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Hollywood Is ‘Sorority-Racist’: Chris Rock Explains Unconscious Bias on Oscars Night

Last night, during his opening monologue for the 88th Academy Awards, host Chris Rock gave perhaps the best explanation to date of unconscious bias and how it affects the careers of black actors. Hollywood, he said, isn't "burning-cross racist" or "fetch-me-some-lemonade racist." It's "sorority-racist." "Is Hollywood racist?" he asked. "You're damn right. Hollywood is racist, but it ain't that racist that you've grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority-racist. It's like, 'We like you, Rhonda, but you're not a Kappa.'"

Last night, during his opening monologue for the 88th Academy Awards, host Chris Rock gave perhaps the best explanation to date of unconscious bias and how it affects the careers of black actors. Hollywood, he said, isn’t “burning-cross racist” or “fetch-me-some-lemonade racist.” It’s “sorority-racist.”

“Is Hollywood racist?” he asked. “You’re damn right. Hollywood is racist, but it ain’t that racist that you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority-racist. It’s like, ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.'”

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(Photo Credit: Gnaphron/Flickr)

In other words, it’s not necessarily that Hollywood power brokers are setting out to exclude black actors from roles. It’s that they have prejudices they aren’t even aware of, and these prejudices keep them from casting black and other minority actors, whether it’s by not developing projects that come from non-white creators or refusing to consider color-blind casting for roles that aren’t race- or ethnicity-specific.

In this way, Hollywood’s directors and producers and studio heads are probably a lot like your boss – or even like you. But understanding that you don’t have to be a bad person in order to perpetuate inequality is important to making the work world better for everyone.

“This is the huge advantage of the current conversation about unconscious bias – it’s not that anyone intentionally has racist/misogynist/anti-Muslim/homophobic/other awful attitudes, though of course they may, but that even well-intentioned people do,” said Anne Krook, author of “Now What Do I Say?”: Practical Workplace Advice for Younger Women, in PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide. “When it’s a matter of human cognition, it’s possible to remove the element of blame.”

How to Fight Unconscious Bias

Removing the element of blame might be important, if you’re trying to reform your own employer’s hiring practices from the inside. It’s less about protecting the feelings of the decision-makers who are acting out of unconscious bias, and more about fixing the problem as quickly as possible. The benefits to doing so are two-fold: 1. qualified workers will have a chance to succeed, and 2. your employer won’t miss out on the person who could take the company to the next level, because of prejudices the hiring managers don’t even realize they have.

The good news is that most companies have an advantage that Hollywood productions don’t have: they don’t need headshots, and the “audition” stage comes later in the process.

If you’re a manager, you can push for name-blind resume review during the hiring process. A field experiment by research fellows from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that job applicants with stereotypically “white names” needed to send 10 resumes to get a call back, while those with “African-American names” had to send 15.

Name-blind applications might also help counteract gender bias. One study showed that hiring managers in an academic setting rated applicants with male names as “significantly more competent and hireable.”

Rooting Out Long-Standing Bias

Fighting unconscious bias doesn’t end with the hiring stage. Krook says that senior staff with a little clout may be able to request a salary equity review to ensure that pay is fair along gender and racial lines. She warns, however, that doing so might be too risky for younger or newer employees.

If you do advocate for a review, you can impress upon your bosses that the problem isn’t exclusive to your company.

“It’s also worthwhile to point out that especially for women and racial minorities $0.77 and less on the dollar is a persistent, long-standing, nationwide problem, so in bringing it up you are not pointing out anything unique to your organization, but a legitimate nationwide concern,” Krook says.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you encountered unconscious bias in your career? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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