Though it was a tough piece of advice to hear (after all, being a political columnist, sharing my heartfelt opinion is part of my DNA), it also made me reflect on something I have discussed privately but never publicly, which is this: I know there are rooms of opportunity and power—including some writers rooms—that people like me are increasingly excluded from simply because the people in them are petrified of saying the wrong thing in front of me or another person of color or another woman and ending up vilified in social media or on a blog or in a protest. So instead they surround themselves with fellow white guys. I know this in part because in the last two weeks I have had at least two white people I know say that family members or friends have made comments to that affect, i.e. “I really like my black co-worker but I’m nervous about dinner because what if things turn to politics and I say the wrong thing.”
In an age in which unarmed black men are getting shot by police this may sound like small potatoes. But consider this: A groundbreaking study published in the American Psychologist last year found that blatant racism is no longer the biggest obstacle facing minorities seeking workplace advancement today. Instead it has been replaced by what you might call accidental discrimination. According to the study, “in present-day America, discrimination results more from helping ingroup members than from harming outgroup members.”
The study gives eye-opening examples that can best be summarized as this: people hire other people like them, but more specifically people hire and promote other people in their social networks. That means while getting good grades is important, today it may not be as important as going to the right school, the right church, joining the right social clubs, or playing the right leisure sports and meeting the right people and leveraging those relationships into professional opportunity.