Favoritism and our children’s #socialcapital

My son, an eleven year old who just finished the fifth grade last week, was looking a little down a couple weeks ago.  I asked him what was wrong and he said that he felt the teachers were exhibiting favoritism in the classroom.  He felt hurt that certain kids seemed to catch the teachers’ attention in the classroom and that his independent, outside-the-box thinking was being frowned upon.  “Daddy, I know you said it’s good to be different, but it’s hard.”  I responded, “Welcome to the real world, son.  Now you have a choice: be stronger or suck up by selling out your values.”

Unlike racism, we can’t protect our children from favoritism for any extended period of time, I think.  We can avoid racism to a limited extent by staying within our social agencies like our churches, families, schools, or other traditionally ethnic-based organizations.  Favoritism follows you no matter where you are, whether inside those agencies or not.  Favoritism may be, according to this The New York Times piece, may be more chilling on our access to economic opportunities as it severely impacts our social capital, a piece of capital we take for granted.

In the piece, Rutgers University professor Nancy DiTomaso argues that favoritism may be more an impediment to Black American economic advancement than racism because favoritism stems from natural and social agency affiliations and is legal.  People hire and associate with those who are just like them.  For this reason, unemployed whites looking for work will tap their social networks, networks that are already chock full of advantages that black social networks do not have: primarily the advantages with ties to economic capital.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with these networks and there is definitely nothing wrong with whites making full use of them.  There are at the base of a natural labor market, where these social networks provide conduits to vital insider information on labor markets.  The last place public policy needs to muck around in are these organic social networks.

How can Black Americans counter the barriers these social networks impose?  I think part of the answer goes to focusing on bringing value to relationships.  While we are highly segregated socially it doesn’t mean that ethnic communities don’t have ties to each other.  Most of us have friends and associates of various races, ethnic backgrounds, and creeds.  Rather than moping around waiting for some government intervention to force us to hold hands as we climb to the mountain top, our focus should be on determining the needs of the few contacts we have and determining how we can better place ourselves as value providers.  In the end, the longest and most profitable relationships are based on value.

If anything our children will learn a quickly that not everyone will be our friend or favor us over someone else, but at least we will provide them a framework to properly discern who and what matters in their lives.

About Alton Drew

Alton Drew brings a straight forward and insightful brand of political market intelligence. Alton Drew graduated from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in economics and political science (1984); a Master of Public Administration (1993); and a Juris Doctor (1999). You can also follow Alton Drew on Twitter @altondrew.
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3 Responses to Favoritism and our children’s #socialcapital

  1. Kenneth Ciszewski says:

    If I read your post correctly, Alton, you’re talking about what amounts to favoritism based partially on race, because people people tend to associate (social network) with people like themselves. I can’t claim that I fully appreciate the problems that African Americans experience in this regard, because I’m not an African American.

    But while favoritism is a big problem for African Americans as you describe it (and probably for other racial and ethnic groups as well), and I am not trying to downplay the severity of this in any way, it’s not always a picnic for white people either.

    Years ago I was talking to a (white) woman who was an electrical engineer about the so-called “glass ceiling” that worked against the advancement of women. I agreed with her that this was a difficult problem for women, for sure. Even so, in many companies, it’s also a problem for men, believe it or not. There were plenty of (white) men in that company where I worked seeking advancement. Frankly, there wasn’t much opportunity for most of us. The company had already picked its “stars” years before, and that was pretty much that–unless you were a former Navy fighter pilot or adminal, in which case, you were golden.

    “In the end, the longest and most profitable relationships are based on value.” That seems to make sense, and yet, value, like a lot of other things, is in the eye of the beholder. Even if one provides a lot of value (in terms of revenue, profit, customer service, whatever), sometimes it goes unrecognized because the provider is not already a “favorite”. I’ve personally observed numerous instances of this.

    And you’re right, the government can’t fix any of this.

    • dalambie11 says:

      Perhaps you should consider the hundreds of years that European Americans have had establishing their support systems compared to the less than, hey, I really can’t pinpoint an exact amount of time for the descendants of enslaved African Americans due to enslavement, Jim Crow practices, and continuing institutionalized racism. Help me out sir, perchance your historical references are more exact.

      • Kenneth Ciszewski says:

        European Americans have been doing business with one another and “scratching each others backs”, so to speak for a long time. African Americans have been shut out of the (white) business community since they were brought over as slaves, as far as I know. Even after being “freed”, they were shut out, and “reenslaved” in a de facto way by vagrancy laws passed in US southern states after the Civil War and Reconstruction.

        The (white) wealthy class in the US has done it’s best to be an exclusive club and keep lower and middle class folks down, although in the US, there are times when a few members of these groups break through.

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