Trayvon Martin: Hoods Up, HR!

Laurie Ruettimann Laurie Ruettimann, politics, Race

George Zimmerman has been acquitted.

I wonder how some of our colleagues are feeling. Do they feel like reasonable doubt is reasonable doubt? Or do they feel like they ain’t shit?

What do you think about the Zimmerman trial? Do you feel that it’s inappropriate to talk about this in the office? What are your employees talking about? What are the African American parents in your office saying about raising children in this country, right now? Do your minority employees feel comfortable expressing an opinion on the verdict?

I want to know.

HR professionals hate to be political, but many of us read enough resumes and job applications to know that it is pretty complicated to be a young black man in America.

  • 54% of African Americans graduate from high school, compared to more than three quarters of white and Asian students.
  • Nationally, African American male students in grades K-12 were nearly 2½ times as likely to be suspended from school in 2000 as white students.
  • In 2007, nearly 6.2 million young people were high school dropouts. Every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.
  • On average, African American twelfth-grade students read at the same level as white eighth-grade students.
  • The twelfth-grade reading scores of African American males were significantly lower than those for men and women across every other racial and ethnic group.
  • Only 14% of African American eighth graders score at or above the proficient level. These results reveal that millions of young people cannot understand or evaluate text, provide relevant details, or support inferences about the written documents they read.
  • The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.

The Zimmerman trial is forcing lots of people to have uncomfortable discussions about race, privilege and opportunity in America. Is anyone in your HR department talking about this?

I am talking about it. So are my friends. I believe that Human Resources professional should be — in President George H.W. Bush’s words — one of a thousand points of light in our community. HR should stand its ground and fight for equal opportunity, equal treatment, equal access and equal protection under the law.

And HR should fight hard to hire workers based on competency and ability. If we can’t find workers because of a failed educational system, we should fight like hell to train new workers. We should go beyond complying with the law. We should demand that our employees be treated in a respectful, inclusive way. We should fight for fairness and call BULLSHIT on all forms of bias in the workforce.

Right now, I think HR is failing. (We are certainly failing young black men like Trayvon Martin.) But we could turn this ship around by having more honest conversations about race, gender, wages, bias and employment. We could talk about real issues that impact our employees. We could be braver and bolder.

This is on us.

Hoods up, HR!