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.