Minority Hiring: A View from Within the Construction Industry

This letter to the editor was published in the Star Tribune today:

I’ve worked in heavy construction, have seen how it works, and have thoughts about the March 28 story “Higher minority-hiring goal riles construction industry.”

Often, contractors and trades hold a jealous grip on jobs. The positions are well-paid; there’s a take-care-of-our-own ethos, and there’s a zero-sum fear: If “they” gain something, then “we” lose something.

At the systemic level, little energy exists to understand the historic and current differential access to quality education, training, internships, apprenticeships and jobs. Our institutions don’t notice racial disparities because privilege is often invisible to those who hold it.

At the interpersonal level, since most folks have a moral conscience and need self-protective justification for supporting oppression, we have to convince ourselves and each other that “they” are in some way inherently inferior and undeserving (intelligence, work ethic, competence, morality), or we cleave to the argument that change is too difficult.

Those who attempt to address the imbalances are routinely marginalized as delusional, racist, socialist, or just uppity.

Often, minorities who get in find themselves demeaned, given the dirtiest tasks, laid off first and invalidated with the old standards: “Can’t you take a joke?” “I’m sure you’re overreacting.” “Do you want this job or not?”

I wore a hard hat, carried my lunch and worked in the weather, and I believe we can do better as a society and as individuals. And I’m white.