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
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
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
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.