Representatives from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said that despite efforts to eradicate discrimination in the workplace, racism continues to remain a very real problem for minorities in Los Angeles County.

The EEOC held a town hall meeting at the First Church of God Saturday in Inglewood, Calif. to discuss methods to combat racism and held a question and answer period afterward to answer attendee’s questions.

EEOC district director Olophius Perry said that the agency is attempting to reach out to residents who may have been victims of discrimination but have failed to file a complaint. “We don’t get all of the complaints that occur in Los Angeles County which means we are sometimes clueless as to the amount of discrimination that actually exists,” observed Perry. “We don’t know where the problems are if we don’t get complaints. We’re looking for parties to help us identify problems so that we can make the environment more fair.”

Perry said that when a person comes forward with a charge of discrimination, they can file a complaint with the EEOC.

“We try to resolve discrimination complaints, and we sue people. But one of our biggest challenges are resources. We don’t have enough people to do the amount of work we need to do in the Los Angeles district.”

Patricia Kane, an EEOC enforcement supervisor said that even with the enactment of Title Seven which forbids discrimination in the workforce and the establishment of the EEOC, the organization had lost focus throughout the years. “Three years ago, we had a 40th anniversary and we realized we needed to go back and look at race discrimination because it is still prevalent,” she observed.

Kane said that racism has become more subtle over the years and that employers are even beginning to discriminate against minorities who have certain names. “Many of these employers can readily assess the race of a person by their name and they will throw their resume out,” she said, adding that hiring and promotion, racial harassment and unfair firings continue to remain prevalent.

Kane recounted a recent case where an African American female applied for a job only to be gruffly told that the job was filled. “She contacted a white friend to apply to the same store and see if she would be given an application. The white friend got an application immediately. Realizing that she had been discriminated against, the African American female filed a case with the EEOC,” said Kane.

Kane said that the EEOC is actively seeking people to apply and become “testers” to test for discrimination in the workplace.

Former Councilman Nate Holden said that before the days of the EEOC, he worked in the aerospace industry and that discrimination was rampant. “We raised a lot of hell,” said Holden. “About five or six of us black employees walked into the bosses’ offices. We got them to open up the company’s books to show that white guys made a higher salary than the black guys. We made them adjust our salaries on the spot.”

Pausing, Holden observed, “Why is it still a problem for African Americans to gain equality? We are having the same problems as we did years before. Look at the schools. We are being denied equal education. We still have to fight the fight on every front. You have to be strong enough to fight to make sure changes are made,” Holden said. “Take your stand, make your pitch, and don’t back up.”

Dr. Oliver Wilson, a professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills observed, “I came from the sugarcane bottoms of Louisiana and I observed racism in every form and fashion. You can’t really understand racism unless you were born and raised in a rural town surrounded by a plantation.”

Wilson said that he also had experienced racism as a professor. “Someone came up to me and said, “Do you know why you have trouble with white men on this campus? Because you’re smarter than they are, you look better than they do, and you’re not an Uncle Tom,” said Wilson.

“Racism is not easy to discern,” Wilson pointed out. “Ever since white people came to this country, they selected a certain type of black person to be their surrogates,” said the professor, who alleged that white people often pick ‘docile’ and ‘subservient’ blacks for high positions and those blacks practice discrimination against their own people as well. “‘Uncle Tomism’ is alive and well in academia and in the workforce,” said Wilson.

Pausing, Wilson observed, “Racism is not going to let up. It changes forms. It can be there and you can’t see it.”

William Ruffin, executive director of the Black Employees Association who said that he had been fighting racism in employment for 34 years, said he was doubtful as to whether racism would be eradicated in society. “It’s not going to happen,” he maintained. “What do you do? You practice an exorcism on racism. You don’t use a cross or holy water, racism doesn’t understand those things.”

Ruffin said that applying the law was the only way to eradicate racism. “You use the Title Seven law and you use the American Disability Act. You use strategy. I use chess moves and counter moves. You attack an organization’s position with the law.”

Pastor Eric Lee, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference observed that it is harder to identify racism than it was 40 to 50 years ago. “It seems to have gotten worse because the strategies are covert. Black folks are not being hired in the workforce,” said Lee.

Lee pointed out that the jobs African Americans do acquire do not allow them to make major decisions regarding where or how the company or organization’s resources are being spent. “It’s clear that racism is going on but we haven’t devised a strategy to deal with it,” he said. “We have to mobilize so that we can effectively change discrimination in our society.”

Lee said that the term ‘colorblind society’ is a form of racism. “Society is not colorblind,” he pointed out. “We need to know the statistics and numbers of how we are being discriminated against.”

Pausing, Lee added that civil rights agencies have to remain vigilant when it comes to racism. “The civil rights agencies have been asleep for 40 years, and we have to wake up,” he asserted.

Lee said that the SCLC recently entered into a collaboration with several community based organizations and have created an initiative called City Hall Watch. “This initiative will hire African Americans as it pertains to hiring,” said Lee, who said that the city has very few African American deputy mayors and very few general managers.

Lee observed that blacks are currently facing discrimination in the janitorial industry. “Twenty years ago, the janitorial industry was predominately African American. It was a good paying job with benefits. Now, 95 percent of the janitors and hotel workers are Latino. Blacks are locked out of that industry,” he said.

Assessing how minorities could combat discrimination, Lee observed, “We have to mobilize if we hope to effectively change racism in our society.”