Two Posts In One

One line we've heard, for some time, is that the racial gap is largely about the gap in education between black and white. I think there's a lot of truth to that. But it isn't the whole truth:

But there is ample evidence that racial inequities remain when it comes to employment. Black joblessness has long far outstripped that of whites. And strikingly, the disparity for the first 10 months of this year, as the recession has dragged on, has been even more pronounced for those with college degrees, compared with those without. Education, it seems, does not level the playing field -- in fact, it appears to have made it more uneven.

College-educated black men, especially, have struggled relative to their white counterparts in this downturn, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for black male college graduates 25 and older in 2009 has been nearly twice that of white male college graduates -- 8.4 percent compared with 4.4 percent.

I'm ambivalent about this story. I wish they'd pushed a little harder and tried to get at exactly what's happening. I understand that's a hard task--virtually no one will admit to discriminating. But there has to be some way to give more specifics on the employer side. Instead, we're kind of left with a lot of anecdotes from rightfully frustrated unemployed black folks with college degrees from prestigious institutions.

Still, the anecdotes are bracing and hauntingly familiar:

Johnny R. Williams, 30, would appear to be an unlikely person to have to fret about the impact of race on his job search, with companies like JPMorgan Chase and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago on his résumé.

But after graduating from business school last year and not having much success garnering interviews, he decided to retool his résumé, scrubbing it of any details that might tip off his skin color. His membership, for instance, in the African-American business students association? Deleted.

"If they're going to X me," Mr. Williams said, "I'd like to at least get in the door first."

Similarly, Barry Jabbar Sykes, 37, who has a degree in mathematics from Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, now uses Barry J. Sykes in his continuing search for an information technology position, even though he has gone by Jabbar his whole life.

"Barry sounds like I could be from Ireland," he said...

Many interviewed, however, wrestled with "pulling the race card," groping between their cynicism and desire to avoid the stigma that blacks are too quick to claim victimhood. After all, many had gone to good schools and had accomplished résumés. Some had grown up in well-to-do settings, with parents who had raised them never to doubt how high they could climb. Moreover, there is President Obama, perhaps the ultimate embodiment of that belief.

Adam picks up on this last point and discusses the  lack of incentive--from a black perspective--for downplaying discrimination:

...if you're black, why dwell on racial bias when it's something you can't really control? It's obvious that racism doesn't make success impossible, and things are obviously better now than they once were. It seems almost silly to complain given the historical context, and it's not like whining about racism is going to help you get a job. The whole world is already telling you you can't do X, why tell yourself?

This is something that, I suspect, a lot of white people don't realize, mostly because it's hard to capture on the evening news. If you're a black person out in the market, it really doesn't behoove you to think much about discrimination. There have been a few times, during my career, when I thought race was at play in my treatment by employers. But I always tried to throw it out my mind. I couldn't prove it. And even if I could, there was nothing I could really do.

I was in competition with a lot of other people who weren't black. Obsessing over discrimination would have been, from that perspective, like a rooking guarding Jordan complaining about the officiating. You aren't going to win, and it distracts you from actually doing your job. You may not like your assignment. It may be unfair. But that really isn't up to you. My charge was to find some way to win, not to enumerate the obstacles in the way.

When people look at Obama, Corey Booker, or Deval Patrick and how they discuss race, or evaluate the impact (if any) of racism on their lives, I think a lot of the same thing is at work. Why dwell on it? You're there to balance the budget, not assess and redeem white racists. In the campaign, Obama's people went so far as to instruct his campaign to downplay incidents of racism.

The bigotry has gone beyond words. In Vincennes, the Obama campaign office was vandalized at 2 a.m. on the eve of the primary, according to police. A large plate-glass window was smashed, an American flag stolen. Other windows were spray-painted with references to Obama's controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and other political messages: "Hamas votes BHO" and "We don't cling to guns or religion. Goddamn Wright."

Ray McCormick was notified of the incident at about 2:45 a.m. A farmer and conservationist, McCormick had erected a giant billboard on a major highway on behalf of Farmers for Obama. He also was housing the Obama campaign worker manning the office. When McCormick arrived at the office, about two hours before he was due out of bed to plant corn, he grabbed his camera and wanted to alert the media. "I thought, this is a big deal." But he was told Obama campaign officials didn't want to make a big deal of the incident. McCormick took photos anyway and distributed some.

I totally understood this approach. It's cold, but they were trying to win a campaign, not repeat the Freedom Rides. Moreover, as a politician, you need white people. Likewise, as any employee, you have to work for white people. Why fight this battle?

Unfortunately, that kind of strategy--while great for individuals--doesn't do much for the collective cause, and may retard it. The real goal of the freedom struggle is to not to make the world safe for black people who excel, but to make it as safe for black people who are mediocre as it is for white people who are mediocre. Raheem Morris is equality, not Tony Dungy.

I always reconciled by trying to help in less obvious ways--trying to bring more capable black voices to the table, trying to excel at my job and thus combat the stereotypes,trying to write stories that gave black folks agency. It's a pretty conservative approach, actually--very Booker T, and in some ways, rooted in my time as a quasi-nationalist. (Black nationalism takes white racism as a given.) I don't know how I feel about that. I deal with it even today, on this blog. How much should we actually argue? What am I actually trying to achieve? I don't think I'm going to change any minds, here. What's the real point?