“When I grow up, I'm not going to give my child an 'ethnic' name. I want them to be able to get a job."
This is a statement that I remember ignorantly making in grade school as I played “house" with my next door neighbor. Imagine that! Even as a young child, I unconsciously was impacted by the idea of “whitening" my life and my family. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only person that felt this way in grade school; many of my friends agreed that they would rather give their future children a “white" or “American" name. Even to this day as an adult, I have met plenty of Black people that have vowed to never give their child an urban/ethnic name. As ridiculous as you may think this sounds, it is our reality in America.
As a hiring manager, I have interviewed countless of people that purposefully left off certain organizations and affiliations on their resume. For those folk, it wasn't until they were hired, and they realized that my company was diverse that they opened up about their organizations, affiliations, and hobbies. Resume whitening is real ya'll (more so disturbingly real). For some job seekers, there is this misconception that by tweaking their resume to omit their race or culture, they are more likely to get hired.
The saddest part about the idea of resume whitening is that studies show that it actually works. During a two-year study at the University of Toronto and Stanford University, Sonia Kang and her colleagues sent out 1,600 fabricated resumes, based off of real candidates to employers in 16 different metropolitan areas in the US. Some of the resumes were left as is, and some were “whitened". It was discovered that out of all of the races, African Americans and Asian Americans were most likely to “whiten" their resume.
In the study, 25.5% of resumes received callbacks if African American candidates' names were “whitened", and only 10% received a callback if they left their name and experience unaltered. For Asian applicants, 21% heard back if they changed their resume, and only 11.5% of candidates did if their resumes were not “whitened" The Asian applicants were more likely to change their names or use a middle name instead of their first name and African American applicants were more likely to slightly change their name and exclude race-focused organizations and awards.
“When I was in college, I definitely decreased the amount of Black-named organizations on my resume. I am a part of a Black Greek sorority, and I was the President of NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists), and I was the Membership Chair for Black Campus Ministries. My name is already very 'urban' and I didn't have a lot of work experience so after not receiving any callbacks, I thought that by “downing my Blackness" I would get more interviews. To be honest, I saw a substantial difference in the amount of callbacks I received after I whitened my resume." - Anonymous
Similar to the person above, most people that were interviewed in the Resume Whitening study said that their reasoning behind whitening their resume is to eliminate potential obstacles that would prevent them from getting a callback. By whitening their resume, they felt like they at least had a better chance to make it to an interview so they could have the opportunity to impress the interviewer. Studies have unfortunately shown that applicants with “black-sounding names" get fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names, even when they have equivalent educational and work credentials.
While most hiring managers or people won't admit it, discrimination does exist and some people would rather not hire anyone with “urban" names. Even as Raven-Symone said on The View, “I'm not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea." I know we can all agree by saying this comment is out of line, but then again it came from Raven-Symone so we are not surprised.
We can all agree that discrimination sometimes happens during and before the hiring process but no one should have to “whiten" their resume to get an interview.
Here are 5 times that you have “whitened" your resume and probably didn't realize it.
1. Abbreviating your name
Instead of listing your full first and last name, you shorten it.
Example: Instead of putting Kamesha L. Smith, it becomes K.L. Smith on your resume.
2. Using your middle name as your first name
You believe that your middle name is more “American" so you use it instead of your first name.
Example: Your name is LaShandra Courtney Dean, but your resume says Courtney Dean.
3. You remove or decrease your minority affiliations
In college, you were involved and had leadership roles in various organizations. Most of these organizations had the name of your race in the name so you remove some of them from your resume.
Example: Instead of stating that you were the President of your Black sorority, a founding member of the Black Democrat Society, and the Vice President of NABA (National Association of Black Accountants), you only list one organization and instead list other organization that don't sound “too Black".
4. You change your hobbies
On your resume, you list interests that are more common with the American culture.
Example: You choose to put interests such as hiking, hockey, or snowboarding because you assume that these interests are more aligned with non-minorities.
5. You alter your location
You change your current location on your resume so that you don't appear to be from an area that is primarily minority-based.
Example: You list you are from San Francisco but you are really from Oakland, California (back in the pre-gentrified Oakland days).
There are many more examples of resume whitening or altering yourself to hopefully get the approval of others. Even once we get the job, we begin to “code-switch" or in other words shifting your language or behavior to identify with more closely with others.
Related Post: Raven Symone, Watermelondrea, and My Job Hunting Reality
What are your thoughts on resume whitening? Drop a comment below and share what you think.