Black Jobs Matter


Dennis Sanders

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis, MN.  You can follow Dennis through his blogs, The Clockwork Pastor and Big Tent Revue and on Twitter.  Feel free to contact him at dennis.sanders(at)gmail(dot)com.

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45 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    Good luck Dennis. This is a tough nut. I’ve seen a lot of research you note and it seems undeniable that bias is insidious and resistant to elimination. Affirmative Action is certainly important. Job searches are weird i wonder if i am such an edge case my experience is useless. While i certainly have the white guy advantage and post grad degree, i’ve never got any job from knowing someone who worked at a place. I have a vague dream of someday actually being able to leverage a relationship to get a job. If i didn’t have education and the white guy bonus i don’t know where i’d be since i clearly have no useful social networks or ability to use them.

    Social services/mental health the fields i’ve always worked in has always been pretty good with hiring practices. At least half the field is women and there always been a firm push to being open to minority experience. Even with that i’ve seen a few things that made me go “hmmmmm.” I sort of rambling, but i guess the gov can push affirmative action and enforce discrimination laws. But each organization needs leadership if they are to weed out as much bias as possible. I think some fields have a lot of people who want to do that and others don’t.Report

    • While i certainly have the white guy advantage and post grad degree, i’ve never got any job from knowing someone who worked at a place.

      If I’m honest with myself, all of the non-drudgery jobs I’ve had–and even some of the drudgery jobs–I got from somehow knowing someone or being in a network of people in the know. Of course, I also benefit from white (and male) advantages. And those advantages meld with each other in hard to pin down ways. I may not have had the connections I do, or I may have had fewer of them, if I weren’t white or if I were a woman. (Not to mention that in most workplaces I’ve been at, middle- and upper-management have tended to be white. In my private sector jobs, upper-management has also tended to be predominantly male, while in my corner of academe, it tends to be female, but still white.)

      All of which is to say….I try to keep that all in mind when, say, affirmative action is discussed. I’m lukewarm about race-based aa and really do think whether it’s good or bad depends on how it’s done in any particular case or program, but I still consider myself a supporter for the above-stated reasons.

      I also try to keep in mind the degree to which I share the biases that Dennis talks about. I’ve never been in a situation to hire someone, and I’ve only occasionally been in a situation to supervise someone, but I do try to be aware of my biases.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I got most of my post-restaurant jobs (if not all of them) because I knew a guy who knew a guy.

        It was mostly of the form “Hey, we’ve got this job opening, do you have any friends who’d be a good fit?” and that resulted in me applying and getting the job. Now, I like to think that I was a good worker (defined as “not having to outrun the bear, merely having to outrun the co-workers”) and that got me into a position where I found myself recommended for jobs that had more responsibilities.

        But the fact that I ended up being a good worker wasn’t what got me in the door in the first place. It was the whole “I need someone for this position. Do you know anybody?” question that got me there. Most of the people who know me well enough to think of me in that situation are white folks.

        And, yeah, I’ve answered that question on behalf of other folks too. Most of the folks in my personal circle are white so the overwhelming majority of the people I’ve been able to personally recommend are also white.

        Iterate that and re-iterate it enough times, you’ve got a bunch of white folks and a couple of People of Color in an incestuous industry where you’re about two (maybe three) degrees of separation from everybody.

        Once you’re in the door, it’s something approaching a meritocracy… but you’ve got to get past the door. And that step relies very heavily indeed on knowing a guy who knows a guy.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          Once you’re in the door, it’s something approaching a meritocracy… but you’ve got to get past the door. And that step relies very heavily indeed on knowing a guy who knows a guy.

          I dunno, @jaybird

          Dennis says,

          I can say that in both positions I added value to the organization. I pushed boundaries, started new initiatives and brought hightened visibility to the organization. None of that protected me from being let go. Meanwhile in some cases, people who produced less (and were white) were saved from the chopping block.

          He’s saying meritocracy didn’t help him.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I don’t see how race can be ignored in that case.

            Never a smoking gun, never a racial slur, never a harmful phrase… but there it is.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              He also said it wasn’t intentional, yet there it was, what happened to him happened to him.

              The point here is that the numbers hold up what he’s saying — his experience is not unique. There isn’t a smoking gun, it’s not intentional, but it keeps happening.

              You said meritocracy rewards; but due to the unintentional biases we hold are a part of the merit rewarded is being white or maybe being male or straight or whatever.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        All but four of my legal contract jobs were from contacts of one sort or another. The others were just small jobs and those just came out of the blue or very indirectly.

        Ironically, I got my associate position off of Craigslist of all places.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Sometimes it is just knowing someone who has been in the industry. My mom is also an independent school educator. She has never directly helped me get a job. But she told me the right places to look for them or the right head hunter groups to work with. Could I have come by this information absent her? Sure. But I had it from the get go because she had access to the system two decades earlier.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Two thoughts, not particularly tied together:

    First, it seems to me the point here is the white job-seeker gets to be frustrated at not knowing why her qualifications aren’t attractive to an employer. The non-white job-seeker gets that frustration plus the frustration of also not knowing whether his qualifications would have been good enough to be attractive to an employer if they had been held by a white person. Not having had to have lived that, I’m sure that I can’t fully appreciate what that feels like. I can readily imagine being so stressed at the process as to want to do violence to inanimate objects.

    Second, you may recall that I do a fair amount of employment litigation. The most common claims that I see are disability discrimination and retaliation for protected conduct. Age, sex, sexual preference, and even national origin are in the second tier — uncommon, but not unheard of. The rarest claims that I see in practice are race and religion discrimination. These are very rarely even alleged, and even less commonly proven. When they are, there’s typically something very obvious about the facts: the use of a racial slur, for instance, or some other overt, explicit statement evidencing racial bias on the part of the bad actor. Since racism is no longer capable of dressing nicely enough to walk about in the open, this sort of thing is pretty unusual. I know full well that juries actively resist these kinds of conclusions and seem to work hard to rationalize away a result that depends on finding someone was a racist. They’re faster to condemn someone as a murderer than they are to condemn him as a racist.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I think the first point is very spot on. There have been studies that shown identical resumes get fewer responses if the resume as a name that is perceived as being “black” over being white.

      As to the employment stuff, when I have seen racial discrimination cases but they are very overt like you said. They are overt in ways that makes you think WTF was going through the brains of the defendant and the defendant’s employees. Though even sex-discrimination cases are getting hard to prove as we saw with the Ellen Pao case and the “sexism you can’t quite prove”

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      Re: Point #1

      I’ve heard of (but not personally read) that that sort of stress — stress that results from combatting racism on a daily basis — can be measured in disparate health outcomes between Blacks and whites, even when controlling for other factors.

      We need to collectively get our heads out of our asses when it comes to racism in this country. Particularly us white folks.Report

  3. A Methodist church fired you two days before Christmas?Report

    • Avatar Dennis Sanders says:


      • Avatar Chris says:

        Was going to make a Baptist joke, but I worried that in this context it would seem insensitive, so hold on, I’m just going to make it in my head…

        Hahahaha…. Oh man, that’s a good one.

        Anyway, 2 days before Christmas is harsh, not only because it’s Christmas, but because the time after Christmas (January/February) tends to see a lot less hiring, so you’re both out of a job on Christmas and out of a job in the most difficult time of the year to get a job.

        Is there some some sort of for non-secular jobs, by the way?

        (And I know some big church people in Tennessee. If that’s a place you’d consider, I’d be happy to pass along your info.)Report

        • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

          Chris: the time after Christmas (January/February) tends to see a lot less hiring,

          Is that true? What are the hiring months then?

          (This is not in any way meant to diminish the badness of it.)Report

          • Avatar nevermoor says:

            I’m sure it varies by industry. In law, it’s usually spring/summer because firms pay out bonuses somewhere between Christmas and March. People rarely leave too close to that time.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            I’ve always seen a lot of hiring in the new quarter. It’s the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas where nobody hires because nobody wants to have HR dealing with anything more difficult than pulling contractors’ fillings out (apparently HR likes to party).Report

  4. Avatar zic says:

    Dennis, well said.

    I particularly like this:
    My own belief is that there is an implicit bias at work.  It’s not intentional, but it is there and it has consequences. 

    It has the cadence of Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.”

    I made a big deal over brainwashing over the weekend; perhaps this is a bigger picture of that same phenomena; that just as we’ve been trained to mistrust Hillary, we’ve been trained to see thugs and baby mamas instead of people; and one the cost of that subliminal training is fewer jobs. I’ve been researching others, reproductive health care (high incarceration rates limit the pool of husbands, contributing to increased STDs and abortion rates for black women).

    From schools to policing to jobs, that subliminal bias, reinforced by decades of dog-whistling habits has a real cost to reckon.

    Perhaps, most importantly, is that it’s not intentional. Sure, that the whistles are sounded might be; but that we hear them over and over, internalize them, and then use that filter in our hiring decisions or jury decision or arrest decision or marriage decision is normal; it’s not something to feel guilty about having done.

    The question is how you’ll adjust your frame of thinking once a bias is revealed to you, in you. Do you recognize the unintentional habit of bias and screen for it until your habits readjust or do you slip back into the hold habit?Report

    • Avatar notme says:


      Why are you so sure that Hillary’s not done anything to be mistrusted?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Where have I ever said that?

        I’ve said I think the distrust that exists is mostly based on the constant chatter that she’s not trustworthy. I rarely find people who distrust her based on her actual doings.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Hillary’s a known quantity with known backers. I can’t trust her to do what the backers don’t want, but I wouldn’t trust Snotty to do what the Kochs don’t want either.

          Is this what we mean by trustworthy? Because I can trust a smart lady like Clinton to generally do the smart thing.Report

  5. Avatar Damon says:


    I’m curious as to why you consider attributing some of your employment difficulties to your race but not your sexual orientation?

    That aside, sometimes it comes down to presentation, appearance, or something similar. Maybe you came off as a jerk when you spoke to the editor. Maybe he was an elitist snob who didn’t think you could do the job for whatever reason. Maybe, maybe, they actually had filled the job. I’m not trying to take anything away from what you said, but there are dozens of possible reasons why you didn’t get each job or got fired.

    Hell, I got laid off even after our department cut the mandatory 10% in cost and staff. My VP committed to taking an additional staff cut “for the team”, and since I was last in, I was first out. Sometimes folks get fired because someone has to go. Then again, I’ve known plenty of people with poor working skills, who loaf around and bitch and moan about the work they have to do, “I’m a CPA and he has me doing scut work”, that are FIRST on the layoff list.

    So how much of this is race and how much of it is “something else”. I can’t say, but it’s something to think on.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      With the numbers you’ve got in communications, you’re likely to get a decent statistical sample of gay folks.

      (There’s also the idea of what one is presenting as — it may be that he presents (in a non-visual way) as black more than “stereotypically gay”)Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      You could look at any individual instance and probably come up with a half-dozen alternate explanations. But when you look at the big picture data — the research Dennis cites — it becomes a lot harder to dismiss. Eventually, you have to say, “Yea, there’s a there there.”Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Kazzy, there’s a big difference between “Yea, there’s a there there.” and THAT’S the reason why I got fired. That’s why I asked whether or not Russel had considers his orientation as well. It COULD be race. It COULD be orientation. It COULD be a lot of things. Baring anything specifically overt, just how do you expect to pigeonhole it?Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


          The point is that it can’t really be pigeonholed. If it could, it could be actionable. The anecdotes are there to highlight the statistical trend that lies under the whole thesis. That being, all other things being equal, black candidates will be passed over & black employees will be let go first.Report

          • Avatar Damon says:

            Yeah, but that’s NOT my point. My point was “why did you go all “it was race” first?

            The stats are there to bolster the primary assumption by Russel that it was all about race. All I’m asking is “why did you assume that it was race first vs something else”.

            Still waiting on a response…Report

  6. Avatar dhex says:

    as someone who hires freelance designers quite often, i think your portfolio nav can be improved.

    – lead with the portfolio links. that should be the first thing i see. i’m an impatient jerk, i got stuff going on, and i need to see if you got what i need.
    – if you have any secular designs/jobs, include them. if you’re using a second portfolio for secular work, ignore this point.
    – the ads don’t help. get rid of them if you can.Report

  7. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I hate that I cannot ask questions without that questioning automatically being assigned to the “white guy bein’ racist” bin.

    But then, that’s kind of what the OP is about–that we cannot see a black person lose their job and not think “racist bosses”.


    IT is not a core function for a church. Communications is closer, but arguably less valuable than ministry. You might see yourself as adding more value through outreach and congregational engagement, but the church management might be thinking “for what we pay Dennis, we can afford three volunteers to go to the senior center and help do in-room worship services, and that’s closer to our mission than having a really snappy newsletter and a smoothly-functioning email list”.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I hate that I cannot ask questions without that questioning automatically being assigned to the “white guy bein’ racist” bin.

      It’s difficult bein’ you.Report

    • Avatar Dennis Sanders says:

      I would disagree. If a church doesn’t have a good website or is using computers from 1997, it’s not going to be able to do good mission. A church has to communicate and that means spending some money on technology. If it’s not essential, then neither is a church janitor or even a church secretary for that matter.

      Sorry to be snappy about this, but it is that kind of thinking that has got me canned and for the record the church didn’t decide to spend more on the poor with me gone.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “Sorry to be snappy about this, but it is that kind of thinking that has got me canned”

        You lost your job over it; I can certainly understand why you’re being snappy. And you’re right that a church has to communicate, but does it have to communicate first? If there’s not enough money to do everything, then which things should a church do?

        And I’m certain that this is the conversation that was had regarding who to keep and who to let go.

        But according to Chris I’m a fuckin’ racist so whatevs.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I didn’t call you a racist. I called you a whiner.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Depends. But a sound business strategy is “get more people, who will give you money” – and that’s communications. That doesn’t work if you’re in the middle of WV, and everyone there is constantly out of work, of course…Report

  8. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    That has got to be maddening – knowing that any particular decision might not have had race behind it, but that there it’s statistically practically guaranteed some of them had, at some point.

    I hope you find something satisfactory soon.Report

  9. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

    Preach it, (Brother!) Mr. Sanders.Report

  10. Avatar notme says:

    Don’t all jobs matter?Report

  11. Avatar CJColucci says:

    I’ve worked for many assholes and been mistreated by many. With one exception, for various reasons, I have never thought my race, sex, or what not was behind the treatment I received, since I am a white male and most of my asshole bosses were as well.
    But if you are not a white male, I would think that you would often have cause to wonder. Or would you just know? The uncertainty must be maddening.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      It would be worse, I should think, if you knew they had a good sound reason — that just happened to involve your gender or race.
      … far worse, because then you couldn’t even hate them proper like.Report

  12. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    This is a good article. Thanks for writing it.

    And I think it does contribute to a strong case for affirmative action. Because the bias is implicit, it’s not something a business or an organization would notice unless it was directly brought to their attention. If an organization sets a goal of having a diverse workforce, it gives them a reason to look at their hiring practices, see if they’re only hiring white folks, and ask themselves why that’s happening and what they need to change.Report