In His Own Words: Gendered Racism through the Lens of a Black Man

Posted on by Desmond Banks, MPH, PhD

What is gendered racism?

As a social epidemiologist drawing upon the literature, I would define gendered racism as a system—consisting of structures, policies, practices, and norms—that assigns value and determines opportunity based on a person’s gender and race. I would explain that gendered racism produces amplified experiences that are different from experiences of racism or sexism alone, and shapes ongoing inequities and experiences of oppression. Gendered racism was first conceptualized to examine the unique experiences of oppression due to the intersection of race and ethnicity with gender, particularly among Black women.[1] The goal of this blog post is to help the reader see gendered racism through the lens of a Black man, under the reasonable assumption that my experiences and insights generalize far beyond me. As a Black man, I see gendered racism as the root cause of health disparities and addressing it as the key to opening doors to health equity.

For Black men, perhaps the most current archetypal example of inequities resulting from gendered racism in the United States involves incarceration. Gendered racism is evident at every stage of the criminal justice system, from policing to prosecutorial decisions, pretrial release processes, sentencing, correctional discipline, and even reentry.[2] Black men are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of White men,[3] and for many Black men, the deaths of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Rayshard Brooks, and several other incarceration-related deaths of Black men represent current-day public lynching[4] and incite feelings of fear and suppression. Although public lynching is no longer practiced in the United States, its impact on gendered racism and the health and well-being of Black men continues today; these public practices were intentionally graphic and aimed to instill fear and suppress the social advancement of Black people.

Gendered racism and senior-level employment

For many Black men, feelings of fear and suppression are not restricted to the criminal justice system or overtly racist encounters. For many of us, these feelings manifest within our daily work environments. Specifically, when witnessing the disproportionate underrepresentation of Black men in senior leadership positions[5]—high-paying and highly-esteemed jobs that allow us to avoid poverty and provide more comfortable lives for our families—it brings us back to gendered racism through the lens of Black men. When we go to work, we often do not see anyone who looks like us among our co-workers and much less among our supervisors. Whether consciously or subconsciously, many of us examine ourselves with hypervigilance every second of the workday—from our attire, demeanor, hair, and written and verbal communication—to ensure that we are conducting ourselves in a way that will allow us to survive professionally.

An examination of Federal employment data helps reveal what many Black men observe and experience daily at work. Although non-Hispanic White men comprise approximately 33.1 percent [6] of the U.S. civilian labor force, they retain 59.0 percent[7] of senior-level positions, while non-Hispanic Black men make up 5.6 percent[8] of the U.S. workforce but hold just 1.6 percent[9] of senior-level positions.

Gendered racism, senior-level employment, and incarceration

Although there are many more White men in senior-level positions (533,547)[10] than in prison (381,600)[11] in the United States, there are 30.2 times as many Black men behind bars (446,300)[12] than behind senior-level office desks (14,795).[13] In other words, Black men are, on average, 30 times more likely to be “locked-up” than “looked-up to” as senior-level employees. This ratio—the Ratio of Incarceration to Senior-level Employment (RISE)[14]—is one major component of what gendered racism looks like to me and to many other Black men. Although I believe that racism impacts all men of color, and am personally and professionally committed to reducing its impact among all people of color, RISE data indicate that Black men face a uniquely difficult path towards the “American Dream” of senior-level employment, one that is, unfortunately, more likely to lead to the “American Nightmare” of incarceration.

Gendered racism and health

As a Black man, knowing that I am living, learning, and working in a society where men like me are more likely to be incarcerated than secure a senior-level position is extremely distressing. As a public health professional, I would contend that any population that is more likely to face incarceration than senior-level employment would benefit from diverse health systems that are equipped with leadership representative of the population, so that culturally-relevant and informed health care and public health approaches could be implemented. For example, research suggests that overcrowding, inadequate ventilation, and lack of soap may increase the risk of infectious disease transmission within correctional facilities, which put people who are incarcerated at increased risk of tuberculosis and COVID-19 compared to non-incarcerated persons. Dishearteningly, data demonstrate that health consequences of incarceration persist even upon reentry into society, with people who are formerly incarcerated experiencing a 12.7 times higher risk of mortality within their first two weeks of release compared to the general population.

Opposite incarceration, individuals with senior-level positions have higher incomes[15] compared to persons without senior-level positions, and higher income is associated with a lower risk of morbidity and/or mortality due to coronary heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, type 2 diabetes, renal disease, depression, and COVID-19.

Because of the increased risk of adverse health events imposed by incarceration—combined with a lower likelihood of income-related health benefits afforded by senior-level employment—as a public health professional, I would recommend and expect that health systems would have many Black men in senior leadership positions, providing nuanced guidance on how to best deliver care and improve the health and wellbeing of their community while generating credibility and trust between patients and providers. Nonetheless, data demonstrate that this is not the case.

Federal employment data indicate that Black men comprise 5.6 percent[16] of the U.S. workforce, but retain just 1.9 percent of senior-level positions in health care and social assistance. In other words, or rather, through the lens of a Black man, the health care industry is no more receptive to Black men in terms of senior-level employment than any other industry. Importantly, research demonstrates that Hispanic and Native American persons are also underrepresented in health care professions.

This blog has described the foundational role of income, one facet of economic security, in constructing health. This observation is being increasingly recognized as a fundamental driver of health inequities and is the focus of the 2022 County Health Rankings National Findings Report, which states: “This year, we focus on the importance of pursuing economic security for everyone and all communities. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the layered crises of racism and economic exclusion, we can work to ensure that individuals, households, and communities can meet their essential needs with dignity and pursue opportunities for health… Jobs must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it.” Consistent with this theme, I believe that health equity cannot be achieved until all persons—including Black men—have a fair and just opportunity for senior-level employment.

What can I do about gendered racism?

Employers are an essential ally in reducing gendered racism with the power and responsibility to reduce it; they can examine their workforce composition to ensure that their employment and promotion practices promote equal opportunity for all people. By asking questions such as, “How many people in racial and ethnic minority groups work here?” and “How many people in racial and ethnic minority groups do we have in senior-level positions?”, employers can get started with creating an assessment for inequalities and uncover unintentional barriers that perpetuate workplace inequality. Asking these questions can help bring diverse voices to the talent pool and ensure different perspectives are heard – including the perspective of Black males. Employers can also implement genuine and authentic diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) efforts to uncover and address implicit biases among employees. As a Black man discussing DEIA efforts to reduce gendered racism, I must emphasize the terms, “genuine” and “authentic.” Having non-Black men develop, deliver, and be compensated for trying to train and convince non-Black men to accept Black men—without actually increasing the number Black male employees—can come across as disingenuous, ironic, and insulting to Black men. As a Black man who has attended several of these trainings, and have witnessed the subsequent failure to hire or retain Black men, I can personally confirm sentiments. Recent research on DEIA initiatives supports this notion as well, and calls a shift from preventative measures, such as antibias training, to proactive ones, such as increasing the number of Black male candidates considered for open positions.

Public health partners can develop policies and interventions that are responsive to the lived experience of how gendered racism impacts the health and well-being of Black men personally. For example, there is an absence of research on how being deprived of an equal opportunity for the “American Dream” (and the benefits therein) impacts our dignity, self-worth, and confidence in our ability to provide for our families. These are critically important research questions because the answers may help provide nuanced insights into disparities in educational attainment, depression, father absenteeism, and other cyclical adverse health indicators that reinforce themselves with each generation. By incorporating the Black male perspective within public health research—asking us about our perceptions with sincere empathy and empowering our voices and proposed solutions through Black male leadership—public health partners can begin to reduce gendered racism and promote health equity.

 

References

[1] Essed, P. (1991). Understanding everyday racism: An interdisciplinary theory (Vol. 2). Sage.

[2] Balko, R. (2020). There’s overwhelming evidence that the criminal justice system is racist. Here’s the proof. Washington Post.

[3] Based on data from Prisoners in 2020 – Statistical Tables, from the U.S. Department of Justice. Data come from Table 11. Imprisonment rates of U.S. residents, based on sentenced prisoners under the jurisdictions of state and federal correctional authorities, by demographic characteristics, December 31, 2020. Black Male (1,890) / White Male (332) = 5.69

[4] Facing History and Ourselves is a registered 501(c)(3) charity that provides teachers and schools with interdisciplinary content that promotes academic skills as well as empathy and ethical awareness.

[5] Based on EEOC Explore Interactive, 2018 data, national, males, Black/African American, Exec/Sr Officials and Managers = 14,795 (1.6%). For White males, the comparable result is 533,547 (59.0%); For ALL Exec/Sr Officials and Managers, for aggregate men, women, races, and Hispanics, the total is 904,227 (100.0%).

[6] Based on data from Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2018, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table 2. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older by detailed Asian group, and Hispanic or Latino and non-Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, gender, and race, 2018 annual averages (Numbers in thousands). Non-Hispanic White Men (53,674) / Total civilian labor force (162,075) = 33.1%.

[7] Based on EEOC Explore Interactive, 2018 data, national, males, Black/African American, Exec/Sr Officials and Managers = 14,795 (1.6%). For White males, the comparable result is 533,547 (59.0%); For ALL Exec/Sr Officials and Managers, for aggregate men, women, races, and Hispanics, the total is 904,227 (100.0%).

[8] Based on data from Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2018, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table 2. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older by detailed Asian group, and Hispanic or Latino and non-Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, gender, and race, 2020 annual averages (Numbers in thousands). Non-Hispanic Black Men (9,075) / Total civilian labor force (162,075) = 5.6%.

[9] Based on EEOC Explore Interactive, 2018 data, national, males, Black/African American, Exec/Sr Officials and Managers = 14,795 (1.6%). For White males, the comparable result is 533,547 (59.0%); For ALL Exec/Sr Officials and Managers, for aggregate men, women, races, and Hispanics, the total is 904,227 (100.0%).

[10] Based on EEOC Explore Interactive, 2018 data, national, males, Black/African American, Exec/Sr Officials and Managers = 14,795 (1.6%). For White males, the comparable result is 533,547 (59.0%); For ALL Exec/Sr Officials and Managers, for aggregate men, women, races, and Hispanics, the total is 904,227 (100.0%).

[11] Based on data from Prisoners in 2018 – Statistical Tables, from the U.S. Department of Justice. Data come from Table 10. Imprisonment rates of U.S. residents, based on sentenced prisoners under the jurisdictions of state and federal correctional authorities, by demographic characteristics, December 31, 2018. Number of White Male sentenced prisoners = 321,500

[12] Based on data from Prisoners in 2018 – Statistical Tables, from the U.S. Department of Justice. Data come from Table 10. Imprisonment rates of U.S. residents, based on sentenced prisoners under the jurisdictions of state and federal correctional authorities, by demographic characteristics, December 31, 2018. Number of Black Male sentenced prisoners = 446,300

[13] Based on EEOC Explore Interactive, 2018 data, national, males, Black/African American, Exec/Sr Officials and Managers = 14,795 (1.6%). For White males, the comparable result is 533,547 (59.0%); For ALL Exec/Sr Officials and Managers, for aggregate men, women, races, and Hispanics, the total is 904,227 (100.0%).

[14] Ratio of incarceration to senior-level employment (RISE) among males in the U.S., by state and by race/ethnicity, 2018.

[15] Based on data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2021 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. “Management Occupations” annual mean wage = $123,370 compared to “All Occupations” annual mean wage = $58,260.

[16] Based on data from Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2018, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table 2. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older by detailed Asian group, and Hispanic or Latino and non-Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, gender, and race, 2020 annual averages (Numbers in thousands). Non-Hispanic Black Men (9,075) / Total civilian labor force (162,075) = 5.6%.

Posted on by Desmond Banks, MPH, PhDTags

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Page last reviewed: October 6, 2022
Page last updated: October 6, 2022