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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Another Recurring Issue Discussed in Afronerd......Can Your Name Determine Your Job Prospects? Yes! But What Do You Do About It?

This next issue has been a recurring topic of discussion here at Afronerd, since the blog's inception and especially stemming from remarks I made concerning "ghettocentric" names dating back to one of my appearances on NPR's Blogger's Roundtable. Here's a snippet from the NPR broadcast in question:

What's in (an Afrocentric) Name?

And then there's the blog war of words related to that NPR show that took place on the PostBourgie site:

Freakonomics, Tarika Wilson and Afronerd: A Fact-Check, of Sorts

But now, the ethnic sounding name debate goes slightly off tangent as it pertains to qualified job candidates and the 2 to 1 jobless rates between Blacks and Whites. I was reading a recent New York Times piece that told the plight of several well heeled/educated Black (and male) job candidates that felt that their Black sounding names may be a reason why they have received a certain degree of "coolness" from prospective employers. Some went as far as omitting a "questionable" name or just utilizing an initial to give a more Anglicized impression. But I want to make my opinion clear....there's a difference between a post 70s ghetto centered name, an authentic ethnic African name with historical heft/lineage (after all, there was a Barack Sr, born circa 1936 before the junior) and an African-American name.

Is there a difference between Leroy, Masomakali and Ray-quan? I think there are gradations of inference, social status and impressions relating to the aforementioned names. Additionally, I would never state that discriminating solely against an ethnic name is fair but when do we develop a sustainable African-American economic infrastructure that can hire its own people? And I suspect that you still would (and do) have Black employers that will utilize measured scrutiny when it comes down to one's name (i.e. Reggie Jenkins might get a call back before Laquisha Smalls). But let's table this for Sunday's upcoming Afronerd Radio broadcast. In the interim, I want you to chew on the New York Times article as well as this rather eloquent statement left by a commenter responding to the piece:

As someone who has worked now for over four years in predominantly black urban communities where economic disparity, addiction, and violence remain an overwhelming part of the daily reality of children and adults alike, I am left shaking my head at this article.

America, how on earth can we expect Caucasian employers and executives who have not had the interpersonal experience of working with competent colleagues of color to see beyond the culturally-imposed biases of our media? I reference "culture" rather than "race" because the issue is precisely this: if one's impression of "black" is shaped primarily by national advertising, news, and recreational media, one is destined to see BEING black as being party to a culture defined by the glorification of crime, a constant claim to entitlement, moral and monetary frivolity, and an ever-widening achievement gap. With some in our nation continuing to pour billions of dollars into advertising that exults multimillionaire sports stars and expletive-slinging rappers as the champions of black culture, it's no wonder that those whites whose racial sensitivities are based on this kind of woefully lacking portrait of "being black" decide not to call "Jamal" or "Imani" back.

Don't believe me? Ask my first grade students. They are all African-American, and many of their families face serious economic problems. If you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, many boys will say, "Rich, like King [LeBron] James," and several girls would like to be, "A hot star, like Beyonce." Honestly, America, who are we kidding? If this is what a small group of impoverished African-American children see as the parameters of their own cultural reality, what kind of impression can you expect from whites atop major companies who are already many degrees separated from a real encounter with African-Americans and their individual experiences?

Until we decide to challenge the way African-American culture is packaged and presented as a fundamental misrepresentation of what BEING black means for so many, the captains of industry will continue to be shaped by the forces of dollar-hungry marketing and sensationalist media.

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