American society playing discriminatory name game

Markiya S. Lee, Contributing Writer

The African-American community is under scrutiny yet again, not for the color of their skin, but the name gifted to them at birth.

Popular childhood actress and talk show host, Raven Symoné, made a controversial statement on ABC’s daytime talk show “The View.”

 Symoné’s comment sparked a passionate debate involving the black community after she declared:

“I’m not about to hire you if your name is ‘Watermelondrea.’ It’s just not gonna happen. I’m not gonna hire you.”

Symoné’s statement shines light on a discriminatory practice that is not often publicized, but often implemented. A person with a unique or ethnic name is often overlooked, not because he or she was poorly qualified for the position, but because the name on the resumé was “ghetto” and somehow a poor reflection of their work ethic.

Marianne Bertrand, an associate professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and Sendhil Mullainathan of Massachusetts Institute of Technology used a field experiment to measure the extent of race-based job discrimination in today’s labor market.

Their research revealed that if you submit a resume with a “white sounding name,” you have a 50 percent higher chance of getting called for an initial interview than if you submit a resume with comparable credentials from an individual with a “black sounding name.”

Dahneaqah Henderson is a 20-year-old psychology major at SUNY Buffalo State who has experienced firsthand the harsh reality that comes attached to the stereotypes her name may provoke.

“My name is the first thing employers see, so I know they automatically put me in a category. If they make it that far, I need to make sure everything that follows my name is top notch quality,” Henderson explains.

The Albany native often finds herself triple-checking for errors because she knows that employers are searching for any reason to narrow down hundreds of applicants. Society views her name as one strike, and a small slip-up on her resume could be the difference between a call back and unemployment.

“As a black person, especially a black woman, you have to be twice as good as them to have half of what they have. I’ve grown to understand this, and it’s sad but it’s the truth,” Henderson reveals.

Natalie Dolan is a relationship manager for Alexander Mann Solutions at Deutsche Bank in North Carolina. Since receiving her bachelor’s degree in business management and a minor in human resources from Canisius College, Dolan has acquired 15 years of experience in the field and shared her professional perspective on the topic of ethnic names on resumes.

“Hiring managers, by law, cannot discriminate against a candidate based on race, religion, sex, age or marital status,” she said. “As much as I would like to say that doesn’t happen, some hiring managers still have preconceived notions when they see an ethnic or un-American name on a resume.”

She reveals that from her experience interacting with hiring managers, unique names are viewed as a red flag for a possible extended onboarding process, sponsorship requirements, work authorization and communication barriers.

Dolan explains how she uses her position to educate hiring managers as well as protect the rights of applicants. Despite challenges, Dolan works to, “encourage hiring managers to consider the benefits of a diverse picking of candidates in an ever-changing and difficult industry, where there’s on average, hundreds of resumes to evaluate for one opening.”

As for applicants like Dahneaqah who have unique names, Dolan offers her advice by urging all candidates to “build a strong network of people who can vouch for your work ethic and any skills you’ve developed.”

Dolan also stresses that applicants should “always tailor your resume to the specific job you’re applying for, making sure that your resume is professional, well written, succinct and highlights any relevant accomplishments.”

The underlying issue is not the names given to black men and women at birth, but the mindset of American society. Americans have been conditioned to see culture and prestige in names such as Michelangelo and Elizabeth, but scorn and dismiss names such as Marquis and Emoni.

Shakespeare’s famous literary quote tells us, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet…”

If you were to call a rose a common weed, it would still smell pleasant, so why should a person’s name be any different? If “Watermelondrea” graduated at the top of her class from Harvard University, changing the name on her resumé wouldn’t change her accomplishments or work ethic.

In order to move towards a more diverse, progressive and qualified work culture, it is urgent that society rid itself of this damaging mentality if there is any hope of change for the American workforce and the economic stability in the black community.

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