Can’t Get a Job Cuz My Name Is Too Black

By Slim Jackson

Every now and then I have the conversation with someone about names. Not nicknames, but government names. Slim Jackson is an alias. If you knew my real name, you’d expect me to perhaps be a preppy white guy that wears polo shirts and khaki shorts. Well, you’d be fairly accurate except for the fact I’m a light-skinned and clean shaven black dude that only intimidates the most suburban and rural. When I was younger and in the inner city public school system, I was often teased for how well I spoke and my name. I sometimes had to break my English and listen in for the coolest slang to be accepted within certain circles. I often wished my name was Ramel, Jamar, Lamar, Jalah, Tayshaun, and you probably get my drift. That was “cool”. At some point, black parents began to move away from “slave” names like Michael, Jeffrey, and Thomas so that they could differentiate their children from their SPF-needing counterparts. I spent time angry at my folks for naming me something so simple and well…white.

But now that I’m a miserable office dweller corporate professional, I couldn’t be more thankful. I’m a recruiter. I look at a lot of resumes and I notice the names. I anticipate an accent when I see certain names on paper. I make that phone call and sometimes I’m actually surprised by how well the person speaks. I know. That’s awful. I shouldn’t stereotype people from other cultures, countries, and continents, but it almost happens naturally. Now if I, as an educated black man, still fall victim to the innate urge to stereotype based on name, I’d figure that it has to be even more elevated for people in the majority. What do you think a job recruiter envisions when he or she sees Funqueefa Taneesha Jenkins or Tang Too Pac on a job application? Rap, 40s, attitude, computers, sweatshops, bad driving? You probably thought a few things yourself when you saw this. No offense if you actually happen to have either one of those ficticious names.

For employers trying to add “diversity” to their companies, the distinct names probably make their jobs a lot easier when they are looking for some pigmentation. For others, who aren’t so fortunate, their names can quickly have them filtered into the unqualified file. I sometimes wonder if my life would be any different if my name were something more “ethnic”. A lot of you will argue life is what you make of it. To a large degree, that’s correct. But in 2008, these names are still in the minority and belong to minorities. Did you change how you sign your name or present your name on paper? Have you went from Shimeek Smith to S. Charles Smith? Do you rock a traditional name like Jeffrey Adams? Do you even think the name is important? I’m curious.

Your Favorite Chocolate Skin Delegate,

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29 responses to “Can’t Get a Job Cuz My Name Is Too Black

  1. Well you can see my name right here. My middle name is Elise…what would you think?

  2. I think the current name is safe. You’d probably draw more attention by altering how you sign it. Rock wit what you got. Fo shizzle.

  3. Wow…Slim…I just sign it.

    Depending on my mood I might be BIG or teeny tiny…

    I don’t know I’m named after my mother and grandmother…pretty basic stuff. But I do disagree with naming your child something 18 letters long, though the Caucasians are starting to do the same…which might make it even more confusing

  4. Didn’t intend to offend by the way. I went into honest job recruiter mode. I think your name would do a good job of passing the color blind test though.lol. They should have one of those on the internet. Plug in your name and it spits out the color blindness. Word.

  5. Oh no, not offended at all. I promise. I am more offended watching Sarah Palin. I hope that doesn’t offend you. 🙂 Good night!

  6. There is an article I read for my labor markets class about “name discrimination,”…I believe it is a chapter in the book Freakonomics. I will try to find it for you…essentially it talks about the evolution of the “ethnic” names and it argues the point that it is not name discrimination but socio-economic status discrimination because any person from a lower SES background has names such as you see on resumes…example, the lowest SES white parents began naming kids things like Jazmyn, Jazmine, Jassmyne or Lindzi, Lyndzey, etc instead of Jasmine or Lindsey. It’s really fascinating.

  7. I may have to bring you onboard as the Three Ways statistician for topics like this.lol. Post the link if you find it though.

  8. I was just having this conversation with a good friend of mine (my name is Tanisha and her name is Ellen) and she couldnt really understand why Im a proponent of that foot in the door theory…she feels that she wants to earn everything she gets. she says something like, i want my resume to speak for itself and im like, thats a lot easier for an Ellen than it would be for a Tanisha…just sayin.

    there was a point a few years back when i changed my resume to just show my first and middle initials…im over that now. i say screw it…if they dont want to hire me for a job im qualified for because they dont like my name, then i dont want to work there. plus, if they dont like the name, wait til they see all this nappy hair! lol

    i think that it has become less important the further along in my education ive gotten….and i also think that my field is much less uptight about that. if i were in business or corporate something or other, it might be more of an issue. but as it stands i usually just get majority folks telling me my name is “so pretty”

    oh and speaking of childhood…when i was a little girl i hated my name. hated it! i wished i was named elizabeth and when i was in elementary school it was my intention to change it as soon as i was 18. i got over that in the 8th grade when i got bussed out to a suburban school district and every third girl i met was liz, beth, bitsy, lizzy, and so on and so forth…

  9. Sowhatiff Jenkins

    Slim,

    You are not chocolate.

  10. haha i am in no way a stats guru. I just like to add tangible information when possible.

    I will admit I am guilty of being annoyed when I see names like Lyndzi (in the WT category), because I wonder…did there mom just not know how to spell Lindsey, or were they that desperate to be super creative and spell it all crazy. Sometimes I guess it’s kinda cute and different but I dunno one of those things that just slightly annoys me. It’s only names that are generally common but have lately become subject to many spin offs.

    However, I must add that being an HR Professional I am VERY much in check of any personal biases and would never not select a clearly qualified candidate because the way they spell their name is different than I expect. That would be highly unprofessional and very much not my style.

  11. The names issue is really sad and highlights the ignorance of people to me. Going through resumes and being involved in recruiting, it’s pretty amazing how often the Mikes and Matt’s of the corporate world make fun of foreign names. To them, its not prejudice at all, it’s just humor. I doubt the Tyrone’s and Shaniqua’s even make it into the hiring process. I understand the need for profiling when you’re trying to look through thousands of people in as little time as possible. People should be allowed to be individual and spell their names any way they damn well please, but I guess shit just doesn’t work that way.

  12. Ironman…I definitely was NOT saying people should spell their names that way. I was just admitting it annoyed me sometimes. It could be that when working in HR and screening many resumes you’re trained to spot spelling errors, grammatical errors, etc. Regardless…I’d never screen someone out for having a unique name, a commonly international name etc. I would not be getting my Masters degree if I was going to be that unprofessional and unethical.

  13. What is this you say Sowhatiff? I’m not chocolatey? You’re sorta right. I’m not as godiva as you are. Yet my skin looks no different than the hershey chocolate they just showed on tv. I bet I look better than you when I come out the easter bunny’s ass though. Talk to you soon!

  14. SLIM!! Well, I’m African, and although my professional first name is ok, my last name will give me away. Do you think its a pro or a con?

    Shoot, I care right now because I’m looking for a gig so I would like to see what my name says about me.

  15. I’m not sure if my name gives me away or not. It’s definitely not white bread. But I’ve run across a few white women with the same moniker and it’s very popular in India. lol.

  16. RightCoastLexSteele

    I love my good old slave name cuz when my black ass walks in the spot, everyone is left wondering why Akeem Jofur Coggins showed up for C.A.I.W.’s interview. And I have two completely slaved up middle names. Now that my friends is gangsta. Then once I start speaking they dont know if they should still grab their mace, or pull out a dictionary first to make sure I just didnt threaten them using excellent verbiage. I definitely decline to identify on the job app so I can some fun when I walk in the building.

  17. I think that this issue is a tad bit different than it was a few years ago. There are alot of names are becoming more commonplace in the work place like Tanisha’s and Taniqua etc. However, I think people who have the really nutty names are suffering like Jzhontavia (pronounced zon-tay-vee-yuh) and Quintrecia (real names, I swear).

    I have also met a few people who choose to go by their more ethnic name or in some cases their ghetto name. I know a girl who chooses to go by her middle name Mercedes, instead of her more anglo-saxon first name and she wonders why she hasn’t even gotten any interviews.

  18. BTW, Freakonomics is a great book and behooves everyone to read it

  19. This is an interesting topic, having attended an HBCU, I made friends with all kinds of random named people. One of my closest friends has a 15 letter first name and the whitest middle and last names I can think of.

    But my input on this topic is male and female names. Another friend named her daughter a gender neutral (?) name so no one can tell if she is male or female. Do yall think this matters as much as making sure your name isn’t too ethnic?

    And just for clarity, are foreign names acceptable but urban names are not? so Adeaze Mnbatonome is okay but Orangejello Lamont Smith is not?

  20. We all know the stereotypes for foreign names are different than those for African American or Hispanic names. I didn’t mention it in the entry, but foreign names are probably far more favorable. People assume accents, but depending on where they are from, they also assume the person may be smart based on their name. Bamboo and 7/11 jokes aside, I find that corporate folks assume people from Asia will be smarter and harder workers, but speak bad English. An African name may get the same respect. An African American name, despite the progress we’ve made, still creates a bit of an uphill battle at times.

    I think the gender of the name matters less, though a gender neutral common name seems like a good deal…at least on paper.

  21. InsightfullyBlunt

    Love this topic. You 3 bloggers are pretty fabulous. …………………..

    I definitely think there is name discrimination or profiling out there. It sucks when it come to whether or not someone is set up for a job interview (just one more thing many minoritis with “ethnic” names have to deal with), but I must say we all stereotype when it comes to names. I am always shocked to see a white Tanisha or Shameka or Quinton. Yes, I’ve seen ’em all. My name is kind of unique and I love it, so glad that my intended name Ashley or Brittany was thwarted by the deadbeat male who helped make me.

  22. I have a Christian first name, and ‘white’ middle name. Even with my last name, there have been times when people ask for my last name after I give them my government (because they sound like three first names to some people).

    I’ve found that having a white name has led to some ‘interesting’ situations,mostly when I walk into an interview and they notice I’m not Caucasian (I guess this is also attributed to the fact that my resume is pretty frigging stellar).

    So although having a white-sounding name may help get you the interview, they still have to see your skin color. So on one hand, if you get chosen because of your perceived lack of pigmentation, then they’re possibly in for a rude awakening. If an employer is looking to hire based off diversity, you may also get the shaft, because you may be assumed to be white and thus denied an interview.

    Kind of catch22-ish taken in this context.

  23. Vanessa aka Miss V

    interesting post!

    i actually worked for the EEOC while I was school, and I did my research paper on a related topic… employment testing. so basically my paper was focused on whether or not results of employment testing should be used in cases of employment discrimination. there are actual studies that show the existence of racial/ethnic bias simply based on the name written on the resume. the studies tested the results of scenarios when two similar resumes (similar qualifications, caliber of school, degrees, etc etc) were submitted to an employer but one resume had a “white” name like Hunter Wellington, and the other had an “ethnic” name like Qwanell Jackson. Guess which resume received more callbacks? If you guessed Qwanell, you’re WRONG LoL. so yeah, if anyone wants to read that paper, let me know ;), it’s interesting stuff.

    so, my parents gave me a “white” name… and for some reason, i always wanted a more ethnic name (I guess you can say I’m proud of my roots! LoL). i asked my mom why she gave me my name, and she simply said that she didn’t want anyone at school to assume that i was stupid or ghetto based on my name. not to mention the fact that she scolded my sister and i from picking up patois (yes, my fam is Jamaican!) for the same reason. this is the prime reason why i want to enter the world of anti-discrimination in the workplace… but that’s a whole other story!

    shout out to my fellow HR professionals =)

  24. @ JR….i definitely get your point. i just think its sad that once an ethnic name is spotted at the top of the resume, the stellar-ness (or lack thereof) is not even considered. its just tossed out.

    i have faith in the fact that my resume is fan-friggin-tastic and my interpersonal skills are such that, even if i were to fool them into interviewing me by using my first two initials, i would be able to impress them. i just think its sad that one has to be fooled into interviewing a perfectly qualified black person.

  25. I like my first name, Correction ,I Love First My Name…it has no identication of race or class on top of that it’s remarkably unique and it attracts plenty of compliments/inquiries. However, my middle name, well, is ummmm, to put it euphemistically, as “ETHNIC” as it gets. My first two names are so different that I name my two split personalities after each one. (Shut up! I’m not psycho; split personalities are fairly common, lol.) My studious, God-fearing, painfully pleasant, unadulterated, virtuous side gets the first name. My fun-loving, buck-wild, stank attitude-having, law-breaking, and whorish side gets the ghetto middle name. I know I just played into many unfair stereotypes, OH WELL FCUK it! That’s my middle name side talking.

  26. Yeah Whatev,

    I know someone who used to do the same thing with their name. First name wasn’t exactly traditional, but you couldn’t tell what race she was from based on that alone. Her middle name was a type of car. The personality for the 2 names was about as split as it could get. Unfortunately, she has to read my blog from a mental institution nowadays.

  27. Lol! yeah Whatever slim! “I know I’m not crazy and I will not end up in a mental institution.” I say this to myself a 100 times a day. I’m not even going to say “j/k”.

  28. Yo, my first name is seen as conventionally black but it screams “OLD black guy, one born in the 1940s and 50s.” Some whites have it also.

  29. Fastidious replies in return of this issue with real
    arguments and telling everything concerning that.

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