Why White People (That Would Be Us) Need to Stop Hiring Our Friends

Creative Commons: FonsoSac

If you’ve ever read the book Waking Up White then you have likely found yourself wading through some extremely skin-crawling stuff. Forget that the author is a Boston Brahmin who condescends to her readers. Forget that she somehow did not know about the Boston busing crisis despite having grown up in Massachusetts during that era. In fact, forget most of the book. But cling to a few things:

  1. Systemic racism is hidden from most of us white people because it is carefully scrubbed from the histories we have been taught.
  2. We need to stop being surprised when people of color tell us about being discriminated against.

I want to focus on the second point. In her book, Debby Irving tells her readers of the moment in which she finds out that Black people are frequently denied loans, denied fair prices on automobiles, denied employment and denied housing because of racism. Debby is shocked. Shocked that this would happen.

Please.

We are all part of the problem. And I am not going to get into the usual discussion about how we white people have all benefited from a long history of white privilege. I am going to talk about how we subconsciously continue to perpetuate systemic racism. Even the upper middle class white liberals among us.

Stop Hiring Our Friends

One regional grassroots “progressive” organization in my current, predominately white town recently hired an organizer. Money was donated to fund this organizer’s position. Though the position was posted on several national websites very few applicants applied. No one wants to live in this little red county for the pay that is offered, an organization member told me.

As for local recruiting? Well, apparently there isn’t a whole lot of local talent in the area. The current organizing talent are already busy. Okay.

Yes, the organization member said, half the hiring committee was made up of people of color. And yes this will be an open and transparent process said another.

They hired someone and sent out an email after the fact.

The organizer chosen by hiring committee is a white male with experience in environmental organizing. He worked for a large national environmental organization and holds a graduate degree from a local private university. He has professional experience. As for whether or not he has talent, coal trains are still running through downtown.

But he wasn’t hired to organize for the environment. He was hired to reach out to underrepresented voters in our community and help flip our predominately rural and agricultural district into the blue. A white man with a graduate degree and a passion for environmental causes is likely not well-connected with agricultural workers or rural farmers. He might be well connected with the local progressive community, but that community has not managed to garner enough votes to flip our district in over a decade.

Doesn’t matter. He knew people. And he was known.

The hiring committee was composed of one young LatinX woman who is a new staffer and another woman of Middle Eastern descent. And one white guy. Who is in charge of the organization. And who is friends with the white guy who was ultimately hired.

Sounds obvious, right? Fraternalism. Exclusion. Lack of recruitment efforts in underrepresented communities. Lack of trying. From a bunch of my fellow white liberals who shout and chant for racial justice.

From a bunch of my white liberal colleagues who post frequently about calling out racists.

From a bunch of my white liberal colleagues who defended themselves so vociferously against an observation that quitting the group seemed more rational than tolerating their blind animosity.

What’s the problem?

That’s right, when this issue of exclusivity was raised and a concern about lack of diversity in the hiring process was voiced, many group members failed, quite vocally, to see the problem. “But,” said one, “I’ve been on plenty of hiring committees where I’ve hired my friends.”

That, right there, my white liberal colleague, is the problem.

That, right there, is the same force, which I hesitate to call logic, that is the force that denies Black people loans. It just seemed like too much and their business plan wasn’t practical, you know?

The force that denies Black people a fair price on vehicles. Word of mouth. If I dropped the price then everyone would start to expect that. You know?

The force that denies Black people fair housing. They would probably move soon because, you know, they wouldn’t have been comfortable here and I didn’t want to list the place again so soon, especially not after they break the lease.

The force that denies Black people fair employment. The people who applied didn’t have professional experience. There was a lack of talent. You understand.

WE NEED TO STOP HIRING OUR FRIENDS.

No matter how much we think that hiring our friends is good and rational, we need to stop. We need to question our own judgement. When we don’t question our own judgement then we hire people with whom we are comfortable.

Our friends tend to have the same ethnic, racial and/or socio-economic backgrounds as ourselves. If we want diversity than we need to stop hiring them. No matter how much that hiring decision makes sense to us. No matter how much the hiring decision seems solidly rational. No. We must stop hiring our friends.

And when we hear people of color talk about racism, we need to remember that they aren’t talking about other people. And we need to stop being so surprised.