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How Racism And Sexism Are Net Drains on the U.S. Economy

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/ollyy

Discrimination isn’t just an insult to our most basic notions of fairness. It also costs us money, because those who are discriminated against are unable to make the best use of their talents. This not only hurts them, it hurts us all, as some of our best and brightest players are, in essence, sidelined, unable to make their full contributions to our economy.

Over the past half century, America has made considerable strides in reducing discrimination against women and racial minorities. But recent research suggests that we still have a long way to go. What’s even worse: Progress against discrimination – particularly racial discrimination — seems to have largely stalled out. And there are signs that other forms of discrimination are getting worse. -- David Futrelle, Time Magazine

The struggle against social injustice is fueled by a narrative of moral appeals. The logic of good guys vs bad guys, and how the long arc of justice inevitably bends true is compelling and beautiful. In appealing to the heart, the hope is that the mind, and the body politic, will inevitably be moved in the direction of the Common Good, and towards a set of forward thinking and evolved public policies

My thinking about the nature of the Racial State, white supremacy, and social change has evolved over the years. In college during my black nationalist phase, I was compelled by a narrative of "justice" and how certain groups were inherently and deeply tied to various social evils that for reasons of selfishness and self-interest they could not abandon or overcome.

As I have gotten older, read more, learned how much I do not know, and read some more again, I now see how elite actors, working both against and with people on the ground can either serve Power, massage its reach, or change the terms of the social and political consensus.

The New Racism of the post civil rights colorblind era works through impersonal forces. Of course, the ugly hangovers of inter-personal violence and old school racism still exist in such manifestations as police brutality, hate crimes, stop and frisk, and a deep cultural hostility to black people which links us to apes and animals in the American collective subconscious--and which legitimates our murder by either street vigilante bigots such as George Zimmerman or juries that are more likely to give black defendants the death penalty.

The power of implicit bias and the deep veins of anti-black bigotry are topics which remain little discussed in "post racial" America:

Eberhardt described a number of other studies with similar findings. Instead of faces, participants saw a list of stereotypically White or Black names. Then they viewed a video with a gorilla in it. Only 45% of the participants exposed to the White names noticed the gorilla. But 70% of the participants who saw the Black names noticed the gorilla. “This idea of Blacks as apes pulls the gorilla out of darkness,” Eberhardt said.

Given the findings of these studies—people exhibit a clear association between Blacks and apes—what are the social and political consequences? Eberhardt described an experiment based on the Rodney King case. Participants viewed a video of police officers beating a Black suspect. Participants who saw words associated with apes before watching the video believed the officers’ actions were more justified, compared to participants who did not see the animal imagery.

In a separate study, Eberhardt found that people are more likely to consider animal language (such as “barbaric,” “animalistic,” etc.) appropriate and necessary in court cases of Black defendants compared to White defendants. News articles describing Black defendants are more likely to use animal language than articles about White defendants.