The technological boom can be an engine of equality for black America. But first we need to address the barriers that continue to exist in the workplace. We can do this through diversity, not affirmative action. Contrary to popular opinion, the difference is not a mere matter of semantics.
Despite the fact that black Americans are presently enjoying record highs in terms of per capita income, they continue to earn just 56 percent of the median income of white families. That's just a 1 percent improvement since 1965.
The technological revolution has dramatically expanded the high level job market and therefore holds the promise of finally facilitating equality in the workplace. Sadly, young, qualified black Americans continue to face very real barriers in the work place that prevent them from taking advantage of these new opportunities. Dr. Margaret Simms, vice president of research at the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies, has observed that young black Americans suffer in the labor market due to a perceived deficit in "soft skills." Simms defines soft skills as "thinking and problem solving skills, oral communication skills, personal qualities and work ethic, and interpersonal and team work skills."
For example, when hiring, bosses may look for those personal traits they associate with their own success. Consequently, they may end up hiring people who look, think and act in a manner similar to themselves. If confronted with a minority applicant who looks, sounds or communicates differently, they may turn these differences into perceived soft skill deficits.
As a South Carolina-area attorney specializing labor law confided to me:
We constantly see employers who treat minorities more adversely than they would do whites in similar circumstances. . . . We occasionally see hiring from closed sets of talent pools. . . .Very frequently we see employers who operate under unfounded stereotypes and assumptions about the abilities of minorities and women. I think this is probably reflected in the differentials in pay between men and women and between whites and minorities.
Unfortunately, this sort of latent discrimination is virtually impossible to prove. Partly because there exists a strong tendency among judges (and sometimes even juries) to favor an employer's interpretation of events. But more to the point, because people in management simply tend to mentor people who look and act and sound like their sons.