We cannot pretend that institutional racism doesn’t exist when we see repeated violence and hatred against Black Americans. And we cannot pretend that same racism doesn’t spill over into all American institutions, including the workplace.
Right now, Americans in all 50 states are protesting the long history of police brutality against Black men and women after the killing of George Floyd by a (now-former) Minneapolis police officer and the officers’ complicity around him. The productive outrage helps illuminate racial disparities and inequality that has been pervasive – but that many of us have chosen to ignore – in all American institutions.
In a recent interview, Bishop T.D. Jakes addressed the anger and frustration felt by the Black community:
“We want what you want. It’s not a mystery. We want to grow old. We want to live. We want a chance at opportunities. We want better education…We want that when a PPP [Payment Protection Program] comes through, and a CARES Act comes down, we want the bank to treat us like they treat you and to give equal access to opportunities…We are not asking not to be arrested. We are just asking not to be tried on the sidewalk. Just don’t arrest me, try me, convict me and kill me on the sidewalk…You can’t be that blind that you don’t see that.” 
This past weekend our @hillsongnyc family hosted an important conversation between @carllentz and @bishopjakes addressing racism and its consequences which has become a meaningful resource for us, our families and our church… pic.twitter.com/YJ0iw7ZrKK
— Hillsong Worship (@hillsongworship) June 3, 2020
The recent high-profile racial violence has played out against the backdrop of a lethal pandemic that has killed Black Americans at twice the rate of white Americans. Public health experts have long known the factors that determine such health outcomes, which are the conditions in which people live, work, learn, and gather.  These factors are all tied to what people can afford. With historically large racial disparity in employment and earnings, and thus, access to healthcare, it’s no surprise that Black Americans have been the most harmed by Covid-19, and that public health officials are warning that racism is in fact an urgent public health threat. Skyrocketing unemployment due to the pandemic has only exacerbated these issues.
Within this context, we need to understand that protestors are also fighting to end the racism that keeps so many Black Americans from building the same quality of life that the rest of us enjoy.
And we can’t be blind to how that is connected to racial inequality in the workplace. Here are some facts:
1. The unemployment rate has historically been twice as high for Black Americans as it is for white Americans, and the pandemic has only made the disparity worse.
This year, 41 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment, mainly due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the country’s current unemployment rate sits at roughly 16.3%.  Our most recent data shows that 16.8% of Black Americans are out of work. Latinx workers had the highest unemployment rate in May – 17.6%. Many people cheered this week when it was announced the overall unemployment rate surprisingly dropped in May when it was widely expected to increase.
But unemployment rates for Black Americans and Latinx workers did increase, while white unemployment dropped to 12.4% from 14.2%. Even more frustrating is that in August of 2019, Black workers in the U.S. had a record low unemployment rate of 5.4%. That has now been erased.
2. Employees of color are much less likely to be given opportunities to climb the corporate ladder.
We know that this phenomenon cannot be explained by the fact that white men and women are more educated than their counterparts because that simply isn’t true. We’ve long known that deep-seated racism has kept people of color with the same qualifications out of jobs as well as prevented them from rising through the ranks at the same rate as white workers. Gender bias makes this even more difficult for women of color.
3. Black and Hispanic men and women are paid less to do the exact same jobs as their white counterparts.
Even when controlling for education, Black and Hispanic men earn roughly 80% of white men’s hourly earnings in recent years, and Black and Hispanic women earn just 70% of similarly educated white men. Research also shows that these people of color have made almost no progress in narrowing the wage gap since 1980.
4. People of color are less likely to be elected to public office where they would be in positions of influence to create and promote policies for change.
Equal representation is one of the founding guidelines of American democracy, and it increases federal agencies’ ability to serve and protect people who come from different backgrounds. We know from experience that we cannot create effective public policy if policymakers don’t understand the issues and concerns of the citizens they serve. 
Racism is clearly systemic. It’s widespread. It’s embedded in the norms of our society and all of our institutions. And we need to acknowledge this before systems of oppression can be eliminated.
In a video this weekend, longtime San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich addressed the critical role white Americans play in standing against racial inequality in the wake of the George Floyd killing. He stated:
“We [white people] have to do it. Black people have been shouldering this burden for 400 years…The only reason this nation has made the progress it has is because of the persistence, patience and effort of Black people…it’s got to be us, in my opinion, that speak truth to power and call it out, no matter what the consequences. We have to speak.” 
“It’s got to be us that speak truth to power, that call it out no matter the consequences. We have to not let anything go. Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race.”#SpursVoices pic.twitter.com/uTyOIzGnTg
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) June 6, 2020
The unwillingness of white people in positions of power – who make up the vast majority of corporate and government leadership – to stand against racism means these inequalities will continue to thrive in our streets and in our workplaces. And the protests must continue to be a catalyst for change. We must be open to listening to those who have been harmed by our current systems. And we cannot fear equality or assume that we will lose something by lifting others and supporting their cause.
Just as we’re protesting racial violence, we need to address the racial inequality we see in our workplaces that keeps Black Americans and all people of color from accessing opportunities to create better lives. Employment equality is a human right that belongs to all of us.
Visit our workplace diversity hub for further reading relating to current challenges faced by women and people of color, wage gaps, successful inclusion strategies, diversity in corporate and government leadership, effective talent acquisition and diversity programs, and how artificial intelligence affects diversity outcomes.
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