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The Melting Pot 2009: Job Applicants Choose Assimilation as Means of Economic Survival

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

melting potWhen I hear the words Ellis Island, one of the first things I think of is not the New York point of interest or tiring travel across waters to reach the grand goal of the U.S. of A. and its related Dream. The first words that come to mind for me are “name changes” and “assimilation.” But with the recent economic crisis and the lagging recovery process, Ellis Island comes to mind. Only this time, instead of Eastern Europeans, Italians or the Irish knocking on the door of American opportunity, only to learn that their identities must be altered or ensconced, their traditional cultures erased for the sake of infinitely approaching some Nordic white ideal, the group scrambling for the promised land of economic security and job market acceptance is black.

That’s not to say that blacks in America have never sought assimilation as a means of achieving social acceptance and equality, in fact both during and following slavery, some black Americans employed various methods of mirroring the white majority as they recognized it could mean a chance at social and class mobility. Black immigrant groups arriving to America also faced a similar challenge. Having lived in countries where race-based terminology and categorization, media representation, and general opinion of blacks may have varied from those in the United States, only to arrive and gain an externally-defined identity based on perceptions of black Americans, black immigrants may also have felt or still feel the pressure to change or deny elements of their culture, nationality, ethnicity, and ultimately race.

In the aftermath of the recession, as the competition for the limited jobs that are available has sharpened, few applicants have room for error. Unfortunately for blacks living in the United States, one possible means of avoiding the potential disaster of not even getting a foot in the door at hiring companies is deleting any and all signs of their race. It is common knowledge that “ethnic sounding” names or, in other words, names that are not of Western European, particularly Anglo-Saxon origin, often lead to discriminatory hiring practices.* Even among these names, there are specific ethnic groups whose names are least welcome in the corporate world. Unfortunately, blacks are often the common victims of this discrimination, the bearers of African-American names, despite their qualifications, often being relegated to the bottom of the résumé stack. 

However, most of the fears of being rejected from job opportunities are spread through anecdotes or are the result of self-fulfilling prophecy based on a perception of inadequacy from simply being black (i.e. assuming the hiring party is white and would not be interested in taking on a black employee, thus not applying for the job at all), research often following as a result. Several studies comparing the successes (or lack thereof) of blacks and their white peers have been conducted (particularly as a means of measuring the success of affirmative action policy implementation and its continued need), though all ended with the same result: even with equal levels of educational and occupational experience, white candidates are more likely to be hired following the interview process than blacks. Continue reading