It has been almost 20 years since a young black journalist in Chicago, Leanita McClain, first captured public attention with a powerful guest column in Newsweek about the burden of being a middle- class black.
As a rising star at the Chicago Tribune, Ms. McClain acknowledged that she was "a credit to my race." Yet speaking for many blacks, she described the challenge of straddling two cultures. "I have a foot in each world, but I cannot fool myself about either," she wrote. "I know how tenuous my grip on one way of life is, and how strangling the grip of the other way of life can be." She added, "I have made it, but where? Racism still dogs my people."
In the two decades since McClain wrote her anguished piece, many more minorities in all fields can say with justifiable pride that they too have "made it." But they also know, all too well, that racism still dogs them and can threaten their advancement.
Three sobering reports this month show just how slow progress can be. In businesses, newsrooms like McClain's, and entertainment media, minorities still lag behind their white counterparts. They may be underpaid, underpromoted, or even invisible.
In the corporate world, minority women continue to trail both white women and minority men in management positions. According to a new three-year study by Catalyst in New York, minority women earn less than their white and male counterparts. The jobs they hold also remain more limited.
Calling this a "concrete ceiling," Catalyst, a not-for-profit group, notes that opportunities for minority women have failed to improve in the last five years. Ironically, it finds that even well- intentioned diversity programs often fail to deal with subtle racism and sexism at management levels.
For some minorities, the salary gap has actually widened. In 1993, Hispanic women earned almost 70 percent of what white male managers did. By 1998 that figure had dropped to approximately 60 percent.
The picture is similarly discouraging in newsrooms. When 5,000 minority …