The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the body empowered to enforce federal laws on discrimination against employees and job applicants, based on the persons race, color, gender (including pregnancy), national origin, religion, age, disability or genetic information.

However, new evidences from socio-psychology studies and neuroscience is showing that the manifestation of discrimination are varied and new that no exiting policy may be able to address (Mackie & Smith, 2002; Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002; Leyens et al. 2001, 2003).

A study by Princeton University’s Susan Fiske explained that that people base their judgment on people in their workplace on two things, warmth and competence (Morris 2009, 13). Warmth is all about whether someone is an ally or an enemy, whether the person means good or means harm. Competence, on the other hand, is all about the person’s professional skills. Fiske was able to group these attitudes to four kinds and demonstrated it through a quadrant. See figure 1. Middle class workers rank high on both warmth and competence. On the other hand, immigrants or African Americans who didn’t finish college or high school are perceived to have low-warmth and low-competence.

Figure 1: T.L. Lee, S.T. Fiske / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 30 (2006) 751–768

Subtle RacismCredit: International Journal of Intercultural Relations 30 (2006)

Lasana Harris of New York University (2006, 849) supported this study by presenting an image of the brain activity when faced with a crisis involving African Americans and Immigrants. Participants were given a situation when they had to decide what action to take during a crisis. When the person involved is African American or an Immigrant, participants are more inclined to do something drastic that would either kill the person or put him in grave danger (Macrae, Heatherton, & Kelley, 2004; Mitchell, Banaji, & Macrae, 2005). See figure 2 for the brain scan images.

Figure 2 Results of brain scans reacting with specific emotions


Subtle Racism(124232)Credit: International Journal of Intercultural Relations 30 (2006)

The brain scans also revealed that when the people involved are African Americans, Immigrants or homeless, there is low empathy and hints of disgust (Frith & Frith 2001, 151). Discrimination manifests itself on situations that may be used a as a mask in claiming that the reaction was provoked by the immediate need of the situation and not the race (Casteli et al 2000; Gallagher & Frith 2002).

Such stereotype can also take a full turn. For example, the same test subjects expressed pity towards the elderly that pushes them to react more peacefully when faced with a dangerous situation to the point of voluntarily putting themselves in danger just to save the elderly. This is the same emotion that some managers manifest towards African Americans and immigrants (Kumaran & Maguire, 2005). They feel the need to give these people extra time to be trained and extra effort to get them motivated. This is an exact opposite of the traditional practice towards discrimination (Struch & Schwartz 1989, 364; Greene et al 2001, 2105).

Finally, the last kind of discrimination is one that commands high competence but low warmth. This is the kind that elicits envy that is a common emotion towards Asians born in the U.S. and the Jews. The most common perception is that these groups got to what they were because they pushed people down so they could climb up the ladder of success (Schaefer et al 2005, 53-59).

The unconscious existence of prejudice towards African Americans and Immigrants is what makes the situation more difficult (Wheeler & Fiske 2005, 56; Ostrom et al 1994, 15).

Sources of Discrimination

Chima and Wharton (2009) determined that discrimination exist in different levels:  Organization, Structural, and Individual level.

Minorities still face discrimination in the work place from their colleagues, and often appear unintentional (US Commission on Civil Rights, 1981). To date, verbal abuse is still being done on African Americans. The most common victims are women (Jackson, 1994; Janofscky, 1993). They are often called names that compare them to animals, hits of their sexual wildness, and are derogated. These reports of discrimination are on the rise since 1990 (Chideya, 1995). This kind of discrimination also results to harm as some employees don’t feel empowered enough to fight back. The tendency is to express their anger towards their families (Keashly, 1998; Berman and Levandosky, 1998).

A more recent study confirmed the continuous rise. There were 99,922 formal complaints of discrimination in 2010 (Wong, 2011). Layer John Schulman believes that the rise may actually be an indication that people are simply more encouraged to file for complaint now than the victims in the past (Wong, 201).

There are organizations that have rules, policies and practices that are naturally set up to discriminate African Americans and immigrants. Victims of this type of discrimination will most often find themselves getting passed off for jobs and promotions, and any other career advancement opportunities that their Caucasian counterparts get (Mc Coy, 1995). These discrepancies are also apparent, sometimes, in the wages earned by African Americans against their Caucasian coworkers. About 97 percent of high paying positions in Fortune 500 companies are whites (Kilborn, 1995). Of the total working population, African American women occupy 12 percent but only seven percent of them are managers with less 57 cents earnings as oppose to 59 cents with their white counterpart (McCoy 1994).

Organizational culture based discrimination often leads to a hostile work environment, with minority groups like African American and Asians, often exposed to verbal harassment in the form of name calling, derogatory comments, epithets, slurs, or racial innuendoes. Research show that this type of hostilities can lead to poor mental health of employees (Leymann, 1990), which eventually leads to the low productivity of employees, higher turnover rates, higher accident rates, absenteeism and even substance abuse among employees. 

The last kind of discrimination happens on the structural level nationwide level and it starts in school.  

Breeding Ground for Racism

Federal reports show that one in ten students reports of being called derogatory names based on their race or ethnicity. This is common even on Urban areas, as high as 40 percents of students reported having their tables, things, and lockers vandalised. Schools are actually the third most common venue for hate crimes based on race (Staub 1989, 43). If students, that will someday become a part of the workforce, are being exposed to an environment that upholds the concept of discrimination, what else is to be expected of these same students when they start working? (Saxe 2004, 87).

It gets worse. Back in the 1950s, the U.S. Supreme Court officially made racial segregation is school illegal. During the 1970s, different states started busing to achieve a more balanced population of different racial backgrounds. The program would ensure that every school will have an equal amount of students in terms of race and social status. By late 2000s, many states feel that there is already a balanced, thus, the busing rule is no longer needed. However, the Civil Rights Project of University of California presented proof that schools are actually more segregated today than ever. Gary Orfield (2009) said that African Americans and Immigrants are the majority in public schools while African Americans and immigrants that attend schools where white is the majority, they are highly discriminated. They are not invited to the same clique and often experience verbal and physical abuse.

Then there are factors like home environment that could strongly influence how children are forming their perceptions and attitudes towards African-Americans and Asians. However, that is much harder to control. School is the one place where everyone stands a better chance in finally eradicating discrimination. It is, after all, a place where students know they are supposed to learn and they must learn that race, colour, and other physical attributes does not matter and it never should have mattered. When these young people are able to live that concept, they will be able to carry it through their professional life.


Discrimination is evolving. The worse thing is even the people are discriminating may not be recognizing the form discrimination may be manifesting itself. This has to be recognized and studied if real progress is to ever be made to fight discrimination.

This is not to stay America has not gone far. The election of President Barack Obama is a clear example of the efforts to truly be a country where equality is afforded to everyone regardless of colour and race. However, it is also not surprising for a malady that has been around for almost as long as the freedom of the United States to continue to persist today. The first great efforts happened only in the 60s through John F. Kennedy’s proposal to make discrimination illegal and the fight of Martin Luther King.

It is important to remember that even shortly after the U.S. declared its independence, the U.S. demonstrated its earliest signs of discrimination against the Indians. That set forth the construction of the belief that anyone who is not white American does not belong to America. That being said, the election of an African American in the white should after only fifty years of fight versus almost 3,000 years of discrimination is fairly a good sign.

It is, however, not an excuse to rest. Many of those who lived in that era where colour and race served as the greatest divide still lives today and, unfortunately, they practice it. These are the same people who brought up their children with the same construct. Those children, in turn, are passing on the belief to their children. For as long as the influence exist, the practice will persist.

Making policies that will make employment a level playing field among whites, blacks and browns is an important step but a serious analysis must be made in order to understand how it is evolving. More importantly, it is important to take a look at how children are forming their values. These are the same people that will someday be in the workforce and in public offices. These are the same people will have the power to truly influence change.


Related Contents: