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 Joe R. Feagin, Kevin E. Early
and Karyn D. McKinney

excerpted from: Joe R. Feagin, Kevin E. Early and Karyn D. McKinney, The Many Costs of Discrimination: the Case of Middle-class African Americans , 34 Indiana Law Review 1313-1360, 1344-1346 (2001)(186 Footnotes)

Another major cost of being mistreated in a hostile workplace is a serious loss of personal energy, including the loss of motivation to do work and other activities. In one national research study an experienced black psychologist commented eloquently about the energy loss suffered by African Americans:

If you can think of the mind as having 100 ergs of energy, and the average man uses 50 percent of his energy dealing with the everyday problems of the world . . . then he has 50 percent more to do creative kinds of things that he wants to do. Now that's a white person. Now a black person also has 100 ergs; he uses 50 percent the same way a white man does, dealing with what the white man has [to deal with], so he has 50 percent left. But he uses 25 percent fighting being black, [with] all the problems being black and what it means.

The individual cost of dealing with discrimination is great, and one cannot accomplish as much when personal energy is wasted on discrimination. One of the most severe costs of persisting discrimination, this energy loss is often more than an individual matter. An engineer made this clear in a group that was discussing the "eight whole hours of discrimination" they daily experience:

One of the things, though, that really has had an effect on my family personally was, me having [less] time to really spend with my son. As far as reading him stories, talking, working with him, with his writing, and, all of that. And those things really, really hurt us, and it hurt my child, I think, in the long run, because he never had that really. . . . I know when, when the program was really, really running, some, some days I would come home and I would have such excruciating headaches and chest pains that I would just lay on the bed and put a cold compress on my head and just relax. Thank God I got him through that period. . . . And by the time I come home, I'm so stressed out. And he runs up to me, and you know I give him a hug, but when you're so stressed out, you need just a little period of time, maybe an hour or so, just to unwind, just to relax, you know . . . to just watch the news or something, to kinda unwind and everything. So it definitely affects . . . and you know you're almost energy-less. . . . And then by the time you get home, you have your family. So, by the time you kinda unwind a little bit to get ready to go to upstairs, you haven't handled responsibilities. . . .

The pain of workplace mistreatment can have a domino effect, with chest pains and headaches being linked to a loss of energy, and that in turn resulting in far less energy to deal with important family matters. The drain on personal strength caused by discrimination takes a toll on the activities of workers in their lives outside the workplace.

In one discussion group a government employee examined the personal energy exertion issue in another of its troubling aspects:

One thing, too, is especially if you spend time documenting situations, that takes time: What was said, what did he say, what did I say, and what did I do? It's not keeping, that's time, too, I mean you're doing that because you never know what's gonna jump out. [Moderator: Why do you feel it necessary to do that?] History. I mean, there were just certain things that, that teaches you that you need to have some information because that'sreally the only thing they [whites] understand. . . . Documents. When you start pulling out "This is mine, this is what was said, here, here, here," they understand that. [But if] you start talking off the top of your head . . . you have no credibility, you know what I'm saying? With us it always comes down to being above them. This is just like when we were talking about qualifications, you know, they can come in with less qualifications, but we always have to be maxed out. . . . And sometimes go beyond that.

A psychologist in the group once again put this into a long term perspective: "That would seem like, that's always been a factor, always has been a history of us having to prove ourselves, over and over again, with documentation, this and that, and I would like to see [it], get to the point where my kids don't have to do that." The energy drain extends beyond the extra effort necessary to prove oneself to whites with prejudiced minds, for it often entails keeping documentation in order to prove one's accomplishments and to counter discrimination in employment. We see again the importance of recording history and of creating a family and community memory, as these respondents constantly orient themselves to what African Americans have had to do collectively in the past and in the present.

To be good at what one does, a black worker usually must learn many things about coping with whites, energy-wasting learning that is not a requisite task for similarly-situated white Americans. In another context, a female planner explained that "Just like we have to, we have to consistently, we have to keep learning things, you know, they need to do the same, they need to jump through the same hoops we have to jump through." In addition, the education of whites seems to be an imposed responsibility of many black victims of discrimination. A sheriff's deputy responded to the previous speaker's statement with this summary:

And that's the same thing . . . we were talking about on the energy. Burning so much energy trying to educate these people, that we qualify, you know? And I always said if you see a black doctor and a white doctor standing side by side, equal in status, that black man is twice as better, because he had to work harder . . . in every profession.

This is a point one often hears in interviews with African Americans. The great achievements of many African Americans have come in spite of, and on top of, the energy-sapping barriers of discrimination.

 

Introduction
Integration and a Hostile Racial Climate
Research Methods
The Social Generation of Rage and Anger
Anger and Rage: Attempts at Repression and Control
Depression and Other Psychological Problems
Energy Loss from Discrimination
Physical Consequences of Discrimination
Family and Community Costs of Discrimination
Conclusion

 
 
 
 

 
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