The Legal Implications of 'Performing Race'

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Biology determines our racial phenotype: black, white, Asian, Indian, etc., but the complex history of race relations in the United States has also created a set of stereotypes about race based on how we act.

Our favorite music, the neighborhood in which we live, our religious affiliation, and even our names — we tend to judge each other based on these sociological characteristics. 

UCLA law professor Devon Carbado believes that these aspects of our identities are often the basis for discrimination. An employer may not judge an applicant by the color of his skin per say, but he or she may find more fault with a black applicant who fulfills certain stereotypes of African-Americans (an applicant who listens to rap music, for example), while a black applicant who seems to fulfill white stereotypes (listening to classical music, perhaps) is likely to be judged in a positive light.

Carbado explores these issues, and potential legal remedies, in his new book, co-authored with Mitu Gulati, "Acting White? Rethinking Race in 'Post-Racial' America."


Our Washington correspondent, Todd Zwillich, is filling in as host all this week. Follow Todd on Twitter for the latest from Capitol Hill.

Guests:

Devon Carbado

Hosted by:

Todd Zwillich

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Jillian Weinberger

Comments [9]

Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I work at Trader Joe's with all kinds of people. My kids go to school in Fort Greene with a diversified community. We are like a large inter racial family...Maybe everybody has to live in New York and work with a diversified group of people to realize, people are just people. If you can deal with the landlords, move to Brooklyn!

Mar. 28 2013 04:31 PM
fuva from harlemworld

The effects of white supremacism -- on people of ALL colors -- are ongoing. Blacks who assimilate white attributes (broadly speaking) appear to defer to arbitrary white standards, under the pressure, when what people of color currently need is self-acceptance/-validation/-determination, so the races can come together and properly mix, in health and on an equal plane.
We are all still in recovery from centuries...
What's tiresome, is the rampant obliviousness.

Mar. 28 2013 03:04 PM

In response to dlm23564, I know exactly what you mean about black people "testing" other black people on their level of "blackness." I'm black but I was raised in Japan so when I would go back stateside for summer visits and such I would get teased a lot about acting "white." Fortunately, my family is supportive and taught me that that kind of behavior is only due to others insecurities and of course, some are only teasing. But there is a point where after getting teased most of your life for acting like a normal person, when you have to say it's enough.

I think this teasing happens on such a large scale within the black community because it's almost tradition at this point. Kids grow up getting teased and they, in turn, do the same to others. It becomes a perpetual cycle, so that if you want to fit in with your predominant community, you begin to conform. This, of course, makes it difficult to change or adapt this behavior when thrown into different environments. So, interacting with others and other cultures becomes difficult so you tend to stick to your "own kind" who you fit in with and who accept you and speak and act the same way you do.

So, how can this problem be fixed? I don't think it can. People have to learn to be more accepting and more empathetic. Like the broadcast says, we have to look to actions rather than skin color or other surface variables when assessing people's abilities and competencies. And black people need to stop putting each other down!

Mar. 28 2013 02:41 PM
dlm23564 from Brooklyn

Tiresome. Many blacks attacked Tiger Woods when he claimed to be cablasian. More and more people are racially mixed. Seems like the black community should be examined as to why they apply tests of blackness. What other race declares you NOT of them if you do not conform to certain unwritten standards.

Mar. 28 2013 11:21 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Marilyn, we CAN do something about it. In any case, we BETTER.
It has to start with awareness. Let's each do our part to make folks (including and especially black folks) aware of how these insidious phenomena work.
Also, try to find groups to work with that fight for opportunity equality.
Don't give up.
All the best to you.

Mar. 28 2013 10:47 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Good topic! 'Tis the kind of race 2.0 discourse we require. Todd's facilitation exemplifies why:
He seemed inclined to downplay the assimilationist pressure black workers/professionals bear; to equate it with the obligation to act differently at work than one would at a bar with friends...
Of course, in addition to behaving professionally at work (like everyone else), blacks are also under pressure to act white. Does Todd not realize that these are not the same things, ipso facto?
Such subtle racist microaggressions and white-supremacist assumptions, which blacks endure daily, need exposure, so we can ALL move forward in freedom.

Mar. 28 2013 10:37 AM
marilyn campbell from brooklyn new york

Racism is a way of life in this country and throughout the world. If your a person of color you deal with it every second of the day. We are not even safe in our own home.( NYPD will kick down our doors without a warrant not something that white america has to face) Our schools are inferior to White schools in the same city and segregated. Even in cemetaries there is discrimination. In employment, if you act yourself, as White people are allowed to do, you are not promoted or given raises even if you play by all the rules of the game to get ahead. This sickness of Racism is making Black people physically ill (depression, tension, high blood pressure,rejection etc...) and we can't do anyting about it.

Mar. 28 2013 10:15 AM
marilyn campbell from brooklyn new york

Racism is a way of life in this country and throughout the world. If your a person of color you deal with it every second of the day. We are not even safe in our own home.( NYPD will kick down our doors without a warrant not something that white america has to face) Our schools are inferior to White schools in the same city and segregated. Even in cemetaries there is discrimination. In employment, if you act yourself, as White people are allowed to do, you are not promoted or given raises even if you play by all the rules of the game to get ahead. This sickness of Racism is making Black people physically ill (depression, tension, high blood pressure,rejection etc...) and we can't do anyting about it.

Mar. 28 2013 10:15 AM
Glenn from Neeses, S.C.

This is not on the discussion, but I get tired of hearing President Obama talked about without the proper etiquete of using, first, his title, then "Mr.", then his last name. I expect more from public radio and their guests.

Mar. 28 2013 10:06 AM

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