Beyond the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Confronting Structural Racism in the Workplace

Author:William M. Wiececk/Judy L. Hamilton
Pages:1094-1160
SUMMARY

Since 1967, sociologists have produced a compelling body of literature on structural racism that explains why severe racial disparities persist throughout American society in all social domains: employment, education, residential patterns, wealth accumulation, and so on. Structural racism perpetuates the effects of past, overt discrimination because it does its work through organizational procedures and social policies that appear to be race neutral. Dealing with structural racism requires us to focus on social structure instead of the intentions of bigoted individuals. In this... (see full summary)

 
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Louisiana Law Review
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Beyond the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Confronting
Structural Racism in the Workplace
William M. Wiececk
Judy L. Hamilton
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Beyond the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Confronting
Structural Racism in the Workplace
William M. Wiecek*
Judy L. Hamilton∗∗
ABSTRACT
Since 1967, sociologists have produced a compelling body of
literature on structural racism that explains why severe racial
disparities persist throughout American society in all social
domains: employment, education, residential patterns, wealth
accumulation, and so on. Structural racism perpetuates the effects
of past, overt discrimination because it does its work through
organizational procedures and social policies that appear to be race
neutral. Dealing with structural racism requires us to focus on
social structure instead of the intentions of bigoted individuals.
In this Article, we link the disciplines of sociology and
constitutional history to demonstrate that the U.S. Supreme Court
has refused to recognize the reality of structural racism in the
workplace. Instead, the Court has developed legal doctrines that
protect this hidden form of racism, assure its continuation, and
disable other branches of the federal and state governments from
eradicating it. The Court’s willful blindness toward race and
employment ignores the reality of structural racism and instead
embeds the justices’ unacknowledged racial policy preferences into
constitutional law. Their doctrinal assumptions about intent,
colorblindness, facial neutrality, and white innocence enable them
not just to ignore structural racism but to perpetuate and affirm it.
In this Article, we first review the sociological literature on
structural racism and construct a template of structural racism by
identifying its six key components: (1) irrelevance of intent, (2)
individualism, (3) belief in structural neutrality, (4) colorblindness,
(5) white advantage, and (6) invisibility. We then provide examples
of structural racism in the social domain of employment. Next we
demonstrate how Supreme Court constitutional decisions regarding
employment since 1964 map onto this template of structural racism:
(1) the Court demands a showing of intent, (2) the Court insists on
Copyright 2014, by WILLIAM M. WIECEK AND JUDY L. HAM ILTON.
* Congdon Professor of Public Law, Emeritus, Syracuse University College
of Law. LL.B. Harvard Law School, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison
(History).
∗∗ Director of the Honors Program (retired), Syracuse University. Ph.D.
Syracuse University (Social Sciences).
1096 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 74
the notion that racism is inflicted only by individuals upon
individuals, (3) the Court persists in its belief in structural
neutrality, (4) the Court’s anti-classification understanding of equal
protection is merely a judicial formulation of colorblindness, (5) the
Court’s concern for white innocence reaffirms white advantage and
white normativity, and (6) the Court’s embrace of all five of these
components serves to keep structural racism invisible and thereby
further maintains it.
We conclude first that the Court has ignored nearly a half-
century of substantial research in sociology and instead has clung to
outdated assumptions about how racism operates that perpetuate
racial inequality. Second, we find that at the same time, the Court
does invoke structural social understanding—by ignoring intent,
being attentive to group actions and effects on groups, and focusing
on inadvertent effects of institutional policies and procedures—but
does so only to protect whites’ interests.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Abstract .................................................................................. 1095
I. Introduction ........................................................................... 1097
II. Structural Racism: A Sociological Perspective .................... 1101
A. Components of Structural Racism .................................. 1111
1. Absence of Intent ...................................................... 1112
2. Individualism ............................................................. 1118
3. Belief in Structural Neutrality................................... 1120
4. White Advantage and White Normativity ................ 1122
5. Colorblindness ........................................................... 1124
6. Invisibility ................................................................. 1125
B. Structural Racism in the Employment Context.............. 1126
1. Information About Job Opportunities Is
Disseminated Primarily Through Social
Networks ................................................................... 1127
2. Information About Job Opportunities Is
Disseminated Selectively .......................................... 1127
3. Candidate Requirements Structurally
Discriminate When Unrelated to Necessary
Job Skills ................................................................... 1128

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