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Is Chief Justice John Roberts Right? Is Pervasive Racial Discrimination in the USA Really a thing of the Past?

Writing the 5-4 majority opinion of the Supreme Court on June 25, 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts declares that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer necessary to prevent voting discrimination on the basis of race in the United States because times have changed and racial discrimination is no longer the problem it was. “Regardless of how to look at the record,” writes Roberts, “no one can fairly say that it shows anything approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that faced Congress in 1965.”

Is racial discrimination really a thing of the past? Economists Nicolas Jacquemet and Constantine Yanellis used correspondence tests to find out. They sent out fictional resumes demonstrating equal skill levels, differing only by the name of the applicant. “Anglo-Saxon” names, “African-American” names and “Foreign” names (as judged by survey respondents) appeared at the top of these to apply for real Chicago jobs. Despite showing no difference in qualifications, resumes with Anglo-Saxon names at the top generated phone calls from interested employers 1/3 more often than resumes with African-American or Foreign names. This is not an old study — it was published in a peer-reviewed journal less than a year ago.

Is racial discrimination really a thing of the past? Sociologist Devah Pager sent out trained auditors to apply for jobs posted in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The auditors showed equivalent experience and skill in their applications, and only varied in two aspects: their race (white or black) and the criminal record they fictionally reported to potential employers (felony conviction vs. no criminal record). White auditors with no criminal background were more than twice as likely to be called back by employers after applying than black auditors reporting equivalent experience and skill. White auditors reporting a felony criminal conviction were more likely to receive a callback on their application than black auditors reporting no criminal record. This is not an old study — it was published just a decade ago.

These studies — and dozens more like them — demonstrate that despite what Chief Justice John Roberts claims, racial discrimination in the United States remains pervasive, flagrant, widespread and rampant.

2 thoughts on “Is Chief Justice John Roberts Right? Is Pervasive Racial Discrimination in the USA Really a thing of the Past?”

  1. Charles Manning says:

    Good response to Roberts, but you don’t go far enough. By virtually any measure of success in life, Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics come up short. I refer to income, wealth, educational achievement, involvement in the criminal justice system, educational enrollment, family integrity, environmental quality, access to medical care, health, length of life, participation in prestigious occupations, and last but not least, access to lawyers of their own ethnic background. (The only possible exceptions: achievement as players in sports (which I attribute to that being one of the few occupations open to them without discrimination), and length of life of Hispanics.) If this isn’t a result of “‘pervasive, flagrant, widespread, and rampant discrimination,” what IS the cause? Even if you grant that some forms of overt discrimination in the past no longer occur, the lingering effects of discrimination are obvious and show little signs of abating. Plus, new forms of discrimination, such as the very election laws that the Roberts court had before it, are continuing the oppression of Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics. Of course, if you believe the cited minorities are inherently inferior to whites, then Roberts’ argument makes perfect sense. That’s the only way I can explain such a flippant dismissal of the continuing inequality in this country.

  2. Dave says:

    Declarations that discrimination in this country is no longer a problem may simply mean that it is not presently a problem for European-Americans. Dismantling legal structures that help to ensure racial, that is, cultural equity will come back to bite. Read up on South Africa, the future USA.

    Demographics change. People – not so much.

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