After Civil Rights: Racial Realism in the New American Workplace

Since the Civil Rights Act was legislated, the United States has gone through a dramatic change in regards to race and racism in our society. This essence of change includes the ideas of racial and ethnic composition in the United States today, and in regards to this review, the shift in employer behavior. Today, employers seek a more diverse workforce, with hopes of achieving organizational goals because of it.

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John Skrentny’s After Civil Rights: Racial Realism in the New American Workplace, exemplifies how the workplace today contradicts the anticipations of the Civil Rights Act, when it was passed in 1964. Skrentny divides his book into several chapters including topics from the public sector, to media and entertainment, and shows his audience that there is a new presence of racial realism taking place in the workplace today, while justifying this with social scientific research. Skrentny’s framework allows his audience to understand that his goal is to not only rethink, but to bring up to date the policies of Title VII, and to get them to interpret how well our laws align with our behavior and practices.

Skrentny argues that the system of offering minorities employment today for the benefit of the employer’s business, not only violates equal opportunity laws, but it also violates the guarantee of equal treatment stated in the Civil Rights Act. Many workers are not hired based on relevant conditions or requirements, but by “racial realism,” which is the process of “using membership in a racial group as a qualification for employment”, in order for a workplace to promote diversity and “fairness” (Skrentny 3). According to Skrentny, there are two types of racial realism in the workforce, which are hiring minorities to increase the company’s market share, and getting favorable responses from the company’s audience due to the deployment of an employee’s race.

Skrentny divides his book into chapters that express how racial realism is practiced throughout different areas of the workforce. This theory of racial realism has many different forms and approaches, from health care hiring or promoting individuals based off the belief that matching patients and physicians according to their races promotes better health outcomes, to advertising companies hiring diverse models and actors with hopes to sell products to a wider audience. Skrentny explains that racial realism is widespread across the workforce, even though there is mixed evidence that proves this is occurring, and that there is little authorization for this practice across the areas he studies including medicine, journalism, teaching, advertising, entertainment, and food processing.

In the final chapter of his book, Skrentny expresses that some forms of racial matching should be permitted, as long as minorities gain the right to remove themselves from that particular position within a few years. He mentions that the unequal outcomes of racial realism are acceptable as long as it is by the choice of the individual and not brought upon them by their employers. Furthermore, he approves a range of policies that would influence employers to keep in mind the effect of their actions on the economic development of minority communities as well as “give domestic workers a closer look” (Skrentny 256).

Skrentny does an excellent job of getting his readers to an understanding of how race still plays a factor in employment practices of our workforce today, and how law and public policy should play a role from here on out. Although his argument is solid, after reading this book I am left with the question of can law and public policy truly play a role in eliminating or diminishing racial realism? I believe that Skrentny did a successful job of breaking down racial realism in different areas of the workforce, especially in his discussion of changing shape and character in the packinghouse industry, where he explains that brown collar jobs are created when employers engage in careful hiring decisions to shed workers. I also believe that a strength of this work is that when readers conclude this book, they are left with the thought of how society can align law and policy with behavior and practices in regards to the workforce, due to Skrentny’s demonstrations on how color blindness is not a strategy for American employers. However, I believe that what Skrentny failed to demonstrate is how labor unions have little no to impact in America on shaping employment policies. Although Skrentny’s policies of reform and change hope to mend racial realism in the workforce, he lacks addressing worker agency. With that being said it, these policies do not necessarily end racial realism. However, Skrentny should be commended for documenting this manner in which employees are employed.

Skrentny notes that his study of racial realism does not account for the entire workforce, which can be a limitation to this study. It would have been nice to see his analysis on all areas of the workforce, because I believe that having this information would help to identify solutions in regards to law and policy on how to successfully end it. Including all parts of the workforce could help readers to identify acts of racial realism that they may have thought were normal, and promote the want to end this practice that employers partake in. However, although this study does not account for the entire workforce, Skrentny also identifies that his study is sizeable. I found that Skrentny succeeded in analyzing his argument of racial realism, by studying the different areas of the workforce which include medicine, journalism, teaching, advertising, entertainment, and food processing. By diving into each part of the workforce, although it is not the complete workforce, he demonstrates specifically what is happening in employment processes today, and how it challenges ideas of not only the Civil Rights Act, but affirmative action as well.

After the conclusion of reading this book, After Civil Rights will spark conversations on labor economics, regarding how different companies choose to hire their employees. This study is important because this practice of racial realism is often under looked or unnoticed, and because of this, employers continue to partake in it, for their own personal benefits. It is also important, because this practice can account for ongoing discrimination between employers and minorities, and it is becoming not only socially inefficient, but economically inefficient as well. This book can benefit individuals who feel they have been denied from a job due to their race, and give them the tools to uncovering methods to stop, or further change, this practice in regards to laws and policies. With these tools, one can gain an understanding of how racial realism contrasts with previous views that race in the workplace should counter acts of discrimination in the past, and begin the path to making others know that this process is inconsistent with laws and judicial decisions, and not counter to equal opportunity.

Works Cited

Skrentny, John David. After Civil Rights: Racial Realism in the New American Workplace. Princeton University Press, 2014.

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