Is Racism Alive?

It sure seems like it from this study:

To test whether employers discriminate against black job applicants, Marianne Bertrand of the University of Chicago and Sendhil Mullainathan of M.I.T. conducted an unusual experiment. They selected 1,300 help-wanted ads from newspapers in Boston and Chicago and submitted multiple résumés from phantom job seekers. The researchers randomly assigned the first names on the résumés, choosing from one set that is particularly common among blacks and from another that is common among whites.

Apart from their names, applicants had the same experience, education and skills, so employers had no reason to distinguish among them.

The results are disturbing. Applicants with white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to be called for interviews than were those with black-sounding names. Interviews were requested for 10.1 percent of applicants with white-sounding names and only 6.7 percent of those with black-sounding names.

In cases like this, I think the 50% difference is a red herring. However, there still is a somewhat large difference of 3.4% between whites and blacks.

UPDATE: As Diane (in the comments) and others in the blogworld have pointed out, the reasons for this apparent discrimination can be due to economic/social class or even a preference for traditional names. I have found the original paper by the Bertrand and Mullainathan online and will report my conclusions when I am done reading it.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

17 thoughts on “Is Racism Alive?”

  1. Zack, the excerpt refers to, “first names…common among blacks and from another that is common among whites.”

    Certain first names are common to a certain type of black person, usually underclass. Other blacks have mostly (classy) Anglo-Saxon names that I envied, growing up.

    I think that all this proves is that blacks with bizarro made-up names will be discriminated against because those names are associated with being underclass. But if you have a name like Anthony, David, Colin or Lee (first names of black men I work with), you’ll do much better in life.

  2. I don’t see how “don’t worry, it’s class, not race” can be viewed as a mitigating factor here (or in fact, ever — but that’s a different story).

    If certain types of names (say, LaQuan) are correlated with class at birth, and whites discriminate by names that sound lower-class, then LaQuan will be discriminated against all his life because he was born poor.

    How is that differen from being discriminated against because he was born black?

    I think Diane (and whoever else in the blog-world is trying to explain away bigotry) is 100% wrong.

    By the way, did they do a study for folks with “Ikram” type names?

  3. I agree, Ikram. However, people generally do discriminate if a name is far from their experience. Not saying it is right, just that race might not be the major factor. There are also details about how the study was constructed for its conclusions to be valid.

    No, Ikram’s. I think Aisha was included among women’s name. Apparently it was popular among African Americans in the 1970.

    PS. Stop surfing the blogs for 30 minutes and read the researchers’ paper.

  4. Ikram: you are completely misconstruing my point. Zack was saying that the paper proved racial discrimination by using certain names as an indicator of race. I was pointing out that these names indicated more an association with class rather than race.

    You say “LaQuan will be discriminated against all his life because he was born poor….How is that differen from being discriminated against because he was born black?”“

    You’ve answered your own question.

    Zack: I’m not sure what in Ikram’s post you agree with.

    A better test would be to find a way (with a photograph?) to distinguish between blacks with names like “Anthony Hawkins” and “Anfernee Hawkins”, and whites with names like “Joseph Robert Johnson” and “Joe Bob Johnson.” Then see the results you get.

  5. Diana, I agree with Ikram that discrimation whether based on class or race is wrong.

    Still haven’t read the paper. Will do so as soon as I am finished grading these freaking projects.

  6. Daine, Zack: I apologize. You are, of course, both right.

    And I’ve got to remember that modelling Ikram-Saeed-on-the-web on Neon Deion Sanders is a bad idea, unless I have Sanders’ two-sport talents.

    (And even then, no-one liked Neon Deion)

    I will read the paper. Then, I will shoot my mouth off and embarrass myself.

  7. That could definitely be a reason. Others have argued that all this study shows is that people prefer traditional names. I also don’t know how the study was done (especially regarding addresses, qualifications, etc.) I have finally located the original paper. Once I am done reading it (it’s 40 pages), I’ll blog about it.

  8. I would love to see how “Anthony Hawkins from Harvard” (black) does against “Joe Bob Briggs from Bob Jones U” (uh, white).

    Now, that would be interesting…

    Ikram: I liked that “LaQuan” touch. That was good.

  9. A better test would be to find a way (with a photograph?) to distinguish between blacks with names like “Anthony Hawkins” and “Anfernee Hawkins”, and whites with names like “Joseph Robert Johnson” and “Joe Bob Johnson.” Then see the results you get.

    A photograph is also not a good idea. Posture, facial expression, attractive/ugly all affect results. The simplest would be to write the race on the resume. But that would freak employers out.

  10. I would love to see how “Anthony Hawkins from Harvard” (black) does against “Joe Bob Briggs from Bob Jones U” (uh, white).

    Since the point is to isolate race, how about comparing a white guy from Bob Jones U. to a black guy from Bob Jones (do they even have them?)?

  11. Zack: It’s possible to give the game away without actually listing race on a resume – for instance, some of the resumes could list an African-American Studies major in college, or membership in the African-American student union.

  12. My name is Zack Anthony Forde-Hawkins from NC. Many times people dont know whether or not I am black unless they meet me. It is true that the anglo saxon name has been proven to be more beneficial. I do believe that as diversuty is continued to be appreciated and embraced, a name will not matter, but the person behind it.

  13. This comes from a white girl who is considering an Af-Am studies major.

    FYI to those who think they know, based on their own personal (anecdotal/biased) experiences— “created” names, such as LaKeisha, are NOT associated with any particular economic class among African Americans. They are fairly common across-the-board. (See the baby-naming book, “Beyond Jennifer and Jason, Madison and Montana”— I’m sure you all have it at home 🙂 ).

    HOWEVER, “created” names among whites are most common among mothers of lower education and socio-economic class. So what we have here (my hypothesis) are a bunch of white people applying commonly held assumptions about their own race to another, without understanding the history (1970’s+ black power/civil rights/anti-slavery/African roots, etc…) behind it.

    It’s like assuming “Ebonics” simply = “bad grammar.”

    Interesting, though— “created” names could point to youth— esp. among African Americans, they became much more common after the late 1960’s.

  14. Very interesting conversation. The study is extremely interesting, and there are some good points made regarding the finer aspects of studies such as this one. It reminds of an investigative news program a couple years ago that sent two men into the job market with hidden cameras. They were identical in every respect except race. Very enlightening, the discrimination was quite apparent.

  15. Racial Discrimination: Expanded

    Continuing on an earlier post, here is the data about the first names used, their prevalence in the specific group (black/white male/female) and the percentage who received calls for interviews in the study: White-Sounding Black-sounding Name Frequency Mean Call-back Name……

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