White Eyes: Subconscious Racism in the Workplace

Social injustices are often subtle to the unsearching eye but the repercussions are consistently explosive. We observe these injustices projected in the workplace especially, as an issue that seems to be visited and revisited frequently. Cases of these specific instances have been explored through the lens of broader issues surrounding sex equality, gender equality, religious equality and racial equality. Focusing specifically on racial equality in the workplace, there seems to exist an underlying matter perpetuating this problem. Conscious and even subconscious racism in the hiring process, and workplace in general, is rooted in a myth bestowed and sustained by the media. The portrayal of minorities as “monsters” and “subhuman” throughout history has been reinforced even to this day by loaded language in the media and has subsequently been translated into discrimination in the workplace. To realize these faults in our culture means we can begin constructing solutions for this seemingly never ending problem.

One of the earliest portrayals of minorities as subhuman in our “post-slavery” society can be accredited to The Birth of a Nation (1915). This silent film, that was anything but, validated a mentality white supremacists held towards blacks already and sparked a controversy that has extended to the perception of black people today. “[The] portrayal of black men as unintelligent and sexually aggressive toward white women” is demonstrated in scenes in which we watch a white woman jump off a cliff, choosing suicide over being raped by a rabid-eyed black man (played by a white actor in black face). Moreover, “blacks were portrayed as servile or unruly as with black members of the South Carolina legislative eating fried chicken, being lazy, drinking liquor” (Jordan). It’s not at all uncommon to see these undeserved stereotypes preserved today. As evidence shows, minorities make up such a large percentage of the unemployment line that we can’t even justifiably deny that an unconscious prejudice is still held towards minorities . As the theory of lookism explores discrimination that falsely links physical attractiveness and predictive success at work, it’s not a reach to recognize that those determining “physical attractiveness” are predominantly white. So beyond physicality in terms of attractiveness, skin color is often perceived as an indicator for work ethic and temperance, qualities negatively presented for blacks in films such as Birth of a Nation. Evidently, these adverse perceptions of minorities have extended past this 1915 film. We can explore the origins of traditional monsters as evidence of a deeply rooted unconscious racism. “The zombie emerged from the brutal Caribbean slave plantations of the 17th and 18th centuries. They were the soulless bodies of undead slaves…” (Braudy par. 13) this myth that overtly labeled black people as monsters alludes to a fear present in another aspect of racism--a fear of being overpowered by what one has rendered subhuman or less than.

Cases exist today that support the idea that people in power rather not be equated to or subject to minorities in the workplace. Take for example this lawsuit against NYC’s department of transportation “Black employees of the fleet services division were called “n—ers,” “monkeys,” and “gorillas” — and white bosses demoted them and kept them from getting promotions and overtime, says the suit filed Wednesday that seeks damages for victims and changes to its practices.” (Furfaro Par. 1). Minorities were purposefully and systematically inhibited to progress in their place of work on the basis of their skin color. Referring to people with racist slurs and references to animals as opposed to “Mr.” and “sir” works to equate minorities to monsters and subhumans. Use of derogatory terms is a casual method of othering that can be problematic as it is utilized to suppress a group of people. Besides derogatory terms used for blacks, we see this othering put to work in referencing immigrants (illegal or legal) as “aliens.” As a result we see even legal immigrants treated unfairly in the workplace. Think of José Zamora, who after a months-long job search sending out 50 resumes a day online with no responses decided to dropped the “s” in his name becoming “Joe.” Immediately after his inbox was full. We can blame the individual employers or recognize this as a larger issue of unconscious racism as Zamora himself puts it “Sometimes I don’t even think people know or are conscious or aware that they’re judging — even if it’s by name — but I think we all do it all the time.”

Loaded language in the media and used by politicians like “us”, “them”, “they are taking our jobs” work only to divide our nation, separating and continually subduing minorities. The American workplace is a smaller microcosm of our racist America. Racism is a deeply rooted issue that extends throughout our history, originating in America’s birth and undeniably emerging in today’s world. Our subconscious judgement of people’s character on the basis on their physicality is a stronger force than we give it credit. Recognizing and combatting this mentality that’s so immersed in our country and culture’s DNA can help us eliminate unfair discrimination in the workplace. In the words of Dr. King “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable...Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle.” We must struggle towards justice by first recognizing our subconscious faults.