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Thursday: September 2, 2010

Further Discrimination Needed For This Hypothesis?

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:41 PM GMT-0500

A recent study purports to show that resumes with ‘black’ names on them are less likely to lead to an interview than those with ‘white’ names. I won’t quibble with the selection of names, other than to note that both of the Leroys I know (one first name, one middle) are white.

What bothers me about the study is how one-dimensional it is. I have a strong hunch that the prejudice is not so much against ‘black’ names as against unusual names of any kind. It would have been easy enough to rule out my hypothesis if the scholars involved had widened their selection of names to more than the two lists, ‘white’ and ‘black’.

To be specific, I strongly suspect that stereotypically southern (white) names like Bubba, Zeke, Elmer, Vernon, Bettie Lou, and Lou Ann are at least as discriminated against by prospective employers as Jamal and Takesha, at least in northern cities. Any non-standard Biblical name probably doesn’t help: David and Benjamin are (I imagine) OK, Jeremiah and Hezekiah far less so. I also suspect that really old-fashioned non-Southern names are also harmful: Mildred, Millicent, Gertrude, Agnes, Henrietta, Cyril, Barnaby, Julius, Clyde. The comments are open (though moderated) for further suggestions.

If the authors of the original study are looking for a topic for a sequel, they are welcome to this one. All I ask is a laudatory mention in the first footnote.


  1. It’s curious to me that your instinctive reaction to the study you cite was to deny it, to question its credibility and to somehow reduce its potency by suggesting that the discrimination is less around the reaction to ‘black names’ (a curious term) and more a reaction to unusual names. One doesn’t have to go far to discover the scope of discrimination and how it pervasive it is – whether it’s on account of someone’s race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and more.

    You’re not alone. You can see this reaction widely in the bloggersphere, in the press, news reports. This overwhelming need to deny that discrimination exists comes in many forms. It’s a shame, because while everyone is so busy being in denial, little is being done to address its corrosiveness. Hey ho!

    Comment by Writehandmedia — Saturday: September 4, 2010 @ 4:34 AM GMT-0500

  2. It’s curious to me that someone would accuse me of an “instinctive reaction” (is that a nice word for “kneejerk”) to something I mulled over for the better part of a week before posting on it. It’s also curious that that someone would accuse me of denying something I never denied. (I only wrote “purported” because (a) I haven’t read the study, and (b) I don’t really trust sociologists writing on any topic.) Finally, it’s curious that that same someone seems to be totally uninterested in any discrimination that may be practiced against the Bubbas and Zekes and LouAnns of the world. I don’t believe I’m the one with the “overwhelming need to deny that discrimination exists in many forms”. I was specifically asking why the study in question was not interested in exploring many forms, rather than just one.

    Comment by site admin — Sunday: September 5, 2010 @ 8:55 PM GMT-0500

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