Color Bind, The

Color Bind, The: Talking (and Not Talking) About Race at Work

Erica Gabrielle Foldy
Tamara R. Buckley
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Color Bind, The
    Book Description:

    Since the 1960s, the dominant model for fostering diversity and inclusion in the United States has been the "color blind" approach, which emphasizes similarity and assimilation and insists that people should be understood as individuals, not as members of racial or cultural groups. This approach is especially prevalent in the workplace, where discussions about race and ethnicity are considered taboo. Yet, as widespread as "color blindness" has become, many studies show that the practice has damaging repercussions, including reinforcing the existing racial hierarchy by ignoring the significance of racism and discrimination. InThe Color Bind, workplace experts Erica Foldy and Tamara Buckley investigate race relations in office settings, looking at how both color blindness and what they call "color cognizance" have profound effects on the ways coworkers think and interact with each other.

    Based on an intensive two-and-a-half-year study of employees at a child welfare agency,The Color Bindshows how color cognizance-the practice of recognizing the profound impact of race and ethnicity on life experiences while affirming the importance of racial diversity-can help workers move beyond silence on the issue of race toward more inclusive workplace practices. Drawing from existing psychological and sociological research that demonstrates the success of color-cognizant approaches in dyads, workgroups and organizations, Foldy and Buckley analyzed the behavior of work teams within a child protection agency. The behaviors of three teams in particular reveal the factors that enable color cognizance to flourish. While two of the teams largely avoided explicitly discussing race, one group, "Team North," openly talked about race and ethnicity in team meetings. By acknowledging these differences when discussing how to work with their clients and with each other, the members of Team North were able to dig into challenges related to race and culture instead of avoiding them. The key to achieving color cognizance within the group was twofold: It required both the presence of at least a few members who were already color cognizant, as well as an environment in which all team members felt relatively safe and behaved in ways that strengthened learning, including productively resolving conflict and reflecting on their practice.

    The Color Bindprovides a useful lens for policy makers, researchers and practitioners pursuing in a wide variety of goals, from addressing racial disparities in health and education to creating diverse and inclusive organizations to providing culturally competent services to clients and customers. By foregrounding open conversations about race and ethnicity, Foldy and Buckley show that institutions can transcend the color bind in order to better acknowledge and reflect the diverse populations they serve.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-821-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. About the Authors
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Chapter 1 The Color Bind
    (pp. 1-12)

    The local office of the state’s child welfare agency was difficult to find. Although it was located on a busy road, no signs indicated that the office was inside. In fact, the door from the street looked almost like a back entrance, without identification of any kind. Once inside, instead of a lobby, there were just a dark and somewhat dingy set of stairs leading up and a hallway leading to an elevator. The office of the agency was on the third floor.

    In one of its conference rooms, a team of eight social workers sat in folding chairs around...

  7. Chapter 2 Achieving Color Cognizance
    (pp. 13-36)

    In the spring of 2010, CNN’s website showcased the headline “Kids’ test answers on race brings mother to tears.” An accompanying video shows a five-year-old white girl looking at five views of the same face in increasingly darker skin tones. She chooses a light-skinned face when asked who the smart child is. She selects a darker-skinned face to indicate the mean child. “As she answers, her mother watches, and gently weeps,” the article went on to report.

    The article accompanied the results of a study, reported by anchor Anderson Cooper, of racial attitudes among black and white schoolchildren living outside...

  8. Chapter 3 Race, Ethnicity, and Culture: Reflection and Deflection
    (pp. 37-58)

    WKR: Being a white woman, I try to really build a relationship with people who aren’t—I know what some people [of color] might think, having a white social worker come into their home. . . .

    INT: What do you think they might be thinking?

    WKR: Well, I have clients say things like, “You wouldn’t understand. You’re a white woman. How would you understand?” And helping them really understand that—you’re right, I’m not going to understand until you explain to me what your experiences are. And that it’s not always about me being a white woman, and just...

  9. Chapter 4 Color-Cognizant Practice: Team North
    (pp. 59-86)

    Teresa, a member of Team North and a bilingual Latina, was filling in her team members on some of her cases. She told the team that the local Catholic social welfare provider had just closed, which meant that its bilingual parent aide was no longer available to them. (The child protection agency sometimes hired parent aides to work with particular families on things like budgeting, disciplinary techniques, and the like.) “Completely gone,” she said, “All of my families that had this service . . . She was the only Spanish-speaking—no services anymore.” The full team, in dismay, reacted with...

  10. Chapter 5 Color-Evasive Practice: Team East
    (pp. 87-108)

    On a cool fall morning, Team East’s leader welcomed a visitor to the team’s meeting, a representative from Aware. She had come in hopes of recruiting members for the organization. Aware was twenty years old, the representative recounted, initially formed in response to concerns about the “disproportionate number of minority kids in the system.” It had tackled a variety of issues over the years, but its members sensed a new opportunity, as the Aware rep noted: “The commissioner is trying to enforce and bring [Aware] to the forefront, trying to make it bigger.” She encouraged team members to come to...

  11. Chapter 6 Color-Hostile Practice: Team South
    (pp. 109-132)

    The members of Team South were laughing and joking as they waited for their weekly meeting to start. It was a cold January day and they began by appreciating the warmth in their offices, which were unlike some other parts of the building. “Our heat comes from the top, we’re lucky,” said Dan. This led to other thoughts about their space: “I like our unit the best,” said Bridget. “We’re in the cave.” The team leader, Bob, responded, “We couldn’t be over there [in the main part of the office], they’d be all yelling at us—‘too loud!’” Everyone laughed:...

  12. Chapter 7 An Explanatory Model of Racial-Cultural Practice
    (pp. 133-142)

    Much of the management scholarship on managing diversity as well as the sociology and psychology research on race in organizations focus entirely on aspects that are clearly and directly related to race and ethnicity: the representation of people from various racial groups at different levels of the organization, EEO or affirmative action policies, diversity training, and the like. We argue, though, that more general features also play a critical role in how race and ethnicity are addressed, particularly the capacity for learning and the degree of safety. A team’s racial-cultural practice is part of the fabric of team life: it...

  13. Chapter 8 The Nature of the Terrain: Flaws and Contradictions
    (pp. 143-154)

    Over bagels and cream cheese at its morning meeting, Team North was discussing other teams and feeling competitive. Team South, said Katie, “is a little further ahead than us” when it came to ensuring that the team met at least weekly. “It has to be part of the regular routine,” she said. “I don’t like losing!” said Antonia. Teresa joined in, “I know! We need to be the best team!” After noting that Team South’s manager was more actively driving the team than their own manager, the team members turned to their cases, including that of an Arab father and...

  14. Chapter 9 What We’ve Learned (and Still Need to Learn)
    (pp. 155-166)

    At bottom, our argument is very simple. Race and culture are potent facets of the American landscape—shaping where we live and go to school, whom we befriend and with whom we partner, how we get sick and whether we heal, how much we earn and what we own, how and where we work—and yet are largely undiscussable in most workplaces. Though many scholars and practitioners call for talking about race, it’s rare. It’s rare because it’s difficult. It raises thorny issues, triggers strong emotions, and challenges those who benefit from the status quo. Many work groups are caught...

  15. Appendix A Further Detail Regarding Methods
    (pp. 167-168)
  16. Appendix B Team Descriptions
    (pp. 169-170)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 171-178)
  18. References
    (pp. 179-194)
  19. Index
    (pp. 195-200)