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Drug Testing and Racial Profiling Go Hand in Hand

Whites trump blacks in most drug use. So why do many employers assume black applicants are drug users?

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Ironically, drug testing actually benefits black job applicants by revealing that most are not drug users. Wozniak writes that in states where drug screening is required for certain jobs, “Adoption of pro-testing legislation increases black employment in the testing sector by seven to 30% and relative wages by 1.4 to 13%, with the largest shifts among low skilled black men." However, in states where testing is not done, black applicants lose out to white women. “Results further suggest that employers substitute white women for blacks in the absence of testing.” Wozniak concludes.  

Hearing that, one may be tempted to say that a solution to employment discrimination is to mandate more drug testing. That way, black job applicants could prove that they aren’t drug users and thereby increase their chances of being hired. Everybody wins, right? Wrong. African-Americans would lose in the long run because such an approach would validate the racist perceptions that force us to justify ourselves when we haven’t done anything that could reasonably spark suspicion. Such perceptions are dangerous because they don’t merely make it difficult for blacks to get jobs, they can literally put our lives at risk.  

Before the altercation that left  17-year-old Trayvon Martin dead, George Zimmerman made up his mind that the black high-schooler was dangerous. That’s why he called 911 and said, “This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something.” But Zimmerman’s own description of Martin’s actions reveals that the teen hadn’t done anything threatening. “It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about,” Zimmerman told the emergency dispatcher. Later he said that Martin “was just staring” and “looking at all the houses.”  

Since when does walking around and looking at houses constitute drug-induced, potentially criminal behavior that requires an urgent call to the cops?  It doesn’t.  

Unless the guy doing all that walking and looking is a black male—especially a young black male—who has the temerity to wear a hooded sweatshirt on a rainy night. All of that adds up to probable cause to someone whose mind is polluted by racist stereotypes. 

Another reason that expanding drug testing is a poor response to job discrimination is the fact that perceived drug use is only one stereotype held against African-American would-be employees. The mere fact of our blackness is the basis for some of the strongest (but most difficult to prove) objections by some hiring managers.  

In 2003, the National Bureau of Economic Research (the same group that published the Wozniak report) concluded that job applicants with African-American-sounding names had a much harder time landing job interviews than applicants whose names sounded white.  The report, which was titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” found that “Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback.” The rejections were even higher for resumes that combined ethnic-skewing names with ZIP codes of low income neighborhoods.  

Black Americans have neither the means nor the responsibility to eradicate racism in the U.S. And we certainly don’t need to prove that we are worthy of equality by showing that we are respectable, law abiding, productive and patriotic citizens who have always made substantial and important contributions to the nation. These facts are obvious to anyone who views history and current events with unbiased eyes.  

Uprooting the racism which has brought misery to black and other Americans of color is a white responsibility. Happily, there have been (and continue to be) countless white men and women who have labored, suffered and died in pursuit of racial justice. And our nation has made breathtaking strides since the bad old days when segregation and discrimination were maintained by custom and enforced by law. But far too many American whites continue to respond with indifference, impatience or hostility toward the pleas by blacks and other minorities for fairness and equality. This influential segment of white American society accuses us of whining, even as they ignore evidence of continued racial stereotyping, profiling and discriminatory treatment.