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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, 1354-1357 (2001)(186 Footnotes)

A. Family Costs

As some of the respondents have already noted, the damage of a racially hostile or unsupportive employment situation does not end at the workplace door. An individual's experience with racial animosity and mistreatment at work not only is personally painful at the moment it happens, but also can have a cumulative and negative impact on other individuals, on one's family, and on one's community.

Bringing frustrations home can have negative effects on families and relationships, such as the lack of energy that a father mentioned previously has for doing things with his young son. The harmful effects of bringing discrimination home to one's family was clearly elucidated by one concerned mother, who is a social services administrator:

So many times, after you've experienced an eight whole hours of discrimination, either directly or indirectly, it really doesn't put you in the mood to go home and read that wonderful bedtime story. You're just tired, and you just want to get somewhere, and really, you're crying on the inside, and you may not really want to admit [it] to yourself. Because all us like to think we're in control of what's happening to us. And I think we all deal with it differently. And that anger sometimes builds up, and you're not even aware that it's there, so the moment your spouse, or your child, if there is anything that may seem like it was a belittling or demeaning, you're responding to them with a level of anger, even, that really is inappropriate for the situation. But what you're really responding to is that eight hours prior to getting home.

She then reiterated how often she had to deal with substantial amounts of stored-up anger:

And I know several times . . . well, a couple of times I totally forgot to pick my child up from school! Because I was so engrossed with trying to make sure that I do this, because if I don't do this, I'm gonna duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah. . . . My daughter had gotten to the point during that year when I was under all that stress, till she would tell me four and five times, she would remind me "Mom, I'm having this at school." And then she would get to school, and she would call me-one day she called me to remind me about something, I was supposed to pick her up, or something, and I just sat at my desk, and I just boo-hooed, I said, "My baby doesn't have any confidence in me anymore. . . . I'm really not there.". . . And that, really, that was really the beginning of me saying "Look, nobody's gonna do anything to get this on track for you, you got to get this on track for yourself." And then, sometimes you go home and you've held your peace so long, till the first hour that you walk in the door, you're still dealing with everything. You may even be dealing with it verbally. . . . And then, they have their own issues to deal with that day. And like, they just want to have dinner and relax, you know? So your family, inevitably I'd say, suffers. We bring all of that baggage home, and then we wonder why our relationships are in trouble.

Whether a person recognizes the harmful effects of bringing anger home from work to the extent this woman does, struggles with discrimination can lead to a variety of suffering for others, as in this case for a child who is forgotten at school or for a spouse who wants to relax. Sharing problems with animosity and discrimination can create a domino effect of anguish and anger rippling across an extended group. Another result of using families as a resource to deal with the stress of racism can be troubled relationships. It has often been noted that black women are more likely than white women to become separated or divorced and less likely to remarry. Nonetheless, the direct, negative impact of everyday racism on the difficulties faced by black families has not been featured in the mainstream literature on the so-called "broken" and "disorganized" black families.

B. The Community Impact

The impact of marginalization at work can carry over into community activities. Black workers' lack of energy affects motivation to socialize outside the home and to participate in community activities. The social services worker who discussed her family above reported that she had withdrawn from activities in her community because of the drain on her energy caused by racial animosity at work. A teacher described having to give up participation in community groups because of lack of energy:

At one point we had started a minority action committee which is still in existence, with the school district. And it's interesting because it's very hard to get people after they've fought all day, in a sense, that have enough energy to come out and support an effort like that where it is needed. We know the racism is out there, we know we need to fight for our kids-that was the main thrust of it when we came together. We could see it happening in the schools everyday, particularly to our black boys. . . . And we endeavored to do something about it, but, as I was saying, we were just so drained, it just never got off, off the ground. [speaking quietly] Hopefully, somebody might . . . .

Other participants echoed this sentiment, noting the impact of the energy loss on various community and church activities. Note here that there is both a personal and a community cost. Part of the personal price is not being able to be fully involved, which includes meaningful interaction in community groups and associations.

The spin-off effects of animosity and mistreatment in employment settings can be seen in other areas of the lives of African Americans. One respondent noted the negative impact on participation in church activities:

I have withdrawn from some of the things I was involved with at church that were very important to me, like dealing with the kids at church. Or we had an outreach ministry where we would go out into the low-income housing and we would share about our services, we would-And I was just so drained, like [names person] said, if we are all so drained, and we stop doing that, then we lose our connection. But I, physically, by the time I got home at the end of the day, I was just so tired, I didn't evenfeel like giving back to my community, I didn't feel like doing anything. And so I withdrew from church activities, to the point where I just really was not contributing anything. And it was pulling all that energy, I was exhausted from dealing with what I had to at work. And then whatever little bit was left, went to my family, so there was nothing there to give.

The overwhelming impact of workplace racism is graphically described, for even church activities become a problem for this person. These economically successful African Americans can be important role models in their local communities, but only if they have the energy to participate actively in churches and other community organizations.

From their discussions of the energy-draining aspects of discrimination, one might wonder how African Americans have developed community organizations and resistance movements over the centuries. Most overcome the everyday racism enough to stay in life's struggles. Interestingly, the post-World War II "medical civil rights movement," which was an effort by African Americans to gain equal access to quality health care, was a precursor to the larger civil rights movement of the 1960s. Such efforts, as well as the efforts involved for the success of the more general civil rights movement of the 1960s, required that African American activists have good health and the energy necessary to struggle for societal change. While some people drop out entirely, most seem to stay in the struggle most of the time and exert great energy to overcome the barriers. The retired professor who spoke earlier of the "ergs of energy" lost because of discrimination also noted his many accomplishments and the issue of what he might have accomplished without racial barriers.

Accumulating discrimination in predominantly white work settings creates serious difficulties not only for African American employees but also for ongoing group relations in these places. A number of comments by the focus group participants suggest or imply that animosity exhibited by white employees makes normal interaction across the racial line difficult or impossible. Incidents at work disrupt lives by changing the meaning of the most commonplace of everyday interactions. Moreover, there is much unnecessary stress in forming new white contacts when one is suspected of being a discriminator. Several respondents noted that they felt a need to keep a distance from whites at work. Indeed, most seemed to agree with this respondent in his evaluation of coping with white hatred: "I think what helps us as being black now, we understand what these [white] people think. We understand why they have hate. Where before, coming off the boat when we were slaves we didn't understand it." Note too that slavery still remains a reference point for African Americans, even though many white Americans see it as a part of a very distant and irrelevant past.

 
 
 
 
 

 
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