Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Racism Double-Take

There was story in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about more blacks filing complaints that they had been passed over for jobs in favor of less-qualified Latino candidates.

My immediate reaction to the headline was an eyeball roll -- "Oh, gosh, how many other people do we have to blame? How many other minorities are going to pass by the African-Americans before they start to realize that they can move up the ladder, too?"

Then I started to think as I imagined employers would think: "I have two candidates, but Hispanics have a reputation for being family-oriented, conservative, religious, with strong communities and strong work ethics. Maybe I'm better off with the Latino . . . ?" And I'm thinking, well, yeah, maybe I can see why they might favor one minority over the other. Even if it is somewhat racist, there may be enough truth in it to push them over the edge.

But then I get my own subtle racism pushed back in my face. Because, in my typical middle-class white prejudices, I assumed that the people doing the hiring and the discriminating were white. As I read further in the story, it comes out that the reported cases of racism in hiring were from companies with all-Latino managers. It turns out that it's true the Latinos are community-oriented: that means they hire the people they know, the people in the neighborhood, their uncle's cousin's nephews . . . that is to say, their own kind. They don't want to be seen as giving away jobs to the blacks that they could have given to one of their own community.

So, what I thought was going to a story about the subtle racial prejudices of whites turns out to be a much simpler story of the blatant racism of Latinos. And I get the double-whammy of thinking -- Jeez, it never occurred to me that the Latinos would be doing the hiring . . . I'm so used to seeing them as the immigrant laborers that it never dawned on me that they're moving up the ladder. "The soft bigotry of low expectations." And then I find that the people I thought I was admiring, but really dissing, were actually doing something very recognizably racist . . .

And then I back off and think -- "What a moment . . . if a black-owned, black-run company made a point of hiring only blacks, as a way of supporting their community . . . would we call it racism? Or would we see it as a legitimate attempt to help a disadvantaged population move up in the world?"



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