What’s in a Name?

Who will you hire? Image purchased and downloaded from Shutterstock.com

… researchers at the University of Chicago conducted a large study in which they responded to over 1,300 help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers. They sent out close to 5,000 resumes to a range of employers in both the public and private sectors. The qualifications on the resumes were consistent, but the researchers randomly assigned stereotypically white-sounding names, such as Emily Walsh or Greg Baker, to half of the resumes, and stereotypically African American–sounding names, such as Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones, to the other half. They found that regardless of the employer, occupation, industry, or size of the company, the call-back rate for the resumes with white-sounding names was 50 percent higher than for the resumes with black-sounding names.

(DiAngelo, 2016, 56-57)

Our university is looking for a new president and I can’t help but think if applicants’ names will impact their hiring. I’ve been on search committees before and I know how they work. I know that every effort is made to evaluate candidates on merit alone, but I had never considered how their name may play into their hiring. I can say I certainly don’t think it did in the committees in which I have participated.

But then this happened …

I volunteer for a state health agency and participate in their COVID-19 testing events. I serve on the administration team that makes certain forms are completed correctly, verifies names, and birth dates, and gets the testing packets ready for the medical personnel. This past week I volunteered at a juvenile detention center. My racist event was assuming one of the females that was to be tested was black based upon her name. I based this assumption on the fact that as a teacher, I had only encountered that name for black females. As you can guess by my writing this, I was wrong. Not only was I wrong, I was wrong in a big way.

The white female was being escorted by a black female. The black female was clearly part of the staff as noted by her ID. But still, when verifying the information, I looked at the black female instead of the white female, merely because the name I saw. I had already made a prejudgment that the person would be black. That event has stuck with me all week and I wonder how many other implied racists assumptions I make daily merely because of my socialization.

As record high unemployment rates due to COVID-19 pervades the United States, how will black, brown, and other communities fare over white America? USA Today reported black unemployment in May 2020 rose to 16.8% while white unemployment fell to 12.4% (Jones, 2020). In May 2019, these numbers were 6.2% for blacks and 3.3% for whites. But hey, after COVID-19, everything should return to normal, right? Qualified blacks and qualified whites will be able to return to their jobs or easily find the right job if they only look, right? Probably not for black and brown people … unless their name is John or Mary Doe.

References

DiAngelo, R. (2016). What does it mean to be white? Developing white racial literacy (Rev ed.). Peter Lang Publishing

Jones, C. (2020,. June 4). Black unemployment 2020: African Americans bear brunt of economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/06/04/black-unemployment-2020-joblessness-compounds-anguish-over-brutality/3138521001/

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019, June 12). Unemployment rate unchanged at 3.6 percent in May 2019. https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2019/unemployment-rate-unchanged-at-3-point-6-percent-in-may-2019.htm?view_full

*Note: Edited on 7/27 to change the word “fine” to “find” in the last paragraph. A shout out to my reader who caught that!! Thanks so much.