Too Black? Resume Name Tweak Proves that Racism Still Exists in 2014

Too Black? Resume Name Tweak Proves that Racism Still Exists in 2014

“It may be shocking to some people in this country to realize that, without meaning to do so, they hold views in common with Hitler when they preach discrimination against other religious, racial or economic groups.” ~Henry A. Wallace

racist go homeI hope you’re sitting down–because if you think as I think, this post might just make you pretty angry.

You might think that in 2014, there would be no reason to even write about this topic, but here we are–in 2014, still dealing with an issue that, while it should never have happened, is unfortunately still very real for Black Americans. 

Today, I’m sharing a story about a friend’s recent experience of modern-day racism–and unfortunately, it’s still going on. Here’s what happened.

A Stay-at-Home Dad’s Dilemma

My friends Trell and Randi just bought their first home last year. They’ve got two kids, and they are just the sweetest couple. They are also great parents, and it shows: they have beautiful, healthy, and happy kids who are also very polite and just a pleasure to be around.

Randi works in retail management, but as long as I’ve known them, Trell has been a stay-at-home dad. As a father, husband, and homeowner, I assumed at first that this was a choice he’d made, that they’d made together.

After all, he’s a good dad. He gets his daughter up and ready for school daily, takes care of his son all day, and regularly cooks for the family. I thought this was great since Randi works so hard outside the home. A real-life Modern Family!

But a few weeks ago, I learned that Trell has been looking for a job for quite some time. He didn’t mind being home with the kids, but he really wanted to be able to support the family financially.

When I learned that, I asked him if he knew what the problem might be. He said he didn’t know–he always had trouble finding a job.

So I asked him to describe the application and interview process he typically experienced. He said that although he had submitted applications consistently for months, he rarely had interviews.

This made me want to help him solve the problem. So I asked about his resume. And there, we found the problem.

Right at the top.

Auntrell C. Haynes-his full name.

Black Name Resume Issues: Complete Crap, But Real

That’s when I remembered the studies I’d read about when my husband and I were trying to choose names for our kids. Names matter when it comes to getting a job, and not in a good way.

“A job applicant with a name that sounds like it might belong to an African-American – say, Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones – can find it harder to get a job,” reads one such study.

“Despite laws against discrimination, affirmative action, a degree of employer enlightenment, and the desire by some businesses to enhance profits by hiring those most qualified regardless of race, African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, and they earn nearly 25 percent less when they are employed.”

To clarify, that means that the studies found that if you put two identical resumes together, one with a “white” name and one with a “Black” name, the “white” person will be called back significantly more often.

“Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback,” the study authors found. 

Yep, my friend named Tanisha Jones would be far less likely to get a call for an interview than someone named Kelly Smith.

But, though that study is from at least 10 years ago, it seems that not much has improved.

Black Name Resume STUDY: Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?

This is the name of a study from Marianne Bertrand, an associate professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and Sendhil Mullainathan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She used a field experiment to measure the extent of race-based job discrimination in the current labor market.

blavk“From July 2001 to May 2002, Bertrand and Mullainathan sent fictitious resumes in response to 1,300 help-wanted ads listed in the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune. They used the callback rate for interviews to measure the success of each resume. Approximately 5,000 resumes were sent for positions in sales, administrative support, clerical services, and customer service. Jobs ranged from a cashier at a store to the manager of sales at a large firm,” explains the overview. Read the full study here

In 2009, as awareness of this phenomenon spread among young professionals, a survey found that Black people were actively “whitening” their resumes, as evidenced by the following.

“Black job seekers said the purpose of hiding racial markers extended beyond simply getting in the door for an interview,” according to a 2009 report in the New York Times. It was also part of making sure they appeared palatable to hiring managers once the race was seen. Activism in Black organizations, even majoring in African-American studies, can signal employers.

Our sociological experiment: Playing the Black name resume game

I told Trell about the studies and asked his middle name.

“Charles,” he told me.

With that, I suggested to him: Why not change how he puts his name on his resume and see what happens?

Name Change=Game Change

“Try A. Charles Haynes,” I said.

He figured he had nothing to lose, so he made a new resume with his new moniker. Here’s where the story gets happy and sad at the same time.

Happy because he immediately started getting calls, had several interviews, and chose the position he took, which he started yesterday.

Sad because seriously? In our society, in 2014, people are still so small-minded that they make assumptions about someone based on their name?

I’m just going to say it: this is one of those things about our society that seriously pisses me off. Hey, world: y’all know we don’t choose our own names, right?

Let’s recap, shall we? 

This man submitted applications unsuccessfully for months. But after less than a week with his “new” name, he had his pick of jobs.

Maybe it was a coincidence, but Trell didn’t think so. He felt so strongly about it that he told his mother, who might have been a little unsure about it at first. But when he told her he had a job, she asked him to thank me for the suggestion.

And then, Trell asked me to write this story because he wants others to know that if they have a “Black”- sounding name and struggle to get a job, this might be part of the reason. That’s why I wrote this article.

What makes a name sound Black?

Most Americans could understand what I mean here, but if you don’t, let me ask you something. When I told you about Tanisha and Kelly above, which one did you assume was Black, and which one was white?

Tanisha is Black, and Kelly’s white, right?


The real Tanisha Jones is a white woman–a friend’s cousin. And Kelly Smith? An African-American I knew in college.  Yep.

And Trell isn’t alone. This stuff happens all the time–like in 2012 when a Black woman who couldn’t get a job pretended to be a white woman, and her job offers suddenly skyrocketed. Coincidence? Maybe. Bullshit? Definitely.

Are you angry yet?

What do you think about this “phenomenon?” Does it make you angry? Do you think it’s fair? Has it happened to you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below,  or via your favorite social media profile.

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