate work beyond a four year college degree, while thirteen others had completed some college work or earned a college degree. Only one reported not having gone to college. Among those who reported family income, the majority (twenty-five) had an income that was $31,000 a year or more, with fourteen reporting income above $50,000. Eight listed a family income at $30,000 a year or less. The respondents reported a variety of occupations, mostly in professional or managerial positions. Twenty-seven were female, and ten were male. In the analysis, we quote from about eighty percent of the focus group participants.


 

In the last decade much argument has been directed at what has been termed "black paranoia"about racism. For example, Dinesh D'Souza argues that middle class African Americans move too quickly to see racism and that black rage is a "dysfunctional aspect of black culture, a feature mainly of middle- class African American life" and that this rage represents "the frustration of pursuing unearned privileges" of affirmative action. In effect, this perspective suggests that African Americans have mainly themselves to blame for mental health problems associated with their racial histories.

 

In contrast, other researchers have found that African American "paranoia" is actually a healthy response to recurring experiences with racial discrimination. Some researchers call this response "cultural mistrust," which is a suspicion of whites that is adopted by African Americans for survival. Others have rejected the use of terms such as "mistrust" or "paranoia," which have implications of pathology, and instead use the term "racism reaction" to describe the protective orientation individual African Americans often assume in interactions with whites. Research suggests that health-care providers should be familiar with this black response in order to avoid misdiagnoses of pathological paranoia. This precaution is particularly important given the fact that, although African Americans are less likely than whites to seek mental health care, those that do seek such care are more apt to be diagnosed with more serious mental illnesses.

 

In a now classical study, psychiatrists Grier and Cobbs examined the extent to which individual rage and depression among African Americans were determined by racial discrimination and asserted that black mistrust of whites is a reasonable attitude based on their experiences with racial discrimination. In this study, Grier and Cobbs drew on extensive clinical experience with black patients and concluded that the treatment of enraged African Americans must center on experiences with discrimination in the workplace and other sectors of society in order for psychological healing to take place. They noted that black

 

[p]eople bear all they can and, if required, bear even more. But if they are black in present-day America they have been asked to shoulder too much. They have had all they can stand. They will be harried no more. Turning from their tormentors, they are filled with rage.

 

More recently, Cobbs reiterated the point that rage against discrimination is commonplace among African Americans, but for many, continues to be turned inward. Silent, all-consuming rage can lead to inner turmoil, emotional or social withdrawal, and physical health problems.

 

African Americans working or traversing historically white places often feel frustration, anguish, anger, or rage-all of which may be expressed in their words, the tone of their comments, or the character of facial expressions. All the focus group respondents indicated in one way or another that they suffer substantial and recurring stress and frustration because of racially hostile workplaces. As one Midwestern respondent put it, her symptoms of stress do not happen "on weekends or after five o'clock." In the focus group interviews there is a consensus that much of their life-damaging stress at work does not come from the performance of the job itself but from hostile work environments.

 

Some social science research shows that a person's job satisfaction is rooted in how much work contributes to a sense of control and to self-esteem, in how much co-workers and supervisors are helpful in supporting one's work, and in whether rewards are meritocratic. Black employees have difficulty doing their best work when conditions and rewards are inequitable. Recent data demonstrate that African Americans continue to be rewarded economically at lower levels than do white Americans. The broad economic costs of being black include continuing disparities in income, wealth, and occupational position. Some portion of these disparities stems from the accumulating impact of discrimination over centuries, while another portion comes from the well- documented patterns of discrimination in contemporary employment settings.

 

Black workers' lives are disrupted by lack of support and discrimination by co-workers and supervisors; these encounters can become "life crises" with a serious health impact similar to that of life crises like the death of a loved one. Recent research on 726 African American men and women showed that the amount of decision latitude they were allowed on their job was linked to the risk of hypertension. African American men who were given more control over decisions on their jobs had fifty percent less prevalence of hypertension. However, many of our respondents discussed being excluded from decision-making. As the reader will see, an African American's attempt to compensate for this lack of control can lead to specific physical health problems.

 

In commenting on racially hostile or unsupportive workplace climates, some focus group participants described general feelings of frustration and anger, while others told of specific incidents that generated these feelings. A common source of anger is white use of racist epithets or similar derogatory references, which can trigger painful individual and collective memories. One black professional described her reaction to an incident with a white administrator:

 

I have felt, I have felt extremely upset, anger, rage, I guess you would call it? One incident that comes to mind happened in a social setting. I was with some, with my former boss and some coworkers and a man who ran, like, a federal program. And we were having dinner, and he made a comment, and he had been drinking heavily. And he referred to black people as "niggers" . . . . I'm sitting-he's there, and I'm here. . . . And as soon as he said it, he looked in my face. And then he turned beet red, you know? [Laughter] And I said, "Excuse me, what did you say?" And he just couldn't say anything. And then my boss, my former boss, intervened and said, "Now, you know, move his glass, because he's had too much to drink." And you know just making all these excuses. So, of course, I got up and left. I said goodnight, and left. And the next morning, the man called me and apologized. . . . His excuse was that he had been drinking, you know. And I said, "Well [gives name], we don't get drunk and just say things that we wouldn't otherwise say. You know, I don't get drunk and start speaking Spanish. [Laughter]. This was already in you, you know, in order for it to come out. [Voices: Exactly. Yeah, yeah. ] . . . . I mean so, keep your apology, I'm not interested.

 

Then she concluded with a comment on what she did with her anger:

 

I was so angered that I wanted to get him, you know? I was out to get him. I called his boss in [names city] . . . who is black, and informed him of what happened. Because he was referring to his boss, actually. . . . And he said, "Yeah, he's out with the other niggers." You know, so he's calling his boss a nigger! And I think his boss should know that!

 

Similarly, a secretary in the Midwest related an incident in which she had to explain the meaning of an epithet to her supervisor, who subsequently did nothing to reprimand the white employee who used the term:

 

A white individual in my department was talking to me, and he referred to me as "Buckwheat." My supervisor, when I reported it to her, told me that she did not feel that I looked like Buckwheat. Nor . . . did she understand what the term meant. Then she asked me to define it for her. She felt that [the term] was not derogatory. After I told her what it meant . . . . she said "Well, you don't exemplify that, so I wouldn't worry about that." She also refused to talk to the individual.

 

The impact of racist epithets may be underestimated by many white observers. One older black psychologist told the first author that when he hears the epithet "nigger," in his mind's eye he sees a black man hanging from a tree. Individual and collective memories compound the damage of present-moment discrimination. The connection between hostile epithets and the brutality of racism are intimate parts of the collective memory of African Americans.

 

Robert Bellah and his associates have noted that communities "have a history" and "they are constituted by their past-and for this reason we can speak of a real community as a 'community of memory,' one that does not forget its past." Collective recollections are not always positive: "Remembering . . . heritage involve[s] accepting . . . origins, including painful memories of prejudice and discrimination." Past and present discriminatory actions-and the contending responses to that oppression-become inscribed in collective memory. The community passes along information from one generation to the next about how to deal with discrimination and the anger it causes. A nurse's assistant noted the importance of generational advice and collective memory: "Kindness will kill a person. My grandmother told me that so many times. 'Don't get upset. Don't fuss. Don't argue with them. Just smile at them."' [Male voice: "That's true."] After this comment, a health care professional in the focus group spoke about her rage over a traumatic workplace incident with a white coworker. She partly attributed the hostility in their relationship to racial tensions in her workplace:

 

Most of the time you can do that, but it comes that point where you just can't. They have backed you into a corner. It's like a mouse, if you back him into a corner he's going to come out. So, then you just explode. I had that to happen on the job and I hit this person. I physically, yes, I hit her. She's white and she called me a "bitch." [Moderator: After you hit her or before you hit her?] Before I hit her. That's why I hit her. She was abusive to the patients, and I had already had a conversation with her, with the supervisor. . . . [s]he cursed me, and I'm looking at my supervisor who was her friend. . . . Both of them are white, and this was her friend. You know, they would go out to lunch together, whatever. She cursed me in the patient area, and I'm looking to my supervisor for some kind of response to her. Well, after she didn't say anything to her, then I cursed her back. And then I thought well, "Okay, this isn't cool, let me just get away from the situation." And I went [to] the medication room just to separate myself.

 

Then she added this to complete the story:

 

Well, that wasn't good enough for that person. She had to come where I was and ask me a question that she could have asked the patient. And I wouldn't respond to her. I said I'm not going to talk to her when she just cursed me. She just cursed me, what's the point? So, then she said, "Well, you bitch." When she said that, I just really lost it and I was out of there and grabbed [her coworker] by the back of the hair and punched her in the mouth. Well, when that happened of course your job flashes before your face. It's like "God, I'm going to lose my job." Well, the supervisor had her back to us luckily. . . . I was angry with myself because I allowed this person to get me off my ground. She wasn't worth [it], I could have lost my job. She wasn't worth that and I was really angry with myself for allowing her to get me off my ground.

 

Many cases of discriminatory treatment entail a sequence of events which take place over time; they consist of more than one encounter. The white woman cursed the respondent, who responded in turn, triggering another curse by the white woman. The respondent was angry at her own actions because she lost control over her own space. When she finished her account, one man in the group added this: "There's no one answer to a question like that. Each situation warrants a different response. I think what helps us as being black now, we understand what these [white] people think." One consequence of racial oppression is the understanding one necessarily develops into the behavior of the oppressor, an effort and level of understanding usually not required of the latter. Some research has linked the stress caused by this bicultural stance African Americans must take to increased vulnerability to illnesses.

 

A female supervisor in one focus group discussed the link between black rage and unfair promotion practices in workplace settings:

 

I think a lot of anger and rage comes in when we . . . feel like-like I have a friend, he's been with the company twenty years, and he didn't get a promotion. And he was well over-qualified. They gave it to a [white] guy who had been there only seven [years], and knows nothing. So, of course, I was kinda angry with the process, but it was because he was the ex-boyfriend of the girl who was doing the promoting. So he was upset about it. But I told him, I felt like this: "They can only tell you 'no' so many times. Keep applying for that position."

 

The anger over mistreatment is more than a matter of what happens to the black person as an individual. Rage over racism is also fueled by what happens to friends and family members. Collective memories of racism against all African Americans, as well as knowledge of specific discriminatory actions against particular friends and relatives, multiply racialized stress for African American individuals.

 

The seriousness of black rage over discrimination was made clear by a retired professor interviewed in a recent nationwide study of African Americans. Speaking to a question about the level of his anger toward whites because of discrimination (on a scale from one to ten), this man implicitly suggests the serious health consequences of rage:

 

Ten! I think that there are many blacks whose anger is at that level. Mine has had time to grow over the years more and more and more until now I feel that my grasp on handling myself is tenuous. I think that now I would strike out to the point of killing, and not think anything about it. I really wouldn't care.



The daily struggle against racial attacks and slights can be seen clearly in many aspects of the focus group transcripts. The intensity of the pressures are clear when the respondents speak of the means they use to cope with anger over racial discrimination. Resignation and reinterpretation of events are among the coping tactics. One respondent told of an incident in which a young black man came to her workplace to donate items to the service organization for which she works. Her white boss asked the young man why he was donating, and the latter answered that he had grown up in the service organization, though in another location. The woman concluded the story:

And he [her boss] said "Oh, I will have to call him. I know the person who directs the organization down there. I'll have to tell him that you didn't end up in jail." And the guy just, he's like, "I don't . . . know quite how to take [that]." But he [her boss] says this [stuff] all the time.

Although the woman recognizes her supervisor's comments to be stereotypical, she tries to understand his ignorance:

I think that he just doesn't know any better. . . . I've come to grips with him, I've worked for him for many years. . . . I let him know that I don't like his comments and that they're inappropriate, but there's nothing I can do about it. But I just think he doesn't know any better.

This woman's workplace situation exemplifies that of many African Americans, who often find ways to attribute the behavior of white coworkers to things other than overt racism in order to be able to work with them on a daily basis. Contrary to white notions of African American "paranoia," most frequently struggle to find explanations other than racism for the negative behavior of many whites.

Some participants spoke of trying not to let their anger over racism take root deeply in their lives. One government employee discussed this approach to discrimination:

To never get upset. Not to let that rage consume you, and after, and it really takes a lot to be really thoughtful, and to get beyond that, and, and try to educate them [whites]. I, that's what I've found works for me. And it helps me not to go home and to have that just simmer in me-that I can just leave it.

Middle-class African Americans, who often have high levels of interaction with whites as coworkers, find various ways to "leave" their anger, and may use a combination of coping strategies for discrimination. Extant research suggests that, before choosing a coping strategy, African Americans often reflect on the source of a white person's discriminatory behavior. Some discuss methods of mentally or physically withdrawing from a hostile situation, while others verbally or physically confront discriminatory whites. Sometimes African Americans attribute racist behavior to ignorance and choose to educate whites as a response to discrimination, which can give a sense of empowerment. Yet others describe a "shield" they must use in order to protect themselves in white society. Many discuss social networks, whether in the family, community, or church, as important buffers against the harmful psychological and physical effects of discrimination.

Many African Americans discuss the importance of "choosing one's battles" in regard to confronting racism. Most indicate they do not have the energy to confront each instance of discrimination. However, repressing emotions can be problematical. A too-restrained response to one's anger over workplace problems can bring even more suffering because of the feelings of impotence, which in turn can contribute to stress-related illness. Researchers Alexander Thomas and Samuel Sillen have suggested that finding some socially viable way of openly expressing anger at oppressors is better than self-derogation as a response to racial oppression.

This sense of empowerment is linked to position and resources by one female professional:

I think that we're some empowered people sitting around the table, and so we can do that. I think that there's a lot of people that don't feel that they have the power to do that. There's a lot of African Americans who don't feel that they have the power. I've seen it in the kids. . . . I've seen it in the workplaces. They don't-and so that rage just builds up. I see it in black men. They don't feel that they have the power. . . . and older people. They really don't. And that's, I think the issue that, that really needs to be spoken to. We can do it because we've made up in our minds that we're going to educate them. . . . But what about those people that really have not, you know, are not, are not feeling this strength and energy? What about those, those kids that I see every day? And particularly again, if they are black males. . . . You see, a lot of people, I think a lot of our people end up in jail or dead because they don't have the tools . . . that we're talking about, that we use to, to deal with it.

Teaching whites becomes part of the strategy for dealing with anger over racism. Middle class African Americans, it is suggested, have more resources and strength to deal with racism in this and other ways than do other African Americans. The sense of lacking power to fight back or to bring about change is likely to be central to the continuing reality of discrimination for many African Americans.

A government supervisor in the Southeast noted his approach to handling anger from job discrimination:

You're always going to feel anger, I mean, obviously . . . [in the] simplest things sometimes. Because, just because, if you can look and tell, if it's a black man and white man thing. . . . So you're gonna feel anger, but the thing is, when you put that rage in there . . . number one, it's your job. You're gonna do certain things. But it's my health. And it's my life. So I'm not gonna put myself in a position where you're gonna get me to that point. I know when we were talking about psychological and physical things. I'm just not gonna let you put that-I can wake up in the morning time, and I know, I don't even have to open my eyes, I know I'm a black man. I don't have to tell me. You don't have to tell me. So when I sit there and, and take this-and say, I'm sitting across a table from a, in a meeting, and there's a superior, and they happen to be white. In this case, of course, they may do something that's going to get me upset, but like I say, it's their job. Or if they pass me over, and, all I can look in is the variables. . . . But I control how I feel about it. I can control whether or not it affects my health or not. So, that's why, when you say, as far as rage and anger, you know how to override it.

This man believes he has developed strategies to control the anger he feels from racial tensions at work. It is impossible to know to what degree his strategies are successful, but he perceives his need to monitor his anger constantly for fear the anger coming from workplace discrimination will affect his health. The constancy of being reminded of being black is part of what racism means in U.S. society. One can never escape this, and during encounters with whites in the workplace, one's racial identity is in the front of one's mind. Some anger over mistreatment is inevitable, and the overarching strategy is often to "choose one's battles" and assess each situation separately for the appropriate response.

In some cases whites may intentionally provoke black workers to see if they will react strongly. After the government supervisor spoke, a female voice added: "This is a set up. . . . You get into rage, they just say, 'See, that's why we didn't give [a promotion] to her."' The ability to hold in one's anger and to control feelings is central to survival in a work world where strong reactions to animosity can affect one's job opportunities and economic success. Many African Americans must exert much effort to check emotions so as not to play into white stereotypes of black people being out of control. An engineer had also decided not to let rage have a negative affect on health: "So you see, these things like that, those things like that, those things make you upset . . . and the stress does make a difference, I think it probably takes five years off your life, to tell you the truth, if you let it get to you." An administrative secretary in the Midwest echoed this sentiment about how to deal with racially generated stress: "You learn how to deal with it. . . . You sit up there, and you be mad all day long and that's not good for you and you end up dead. I'm not dying from them."

A victim of discrimination frequently shares the account with family and friends in order to lighten the burden. African Americans often rely on their families and community institutions (e.g., churches) as part of their coping mechanisms for dealing with recurrent discrimination at work and elsewhere. In several focus groups the participants repeatedly noted or underscored these critical sources of social support. One teacher commented on bringing the stress of racism home with her, "I think I bring it home with me, I do. But, I have a good partner here, who listens . . . and, you know, I tell him all the problems, when it's happened. And I get feedback from him. And I get it all out, and that, I think that's good."

Similarly, a male respondent in the Southeast said his wife was his major source of support in dealing with stress from racial animosity:

I'd say oftentimes I've brought it home. Because I don't share that stuff with my work group, but I can share it with my wife, and she'll listen and give me appropriate feedback, and help me get through that. And you know I get the bike out, and I'll ride, or take the kids and go somewhere, or take me a good, hot, steamy shower. And get a back rub, or something. [Others chuckle.] And that kinda thing. Settle for that!

Numerous focus group participants indicated that they told their families and friends about discriminatory events in employment and other settings, which accounts spread both knowledge and pain through social networks and communities.

Several respondents mentioned how their families of origin raised them to recognize and deal with racial hostility and discrimination. A secretary stated that:

I think my family is very supportive. . . . [m]y father is more like, "Maybe you should ignore it and turn the other cheek," where my mom is like, "Report it." You know, so I . . . get it from both sides. . . . I think these are things that I should tell them, and these are also things that they should relate to me about their experience so that I can distinguish what is racism, what is prejudice, and how to deal with it. . . . I think we have a lot of individuals today who don't even know [how to recognize racism]. . . . [s]omebody in that family should have brought that out to these individuals. . . . [t]his is important for families to sit around, and let them know. This is another way of communication to bring it out so they don't have to bring it into the workplace and be angry.

Another woman, a purchasing agent, agreed with this respondent, and added that her family "told us different stories that have happened to them, so we can distinguish between what is and what is not [racism] . . . . [t]hey give you an example of subtle prejudice and racism . . . ." Several parents in the focus groups noted the importance of preparing their children for racism and its torments and frustrations.

One should note the cumulative impact of racial animosity and discrimination reported throughout our interviews. This accumulating impact likely accounts for much of the anger and rage expressed by the focus group participants. The problem is not just a particular racial incident but the steady pattern of incidents over long periods of time and across many life spaces. Recurring discrimination may eventually erode the coping skills of many African Americans and cause them increased illness or problems in families. In one study, a retired schoolteacher in a southwestern city recounted her experience with a racist epithet yelled by a clerk in a mall shop, then characterized the many recurring incidents of racism as the "little murders every day" that have made her long life so difficult. Particular instances of discrimination in workplaces or elsewhere may seem minor to some outside (especially white) observers, particularly if they are only considered in isolation. However, when blatant racist actions and overt mistreatment combine with discrimination in more subtle and covert forms, and when these discriminatory practices accumulate over weeks, months, and years, the effect on African Americans is more than what a simple summing of the impact of particular incidents might suggest. There is often a significant multiplier effect from recurring racial hostility on a person's work, health, and social relationships.

Although their specific strategies for dealing with racism differ, there was a general consensus among the respondents that the anger generated by racism in the workplace must generally be dealt with by African Americans themselves, who can expect little, if any, support from white coworkers and supervisors. A nurse described the lack of concern for racism shown by white supervisors:

I think that most supervisors, managers, [the] higher echelon knows about racism in the workplace. And I think some of them leave it up to lower managers to do something about it even when they discuss it, and some of them justleave it, period. And then some have diversity groups . . . or seminars or things . . . but racism is so prevalent I just think that it's going to be hard to get rid of.

The costs of racial discrimination encompass the time and effort put into dealing with that discrimination. The responses of African Americans to racial stress vary, with some using aggressive countering tactics and others withdrawing from the situation. Sometimes the stress forces the costly response of withdrawal. One woman, working in corporate administrative services, noted her response to harassment:

The way I deal with it is I try to stay out of the office as much as I can . . . even outsiders who come in the office, they can sense the air is tight. . . . [a]nd it's all because of our boss. And it's not just racial harassment, it's sexual harassment.

Several female respondents described how racial marginalization at work was amplified by the sexist behavior of white male coworkers and supervisors.

Another woman, who now works at a college, described racially related stress and why she quit her previous job in a store:

When the black customers would come into the store to possibly return merchandise, and maybe not have a receipt to accompany that purchase, they were asked . . . "Do you think you could go home and find it [the receipt]? Well, when was it purchased?" They were denied adequate assistance. But when the white people would come into the store, it was like, "Oh, well, can I credit it to your [store credit account] or Visa?" . . . [I]t was always, with the black person, it's like, "Well, where did you buy it? Well, take it back to the store that you bought it from," although you can take any of that merchandise to any store, because that's policy. . . . I was just amazed by the kind of things that would occur. And that's a reason why I no longer work there, because I could no longer work for a company that discriminated against my race. . . . [T]hey did it blatantly and they really didn't care.

Whatever the source of stress at work, its consequences are serious. What is noteworthy about racial stress is that it generally comes on top of the other frustrations in the workplace. Note too that this woman's frustration and anger were generated by what was happening, not to herself, but to other African Americans.


 

Long ago, in the 1960s the critic of racial colonialism, Frantz Fanon, argued forcefully that colonization causes the colonized serious psychological problems, because of the continual assaults it inflicts on their personalities. Numerous studies have documented the harmful effects of workplace stress on the health of employees of any racial orethnic group. Although work is a primary source of stress for many individuals, some research shows that certain types of job stress are unique to the experiences of Americans of color, and may contribute to their facing unique physical and mental health challenges. Certain social conditions, including racial inequality, blocked opportunities, and discrimination are major generators of pain and distress for individuals. Physical and mental health problems can stem from the stresses of discrimination. Recent research has highlighted the need to take into account three dimensions in considerations of the role of stress in the lives of African Americans. The first is the individual-level interactions between race and health; the second, interpersonal relationships and health; and the third, societal factors, such as poverty and racism, that contribute detrimentally to African American health. Research has found that African Americans are caught in economic, social, and political conditions that are harmful to their health. Mirowsky and Ross conclude that this pain and distress can take two psychological forms: being depressed, being demoralized, and feeling hopeless; and feeling anxiety, fear, and worry. Karasek and Theorell have shown that variations in control and socio-emotional support at work predict variations in psychological depression.

 

Demoralization, anxiety, and anger over everyday discrimination are to be expected under the circumstances faced by African Americans in U.S. society, but they are nonetheless unhealthy at the levels experienced. A few recent research studies have touched on the relationship of discrimination to mental health problems. In addition to older studies of African Americans such as that of Grier and Cobbs, three recent studies of Mexican Americans have found that experience with discrimination is linked to higher levels of stress and psychological suffering, including depression and lower levels of life satisfaction. An analysis drawing on the National Study of Black Americans has also suggested that recent experience with discrimination may be associated with poor mental health.

 

Often a worker of color finds he or she is one of few, or even the only person of that racial-ethnic background within their work environment. This status often does not allow them the social support that could help to alleviate workplace stress. Additionally, this isolated status may draw an inordinate amount of attention to the minority group member's job performance, and may cause a stigmatizing "token" status to be ascribed. Thus, African Americans in predominantly white work settings may feel pressure to prove that they were not hired strictly because of affirmative action, as may often be the assumption of their white colleagues. This pressure, coupled with experiences with exclusion and other discrimination, may lead to stress for African Americans as well as other Americans of color.

 

Although some research has been done on the mental health of African Americans, the findings have been contradictory. Some studies point to the resilience and coping skills of African Americans and conclude that African Americans have much lower rates of mental illness than do whites. Other studies findthat African American rates of mental illness are higher than those of whites. Still other studies have found that rates of mental illness for people of various racial-ethnic backgrounds are moderated by demographic characteristics such as marital and socioeconomic status. These contradictory findings have led some to suggest that public health researchers abandon racial comparison research altogether. Others have called for qualitative research, such as ethnographic research and case studies, as well as longitudinal studies that cover more time, in order to supplement contradictory research findings. Still others have suggested that various societal stereotypes regarding African Americans lead to bias in mental health diagnoses, making any findings regarding the mental health of African Americans dubious. Contradictions in quantitative research regarding the mental health of people of color suggest that researchers should consider that perceptions of people of color may play a primary role in the diagnosis and treatment of those who are psychologically troubled.

 

Historically, the mental health treatment of African Americans has been conducted on a foundation of stereotypical ideas about African Americans. In the 1800s, some enslaved African Americans who either disobeyed their masters or ran away were given specific diagnoses of mental illness. During Reconstruction, mental health practitioners asserted that the supposed increase in mental illness of African Americans was due to the loss of the many civilizing "benefits" of slavery. In the early 1900s, African Americans were often characterized by whites as promiscuous, emotionally and criminally volatile, childlike, and unintelligent. Psychiatric research generally relied on these racist stereotypes in diagnosis, and researchers even congratulated themselves on the "fortunate guidance" of members of society through whom many African Americans have been "saved" from physically and mentally ruining their lives. Some mental health studies written between the late 1800s and the mid 1900s even stated that African Americans lacked the psychological complexity to become depressed, given their "inferior" psyches. By the early 1960s, new research was beginning to turn to cultural, rather than biological, explanations for racial differences in mental health, and suggested that the more integrated African Americans became, the more they would experience depression, often designated as "the white man's malady."

 

Some current research suggests that African Americans are often misdiagnosed by mental health professionals. Diagnostic tests may be racially biased, elevating the observed rates of certain types of mental illness for African Americans. Researchers have found that even when African American and white individuals present the same symptoms to doctors they are sometimes diagnosed with very different illnesses. For example, with the same symptoms, whites are often diagnosed with depression, which is treated with psychotherapy and has a good prognosis, while African Americans tend to be diagnosed as having schizophrenia, which is more serious and must be treated with medication. A study of 100 white and 100 African American women, matched by age, who had visited an outpatient family practice center from 1993 to 1994, explored the rate of primary or secondary diagnoses of emotional disorder for the two groups. The research findings showed that forty-four percent of the white women, compared to twenty-four percent of the African American women, had either a primary or secondary diagnosis of psychiatric disorder. The researchers suggested that this racial discrepancy was based on evidence that black women actually have less psychiatric disorder, perhaps due to either better family and community support network or a greater reluctance to discuss personal problems with physicians.

 

A white standard of normality is usually taught to and used by white therapists. However, cultural norms for what constitutes "normal" or "abnormal" behavior may be different for African Americans than for whites. Specifically, African Americans may have different ways of expressing symptoms and complaints, different culturally normative behaviors, and different coping mechanisms than do whites. Recent research has suggested that as therapists become more aware of mental health issues unique to people of color, they may need to retrospectively diagnose African American patients to correct earlier misdiagnoses.

 

White therapists may harbor negative views of African American patients, based on societal myths. They may communicate these feelings in their nonverbal behavior, causing African American patients to withhold the kind of self-disclosure that is necessary for psychotherapy. Researchers have found that for African Americans, psychotherapy with a white caregiver often leads to "unhealthful consequences." Many call for better cross-cultural training for psychiatrists and psychotherapists.

 

Because of racial bias in the mental health care profession, African Americans have generally relied on other forms of help for psychological difficulties. Research has been done on the differences in help-seeking behaviors of whites and African Americans. Early bias in mental health care led African Americans to care for their mentally ill family members at home. Today, older African Americans in need of psychological support are often more likely to seek help from family and extended family members than from mental health professionals. Findings also suggest that African Americans are likely to see both physical and mental health as dependent on a healthy spiritual life. Thus, they often rely on prayer, ministers, and church services for psychological help. Some have noted that African American church services are similar to group therapy in offering psychological relief. This might account for the fact that group therapy seems to be more useful than individual psychotherapy, at least for African American women.

 

Whatever the actual differences inAfrican American and white mental illness and treatment, one observation made by many researchers is that given the amount of societal stress in the lives of African Americans, one would expect them to exhibit much higher rates of mental illness than they do. Some suggest that due to their life circumstances, African Americans may be more tolerant in coping with symptoms of stress. Thus, researchers have been urged to explore the resilience and coping skills that African Americans utilize to protect their mental health from racist attacks. To this end, a few researchers have suggested using a stress/adaptation paradigm in mental health research, which emphasizes environmental as well as personality factors in seeking the cause for African Americans' emotional problems and focuses on their unique coping skills. Some have also stressed the need for life-course research, which would offer a perspective on the strengths and structural barriers in mental and physical health care for African Americans at all stages of life.

 

Our focus group participants reported various psychological complaints they believed to be the result of workplace discrimination, ranging from extreme anxiety and added stress to depression severe enough to require medication or hospitalization. An administrative assistant was hospitalized for depression after she was almost laid off:

 

I had been in . . . my department for eleven years when I, we had a major change in staff. We had gone from a white male boss who had just left, and a white female who had taken over in the position. I had seniority in the office as far as time and had just received a promotion in the job, and had nothing but excellent, excellent performance evaluations. But when it came time to do the budget cuts, my position was offered as being ten percent cut. I was told that there was no way to avoid this position being cut. Being that at this time I was the only minority that was, that was in the office, it was devastating to me at the time because we tried to work it out. Now I'm working for an agency that advertises . . . strong affirmative action and equal employment opportunities. So I had a right to file [a] discrimination [complaint].

 

She then described the resolution, which involved a black elected official interceding for her:

 

Because I was looking at a layoff. . . . [He] basically went in and told this supervisor that, "With all these vacant positions that we have in this county, you will find her a job." I was told on a Friday by the department they wanted to transfer me to, that I had to make a decisions over the weekend and let them know by that following Monday whether I was going to accept this job, which was a [big] cut in pay . . . or go in the unemployment line. I had to help take care of two children, so I chose to go for the transfer. But . . .through all this, and, the mental anguish that I went through, I was hospitalized for nine days. It was just devastating, because I saw it as blatant discrimination. . . . There was nothing they could go to in the file and find in terms of not performing or anything like that. And then the amount of time, get basically kicked out the door is what happened. . . . But then, but not only the financial burden, but just the toll that it took. . . . I think the toll was so hurtful because I saw it strictly as racial.

 

It appears that much racially linked mistreatment in work settings is disguised by the perpetrators in bureaucratic terms, as here in a budget cut. This woman's judgment of discrimination is not arbitrary but comes from past experience as the "only minority" in an almost exclusively white department. Her ability to read the situation may also be grounded in past experience in a variety of settings. In such cases significant achievements are ignored and serious mental and physical pain can result.

 

A teacher described a situation in which her boss moved her to a different position just before school started. This woman discovered later that she was moved in order to make room for a new and less experienced white teacher. She described the stress she underwent as a result of having to change so quickly:

 

I was so upset I didn't know what to do. Just totally wiped out. I'm thinking about all of this stuff I've got to move. She promised that the janitors would help me move. Nobody helped me. People were almost in tears watching me move all of this stuff in a shopping cart. . . . And, it took me, that means I had to organize my stuff, move it, and get ready for another grade level and be ready to teach. . . . So I did my pre-planning; it almost killed me. . . . Nobody came to help me, but everybody was giving me sympathy. I had to go to the doctor. . . . and I had become hypertensive. But I felt myself, I could hardly work, I was so upset. And I had gotten prayer, and, was reading my scripture, and meditating . . . .

 

When the moderator asked her if she had been hospitalized for hypertension, the woman answered:

 

No, he put me on an antidepressant . . . in addition to the medication I needed to take-I'm glad you made me clarify that, helped me to clarify it, brother. I had to go on an antidepressant. I didn't take it very long, but that's how upset I was, had to see a physician. I was under his care for awhile. But, I mean, they brought these three white women on. . . . That's what irks me, when I hear about the white people attacking affirmative action, when it's worked in reverse, and it's still happening-to them. They're, nobody hears about how they get hired, and they're less qualified than we are. Nobody hears about how many times we're hired with extra qualifications, more than qualified, to do the same job that they're hired to do.

 

Thinking along similar lines, an engineer spoke of a black coworker's experience of depression. His view, shared by other respondents, is that African Americans are reluctant to seek assistance with psychological pain:

 

But it's kind of more, against black culture to go for any type of psychological . . . testing, or, I had one friend who actually went to a depressive state . . . because he was the type of person who just tried to do the best he could at everything. And sometimes you just can't do that, or do everything. So in this particular case, he went to the point where his body just collapsed, mentally. Where some people's bodies can collapse physically, his collapsed mentally. I personally didn't experience that, but I saw the pain that he went through. And likewise he's having racial type things at his job, where his counterparts would get promoted at a certain level, where he would stay on a level below, after years. And he was as qualified-sometimes they get you in a position to think that you're not as qualified as the next person, where in reality you may be more qualified than the person that got promoted over you. But a promotion doesn't necessarily mean that this person does higher quality work. It means, sometimes that person knows how to network with the boss better than you do.

 

Again the suffering of one black person is communicated to and felt by others in a social network. Research shows that most African Americans rely on informal social networks for emotional support, thus the concerns of one individual are often known in great detail by a larger support network. After this comment, a woman in this man's group added that black employees have less time to network with the boss because they are working extra to prove themselves as capable. The engineer agreed with her statement, then continued:

 

And if you're working, you can't network with the boss, and drink coffee with him, and tell him what kind of work and stuff that you're doing. Because you're actually out there in the trenches going to work. So it was not my personal case, but his particular case, he might have gone to a stage where he had such depression he had to actually take medication.

 

This idea about black qualifications is a theme that one finds in other accounts by African Americans of discrimination in the workplace, yet it receives little public or media attention. From the black middle class perspective, it is often the less qualified whites who get special privileges over better qualified people of color. This recurring white advantage can create much psychological pain, including depression, for its black victims. Of additional importance is the networking theme suggested in previous comments. In the United States economy many racial barriers are linked, directly or indirectly, to white "good-ole-boy" networks, which are commonly at the core of workplaces and even of large business sectors. In these networks whites commonly exclude outsiders from critical information flows.



Another major cost of being mistreated in a hostile workplace is a serious loss of personal energy, including the loss of motivation to do work and other activities. In one national research study an experienced black psychologist commented eloquently about the energy loss suffered by African Americans:

 

If you can think of the mind as having 100 ergs of energy, and the average man uses 50 percent of his energy dealing with the everyday problems of the world . . . then he has 50 percent more to do creative kinds of things that he wants to do. Now that's a white person. Now a black person also has 100 ergs; he uses 50 percent the same way a white man does, dealing with what the white man has [to deal with], so he has 50 percent left. But he uses 25 percent fighting being black, [with] all the problems being black and what it means.

 

The individual cost of dealing with discrimination is great, and one cannot accomplish as much when personal energy is wasted on discrimination. One of the most severe costs of persisting discrimination, this energy loss is often more than an individual matter. An engineer made this clear in a group that was discussing the "eight whole hours of discrimination" they daily experience:

 

One of the things, though, that really has had an effect on my family personally was, me having [less] time to really spend with my son. As far as reading him stories, talking, working with him, with his writing, and, all of that. And those things really, really hurt us, and it hurt my child, I think, in the long run, because he never had that really. . . . I know when, when the program was really, really running, some, some days I would come home and I would have such excruciating headaches and chest pains that I would just lay on the bed and put a cold compress on my head and just relax. Thank God I got him through that period. . . . And by the time I come home, I'm so stressed out. And he runs up to me, and you know I give him a hug, but when you're so stressed out, you need just a little period of time, maybe an hour or so, just to unwind, just to relax, you know . . . to just watch the news or something, to kinda unwind and everything. So it definitely affects . . . and you know you're almost energy-less. . . . And then by the time you get home, you have your family. So, by the time you kinda unwind a little bit to get ready to go to upstairs, you haven't handled responsibilities. . . .

 

The pain of workplace mistreatment can have a domino effect, with chest pains and headaches being linked to a loss of energy, and that in turn resulting in far less energy to deal with important family matters. The drain on personal strength caused by discrimination takes a toll on the activities of workers in their lives outside the workplace.

 

In one discussion group a government employee examined the personal energy exertion issue in another of its troubling aspects:

 

One thing, too, is especially if you spend time documenting situations, that takes time: What was said, what did he say, what did I say, and what did I do? It's not keeping, that's time, too, I mean you're doing that because you never know what's gonna jump out. [Moderator: Why do you feel it necessary to do that?] History. I mean, there were just certain things that, that teaches you that you need to have some information because that'sreally the only thing they [whites] understand. . . . Documents. When you start pulling out "This is mine, this is what was said, here, here, here," they understand that. [But if] you start talking off the top of your head . . . you have no credibility, you know what I'm saying? With us it always comes down to being above them. This is just like when we were talking about qualifications, you know, they can come in with less qualifications, but we always have to be maxed out. . . . And sometimes go beyond that.

 

A psychologist in the group once again put this into a long term perspective: "That would seem like, that's always been a factor, always has been a history of us having to prove ourselves, over and over again, with documentation, this and that, and I would like to see [it], get to the point where my kids don't have to do that." The energy drain extends beyond the extra effort necessary to prove oneself to whites with prejudiced minds, for it often entails keeping documentation in order to prove one's accomplishments and to counter discrimination in employment. We see again the importance of recording history and of creating a family and community memory, as these respondents constantly orient themselves to what African Americans have had to do collectively in the past and in the present.

 

To be good at what one does, a black worker usually must learn many things about coping with whites, energy-wasting learning that is not a requisite task for similarly-situated white Americans. In another context, a female planner explained that "Just like we have to, we have to consistently, we have to keep learning things, you know, they need to do the same, they need to jump through the same hoops we have to jump through." In addition, the education of whites seems to be an imposed responsibility of many black victims of discrimination. A sheriff's deputy responded to the previous speaker's statement with this summary:

 

And that's the same thing . . . we were talking about on the energy. Burning so much energy trying to educate these people, that we qualify, you know? And I always said if you see a black doctor and a white doctor standing side by side, equal in status, that black man is twice as better, because he had to work harder . . . in every profession.

 

This is a point one often hears in interviews with African Americans. The great achievements of many African Americans have come in spite of, and on top of, the energy-sapping barriers of discrimination.


As seen by all our respondents, blocked opportunities and discrimination not only generate psychological pain and suffering, but also link to many different bodily conditions such as chest pains, stomach problems, headaches, and insomnia. Other research supports this observation. The economic status of African Americans has stagnated and even declined in regard to some indicators in recent years, and this decline in economic well-being is associated with worsening health status for African Americans. Some research has shown that the realization that negative treatment in the workplace is based on one's race or ethnicity causes more extreme stress than usual workplace problems that are not based on racial discrimination. Other research has found that not only are physical health problems associated with workplace discrimination but other health problems are also experienced by persons of under-represented groups.

The overall life expectancy of African Americans is lower than that of whites, and this gap increased between 1980 and 1991. African American infant mortality is twice the rate of that of whites. For African Americans under seventy years of age, fifty percent of excess deaths of males and sixty-three percent of female excess deaths can be accounted for by cardiovascular disease, cancers, and problems resulting in infant mortality. Despite popular conceptions, only nineteen percent of excess male deaths and six percent of female excess deaths can be accounted for by homicide. Additionally, excess deaths related to genetic problems make up a tiny percentage. For example, excess deaths from sickle cell anemia make up only three-tenths of one percent of all African American excess deaths. African Americans are disproportionately represented among people with coronary heart disease, myocardial infraction, strokes, and renal disease, and are more likely to have risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes. African Americans, regardless of socio-economic status, also have the highest age-adjusted rates of cancer incidence and mortality of any racial group in the United States. Not only do African Americans have higher rates of several illnesses, they also have poorer outcomes and survival rates for most illnesses, evidence that the health care they receive may not be adequate. For example, the cancer survival rate for African Americans is twelve percent lower than that of whites. In addition to the discrimination that increases the health problems of African Americans, racism in the health care system may cause African Americans to receive less adequate care than do whites.

African Americans tend to report more health complaints than do persons of other racial or ethnic groups. In a national study of two thousand African Americans, when asked if they have had any health complaints in the last month, only thirty-five percent of African Americans said that they had no health problems at all. The most common health complaints reported were high blood pressure (31.6%), arthritis (24%), and "nervous conditions" (21.9%). Twenty percent of the African Americans studied had never gone to see a doctor in an independent office setting, and twenty-one percent were uninsured. However, as in the case of psychological complaints, most (sixty-eight percent) of the respondents said that they have three or more people from whom they can seek informal health care.

As in the case of psychological health disparities, racial disparities in physical health can also not be totally accounted for by racial differences in socioeconomic status. In fact, some studies have found higher mortality rates for African Americans with higher socioeconomic status than whites with the same status. Neither can racial disparities in health be accounted for by oft-repeated notions of "genetics." In her research, Dr. Camara Jones, a Harvard epidemiologist, has found that African Americans have the most genetic diversity of any racially defined group. Nor do African Americans as a group have weaker immune systems than whites. In fact, African American transplant patients run the highest risk of complications because their immune systems are so strong that their bodies are more likely to reject donated organs. Moreover, excess hypertension cannot be attributed to genetics. Black blood pressure levels are similar to whites until adulthood, at which time they increase faster with age than those of whites. This suggests strongly that the racial differential is not a matter of genetics or lifestyle; it suggests that being a victim of racism has a detrimental effect on blood pressure. In a study of African American and white nurses, Jones found that the majority of African American nurses think about race at least daily, and many of them are constantly aware of their racial classification. This constant awareness contributes to undue stress.

Others have highlighted the need to take into account not only African Americans' personal context, but also the larger historical context when looking at racial disparities in health. For example, the civil rights movement seems to have had a positive effect on African American health. Other research has found that African American physical and mental well-being is highest when the discrimination reported by African Americans is lowest. Research suggests that racism can affect African American health in three major ways. First, racism can transform socioeconomic status such that its effects are not equal across race. For example, African Americans cannot expect the same returns on their educational investments, in terms of wages, as those of whites. Second, racism may restrict access of African Americans to health services and to recreational facilities that could benefit their health. Finally, racism causes psychological distress that may create severe health problems for African Americans.

Our respondents noted the impact of racism on their health. One focus group participant, a dental assistant, made the connection between the discrimination and physical ailments eloquently:

I don't think a lot of [people] realize that, when you're talking about ailments, you're talking about more colds, higher blood pressure, things like that. People don't relate that to your job. Like when you come down with more colds, a lot of times, it's [racial] stress on your job . . . . [I was] in another job, and it seemed like the more stress I was under, it would make me feel worse. I would be sick, I would have more colds, I would want to sleep more, and basically it was related to my job, the pressure on my job. But I didn't put it that way, you know, a lot of times I would think if I was under stress, I wouldn't relate it to a cold.

Similarly, a nurse in a southeastern state noted that the bottling up of stress from discrimination leads to a variety of health problems, as well as to excessive smoking and drinking:

But you stuff that stuff inside, and it comes out in these kinds of ways. And we can sit down and talk to each other, and that pain . . . they said that it can cause fibroids in women, that's why black women have a lot of fibroids. Because all of that pain gets stuffed inside. . . . That's why black men . . . die so early. You know, if you take out the factors of drinking, and smoking, and why is it that black men die from heart disease or from-it's that stuffing inside of those subtle things that we, that we just, that we can't say anything . . . .

From this perspective, it seems discrimination has many consequences, ranging from fibroids to heart disease. To ease their pain stemming from racial harassment, some African Americans smoke and use alcohol excessively. Benjamin suggests that racial barriers are likely to be associated with stress patterns, alcohol abuse and other health problems. Gibbs similarly contends that anger created in black men by racial discrimination is likely to manifest itself in chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, and psychosomatic complaints such as headaches.

A. Headaches

A number of male and female respondents spoke of severe headaches that they attributed to workplace stress, such as a nurse in the Midwest: "I would have this headache and it would be for eight hours until I walked out the door and then it was like . . . a weight was lifted off." A social services coordinator described headaches and other consequences in a discussion of discriminatory work conditions:

I was having severe headaches and chest pains. . . . It would be times when I would almost be in the office hyperventilating. And . . . it was just a lot of physical things happening to me. I would pull hair more, because, just the stress, you know? You just, you're trying to do so much, and collect your thoughts and do what needs to be done. And my hair had fallen out in the back of, the back of my hair, it just had fallen out! . . . And the headaches were just, just terrible, just unbearable. And it's also a psychological kind of ill, in that, well you know if [white] people are constantly watching you. . . . But it, it's just amazing the psychological ill that it does to you. And even though you know you're competent? People can do that so much to you . . . they can get in meetings and try to show you up and make you look like you just don't know anything. And it is so many of them, you are outnumbered! Sometimes, you come out, and lash out, and you almost validate what they're trying to say about you, because you feel outnumbered! . . . So, you, you begin to doubt yourself, you begin to psychologically feel somewhat incompetent. . . . So, it, it can take a toll on you, and I think it takes more of a psychological toll on us than we even care to admit.

Headaches are only one part of an often complex set of consequences that come from coping with hostile or unsupportive whites in a workplace with fewAfrican Americans. Chest pains, hyperventilating, and serious psychological doubts also accompany headaches that stem from whites questioning African Americans' competence and abilities.

B. High Blood Pressure

Recent research reports have indicated that high blood pressure is a serious problem among black Americans. A few studies have shown that stressful life events, such as racial inequalities, are linked to high blood pressure. For African Americans, socioeconomic status has been shown to be associated with blood pressure and hypertension; as socioeconomic status decreases, blood pressure increases. A recent research study of 1784 African Americans found that this relationship may be in part due to poorer nutrition of those with lower socioeconomic status. Yet, racism also has an effect. Research by Krieger and Sidney examined stress and blood pressure in over 2000 African Americans. Those who gave accounts of facing discrimination on three or more of seven situational questions tended to have higher blood pressure than those who reported facing discrimination on one or two questions. In a previous study, Krieger found that black Americans who usually keep quiet about or accept unfair treatment are more likely to report hypertension problems than those who talk to others and take action against unfair treatment. Another study, which controlled for age and weight, found that higher levels of discrimination were positively related to higher blood pressure for African Americans. Still other studies have found that for hypertension, as well as for certain forms of cancer, socioeconomic status alone did not account for differences in illness rates between whites and African Americans.

Recent research has associated a cultural pattern known as "John Henryism" with higher blood pressure. "John Henryism" refers to the attempts made by African Americans to control their environment through hard work. These attempts amount to long-term, intensive contending with the psychosocial stressors associated with dealing with racism. Sherman James and his colleagues have found that African Americans with higher "John Henryism" are more likely to have high blood pressure. Several focus group participants gave details on how hypertension is linked to racial stress, including that encountered at work. One nurse in the Midwest commented on her reactions as she enters the driveway of the place where she is employed:

That's when I got high blood pressure. And my doctor . . . I told him what my reaction, my body's reaction would be when I would go to this place of employment . . . . which was a nursing home. When I turned into the driveway I got a major headache. I had this headache eight hours until I walked out that door leaving there. . . . I went to the doctor because the headaches had been so continuously. And he said, "[Her name], you need to find a job because you do not like where you work." And within myself I knew that was true. But also within myself I knew I had to have a job because I had children to take care of. But going through what I was going through wasn't really worth it because I was breaking my own self down. . . . It was constant intimidation. Constant racism, but in a subtle way. You know, but enough whereas you were never comfortable. . . . And then I finally ended up on high blood pressure pills because for the longest, I tried to keep low. I tried not to make waves. It didn't work. I hurt me.

Again the workplace is filled with the headaches and other pains of "constant racism."

In one focus group, a secretary working in the South believed that being repeatedly passed over for promotions caused her hypertension:

And to me, it hurt me deeply. . . . So I had, you know, I had stood in prayer lines for prayer, to help me ease my mind and everything. To help me say the right thing, or go to the right, appropriate department, to get, you know, get it started. And it was just hard, because I was real hurt, and sometimes I would just down and cry about it. . . . So, well, to make the story short, I had applied for a promotion, and I had applied for this promotion twice. . . . I was tired, I was getting stressed out, and everything, and plus this-so I was in a lot of pain, so I think I built up my blood pressure, really.

Later, this woman required a doctor's care for her high blood pressure:

I had to see several doctors, because of the discrimination, and I went through a lot of stress. And then, my blood pressure, I had never had high blood pressure, and all of the sudden, it just went on the rise, and I couldn't control it. And . . . [her supervisor] wanted me to perform the duties, you know, totally by myself, which it took like three, two or three people to do.

This account underscores the levels of pain and the loss of energy involved in contending with mistreatment seen as racially motivated. Using religion for solace, as well as speaking out, are strategies for the daily struggle. Although this woman noted in the interview that she finally received the help needed at work, the damage to her health had already been done.

As we have noted previously, in the focus groups, the suffering of other African Americans was sometimes cited as a cause of personal stress for the commentator. In one focus group an engineer explained how he empathized with a fellow employee who developed hypertension:

I have a prime example of this, this has actually happened in our job. A particular [black] person in our, in the branch. . . . was being discriminated against. The supervisor knew of it, and-what was happening, all our branch chiefs, they knew of it. And knew that the [white] supervisor was discriminating against this young lady. And, matter of fact, it drove this young lady to where now she's on high blood pressure medicine, and it really affected her. She wasn't getting promoted and all that. And the branch chief knew what was going on. . . . But the thing is, is that this person went through all that, and now the person is on high blood [pressure medicine]-it affected her mentally and physically.

Being hired is only the first hurdle for black employees. For recurring promotion problems are also reported by African American employees in a variety of businesses. Not surprisingly, they create great stress. In late 1996, some unexpected evidence of this problem surfaced on an audiotape made of top Texaco executives discussing a lawsuit brought by black employees, some of whom asserted they had been passed over for promotions because they were black. In the taped meeting the white executives did not take the reports of the black employees about the pain and frustrations of a "hostile racial environment" seriously.

C. Stomach Problems and Emotional Distress

According to several of the focus group participants, stress in the workplace creates or contributes significantly to stomach and other intestinal problems. A telephone technician explained the intertwined nature of psychological and physical problems resulting from overt racial animosity:

Well, psychologically, the psychological part and the physical part kind of go hand and hand. . . . And I have never been a sickly type person, and I had never had any problems with my stomach, but I actually did have to go to the doctor, and the doctor said I was having-they ran a test and he diagnosed it as gastrointestinal problems. And . . . depending on the amount of stress work would be in, I would actually have serious attacks, where I would really get, really feverish, high fever, and I would just get real, real sick. And they prescribed Tagamet . . . for me to take, but after taking that a couple of times, it made me really sick, and so, when I would have these gastrointestinal, these attacks, I would just kind of really have to go through it. And a lot of times my job would just be so stressful, because I work for people that . . . they were overt . . . not covert . . . they'd just flat out let you know that they just didn't like black folks . . . . I worked with those kind of people. And even though I kind of enjoyed my work, I didn't enjoy those people, because they could make the situation really hard for me. . . . And they would actually try to find . . . something wrong with [your work] . . . and that would just bug me, because, you know, I know that I meticulously try to do it, but even in that they could come right behind me and try to pinpoint little, little small things, and find something wrong with it.

Then she added how she copes in advance: "It was very, very stressful, because every day you're constantly mentally trying to prepare yourself when you get out of the car in the morning and you go in, go into work, you're trying to prepare yourself, 'Well what do I have to face today?"' One factor in the personal cost of discrimination is that which comes from having to be constantly prepared. One strategy used by African Americans to counter mistreatment from whites is to put on a defensive "shield," the term used in a conversation with a retired teacher recorded by Feagin and Sikes. In that account an older black woman contrasted her life with that of a white woman, who, like her, bathes and dresses before leaving the house. Unlike the white woman, however, she must put on her "shield" just before she leaves. She noted that for six decades, she has had to prepare herself in advance for the often unpredictable racist actions in the white worlds she often traverses.

Another woman, a supervisor in the Southeast, reported stomach problems that she believed stemmed from actions of a fellow white employee:

But I was just so frustrated because she was . . . prejudiced, and she let it be known. And even though I confronted her on it, and any time she would say something to me, and I would tell her, I said "Look, if you can't deal with me on a professional level, then don't deal with me at all." And she was the type that, she would just do little things. And that just would annoy me . . . and I never knew it then, and then I was reading a book one day, and it said don't let things bother you, because, you know, physical breakdown. . . . I can't really say it's an ulcer, but I had stomach problems. I'm gonna tell you what, what I did come to find out about her, though, was that sometimes when people are like that . . . she was raised in [names a southern state], this is backwoods. So she was brought up that black people-you know to treat us like that. And I told her, I said, "Well, you can't treat-everybody's not the same, what if I treat all white people bad? You know, call you all kind of names and everything like that? That's not fair!" I said, "Because I could miss out on a good friend, or a good person." And it took some convincing, but what I did, I didn't step to her level. Because she would [say] little things-I would never get upset with her, but I always remained myself, because I didn't want her to think that she was getting next to me, because once they figure that out, then they really start to pour it on. . . . . But see, sometimes people do you like that, it was a girl at work . . . she called me and another girl . . . a "nigger" one day. And the other girl got mad, was very, was ready to fight.

Physical ailments are only one aspect of such complex situations. Again one sees the energy lost in making and implementing one's decision about interpersonal confrontations over racial matters. This black woman shows much understanding and even forgiveness for a white employee. In a later account, not quoted here, she relates how the woman became sick and how the respondent was the one who accompanied the woman to the hospital and stayed with her. In the end, the white woman eventually told the respondent that "all black people aren't bad." This black woman was able to treat the prejudiced white woman with compassion despite how the white woman had treated her.


A. Family Costs

As some of the respondents have already noted, the damage of a racially hostile or unsupportive employment situation does not end at the workplace door. An individual's experience with racial animosity and mistreatment at work not only is personally painful at the moment it happens, but also can have a cumulative and negative impact on other individuals, on one's family, and on one's community.

Bringing frustrations home can have negative effects on families and relationships, such as the lack of energy that a father mentioned previously has for doing things with his young son. The harmful effects of bringing discrimination home to one's family was clearly elucidated by one concerned mother, who is a social services administrator:

So many times, after you've experienced an eight whole hours of discrimination, either directly or indirectly, it really doesn't put you in the mood to go home and read that wonderful bedtime story. You're just tired, and you just want to get somewhere, and really, you're crying on the inside, and you may not really want to admit [it] to yourself. Because all us like to think we're in control of what's happening to us. And I think we all deal with it differently. And that anger sometimes builds up, and you're not even aware that it's there, so the moment your spouse, or your child, if there is anything that may seem like it was a belittling or demeaning, you're responding to them with a level of anger, even, that really is inappropriate for the situation. But what you're really responding to is that eight hours prior to getting home.

She then reiterated how often she had to deal with substantial amounts of stored-up anger:

And I know several times . . . well, a couple of times I totally forgot to pick my child up from school! Because I was so engrossed with trying to make sure that I do this, because if I don't do this, I'm gonna duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah. . . . My daughter had gotten to the point during that year when I was under all that stress, till she would tell me four and five times, she would remind me "Mom, I'm having this at school." And then she would get to school, and she would call me-one day she called me to remind me about something, I was supposed to pick her up, or something, and I just sat at my desk, and I just boo-hooed, I said, "My baby doesn't have any confidence in me anymore. . . . I'm really not there.". . . And that, really, that was really the beginning of me saying "Look, nobody's gonna do anything to get this on track for you, you got to get this on track for yourself." And then, sometimes you go home and you've held your peace so long, till the first hour that you walk in the door, you're still dealing with everything. You may even be dealing with it verbally. . . . And then, they have their own issues to deal with that day. And like, they just want to have dinner and relax, you know? So your family, inevitably I'd say, suffers. We bring all of that baggage home, and then we wonder why our relationships are in trouble.

Whether a person recognizes the harmful effects of bringing anger home from work to the extent this woman does, struggles with discrimination can lead to a variety of suffering for others, as in this case for a child who is forgotten at school or for a spouse who wants to relax. Sharing problems with animosity and discrimination can create a domino effect of anguish and anger rippling across an extended group. Another result of using families as a resource to deal with the stress of racism can be troubled relationships. It has often been noted that black women are more likely than white women to become separated or divorced and less likely to remarry. Nonetheless, the direct, negative impact of everyday racism on the difficulties faced by black families has not been featured in the mainstream literature on the so-called "broken" and "disorganized" black families.

B. The Community Impact

The impact of marginalization at work can carry over into community activities. Black workers' lack of energy affects motivation to socialize outside the home and to participate in community activities. The social services worker who discussed her family above reported that she had withdrawn from activities in her community because of the drain on her energy caused by racial animosity at work. A teacher described having to give up participation in community groups because of lack of energy:

At one point we had started a minority action committee which is still in existence, with the school district. And it's interesting because it's very hard to get people after they've fought all day, in a sense, that have enough energy to come out and support an effort like that where it is needed. We know the racism is out there, we know we need to fight for our kids-that was the main thrust of it when we came together. We could see it happening in the schools everyday, particularly to our black boys. . . . And we endeavored to do something about it, but, as I was saying, we were just so drained, it just never got off, off the ground. [speaking quietly] Hopefully, somebody might . . . .

Other participants echoed this sentiment, noting the impact of the energy loss on various community and church activities. Note here that there is both a personal and a community cost. Part of the personal price is not being able to be fully involved, which includes meaningful interaction in community groups and associations.

The spin-off effects of animosity and mistreatment in employment settings can be seen in other areas of the lives of African Americans. One respondent noted the negative impact on participation in church activities:

I have withdrawn from some of the things I was involved with at church that were very important to me, like dealing with the kids at church. Or we had an outreach ministry where we would go out into the low-income housing and we would share about our services, we would-And I was just so drained, like [names person] said, if we are all so drained, and we stop doing that, then we lose our connection. But I, physically, by the time I got home at the end of the day, I was just so tired, I didn't evenfeel like giving back to my community, I didn't feel like doing anything. And so I withdrew from church activities, to the point where I just really was not contributing anything. And it was pulling all that energy, I was exhausted from dealing with what I had to at work. And then whatever little bit was left, went to my family, so there was nothing there to give.

The overwhelming impact of workplace racism is graphically described, for even church activities become a problem for this person. These economically successful African Americans can be important role models in their local communities, but only if they have the energy to participate actively in churches and other community organizations.

From their discussions of the energy-draining aspects of discrimination, one might wonder how African Americans have developed community organizations and resistance movements over the centuries. Most overcome the everyday racism enough to stay in life's struggles. Interestingly, the post-World War II "medical civil rights movement," which was an effort by African Americans to gain equal access to quality health care, was a precursor to the larger civil rights movement of the 1960s. Such efforts, as well as the efforts involved for the success of the more general civil rights movement of the 1960s, required that African American activists have good health and the energy necessary to struggle for societal change. While some people drop out entirely, most seem to stay in the struggle most of the time and exert great energy to overcome the barriers. The retired professor who spoke earlier of the "ergs of energy" lost because of discrimination also noted his many accomplishments and the issue of what he might have accomplished without racial barriers.

Accumulating discrimination in predominantly white work settings creates serious difficulties not only for African American employees but also for ongoing group relations in these places. A number of comments by the focus group participants suggest or imply that animosity exhibited by white employees makes normal interaction across the racial line difficult or impossible. Incidents at work disrupt lives by changing the meaning of the most commonplace of everyday interactions. Moreover, there is much unnecessary stress in forming new white contacts when one is suspected of being a discriminator. Several respondents noted that they felt a need to keep a distance from whites at work. Indeed, most seemed to agree with this respondent in his evaluation of coping with white hatred: "I think what helps us as being black now, we understand what these [white] people think. We understand why they have hate. Where before, coming off the boat when we were slaves we didn't understand it." Note too that slavery still remains a reference point for African Americans, even though many white Americans see it as a part of a very distant and irrelevant past.


Some literature suggests a "declining significance of race," and an increasing importance of class, in regard to the situation of African Americans nationally. Other more recent research goes further to assert the "end of racism" in U.S. society today. Our research flatly contradicts both the assertion that racial discrimination is being replaced by class discrimination, and that racism has been substantially or entirely eradicated. While both class and racial characteristics have been shown to interact and cause health problems for African Americans, our interviews with relatively affluent African Americans demonstrate that racism alone is enough to create serious health problems for them. A racialized society exists because discrimination is practiced, rewarded, or ignored within important social settings such as historically white workplaces. Our data and that of other recent studies undertaken by the authors and other scholars indicate that discrimination by white Americans targeting African Americans is still commonplace in a variety of arenas, including government and corporate workplaces.

Much research on racial relations focuses on the attitudes of those who discriminate rather than on the suffering inflictedon the targets of discrimination. A fleshed-out perspective on discrimination directs us to pay attention to particular social settings and to the consequences of racial discrimination in such settings. Recurring discrimination in workplaces and elsewhere wastes human beings and human capital and seriously restricts and marginalizes its victims, destroying the possibility of completely normal lives. This discrimination is so dehumanizing that in discussing it some black workers even make reference to the "slave-master mentality" of discriminating whites and to "feeling like a slave" in white workplaces. By marginalizing and dehumanizing black workers, whites cause them and their loved ones much damage, pain, and suffering. According to the accounts of the respondents, the damage takes many forms. The negative impact of racial animosity and discrimination includes a sense of threat at work, lowered self- esteem, rage at mistreatment, depression, the development of defensive tactics, a reduction in desire for normal interaction at work, and other psychological problems.

Our respondents understood that the often high level of racialized stress in workplaces has generated or aggravated their physical health problems. Most recognize the threat discrimination brings to their health, and most try hard to fight it and its consequences. Not surprisingly in the light of the data from the focus groups, a growing public health literature indicates that there are wide disparities in the physical health of white Americans and African Americans, as well as in the application and use of medical services. A full understanding of the physical and psychological suffering of black Americans at the hands of white Americans necessitates a close look at the character and impact of the discriminatory workplaces as they are experienced by workers. Sentient human beings react seriously, in their minds and bodies, to mistreatment and discrimination. The recurring and dehumanizing discrimination creates, among other things, marginalization, impotent despair, and rage over persisting injustice.

Our data show that the costs of racial animosity and discrimination extend beyond the individual to families and communities. Social scientists have written much over the last few decades about problems in black families and communities. This discussion often focuses on the so-called "broken" or "disorganized" black families, with the responsibility for these conditions commonly placed on African Americans for not maintaining their families and communities and for not adhering to certain values. In contrast, more structural and contextualized accounts of these family and community problems fault the U.S. economy for its failure to provide enough job training or jobs. Yet, to our knowledge, nowhere in the social science literature is there a serious discussion of the points made by the focus group participants about the direct and harsh impact of racial animosity and discrimination on their families, voluntary associations, and communities. The long era of racial discrimination has often reduced the energy available to African Americans to build stronger and better families and communities. While many have managed to build strong families and communities in spite of discrimination, they have done this by exerting super-human efforts that take toll in their personal health or on the ability to maximize contributions to the larger society. These focus group accounts suggest that the total cost of racial animosity and discrimination is much higher than most social science, legal, and journalistic commentaries have heretofore recognized.

African Americans remain central to the costly system of racial oppression in the United States, and they have long been among the strongest carriers of the ideals of liberty and social justice. In spite of the weight of racial oppression, most have been creative and successful in their lives and communities, and most have regularly pressed the society in the direction of greater liberty and justice. Indeed, their sense of social justice has perhaps the greatest potential for stimulating further movement by this society in the direction of its egalitarian and democratic ideals. African Americans have developed large-scale social movements twice in U.S. history, and smaller-scale movements many other times. Significantly, most African Americans have not retreated to a debilitating pessimism but have slowly pressed onward. Today, they join religious, civic, and civil rights organizations working to eradicate systemic racism, to get civil rights laws enforced, and to secure better living conditions for Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. There are lessons here for all Americans concerned with eliminating systemic racism in the United States.

Today, the state and federal court systems face many challenges, not the least of which is the fact that the U.S. population is rapidly becoming less white and European and much more Asian, Latino, African, and Native American in its composition. In spite of these changes over the last few decades, however, the overwhelming majority of district attorneys, judges, and court administrators are still white. This means major and increasing problems for the court system. As the mostly white judges look across the bench at growing numbers of defendants of color, their understanding of those they face, and their ability to mete out justice, are likely to be affected by the heritage of white racism that is imbedded not only in the court systems but in all major institutions. These understandings (or lack of understanding) sometimes result in court decisions, such as the Etter decision by a California court, that do not view black workers' representations of pain and suffering from recurring racial insults as severe. In that case, racist epithets such as "Buckwheat," "Jemima," and the like were not seen as "sufficiently severe or pervasive" to warrant a judicial remedy. Yet, as we have shown, racists epithets and incidents can be veryserious, painful, and damaging to their African American targets. The hurling of even a few racist words can be a very hostile and discriminatory act, and that can in turn generate much pain, especially since even one such act can trigger memories of accumulated experiences with racism by those so targeted.

In the Etter case, a white judge called on a jury to assess if the reported antiblack conduct would be considered severe by a "reasonable person of the Plaintiff's race." However, judging from the data in our focus groups and in studies of whites we have cited, the pain and suffering most African Americans endure because of continuing racism are likely not known to or understood by most whites, be they white jurors or other white Americans. How then can whites presume to answer the judge's critical question?

As we see it, such questions can be most meaningfully and reliably answered when there are larger, or representative, numbers of African Americans in the state and federal court systems. If we are to achieve the dream of a truly just society, we must greatly expand the input into our justice systems by African Americans and other Americans of color - at all levels, from policing, to prosecution, to administration, to courts, and to prisons. It is past time for the U.S. justice system to become much more democratic, multiracial, and multivoiced in its management and everyday operation. And it is past time for the pain, suffering, and anger that African Americans and other Americans of color confront because of widespread discrimination to be truly heard in the justice system.


Subcategories

Defining Racial Groups
Article Count:
52
American Indian and Inuits
Article Count:
8
Hispanic/Latino Americans
Article Count:
8
White (European) American
Article Count:
16
Biracial and Multiracial
Article Count:
0
Other Racial Groups
Article Count:
1
What is Race?
Article Count:
14

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