It's Black and White
I just read about Yolanda Spivey, a Black job applicant who received more responses with an identical resume under a fake white profile, "Bianca White". Surprised?
It's been 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr's, "I have a Dream" speech and sadly we continue to struggle with racism.
Sidebar... some anecdotes
While in college in the early 90's I took a few courses on race and recall the confusion and profound sadness I felt as I studied the history. The concept of "white privilege" was really hard to accept. I took these courses shortly after 2 incidences I experienced within 6 months of starting studies at Cornell.
The first was during a night out with friends where racial slurs were hurled at us from a distance. It was too far to make out the faces and besides my instincts were to quickly move away from the problem.
The second happened as I visited my mother at the hospital. There were young white males at the hospital at the time, but a white doctor had me searched and detained by hospital security because his wallet was missing. Incidentally, I was wearing a Cornell jacket. Not that this should make any difference, except that I can't help assume that if the doctor had considered the other young males present, he would have certainly discounted any wearing a CU jacket. He found his wallet. I could tell he felt terrible about making the accusation. He apologized profusely and offered to let me observe his surgeries as consolation.
Both situations left me thinking about how deep racism runs. In one case, some kids felt safe enough to fling slurs, in the second the doctor appeared to not be aware of what he was doing - and - everyone played along, including me. At the time, I felt that resisting would cause more trouble and make me appear guilty. Looking back, I probably should have protested.
Hardly a year goes by where I don't experience or read something that reminds me of how far we still have to go.
Back to Yolanda Spivey... In her own way she protested. Perhaps in the best way possible. By proving her point.
Specifically what she found was that
Identifying as White is more favorable than identifying as a minority OR not identifying at all.
It's subtle, but 'not identifying' her race and ethnicity was a very important part of her experiment. It strongly rules out chance and shows that race is a factor. It also accounts for other factors like percent of white applicants to non-whites etc.
However, there are some important questions not addressed by Yolanda. What were the profiles of the candidates that were contacted when she was not contacted. Were they non-white, more qualified? Unlikely.
This reminds of an episode of the talk show Phil Donahue I saw while in High School about a White male who was suing his city for preferential treatment of non-white applicants by the police academy. Apparently he had received a perfect score on the police entrance exam but was not accepted. His claim was that less qualified non-white applicants had taken his spot. The obvious point that struck me as I watched it but that no one addressed was the fact that not all white applicants had received a perfect score. It would seem then that less qualified whites were selected above him, and yet he felt the need to target non-whites. I've observed this phenomenon again and again since.
So does this happen to non-whites, particularly in Yolanda's case?
We can't know for sure but the random nature of her experiment suggests otherwise. You see it would be less likely that race was not a factor - and - more qualified non-white's were contacted instead of her - and - that callbacks increased by chance when she identified as white.
We're also forced to speculate about the profile of hiring managers and candidates that got callbacks.
- Are non-whites more or less likely to hire non-whites than whites are? Does this matter?
What's clear is
- there are less non-white hiring managers than white hiring managers
- less non-white applicants than white applicants
I wonder whether we'll make progress as more non-whites enter the workforce and eventually make it to the management ranks. I think so.
But what about Barack Obama?
He got the top job.
Sure there's progress, albeit not enough, but some none the less. However, this is the argument we've heard and we'll hear at every step of the way.
But what about...
- they read
- they're free
- they vote
- civil rights
- affirmative action
- in college
- and more...
All steps in the right direction, but what about a basic job? What about Yolanda? Few things bring more freedom to an individual as does a basic job. We have work to do.
Let MLK remind you of where we need to be.