Social media has been atwitter with commentary on the casting of Satan in the History Channel’s miniseries: The Bible. Did the producers purposely cast an actor who looked like President Obama? I will not address this question but instead focus on what I think is the root of the commentary and offer solutions. Does racial prejudice continue to operate in America in regards to accepting a person of color, especially a black person, to be in a position of authority?
This is old news, and you may be asking yourself why would someone write another blog about another instance of racism? I get that. The permanence of racism is alive and well. Just yesterday the New Times reported that a licensed psychologist had testified that race plays a part in predicting future violent behavior!
A quick scan on our nation’s hiring data confirms that, while great inroads have been made for people of color in positions of authority, we still have a long way to go. We continue to have a serious issue with coconscious and unconscious racial bias towards people of color. The data across all areas tell a similar story:
- 4.2% people of color hired for CEO positions
- 18.5% people of color for 5 of 20 Silicon Valley companies reporting
- 2 % African American and 2% Latino for superintendents
- 22% people of color for the current Supreme Court Justices
- 16% people of color for members of Congress
- A lack of American Indians across the board
There are a few ways to think about this data:
- There are no qualified people of color to fill these positions. Therefore racism does not exist. America elected a black president so there is no more racism.
- Hiring managers talk behind closed doors and decide that only 1, 2 or a handful of people of color should be in authority. This would be a reverse affirmative action policy.
- There is racial bias in hiring.
- Deficit thinking is at play. Hiring managers believe that black people, Latinos and American Indians are not as smart as whites and Asians. It starts in grade school when students are identified for special education and gifted and talented services. K-12 tracking fuels the practice of segregating white students in enriched classes with little or no students of color except for Asians. Black, American Indians and Latino students are relegated to special education. It is no wonder that students believe that black, Latino and American Indian students are not smart. Because they are not present, a deficit belief starts to take root.
What can we do to change our beliefs so that our behaviors reduce and eliminate our racial bias and prejudices? A few studies illustrate that with effort racial bias can be reduced. One study (Perceptual Other-Race Training Reduces Implicit Racial Bias) found that racial bias behaviors are malleable and can be changed with effective training. Another study (Can Racial Bias Be Changed?) concluded that a person’s attitudes about racial bias can positively or negatively affect outcomes. Another compelling study (Racial Bias Can Be Changed by Teaching People to Differentiate Facial Features Better in Individuals of a Different Race) focused on helping people differentiate faces of people from other races which reduced their racial bias.
My key point is that we have the ability to eliminate racism by working on ourselves. Here are a few suggestions:
- First, we need to make genuine interracial friendships. My mother’s dear friend Agnes Brawley, living in segregated Milwaukee, used to say: “The problem with race relations is that there are not enough relations”. We need to build friendships across races and cultures. This will help reduce prejudice and racial bias.
- Second, we need to acknowledge that we have unconscious and conscious racial beliefs and act on them every day. It will take effort and training, day by day, for us to make positive changes.
- Third, we need to start having courageous conversations on race. Talking about race and addressing issues should not be a fear anymore. We have to believe in ourselves that we will not be afraid of offending someone or being called a racist. Glenn Singleton of Pacific Educational Group offers a practical framework for action called Courageous Conversations on Race.
- Fourth, Tod Ewing offers up a spiritual solution in his book. He states that a powerful step for racial healing is taking a step to see heaven in the face of black men.
- Fifth, researchers have found it is possible to eliminate our racial biases but we must be internally driven or otherwise motivated to suppress them.
Deciding to take action is a first step to help us change our beliefs about different races. The rest involves hard work, internal motivation and practice to see positivity instead of deficits in people of color.