Institutional Racism, Part III: Racism or Preference? the Role of `Soft Skills' in Hiring

By Leigh, Wilhelmina A. | Nation's Cities Weekly, June 26, 2000 | Go to article overview

Institutional Racism, Part III: Racism or Preference? the Role of `Soft Skills' in Hiring


Leigh, Wilhelmina A., Nation's Cities Weekly


This week, Wilhelmina A. Leigh, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., talks about the complexity of identifying and dismantling institutional racism in the labor market. She reviews ongoing work by the Joint Center to understand the impact of "soft skills" (non-technical skills) in employers' hiring decisions, especially of African Americans and other people of color. Leigh has done work on health policy, housing policy, and labor market issues. Previously, she worked at the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Urban Institute, and the National Urban League. Her publications include an edited volume in the series The Black Worker in the 21st Century and Soft Skills Training: An Annotated Guide to Selected Programs.

Lessons from the 1960s

Back in the 1960s, I was an undergraduate student at an overwhelmingly white institution, in an overwhelmingly white city, in an overwhelmingly white part of the country. I and a handful of other black students in that same situation spent a lot of our time labeling the people and the places and the things around us as "racist"--e.g., "That was a `racist' faculty member; that was a `racist' city; That was a `racist' economics department."

Our activity achieved several things. First, we made some changes in the way the university operated and some of that has stuck. But we also learned quite a bit about what this animal, "racism," is, and I'm going to share some of those thoughts with you and explain how I think they might apply in some of the situations that you're dealing with in trying to address racism in the workforce.

The first thing we learned was that the only thing you can properly call racist is a person. A building is not racist; a department is not racist; and the city park is not racist by itself. It's only racist because people animate it in such a way that it operates as if it is racist.

I am not suggesting that we should all go on witch hunts and try to find the racist who is causing the workforce development system in your city to not operate the way you might like.

Rather, I am making that point so that we are clear: we need to look for behaviors that are either overt or covert. These may be behaviors that are either written down in laws, regulations, rules, policies and practices (overt). Or they may be behaviors that are not written down in laws, regulations, rules, policies and practices (covert), but that cause an institution to operate in such a way that its outcome can be characterized as racist.

`Racist' or Expression of Preference?

Second, we learned that it is sometimes very difficult to separate what is a racist action or racist behavior from what is simply the expression of preferences in the marketplace. Since the United States is a market-driven economic system and all markets--be it the market for shoes, labor or dresses--allow people to express their preferences, it becomes necessary to focus on that and figure out how to separate the two.

For instance, if you think about the market for shoes, and let's say that the only color shoes that are sold are either green or pink. And everybody who buys shoes does not like pink. They like green. So all the pink shoes stay in the stores and all the green shoes go home with people. Now is that racist? Are we discriminating against the pink shoes, or is this simply an expression of preference? It's necessary, but difficult, to figure out what's really going on.

Finally, we learned back in the 60's that even though we thought we were going to "huff and puff and blow down the house" of racism, it did not happen in the 1960s. And it hasn't happened since. Racism was alive and well before then, and it's alive and well now.

The Changing Face of Racism

What has happened is that racism has undergone a lot of changes. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Institutional Racism, Part III: Racism or Preference? the Role of `Soft Skills' in Hiring
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.