II. Stereotypical Biases Adversely Impact the Employment of African-American Males
A. Why Are African-American Males Unemployed or Underemployed?
There are a number of factors that negatively impact the employability and status of African-American males in the workplace. Debilitating factors such as the change from an industrial economy to a service-oriented economy, recessionary periods, the movement of blue collar and manufacturing jobs from urban inner-cities to suburbs or out of the country, the elimination of semi-skilled and unskilled occupations, the influx of immigrants willing to accept jobs traditionally filled by African-American males, and a lack of education and training have all proven to be direct causes of unemployment of African-American males, especially young African-American males. These factors impact white males, of course, but to a lesser extent.
African-American males, however, are generally impacted by other factors which are discriminatory. These additional discriminatory factors have resulted in African-American males being intentionally and systematically denied employment and advancement opportunities. Even college-educated African-American males cannot shield themselves from stereotypical biases; they too face intentional discrimination in the workplace.
Employers also intentionally exclude African-American males from senior level positions and positions where they have contact with the public because of perceived and actual consumer prejudice directed at African-American males.
When African-American males are employed they are more likely to be suspended or terminated than white male employees who are involved in the same or similar infractions. African-American males are harassed and denied work assignments which could lead to upward mobility.
They are also assigned the less desirable duties in organizations, more often accused of and terminated for sexual harassment, monitored more closely, receive lower performance evaluations, and are continuously confronted with hostility in the workplace.
A further cause of unemployment, underemployment and discrimination against African-American males stems from stereotypical biases about African-American males which originated during slavery and have perpetuated and evolved through the twentieth century. White Americans, as well as other minority groups, are steeped with such negative stereotypical attitudes and images about African-American males that every major institutional and organizational system adversely impacts African-American males. Whether it is the country's educational system, the judicial system (both civil and criminal), the military, the media, housing, health, politics or even sports, African-American males are negatively perceived and disproportionately impacted by policies and practices. Employment discrimination is just a small part of a national virus that is having a devastating effect on the status of African-American males, both socially and economically.
B. Negative Stereotypical Biases Against African-American Males
Historically, negative stereotypical biases and attitudes about and directed at African-American males have existed since America was officially recorded as being discovered in 1492. These biases toward African-American males have since expanded and linger on as we move into the twenty-first century. Slavery in America ended more than 100 years ago, but negative images of African-American males by white Americans have only marginally improved; some would even suggest that they have, in fact, deteriorated during the twentieth century.
During the past century, however, one noticeable superficial metamorphosis has been obvious; what we call African-American males. African-American males have gone from being called a “mandego” during the slavery period, to “nigger boy” in the 1930s and 1940s, to “nigga” or “negro” in the 1950s and 1960s, to “black” male in the 1970s and 1980s to the present politically correct term, “African-American” male. During each of these periods, stereotypical biases about African-American males can be identified. They include having sexual prowess, ignorance, lack of skill and education, violent tendencies, and arrogance. Unfortunately, these negative perceptions and fears of African-American males by white Americans during these periods did not end as a decade ended, but carried forward to become permanently ingrained in our American culture.
Various reports, studies and surveys confirm that basically every personality trait, physical characteristic, work ethic and even the mere persona of African-American males are perceived by white Americans, and increasingly by foreigners, as negative. The general sentiment is that African-American males have no desire to be productive citizens. They are less intelligent, are drug dealers and addicts, possess the propensity to be violent, are genetically flawed, sexually crave white females, engage in criminal activities, are members of gangs and are rapists. This represents only a partial list of stereotypical biases directed at African-American males. Negative images of African-American men as being “bogeymen” and “predators” have become so prevalent that when African-American males are falsely accused of committing a vicious criminalact, law enforcement authorities and the public automatically assume they are guilty.
America is primarily segregated by race; thus, many white Americans have no positive experiences with African-American males. White Americans typically draw their perceptions of African-American males from the media, the press, television and motion pictures which project African-American males as being violent and involved in some form of criminal activity. The local news and even best selling novels perpetuate negative stereotypes about African-American males. It appears that when African-American males are projected on the screen as being violent, shiftless or drug addicts, the results are higher ratings and bigger box office attendance and sales. Consequently, Hollywood appears to be more interested in making these types of movies, rather than portraying African-American males as hard working, productive citizens. Such negative portrayals have left most white Americans, if not fearing all African-American males, feeling uncomfortable in their presence.
C. Impact on Employment Decisions
Whether it is intentional or unintentional these stereotypical biases become factors that organizations consider when making employment decisions (for example, to hire, promote or terminate African-American males). “Will the African-American male ‘fit’ into the organization?” “How will white employees feel if we promote an African-American male over them?” “Will the black male applicant be on time if we hire him?” The African-American male applicant or employee drives an expensive car--“Did he steal it?” or “Does he sell drugs?” The African-American male employee wears designer clothes--“Did he steal them?” These are conscious and unconscious thoughts employers ponder as they make employment decisions. Such stereotypical considerations violate state and federal employment discrimination laws, but they are difficult to prove. Employers will, of course, emphatically deny that such considerations are factors in the employment process.
Discrimination against African-American males occurs at all stages of the employment process. Recruitment practices, the employment application, the interview, job assignments, job classification, training, performance evaluations, promotions and terms and conditions of employment are all used as methods of exclusion and termination. Similarly, African-American males have been historically discriminated against in all major industries, such as trucking, construction, railroad and manufacturing.
Discriminatory biases against African-American males have become institutionalized as an integral part of the employment process; thus, becoming the kind of “built-in headwinds” the Supreme Court identified as invidious forms of discrimination Congress was trying to prohibit. More than twenty years ago, three African-American males brought a class action suit against their employer, General Motors, alleging that its promotion and transfer procedures were racially discriminatory. The Fifth Circuit, agreeing with the plaintiffs' argument, expressed skepticism that African-Americans would receive an equal chance for promotional opportunities where the system relied primarily on subjective recommendationsfrom the selecting official. The selecting official acknowledged during his testimony that he did not have the same opinion of African-Americans that he had of whites, had no personal friends who were African-American, was a member of a segregated church, as well as a segregated club, and he mixed better with whites than with African-Americans. Today, twenty-five years later, most white Americans, especially the middle class, would be compelled to give the same testimony. The “good ole boys” network gives preference to those who are most alike and familiar with selecting officials. Given that America, without question, still remains a segregated society, as innocently expressed in the above testimony, stereotypical biases dominate selection and promotional processes to the exclusion of African-American males who are veiled with images of incompetency.