Name discrimination.

Keisha

I don’t want to think about the job interviews I didn’t get because my first name strikes some people as “too ethnic.” It’s actually Hebrew and means sky or the heavens. Still, somehow it gives off an around-the-way-girl vibe that my talent and years of work experience might not be able to shake until I meet someone face-to-face.

In case there is any doubt, my dear readers, let me be the first to tell you: I was never cool enough to be an around-the-way-girl growing up. Not even close. No bamboo earrings over here, and certainly not two pair. Plus I don’t really like lollipops.

It doesn’t matter, though. For people like me whose names have an -ia, -isha, or -quan suffix, we face very real consequences in the job market. This field study from 2003 says as much. Hopefully things have improved in the past decade, but I’m dubious.

In the study, researchers sent 5,000 resumes out for advertised openings. Applicants with Black-sounding names got 50% fewer callbacks. In an economy like the one we’re facing now, can you imagine what that must be like?

One young woman in Kansas didn’t want to find out.

Born to a white mother whose intention was to give her biracial daughter a name with a sense of pride, Keisha Austin begged her mother for years for a name change. She wanted something that her classmates wouldn’t associate with “video vixens, neck-rolling, and Maury Povich tabloid fodder.” She was tired of getting teased.

Mom relented and at 19 years-old, Keisha is now Kylie. Pretty easy fix. But it’s a shame that it came to that.

It reminds me of a story an old boyfriend told me years ago. He’s a corporate attorney and worked at a prominent, New York City firm. At a networking event, he met another young black attorney, a woman. She extended her hand and introduced herself as Shaniqua Jenkins. He burst out laughing, assuming that she was pulling his leg and playfully making some sly, crafty inside joke, as they were the only two people of color in sight.

Shaniqua wasn’t joking. She didn’t laugh back. She could easily see what my ex thought and replied firmly, “No, that’s really my name.”

The invisible hurdles Shaniqua must’ve gone through to be in that room is beyond my comprehension. Kylie will never, ever know it. And yet for some reason, I don’t think that makes her the lucky one.

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About RtG

Rakia the Great, or RtG, is a publishing geek and sometimes literary snob. She's stumbling her way towards personal fulfillment and world domination by, oh, I dunno, writing this blog. Most days she's living her dream as a fancy schmancy editor. But not, like, today.
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