John Smith is looking for a new head of marketing. Two resumes make their way to Smith’s desk. Both applicants have the same qualifications, experience and education. They both are perfect for the job. However, because one of the applicants is named Jamal Jackson, Smith ignores his resume and goes straight to Bob Allen’s just because he knows that Jackson is probably black.
According to an MSNBC story, college enrollment of black men and women increased from 15 percent in 1970 to roughly 25 percent in 2003. As blacks continue to get higher educations, they will be able to compete for jobs that are largely occupied by whites. No longer will blacks be “underqualified.”
However, blacks might be facing a new battle. Several studies have shown that people with predominantly black names are not having their resumes downloaded as often as their white counterparts. Putting this theory to the test, 20/20 took 22 pairs of names, placed them on identical resumes and posted them on the Internet. With the only difference being the names at the top of the resumes, the reporters believed each resume would receive the same interest. However, 20/20 found resumes with white-sounding names were downloaded 17 percent more often by job recruiters than the ones with black-sounding names.
Several black college students who are getting good educations can potentially not be considered for a job on the basis that their name is too ethnic. This is proof that discrimination is still living and breathing in America today. Steven Levitt, an economist at the University of Chicago and editor of the Journal of Political Economy, said it is not names that are under attack, but what the names are associated with that is the problem.
Levitt published a book called Freakonomics in which he explains a person’s name has no affect on his or her prospects in life. In a review of the book in The Economist, it’s explained that a boy named Jake will tend to do better than a boy named DeShawn because Jake is less likely to have been raised in a low-income, low-education, single-parent household, not because the name itself bestows any advantage.
From analyzing California’s birth-certificate information from 1961, Levitt was able to detect a pattern that showed black parents giving their children more common black names than white names as the years go by.
The data also shows that whether it’s a woman named Imani or a man named DeShawn, they are more likely to have worse life outcomes than a woman named Molly or a man named Jake. Levitt said a boy named Jake is less likely to live in the same neighborhood and have the same socioeconomic circumstances as a boy named DeShawn.
That is why, on average, Jake will have a better education and a better income later in life than DeShawn. Their names are indicators – not the reason for their life outcomes.
This still does not change the fact that discrimination against a person’s name is unjust. For example, my niece’s name is Jazmine. Jazmine is on the top 20 list of “blackest” girl names in Freakonomics. She was not raised in a poor neighborhood, she goes to school in a predominately white neighborhood, her mother makes middle-class income and she has both parents in her life. Nevertheless, when the time comes for her to get a job, she will have a harder time – not because of her lack of qualifications, but because her name is Jazmine.
There are several blacks with very distinct black names who are educated and successful. Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Oprah Winfrey and Frizzell Gerald Gray – also known as Kweisi Mfume – are all examples of this.
Black names carry stereotypes, and even as blacks work to rise above them, changing the views of some people will be unachievable.
Blacks continue to make advancements in the world, but success should not have to come with the sacrifice of cultural identity. Will black mothers now have to stop naming their children Lakeisha and Ebony to ensure their future? They might, but it shouldn’t come down to just a name.
Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.