Are white names worth more than black names? That’s the question for Unemployed Black Woman Pretends to be White, Job Offers Suddenly Skyrocket, Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?, and black names and white ridicule. Two different questions emerge when this is framed in terms of institutionalized racism:
First, the economic ramifications. Does having a “white sounding” name make you more employable? Yes. Undoubtedly. A white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience. That’s some serious economic inequality. How does that affect the accumulation of wealth across generations? Especially now, how does that effect unemployment during our economic recovery? I’ll let you guess that answers to those questions.
Second, the emotional ramifications. Does social ridicule of unique black names mean more than social ridicule of unique rich names (Moon Unit, Apple, Diva Muffin)? One might argue that ridicule is ridicule and therefore the effect is equal regardless of the cause. One might also argue that the stigma of being African American is greater than the stigma of being rich, and therefore the internalized racism and self hate that might develop through the former has a greater negative effect than the latter.
These are both interesting and important things to consider. You know what’s missing from this conversation though? An Asian American perspective! Specifically, mine. I’ve got a pretty white sounding name. Even my middle name, which is Chinese, is a homonym/homophone for a traditional white name. There’s often a moment of disconnect when people meet me in person, after connecting with me via phone or email. Sometimes it’s slight — a pause or a smile — and sometimes its downright ridiculous — people who walk straight up to a white coworker instead or say “NO, I’m looking for [WHITE LAST NAME].” Are these reactions their attempts to take back the white privilege they were ready to assign? That’s certainly an argument for the validity of hypodescent.
Do these personal slights make up for the advantages I might gain from having a white persona on paper? It’s impossible to prove where I might be if my name were different. Or where I’d be if I chose to not represent my commitment to racial representation and equality on my resume.
Do women who marry into white names deal with this?