Part 3

Institutionalized Racism

In 2003, a study carried out by researchers Bertrand and Mullainathan sought to uncover patterns of racial discrimination within the U.S. labor market. They sent out a total of 5,000 resumes to over 1,000 employers. Half of the resumes had names that were common among blacks (Tanisha, Jamal, Lakisha, Tyrone) and the other half had names that were common among whites (Emily, Brad, Greg, Kristen.) Their findings were that white-sounding names received 50 percent more callbacks than black sounding names. According to their findings, those with white sounding names had to send out a total of 10 resumes to get one callback while resumes with African Americans names had to send out 15. Whites with better quality resumes (more experience and education) were 30 percent more likely to get callbacks than whites with lower quality resumes. For African Americans with better quality resumes, there was a lower percentage of callback rates. What this seemed to indicate was that more education and experience was not as important to employers when the applicant was black than it is when the applicant is white. Overall, the study showed that there was differential treatment in the U.S. labor market based on race.

Median Yearly Income for Full-Time, Year Round Workers: 2005

Race Male Female
White, non-Hispanic 46,807 34,190
African American 34,433 29,588
Asian American 48,693 37,792
Native American 33,520 27,977
Hispanic 27,380 24,451
Source:  U.S. Census Bureau, 2006

Racism and prejudice seem almost invisible in today’s society. People are less likely to use racial slurs, and if they do, it is rarely in mixed company. In fact, many people in America believe that racism and discrimination are no longer a problem in our society. Middle class whites are especially prone to believe this because they are less likely to feel the effects of racism first hand. Many middle class minorities refuse to discuss the problems of racism and discrimination for fear that whites will think they are “playing the race card.”

Another reason racism and discrimination are so difficult to see is because they have become patterned into the structure of society. Institutionalized discrimination refers to patterns of discrimination that exist within social institutions. These behaviors are so patterned that they sometimes seem invisible to us. The Glass Ceiling is an excellent example of institutionalized discrimination. This is when women and minorities are unable to advance into top-level positions in the workplace. It is called the glass ceiling because it is like an invisible barrier. Women and minorities can see the top and see people, mostly white males, move beyond the barrier, but they can never make it themselves. This type of discrimination is more subtle and easily overlooked.

One area where institutionalized discrimination is the most difficult to see is in patterns of residential segregation. This occurs when people live in areas where  there is a higher concentration of people from a certain race or ethnic group. While it is true that most people make their own choices about where they want to live, others do not have the same opportunities available to them. . Most middle and upper class whites can afford to move to newer areas of the city or suburbs where property values are higher. They choose to move into these areas because they are safe places and the schools are better. However, when minorities move into these same neighborhoods, many middle class whites move out for fear property values will decline. These families may even sell their homes at lower prices for a quick sale.. Often, these behaviors create a self-fulfilling prophecy where property values actually do decline.

However, residential segregation is not always a choice.  There are economic factors as well as discrimination within the housing market that circumscribe the choices a family has to make. Typically, low income African American and Hispanic families are less likely to have opportunities to move to the more affluent neighborhoods. For families in poverty, there is an even higher concentration of segregation, especially in urban centers. These areas are plagued with high crime rates and, as the result of segregation in schools, these areas also have the highest drop-out rates.

Unequal funding in public schools is a serious problem associated with residential segregation. In the United States, the majority of school funds come from local property taxes. As a result, schools in wealthier neighborhoods receive more funding. To add to the disparity, parents in affluent neighborhoods donate more funds to schools through the PTA or book drives. What these patterns result in are better schools for some children with teachers who are paid considerably more than schools in low income neighborhoods.

No one can fault parents for wanting a good education for their children. But when schools are publicly funded, they should also be equal. Unfortunately, our school system does not reflect this sort of equality. It is not uncommon to see real estate ads that mention what schools are located near homes for sale. This is a major selling point for real estate agents. Meanwhile, children in the inner city, mostly African American and Hispanic children, are left far behind in a school system whose funding is anything but equal.