Nance recently worked with Christine Michel Carter of Health on an article about institutionalized racism. Here’s a draft of what they discussed, much of which was disappointingly cut from the final article:
Nance has been trying to understand racism for much of her life. In her experience, institutional racism has presented itself more subtly in recent years than in America’s past. “What was once overt discrimination is now more covert and often hidden until someone speaks up.” For example, when Schick was a little girl in Kentucky, it was not uncommon for her to hear someone openly use the n word when they saw a black person. She probably even repeated it, which makes her teary-eyed and disgusted with herself and the people around her at those times.
As she grew up, Schick heard the n word less frequently. Other terms replaced it, such as welfare queen, pimp, and gang banger. In the workplace, the terms were unprofessional or low-class. This does not mean every time those terms are used that they are racist, but in her law and mediation practice, she has often seen them used in that context. In those cases, the intent was to diminish and dismiss Black candidates or employees.
Today, institutional racism is not as frequently identified by the clear policies and signage that once littered the country. No leader in their right mind or with competent legal counsel would document a prohibition of hiring specific races. Yet preferences can be identified from other consistent behaviors, often based on hidden biases. Dress codes are one example, which is why California and New York City codified the illegality of discriminating against people based on their hairstyle.
There are still many employers who have restrictions on a man’s hair being longer than one inch above his collar, even in industries where collared shirts are optional. Many still restrict employees from everything from weaves and dreadlocks to unnatural colors. None of these are inherently racist, but they can have a disparate impact, or unfair outcome, because of the history of biases against hairstyles believed to be more prevalent in Black communities. Declaring certain hairstyles unprofessional historically restricted qualified Black candidates from gainful employment. Yet hairstyle often has little to do with an employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job—a consideration Schick borrows from the Americans with Disabilities Act when training managers and small business owners to consider the fairness of their policies.
Schick succinctly summarizes how America can combat institutional racism: with pure intention. “It’s getting harder for all of us to claim ignorance. It’s time to make a change. And perhaps that is where it begins—with pure intention. Adding courage and action, big changes can occur. But we likely have to do some deep soul searching first and accept that it’s going to be uncomfortable. Nevertheless, this is where we must begin. Again.” Some changes she suggests:
- Don’t stop with one Black friend and think you know enough about the Black experience. One person does not represent an entire group of people.
- Ask more questions and listen for the hurts you can heal. You can’t heal every hurt, but there is likely something you have the time, money, energy, or expertise to relieve.
- Look for top-down and bottom-up solutions. Go to town halls, school board meetings, and other places people are discussing solutions. Protests and books are great for creating awareness, but we have awareness now. It’s time for solutions at every level.
- Speak up when you see changes that can be made, regardless of how small. Sometimes the change is in a policy. At other times, it’s in an individual’s behavior.
- Develop your persuasion and sales skills. Demands aren’t typically accepted without resistance and might be best reserved for times in which there is a danger of imminent harm. Most of the time, you will need to sell decision-makers on a potential solution, which means you will need to know how it could be executed and toward what desired result.
Click here to read the final article, which includes insight from other contributors.
Having a difficult time understanding institutionalized racism?
Nance L. Schick, Esq., is a workplace attorney, ethno-religious mediator, and conflict resolution coach based in New York City. Her goal is to keep you out of court and build your conflict resolution skills so everyone has a better work experience. She helps managers and business owners have empowering conversations about emotionally-charged issues such as gender, race, religion, and disability. She is creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution, and an award-winning entrepreneur acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018, 2019 & 2020), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards).