Home > discrimination, diversity, predjudice > How our segregated neighborhoods reflect our segregated workplaces

How our segregated neighborhoods reflect our segregated workplaces

PBS produced a documentary with a corresponding website titiled,”Race: The Power of an Illusion”.  This documentarywhere race lives details all the major issues surrounding race, it’s legacy, it’s origination, and the discrimination and predjudice that still exists today as a result of racial bigotry.

The current atmosphere in today’s business world is that the isms (racism, sexism, etc., ) are not the problem that they used to be.  Today, diversity practitioners (myself included) seem to moving toward unconscious biases as the basis for diversity discussions. ( In my opinion this is a good thing.)  However, it needs to be understood that the discussion of unconscious biases is a strategy to get to the much harder discussion of race, class, sexual orientation, and gender.

This is where the PBS website and documentary on Race can become a powerful tool.  Of particular interest is how the government through small  institutional discrimination set up a system which snowballed into significant advantages for the majority.  Unfortunately, because most don’t realize this history or dynamic they attribute minority poverty to a lack of group motivation and a disconnected culture.

This same dynamic can be applied to the workplace.  Historically company promotion, hiring, and development systems were set up to favor the majority group over minority groups.  In some instances these discriminatory processes were minor in their application but significant in their impact.  This relates back to my discussions of complexity science and it’s underlying architecture social network theory.  From the complexity science perspective simple rules originating from initial conditions can create long term and significant outcome differences.

In the case of the housing market most americans get a majority of their wealth from the ownership of their home.  This gives them an advantage against other groups who don’t have the same type of access to capital due to their lack of home ownership.  Subsequently, it is much more difficult to send their kids to college, pay for medical expenses, or live in neighborhods with a high level of social capital.

In addition,our organizations reflect this same “spiraling” dynamic as our neighborhoods .  Small initial advantages have mushroomed into deeply embedded systems that were built to give one group an advantage over another group.  These seemingly subtle advantages are hard to change because the continued repetition of the process has shaped the mental models and consequently the behaviors of those within the system.  As a result, a program like Affirmative Action that was devised to ensure every member was given a fair chance to succeed in the organization is alternatively viewed as an unfair advantage given to minority groups by those with little knowledge of the unfair advantage they enjoy by just being in the system. 

The ability of us to change society is I believe predicated on our ability to change the workplace.  Read the PBS link below and let me know what you think…

Where Race Lives

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  1. August 21, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    I like the concept here you used of the housing market as an example to show just how far we have NOT come. Something needs to change where equality is measured by the ranking of blacks and whites in the social system. Until there is an equal number of blacks and whites and other minorities able to get accepted for home loans and not forced to rent, then there can be some equality that can be successfully measured. The same stands for workplaces. Instead of a workplace having to meet “quotas” for the number of minorities they hire, it should be that it is not forced, but rather desired. Then we will know that there is no need for the government to enact Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Compliance, but until then, no one should reject these laws because they are the reason we have progressed through the racial barrier line thus far.

  2. Innovative Diversity
    August 24, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    After having read through the PBS link above, it became very clear how seemingly insignificant alterations to the wording of laws have and are having a large impact on efforts to unite cultures more than half a century after which they were enacted. It was shocking to see initiatives which were named in a a way to seemingly have a positive effect, wreck the neighborhoods which minorities had begun to feel comfortable in, only to displace them and separate even more. How, on the basis of skin color, loans were denied. Dreams were made near-impossible for generations with the subtle discriminatory language in laws which disproportionately benefited the already well-to-do with even more opportunity to build wealth, while stripping the predominately minority communities of investment activity and social services and increasing segregation as well.

  3. August 26, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    The article where race lives was very enlightening. In reading the article, the reader is exposed to universal truths that they may not know about. Founder and CEO of iGlobal Network Inc., Bruce Stewart, offers some good highlight points in the subsequent blog. To my specific likes was the mentioning of complex adaptive systems and the networks that they develop. Housing is something that every person can relate to. Depending who you are, where you live, and your financial situation, the term “house” has a completely different meaning. This difference is actual and evident in most cities, with the poor living in one section of town, the wealthy in another, and everyone in the middle heading toward the “good part of town.” Because most of an individual’s worth is in the form of a home, those with lowly homes possess less leverage in the financial sector. They can’t get as much for the house, either on the market or through mortgage. These effects spread into other areas of life, such as schools (which are better in better parts of towns) and medical care (better hospitals=better doctors). For this reason, race lives in certain parts of town. The way to combat this problem is to use the lessons of science and incorporate the rules of CAS perspectives. Small changes will provide the necessary framework to allow major results. Programs like Affirmative Action aim to do just this but are often met with criticism and angst due to lack of justification. If we could show people the systems that are currently in place and how they not only allow, but encourage segregation of people and money, we can provide the case that we need.

  4. Leroy
    August 26, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    The problem with the segregation that continues to steadily increase has grown so big that it can be mathamatically broken down. The problem I see is the associations people have of ones that they see as “other.” Whites in America have now turned things that support minority involvement into being something that discriminates against the majority, or those with the money and influence. When minorities hear this we usually know why they say it, to project what they feel and turn it against minorities. This is not helpful at all, and really the discussion doesn’t take place like it needs to. Being diverse shouldn’t be a side effect, but a central belief of how things function better with more points of view. It is unfortunate how big the difference is in the wealth of whites versus non-whites. With whites leaving neighborhoods, there money also leaves. This starts a vicious cycle that feeds into itself, and continues with each white who leaves. The neighborhoods don’t start the decline because of minorities moving in, its because of the whites leaving. Not all whites have this big of a bias, but the 60+ age generation still has fears that younger people in the Millenial generation (1976-1992) don’t seem to have. Hopefully we can see the problem as it really is and have a frank discussion with these people who feel the need to leave their own home when they see the neighborhood having more people of color moving in. The segregation starts at home, but does not just happen. One generation has to pass on to another their bias and prejudice, so that the younger generation has that way of thinking from a young child. So when they grow up, they look at minorities as a different class than themselves. I would like for America to have the discussion about this and try to get a dialouge going between two sides unwilling to converse in a respectful manner at this time.

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