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  • Writer's pictureMaileen Hamto

Prevailing Attitudes About Racism and Xenophobia

Racism and xenophobia are interlocking societal issues that impact people’s access to employment, housing, and education opportunities. These issues are important to me because I identify as a foreign-born non-Black woman of color. I intentionally name racism because, in the work of advancing institutional diversity and inclusion in U.S. organizations, there is always hesitation about contending with race. Too often, the people in power are Whites who have not had the chance to confront and own their Whiteness. Race is a difficult topic to elevate and support.

In doing the work of advancing inclusion, equity, and social justice, I seek to leverage a consulting or advising role to improve conditions for the underserved and underrepresented. This could mean different things in different organizations, but as long as I am doing this work in U.S. institutions, I will focus on race and its intersections with the immigrant experience.

How do racism and xenophobia play out in access to opportunities? In workforce development, many examples of studies point to bias in recruitment and hiring decisions. For example, there are studies that show how ethnic names on resumes tend to get fewer callbacks for interviews. Read the article Betrand and Mullainathan’s “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination.

Other studies show the benefits of “whitening” one’s resume – e.g. removing any racial cues, such as involvement in certain frats and sororities (see "Whitened résumés: Race and self-presentation in the labor market.” Housing and civil rights advocates discuss the legacy of discriminatory housing practices, such as redlining in contributing to current racial wealth gaps. Where one lives determines whether they get a good education and gain access to other amenities that contribute to a healthy life. Fair housing laws have been on the books since the 1960s, but that hasn’t stopped landlords from racially profiling people based on how they sound over the phone (see “Linguistic profiling: The sound of your voice may determine if you get that apartment or not.”)

Xenophobia plays out in different ways for different groups of people in the U.S. East Asian and South Asian men who work in technology are seen as usurping the jobs of homegrown professionals. Classist and anti-immigrant tropes are reflected in public perceptions about Black and Brown blue-collar immigrant laborers, who are simultaneously viewed as "taking American jobs" and "leeching off the government.”

The ongoing discourse about immigration reform focuses primarily on the Latinx community, but immigration is not just a Latinx problem. An estimated 11 million undocumented and unauthorized workers are from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Many people who are undocumented arrived in the U.S. with visas. They arrived legally with a visa, but their papers have expired. Legally speaking, being present in the U.S. without documentation is a civil offense. However, there is a lack of awareness and will to put forth workable solutions to address the issues.

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