Overt racial discrimination is illegal and has been for almost 60 years in the United States. Since the laws preventing it went on the books, it has declined tremendously. Companies used to be able to actively tell minorities not to apply, for instance, but things like this are no longer allowed.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that racial discrimination ended. As written in Measuring Racial Discrimination: “Rather than being open and readily observable, however, discrimination was more often subtle in nature, assuming new forms that are not as easily identified but may be damaging nonetheless.”
In other words, the law made discrimination illegal so that employers couldn’t be overt and obvious about it. That law did not change what these employers wanted to do, though. It just changed what they could legally do. As a result, they tried to be more subtle about their discrimination so that they could hide it and avoid legal charges, all while still discriminating when possible.
Why patterns matter
This type of behavior can be difficult to combat because the old types of evidence — a job posting asking African American workers not to apply, for instance — no longer exist. It’s very clear that companies are not allowed to do things like this, so they usually do not.
This is where patterns of behavior enter the picture. Even when discrimination is hidden, patterns can expose it.
For instance, an employer may hire minority workers in entry-level positions at the same rate as white workers. This appears fair. If the white workers are constantly given promotions and the minority workers are not, though, it becomes clear that there is still discrimination. If the entire executive level of the company contains no minority employees, the mere fact that some minority workers are employed doesn’t hide the fact that they’re still not being treated fairly.
There are similar patterns in hiring, firing, or assigning specific jobs. When one ethnic group is impacted far more than others, it’s a red flag to watch for.
What can you do?
If this type of thing begins happening to you, or if you’ve already seen these patterns in your workplace, you must know what legal steps you can take. Discrimination is still illegal, even when it’s hidden.