Wednesday, December 02, 2009

How Do You Abbreviate Jamal?

Ta-Nahisi Coates labels this bit two posts in one. And, this being Ta-Nehisi Coates, both are fabulous, but I want to focus on the first. It talks about an NYT article about Black men in this economy explicitly deracinating their resumes in order to compete in the job market. The debate plays out implicitly as part of Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan's recent and already famous study, "Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination" (94 Am. Econ. Rev. 991 (2004)), finding that, holding qualifications constant, persons with White sounding names (Greg and Emily) got more callbacks for job inquiries than those with Black sounding names (Lakisha and Jamal). So you see Black people with MBA's from the University of Chicago doing things like removing their participation in the African-American business students association, so as to not tip off employers to their skin color before it is absolutely necessary ("If they're going to X me, I'd like to at least get in the door first.").

As Adam Serwer points out, all this goes to the big lie in American society that racism is not only gone, but so far gone that being Black is an advantage nowadays. It is so obviously not true -- the empirical evidence is so overwhelming -- that it can be explained only as White folks trying to impute an unjust social order onto its victims. A study by Devah Pager Pager (The Mark of a Criminal Record, 108 Am. J. Soc. 937 (2003)) found that Black job applicants fared roughly as well as Whites with a felony conviction (again, holding qualifications even). That this effect is holding for even relatively elite Black persons (folks with MBAs, looking for management positions) is yet more support that class isn't all there is.


PG said...

I think people assume a lot more bias against whites/males/conservatives than actually exists. I've had three different people tell me I shouldn't have the Federalist Society on my resume, yet whenever it's come up, it's always been either in a straightforwardly positive or sincerely curious ("I thought you were liberal?") way.

joe said...

I think white male conservatives perceive more bias against themselves than actually exists, probably a natural result of their poo-pooing of the idea women and minorities face much bias.

That said, people who view Federalist Society membership as a negative won't necessarily admit that to your face. And on a lot of resumes FedSoc/ACLU/whatever is there for signaling purposes. So FedSoc (especially in the case of white males, which let's face it, most FedSoc members are) is widely understood to signal conservative or libertarian beliefs. When the employer is not believed to be sympathetic to the signaled view, it makes sense to leave the signal out.