Date of Award

7-28-2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Charles A. Gallagher - Chair

Second Advisor

Robert Adelman

Third Advisor

Charles L. Jaret

Abstract

In this exploratory case study, I compare and contrast the self-employment experiences and hiring practices of Black, Latino, and White business owners in the Atlanta construction industry. While much of the ethnic entrepreneurship literature has explained the racialized differences between racial and ethnic groups concerning self-employment and their hiring practices, few studies have been able to provide a clear explanation of the mechanisms racial groups use to maintain an economic and social edge without being overtly racist. Furthermore, many scholars have not yet begun to compare the experiences of Whites, Blacks, and Latinos in the South and how their racial ideologies and competition spur on discrimination and racism in a supposedly “color-blind” environment. To address these gaps, I interviewed 42 White, Black, and Latino sub- and general contractors in the Atlanta metropolitan area. I also collected observational data by visiting the worksites of my respondents and attending organizational meetings. Results suggest that even though many of my respondents indicated that racial dissimilarities were due to individual effort and poor motivation, I find that these color-blind ideologies work well to solidify the racial hierarchy and privilege White contractors. I also find that these ideologies block Blacks and Latinos from obtaining better financing, building a good reputation, or having access to important social connections that introduced most contractors to more lucrative prospects. More importantly, the White “good ole’ boy” networks worked as a mechanism to exclude Blacks and Latinos from more lucrative connections, and keep any interactions to a strictly employee-employer relationship. However, these business owners’ hiring practices are the same: they want the cheapest and hardest-working employees they can get, who are usually Latino laborers. By moving beyond the black/white dichotomy, this study offers new explanations of race relations and racial inequality in a metropolitan area recently affected by immigration. Finally, I show that competition pushes these contractors to be more discriminatory, especially when Latino immigrants threaten their "hard-earned" social positions. My empirical and conceptual analyses provide a good start toward explaining how racism and discrimination is organized and continues to persist in a major U.S. industry.

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