THE BLOG

FDNY: Here Is What Structural, Institutional, Systemic Racism Looks Like

Oct 04, 2012 | Updated Dec 04, 2012

The Fire Department of New York City is 89 percent white. Arguably, New York City is the most ethnically diverse city in the United States of America. A system has to work extraordinarily hard -- go out of its way -- to create and maintain an 89 percent White workforce, in a New York City public institution. But a Federal judge ruled FDNY can't do that -- discriminate -- anymore, and White fighterfighters are none to pleased about this ruling.

There is surefire Fugazi going on at FDNY, and with City of New York leadership, for effectively co-signing the practice of discrimination in one of its agencies.

Structural and Institutional Racism

The phrase 'structural and institutional racism' is confusing. Not to me, but to some. Even good-meaning people can't quite figure out how systemic patterns of race-based discrimination, over a period of time, constitutes a form of racism. Northerners, especially (remarkably, even those who are Black and Latino), have convinced themselves that racist behavior is only demonstrated in language (racial epithets), violence (KKK-esk), and limited to geography (southern region of United States). But the FDNY shows us that even in a liberal, progressive, Democratic leaning northern city, that is ethnically diverse, structural and systemic racism thrives.

The FDNY is a pitch-perfect example of how structural and institutional racism looks. And in this case, it has taken federal intervention to correct discriminatory practices in this public institution.

In 2007, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the FDNY and the City of New York, alleging that the City discriminated against Black and Latino applicants. It took the Feds, not good will and the responsible stewardship of city leaders (agency heads, elected officials), to right this wrong.

In 2010, the Court found FDNY and the City of New York engaged in a pattern of discriminatory practices. The presiding Judge, Nicholas Garaufis, imposed several mandates to correct the practice of discrimination. That is the gist of the case. You should take the time to read the timeline of the case.

White FDNY firefighters are not taking these mandates and changes well. At a complaint hearing this week, one white firefighter kvetched to Judge Garaufis that he feels discriminated against because he is "Caucasian."

Here are a few more comments from white firefighters, who are upset about the Court's ruling and the Judge's actions. The New York Daily News reports:

Seniority was earned in the dead of night when these benefactors were home sleeping," said firefighter Matthew Bland, a nine-year veteran.

"I am concerned for the future of my department ... Standards must remain high," said Chief Nicholas Corrado, the highest-ranking FDNY officer to testify.

"I feel I'm being discriminated against because I'm Caucasian," firefighter Michael Butt said.

In defending itself against charges of discriminatory practices, FDNY has argued blacks and Latinos did not pass entrance exams, suggesting either group does not have the intellectual capacity to pass the test. But what FDNY failed to mention is that their legacy hires -- white firefighters with friends and family ties -- are given preferential treatment when they fail exams, and are hired and promoted anyway. What about their intellectual capacity, when they don't pass the test?

To achieve 89 percent all white status, in a City of New York agency, there has to be a number of discriminatory practices used to bar non-White applicants access. But it appears that FDNY party is over. Judge Garaufis has set in motion a process, to nip in the bud race-based discriminatory practices. That is a good thing. And shame on the City of New York's stewardship for letting this get to a point where the Department of Justice filed a complaint, and a judge is telling them what they should have done on their own.


Sharon Toomer for BlackandBrownNews.com