Recommended Reading

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Erica

Nooses, Swastika Evidence In Lawsuit - WMAQ Chicago
In the midst of a civil rights lawsuit at Navistar International, “… a bag of hangman’s nooses was found under the plant’s human resources director’s desk … Racist graffiti found throughout the plant was also allegedly ignored. The graffiti included the ‘N word’ on a paper towel holder, pictures of nooses that included the phrase, ‘Hang ‘em high,’ a mop painted in imitation of a black woman’s hair and a swastika on the end of a wooden stick.” A woman who reported the use of the n-word got fired. The perpetrators considered it all “just a joke.” (via Resist Racism)

Single Incidences that Create a Hostile and Offensive Work Environment - The Black Factor
“[T]here are single incidences that are legally recognized as immediately being vile enough to rise to the level of creating a hostile and offensive work environment for an African American employee. Therefore, it would only take one occurrence to create a workplace situation that would require immediate action from a supervisor or other member of authority within a company.” The aforementioned bag of nooses would be one such incidence.

Interim Guidance on the use of Race and Ethnic Categories in Affirmative Action Programs - U.S. Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
“The existing EEO-1 Report calls for workforce data to be broken down by nine job categories, using five race and ethnic categories. The revised EEO-1 Report changes the race and ethnic categories by adding a new category titled ‘two or more races’ and dividing the category ‘Asian or Pacific Islander’ into two separate categories - ‘Asian’ and ‘Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders.’” (via DCI Consulting’s OFCCP Blog)

Don’t Ask–Maybe -
What a company can and can’t ask in a pre-employment inquiry. It varies from state to state, must be worded carefully, and the intent in asking plays a role in its legality.

‘Glamour’ Editor To Lady Lawyers: Being Black Is Kinda A Corporate “Don’t” - Jezebel
A Glamour editor calls afros and dreadlocks fashion don’ts during a presentation to New York law firm.

Procedural Path Dependence: Discrimination and the Civil-Criminal Divide by Julie Suk - Social Science Research Network
Whether a case is tried via criminal or civil proceedings influences the way the case is tried (i.e., how you gather evidence, etc.) This is known as procedural path dependence. Julie Suk explores the constraints of the American system, compares them to the French system, and explains how employment discrimination cases must break out of the mold to be properly tried. (via Workplace Prof Blog)

Recommended Reading is a weekly feature where we link to some of our favorite workplace-related blog posts and articles. If you would like to suggest a link to Erica, please email

Watercooler: Your afro is unprofessional

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Watercooler is the section of the blog in which we share with you real-life horror stories from the frontlines of race in the workplace. :) This week, we have a story from an anonymous social work intern:

It was going to be a normal day at my social work internship, or so I thought. I drove up to the agency that I was assigned to from the graduate college of social work since the January. I walked up the stairs and entered the dim-lit office where my field instructor was patiently waiting for me. She gave me a gingerly smile as I opened the door, “C’mon in … how ‘ya been?” and I anxiously replied “I’m doing good”. That day, we sat down together to work on the educational contract that is established between my field instructor and I.

The educational contract has several parts within its framework. The contract itself, is used by the college of social work as a tool to measure my progress within my first 450 hours of field practice within a social work agency. The contract is organized in sections that pertain to professionalism, skills, and social work values of social work intern. It is the field instructor’s duty to evaluate the intern on the basis of these criteria.

She rated me from my capability to acknowledge my own biases and how they affect clients, all the way to my cultural competency in working with clients. It had already been an hour and everything was going smoothly. For the most part she evaluated me fairly, as I had no problem with accepting any form of constructive criticism — with the exception of one in particular, and that was when she made it a point to critique my afro. She said “I don’t know how to ask you this, but I wanted to talk about professionalism and your big afro”. I could not believe my ears. Did she, a fellow female social worker critique my hair by labeling it as unprofessional? I was in a complete state of shock and dissolution about the woman sitting in front of me.

More importantly though, I was thinking about the macro problem of racial stereotyping. Racial stereotyping can seriously cause a lot of emotional damage to an individual, and I found it disheartening that my professor harbored the concept that my afro was somehow unprofessional. The truth was that she was not sure how I would react. Once again, as a biracial black woman, I felt a polar opposite tension between us. On one hand, I felt sympathy for her because I knew that she really did not know any better. One the other hand, I felt angry and distraught … compelled to yell and scream in protest, because once again, I was going to be judged by the style of my hair. India Arie’s song “I am not my hair” was playing in the background of my mind as I contemplated what to say to her. Continue Reading »