Condemn harmful name discrimination trend in U.S.
“I’m not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea.” This comment made by former child star Raven Symoné was intended to be humorous but instead exposed the harsh truth surrounding ethnicity and stereotyping in the modern and professional world. According to Ziba Kashef in the book “Race, Class, and Gender in the United States,” individuals with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to receive a job interview or a call-back than are individuals with names one would associate with a specific race. For the purpose of the study, names like Lakisha Washington were used in comparison to Emily Walsh — generated based on their popularity within any given race. This information comes from a University of Chicago study conducted from 2001 to 2002 where fake resumes were generated in response to several newspaper ads, for careers in the Boston area that ranged from a sales associate to a clerical position, where the rate of callbacks were used to gauge success. In conducting the study, four resumes were sent in response to each advertisement: two with extensive backgrounds in the given fields, email addresses and other important personal information, and two with little experience. Out of the four, one was randomly assigned to a “black name.”
The study showed that, on average, applicants with “black” sounding names need to send 15 applications in order to receive a call-back, while those with “white” names only need to send about 10. What employers see when they first receive an application is one’s name. They see the name of someone potentially representing their brand and their ideals, and most often, a name that represents an unfamiliar face is not what they want.
Now, one might argue that individuals with unique names like “Watermelondrea” are fully able to use an alternate name for business purposes or even go as far as to change it, but why must an individual change an aspect of their identity to accommodate one person’s idea of the norm? It isn’t the person who presents an issue; the problem lies in the society itself.
There is a problem when something as minute as a name is enough to hinder another person’s ability to communicate. Instead of mandating others to change who they are, society should collectively make a conscious effort to be more accepting of differences and what comes along with them. This should be a lesson that is taught to children, one where the first lesson on how to pronounce a “different” name is enough.
Surely, discrimination or stereotyping isn’t new to those with non-traditional names; they have had to tirelessly prove that they are more than a name. This goes beyond ”black” sounding names, extends to many Arabic names, as well. In post-9/11 America, Arabic names can be viewed in a negative spotlight because of inaccurate, pre-held notions of Americans.
A 2009 study published by the American Journal of Sociology found a similar trend of name discrimination for those with Arabic names. Participants were presented with resumes with background information and resumes for two sets of individuals, one with an English name and one with a Arabic name. Participants were later asked to categorize the resumes and decide the odds of an individual candidate being hired.
They were always in favor of the supposed white applicant.
The fact that a name, one of the most basic elements of an identity, can lead to unjust treatment is devastating. America’s long history of maltreatment of the “other” is part of the continuing problem; it forces individuals to alter who they are to fit the mold of what is “acceptable” and what isn’t. By doing so, it’s basically saying that anything that isn’t traditional, or white, is wrong and can’t be any good.
In the case of Symoné, or should I say, Raven-Symoné Christina Pearman, she has the affluence and status that allows such a name to stand out on a resume for more than her race. For normal working-class individuals, a name doesn’t just make one unique or special; a name makes you. With a name that doesn’t conform to society’s standards of normativity, one is unable to even give a proper first impression. The privilege that Symoné has been accustomed to has guarded her from the most basic form of discrimination. But this issue extends beyond the former Disney star and her life; it represents all those that make similarly ludicrous statements without the background to even comprehend the levels of discrimination that minorities undergo on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, this unconscious racism and disregard for an individual’s character has proven to be So Raven.