Erasing Culture and Race: Black Job Applicants Change ‘Black-Sounding’ Names, Awards and Organizations to Bypass Discrimination

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto has confirmed something that many Black people have suspected for a long time. Employers discriminate against job applicants with “Black” sounding names.

According to The Guardian, researchers showed that when Black applicants “whitened” their resumes, it doubled the chances of receiving callbacks. The two-year study was recently published in the Administrative Science Quarterly journal. The researchers sent 1,600 fictional resumes to employers in 16 American cities. They found that 25 percent of Black job applicants who whitened their resumes received callbacks. However, when applicants did not alter their resumes only 10 percent received callbacks.

According to Sonia Kang, co-author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, the study also found Asian students whitening their resumes. However, Black and Asian students had different ways of doing this. Black students were more likely to remove references to Black organizations from their resumes. Asian students changed their names to American-sounding ones.

A Black law student told the researchers she did this practice so she could get her foot in the door at a potential employer.

“If I have an African name or if I’m like president of the African American Society or something, if that’s on my resume, they automatically know my ethnicity,” she said. “And because of that, if I have the same credentials as someone of another race, let’s say a white person, then they would get a callback over me. So if from the beginning they don’t know my race . . . then I’m more likely to get a callback.”

Part of the problem is stereotyping, which is often aided by the media. When people see names like Lakeisha or Tyrone, they carry a connotation which is not always true. Crime stories, which dominate the media, often focus on Black criminals, even though white people also commit violent crime. And reality shows are also a problem. Many of these heavily edited shows, such as Love & Hip Hop and Basketball Wives, focus on Black women behaving outrageously for the cameras. Unfortunately, many white people believe what they see.

Some Black people have bought into this stereotyping. Raven-Symoné, a co-host on The View who is infamous for infuriating Black people with her media gaffes, caught flack last year when she admitted that she wouldn’t hire an applicant with a Black-sounding name.

Kang said racial minorities shouldn’t have to hide their cultural backgrounds just so they can get a job.

“Some people have found that whitening helps, but I think that the larger message is that it shouldn’t be up to minorities to find ways to avoid discrimination,” she said in an interview with The Guardian. “It’s really a wake-up call for organizations to do something to address this problem. Discrimination is still a reality.”

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