The economic marginalization of African American men has been studied in a variety of contexts, from trade union exclusion, to joblessness, to disparate wages and mobility. Discrimination is often inferred as an influential mechanism, yet seldom directly examined in its own right. Drawing on a unique sample of verified workplace discrimination cases, this article analyzes forms and processes of discrimination that African American men face in employment. Our results denote the prevalence of discriminatory firing, with on-going racial harassment and discriminatory promotional and hiring practices also quite evident. In-depth immersion into case materials highlights the centrality of racial stereotyping and significant discretion on the part of gatekeepers within organizational environments-discretion in the use of “soft skills” criteria to exclude and debilitate mobility, and in selective (or even targeted) use of seemingly neutral organizational policies and sanctions. Moreover, harassment on the job—something that conventional workplace inequality research has overlooked—is quite problematic and well-represented in these data. We conclude by discussing the implications of our results for the conceptualization of inequality reproduction and that pertaining to race, status, and the workplace in particular.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Baldi, S., & McBrier, D. B. (1997). Do the determinants of promotion differ for blacks and whites? Work and Occupations, 24, 478–497.
Bendick, M., Jackson, C. W., & Reinoso, V. A. (1994). Measuring employment discrimination through controlled experiments. Review of Black Political Economy, 23, 25–48.
Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2003). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. NBER working paper series. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Blalock, H. (1967). Toward a theory of minority group relations. New York: Wiley & Sons.
Blau, P. (1964). Exchange and power in social life. New York: Wiley & Sons.
Bobo, L. D., & Suh, S. A. (2000). Surveying racial discrimination: Analyses from a multiethnic labor market. In L. D. Bobo, M. L. Oliver, J. H. Johnson Jr. & A. Valenzuela Jr. (Eds.), Prismatic metropolis: Inequality in Los Angeles. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Bonilla-Silva, E. (2003). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persitence of racial inequality in the United States. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.
Bound, J., & Freeman, R. B. (1992). What went wrong? The erosion of relative earnings and employment among young black men in the 1980 s. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 107, 201–232.
Braddock, J. H., II, & McPartland, J. M. (1987). How minorities continue to be excluded from equal employment opportunities: Research on labor market and institutional barriers. Journal of Social Issues, 43, 5–39.
Cohn, S., & Fossett, M. (1995). Why racial employment inequality is greater in northern labor markets: Regional differences in white-black employment differentials. Social Forces, 74, 511–542.
Coleman, J. W. (2006). The criminal elite: Understanding white-collar crime (6th ed.). New York: Worth.
Collins, S. M. (1993). Blacks on the bubble: The vulnerability of black executives in white corporations. Sociological Quarterly, 34, 429–447.
Collins, S. M. (1997). Black mobility in white corporations: Up the corporate ladder but out on a limb. Social Problems, 44, 55–67.
Cummings, S. (1987). Vulnerability to the effects of recession: Minority and female workers. Social Forces, 65, 834–857.
De Coster, S., Estes, S. B., & Mueller, C. W. (1999). Routine activities and sexual harassment in the workplace. Work and Occupations, 26, 21–49.
Donohue, J. J., & Siegelman, P. (1991). The changing nature of employment discrimination litigation. Stanford Law Review, 43, 983–1033.
Elliot, J. R., & Smith, R. A. (2004). Race, gender, and workplace power. American Sociological Review, 69, 365–386.
Elvira, M. M., & Zatzick, C. D. (2002). Who’s displaced first: The role of race in layoff decisions. Industrial Relations, 41, 329–361.
Feagin, J. R. (1991). The continuing significance of race: Antiblack discrimination in public places. American Sociological Review, 56, 101–116.
Feagin, J. R., & McKinney, K. D. (2003). The many costs of racism. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.
Fix, M., & Struyk, R. J. (eds). (1993). Clear and convincing evidence: Measurement of discrimination in America. Washington: Urban Institute.
Foucault, M. (1980). Power/knowledge. New York: Pantheon.
Greenhaus, J. H., Parasuraman, S., & Wormley, W. M. (1990). Effects of race on organizational experiences, job performance evaluations, and career outcomes. The Academy of Management Journal, 33, 64–86.
Grodsky, E., & Pager, D. (2001). The structure of disadvantage: Individual and occupational determinants of the black-white wage gap. American Sociological Review, 66, 542–567.
Henry, E. G., & Jennings, J. P. (2004). Age discrimination in layoffs: Factors of injustice. Journal of Business Ethics, 54, 217–224.
Huffman, M. L., & Cohen, P. N. (2004). Racial wage inequality: Job segregation and devaluation across U.S. labor markets. American Journal of Sociology, 109, 902–936.
Hughes, M., & Demo, D. H. (1989). Self-perceptions of black Americans: Self-esteem and personal efficacy. American Journal of Sociology, 95, 132–159.
Hunt, M. O. (2007). African American, Hispanic, and white beliefs about black/white inequality, 1977–2004. American Sociological Review, 72, 390–415.
James, E. H. (2000). Race-related differences in promotions and support: Underlying effects of human and social capital. Organization Science, 11, 493–508.
Kaufman, R. L. (1986). The impact of industrial and occupational structure on black-white employment allocation. American Sociological Review, 51, 310–323.
Kaufman, R. L. (2002). Assessing alternative perspectives on race and sex employment segregation. American Sociological Review, 67, 547–572.
Kalev, A. (2009). Cracking the glass cages: Restructuring and ascriptive inequality at work. American Journal of Sociology, 114, 1591–1643.
Kalev, A., Kelly, E., & Dobbin, F. (2006). Best practices or best guesses? Assessing the efficacy of corporate affirmative action and diversity policies. American Sociological Review, 71, 589–617.
Kessler, R. C., Mickelson, K. D., & Williams, D. R. (1999). The prevalence, distribution, and mental health correlates of perceived discrimination in the United States. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 40, 208–230.
Kimmel, M. S., & Smith, T. (2005). The “reasonable woman” and unreasonable men: Gendered discourses in sexual harassment litigation. In J. E. Gruber & P. Morgan (Eds.), In the company of men: Male dominance and sexual harassment (pp. 143–166). Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Kirschenman, J., & Neckerman, K. M. (1991). “We’d love to hire them, but…”: The meaning of race for employers. In C. Jencks & P. E. Peterson (Eds.), The urban underclass (pp. 203–232). Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution.
Kluegel, J. R. (1978). The causes and cost of racial exclusion from job authority. American Sociological Review, 43, 285–301.
Krieger, N., Rowley, D. L., Herman, A. A., Avery, B., & Phillips, M. T. (1993). Racism, sexism, and social class: Implications for studies of health, disease, and well-being. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 9, 82–122.
Lynn, R., & Mau, W. (2002). Why do black American males earn less than black American women? An examination of four hypotheses. The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, 27, 307–313.
MacKinnon, C. (1979). Sexual harassment of working women. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Maume, D. J. (1999). Glass ceilings and glass escalators: Occupational segregation and race and sex differences in managerial promotions. Work and Occupations, 26, 483–509.
McBrier, D. B., & Wilson, G. (2004). Going down?: Race and downward occupational mobility for white-collar workers in the 1990 s. Work and Occupations, 31, 283–322.
McCall, L. (2001). Complex inequality: Gender, class and race in the new economy. New York: Routledge.
Moss, P., & Tilly, C. (1996). Soft skills and race: An investigation of black men’s employment problems. Work and Occupations, 23, 252–276.
Moss, P., & Tilly, C. (2001). Stories employers tell: Race, skill, and hiring in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Mueller, C., Parcel, T., & Tanaka, K. (1989). Particularism in authority outcomes: The case of supervisors. Social Science Research, 32, 1–20.
Ohio Civil Rights Commission. (2004). About OCRC. Columbus, OH: Ohio Civil Right Commission. Retrieved November 2, 2004 (http://crc.ohio.gov/mission.htm).
Pager, D. (2003). The mark of a criminal record. American Journal of Sociology, 108, 937–975.
Pager, D., & Quillian, L. (2005). Walking the talk? What employers say versus what they do. American Sociological Review, 70, 355–380.
Park, H., & Sandefur, G. D. (2003). Racial/ethnic differences in voluntary and involuntary job mobility among young men. Social Science Research, 32, 347–375.
Parkin, F. (1974). Strategies of social closure in class formation. In F. Parkin (Ed.), The social analysis of class structure. London: Tavistock Publications Limited.
Peterson, T., & Saporta, I. (2004). The opportunity structure for discrimination. American Journal of Sociology, 109, 852–901.
Reid, L. L. (1998). Devaluing women and minorities: The effects of race/ethnic and sex composition of occupations on wage levels. Work and Occupations, 25, 511–536.
Reid, L. L., & Padavic, I. (2005). Employment exits and the race gap in young women’s employment. Social Science Quarterly, 86, 1242–1260.
Reskin, B. (2000). The proximate causes of employment discrimination. Contemporary Sociology, 29, 319–328.
Reskin, B. (2003). Including mechanisms in our models of ascriptive inequality. American Sociological Review, 68, 1–21.
Reskin, B. F., & Roos, P. A. (1990). Job queues, gender queues: Explaining women’s inroads into male occupations. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Roscigno, V. J. (2007). The face of discrimination: How race and gender impact work and home lives. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Roscigno, V. J., Garcia, L., & Bobbitt-Zener, D. (2007). Social closure and processes of race/sex employment discrimination. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 609, 16–48.
Roscigno, V. J., Karafin, D., & Tester, G. (2009). The complexities and processes of racial housing discrimination. Social Problems, 56, 46–69.
Royster, D. A. (2003). Race and the invisible hand: How white networks exclude black men from blue-collar jobs. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Sackett, P. R., DuBois, C. L. Z., & Noe, A. W. (1991). Tokenism in performance evaluation: The effects of work group representation on male-female and white-black differences in performance ratings. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, 263–267.
Shih, J. (2002). …Yeah, I could hire this one, but I know it’s gonna be a problem: How race, nativity and gender affect employers’ perceptions of the manageability of job seekers. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 25, 99–119.
Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. (1999). Social dominance: An intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, R. A. (1997). Race, income, and authority at work: A cross-temporal analysis of black and white men (1972–1994). Social Problems, 44, 19–37.
Smith, R. A. (2001). Particularism in control over monetary resources at work: An analysis of racioethnic differences in the authority outcomes of black, white, and Latino men. Work and Occupations, 28, 447–468.
Smith, R. A. (2002). Race, gender, and authority in the workplace: Theory and research. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 509–542.
Smith, R. A. (2005). Do the determinants of promotion differ for white men versus women and minorities: An exploration of intersectionalism through sponsored and contest mobility processes. American Behavioral Scientist, 48, 1157–1181.
Smith, S. L., & Cloud, C. (1996). The role of private, nonprofit fair housing enforcement organizations in lending testing. In J. Goering & R. Wienk (Eds.), Mortgage lending, racial discrimination, and federal policy (pp. 589–610). Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute.
Tomaskovic-Devey, D. (1993a). Gender & racial inequality at work: The sources & consequences of job segregation. Ithaca: ILR.
Tomaskovic-Devey, D. (1993b). The gender and race composition of jobs and the male/female, white/black pay gaps. Social Forces, 72, 45–76.
Tomaskovic-Devey, D., Thomas, M., & Johnson, K. (2005). Race and the accumulation of human capital across the career: A theoretical model and fixed-effects application. American Journal of Sociology, 111, 58–89.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2000). Population and household economic topics: Ohio quick facts. Washington, D. C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census. Retrieved December 20, 2004 (http://www.census.gov/population/www/index.html).
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (2004). Employment Statistics (1999 EEO-1 Aggregate Reports). Washington, D. C.: U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved November 2, 2004. (http://www.eeoc.gov/stats/define.html).
Vallas, S. P. (2003). Rediscovering the color line within organizations: ‘The knitting of racial groups’ revisited. Work and Occupations, 30, 379–400.
Vaughan, D. (1992). The macro-micro connection in “white-collar crime” theory. In K. Schlegel & D. Weisburd (Eds.), White collar crime reconsidered (pp. 124–145). Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Williams, D. R. (1995). Poverty, racism and migration: The health of the African American population. In S. Pedrazza & R. Rumbaut (Eds.), Immigration, race and ethnicity in America: Historical and contemporary perspectives. CA: Wadsworth.
Williams, D. R., & Collins, C. (1995). U.S. socioeconomic and racial differences in health: Patterns and explanations. Annual Review of Sociology, 21, 349–386.
Williams, D. R., & Williams-Morris, R. (2000). Racism and mental health: The African American experience. Ethnicity & Health, 5, 243–268.
Wilson, F. D., Tienda, M., & Wu, L. (1995). Race and unemployment: Labor market experiences of black and white men, 1968–1988. Work and Occupations, 22, 245–270.
Wilson, G. (1997). Pathways to power: Racial differences in the determinants of job authority. Social Problems, 44, 38–54.
Wilson, G., & McBrier, D. B. (2005). Race and loss of privilege: African American/white differences in the determinants of job layoffs from upper-tier occupations. Sociological Forum, 20, 301–321.
Wilson, G., Sakura-Lemessy, I., & West, J. P. (1999). Reaching the top: Racial differences in mobility paths to upper-tier occupations. Work and Occupations, 26, 165–186.
Wilson, W. J. (1987). The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass and public policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Wilson, W. J. (1996). When work disappears: The world of the new urban poor. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Xu, W., & Leffler, A. (1992). Gender and race effects on occupational prestige, segregation, and earnings. Gender & Society, 6, 376–392.
Young, I. M. (1990). Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Young, I. M. (2001). Equality of whom? Social groups and judgments of justice. The Journal of Political Philosophy, 9, 1–18.
The authors acknowledge the support of the Department of Sociology, Ohio State University, and that of members of the Ohio Discrimination Project. We also thank Randy Hodson, Steve Lopez, George Wilson, the Editor of Qualitative Sociology, Javier Auyero, and three anonymous reviewers for constructive insights and suggestions on an earlier draft.
About this article
Cite this article
Mong, S.N., Roscigno, V.J. African American Men and the Experience of Employment Discrimination. Qual Sociol 33, 1–21 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-009-9142-4