I was recently reminded in the comments of a post by FinancialSamurai that maybe discrimination is as alive and well today as it was many years ago. While I couldn’t give a flying-you-know-what about your skin color, apparently there are many who still do.
I should preface this by exploring briefly my background. I live in a part of the United States that is very much diverse, and very much average—suffice that to say why it has been a testing ground for many of the products you enjoy on a daily basis, think Pringles, or the very temporary McDonald’s Diner. Older folks tell me that McDonald’s actually tested pizza here back in the day. Yuck?
That said, my experience is probably different than average. I had the privilege of attending a private school for the first five or six years of my schooling. A parochial school, one of many in my particular city, it was probably 100% white. In many cases, parents who lived in the school district I did would much rather spend the thousand dollars per year to send their kids to a private school, since the alternative public school wasn’t much for academics. A girl I went to school with much later and I like to joke now that we “had to be the poorest ones in the school.” Even still, we were perfectly middle-class, which goes to show the wealth that dropped their kids off each day for a well-rounded education.
I can honestly say that for the first many years of my life, I hadn’t much spent any tangible amount of time with anyone who wasn’t white. However, it was during my second grade year that we moved to another city where I did attend public school, and the demographics were very much different at this school than they were in my old private school. Still a majority of students were white, as were the faculty, but for the first time in my life, I did actually go to school with people of other races.
I couldn’t tell you that it was even really that different being around people who were or weren’t white. I mean, seeing as I can’t remember it being a big deal now, I can’t remember it being a big deal then. The school sucked, to say the least, I could read better in second grade than the kids who were in the fifth and sixth grades. In many ways, going to a different school really messed me up…I was bored, there wasn’t nearly as much homework (even in the second grade, I was accustomed to having one, two, maybe three, I don’t remember, but a lot of homework each night at the private school.) This was, for me, a cakewalk.
Fast forward…oh, I don’t know, eleven years or so, and it was last semester that I was forcibly reminded that racism apparently still exists. Every Monday night I’d arrive in an Ethics night class where my professor, despite being a very thoughtful, capable teacher, instilled in me “white guilt” that might have partially overcome my Catholic school-instilled “original sin.”
My teacher was black, a preacher, and you could tell that she was very much interested in discussing ethics, and would always welcome student-led academic discussion on each topic, theory, or current event. But it was her ramblings that proved most interesting.
Every day were more insights from my teacher who preferred to discuss how awful white people were than to discuss why the social institutions of the past were bad in and of themselves. I should note that this class, despite being a majority white, was rather diverse. Also, due to the school, there were plenty of people from all walks of life.
Regardless, there was one thing we quickly discovered among every one of us, black, white, purple, green, whatever: none of us really appreciated the label that we had earned for people who lived years before us. One particular woman, also black, took offense to the fact that my teacher, having probably lived through more trying times than each of us, no doubt, had used a number of racial slurs in what was supposed to be the voice of the “privileged person” in society. According to my teacher, white males were the dominant class, and everyone else was just a piece of meat. Boy oh boy, did she make me feel great about the person I was.
Seven-hundred and eighty-five words later I get to the crux of my post: does race really affect opportunities in society? I didn’t think so. I have friends from all different backgrounds, and one who has a background still very much underappreciated; he’s of Middle Eastern descent, and has an Islamic name. He’s absolutely hilarious, a real class act, and full of some great material on how he has (irregularly) experienced the burden of racism. Most notable is a story about boarding an airplane; security was sure to take every last one of his double-AA batteries, fearing they might contain something explosive, I guess, but on the plane he saw a child with a Gameboy. I guess they couldn’t take his batteries.
New research from Stanford University students says that there is actually a link between race and opportunity. The study, properly titled “the visible hand,” sought to determine how the skin color of a hand holding an item in a picture would affect the sale of a product online. The student-led study used a white hand, a black hand, and then a white hand with a tattoo, thinking they could normalize the data by using something still not entirely loved by society—inked skin on the hand of a white person. (Click here to see the study in its entirety.)
What they found was shocking.
- Black sellers received 13% fewer responses to online advertisements, and 17% fewer offers. Fewer offers for goods for sale by black sellers ultimately mean lower prices…that’s simple supply and demand.
- Blacks received offers 2-4% lower from people who were willing to make at least one offer than did whites. The Northeast was the least friendly, showing statistical variations that were significantly above the mean for all areas. To be fair, Northeastern shoppers weren’t all that interested in buying goods from a white hand with a wrist tattoo, either.
- In terms of correspondence, those talking to a black hand were less likely to put their name on each email, and were 44% less likely to allow for delivery by mail of any particular good than they were others who were engaged in conversation with the white hand.
Wow. It’s conclusive. I was horribly wrong in my thesis; racism is very much alive and well, and has been demonstrated as it was in this study in a few other studies by none other than Freakonomics. I feel like an ass, but I’d much rather be on the side of the fence that doesn’t realize racism’s prevalence than on the side of the fence that is continuing it. In that way, I’m very happy to be wrong.
How much longer will racism be around? Meh, hopefully not that much longer, given that bans on interracial marriage were lifted in a number of states roughly one generation ago. But for as long as it exists, it is still very much concerning. As I’ve said before, and I’ll have to stick with it this time, too: the numbers don’t lie.
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