The Three Degrees of Racism in America

Organizations cannot be meritocracies if their small number of black employees spend a third of their mental bandwidth in every meeting of every day distracted by questions of race and outcomes. Why are there not more people like me? Am I being treated differently? Do my white colleagues view me as less capable? Am I actually less capable? Will my mistakes reflect negatively on other black people in my firm? These questions detract from our energy to compete for promotions with white peers who have never spent a moment distracted in this way. I wager that 90 percent of the white executives who read these last sentences are now asking, particularly after recent events, “How did we miss that?” This dimension of racism is particularly hard to root out, because many of our most enlightened white leaders do not even realize what they are doing. This is racism in the third degree, akin to involuntary manslaughter: We are not trying to hurt anyone, but we create the conditions that shatter somebody else’s future aspirations. Eliminating third-degree racism is the catalyst to expanding economic power for people of color, so it merits focus at the most senior levels of education, government, and business.

Rice, John. (2020, June 21). The Difference Between First-Degree Racism and Third-Degree Racism. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2020/06/three-degrees-racism-america/613333/

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