Racial Discrimination in the Workplace Based on Names and Surnames

When most people hear the term “discrimination”, personal attitudes and opinions come to mind for each of the different racial groups, mostly negative connotations and stereotypes. When the term “workplace” is mentioned, certain words that may come to mind include: professionalism, opportunity, and policy. Although these two specific terms may not have much in common individually, racial discrimination in the workplace has become a rapidly growing statistic. In 2011 alone, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 99,947 charges of employment discrimination, 45,395 of those were on the basis of racial discrimination (“National Latino Council on Alcohol and Tobacco Prevention”).

Among minority groups, blacks or African Americans are most likely to be racially discriminated while in the workplace with influences such as, name and surname judgement, physical appearance, and personal attitudes or behaviors, some of which may stem from a stereotypical nature. Do employers today discriminate against applicants with more ethnic or AfricanAmerican sounding names? A 2001 study of Racial Bias in Hiring, done by an associate professor from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, confirmed that perceptions of résumés with comparable credentials were changed with the manipulation of a name (Bertrand).

This field experiment, conducted with fictitious names and résumés, found results that applicants with more white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to get a callback for a primary interview than applicants with a more African-American sounding name. The issue with this stigma is the notion that names are black and white to begin with; where did this start? Your name is only your name, not your true identity or working self. This case further proves that diversity and inclusion are beneficiary traits that should be taught across all professional lines because of the subconscious biases it can further create, decreasing discriminatory cases and bringing better awareness to the issue without dramatically altering one’s identity. Major influence and aggravation of racial discrimination is common to attack one’s identity, and within today’s society, gears have shifted toward the cultural incompetency of African-American women.

For example, is it better to have natural or relaxed hair as a woman of color in the professional field? With over $500 billion invested into the black hair industry, it holds an important place in the African-American culture. The natural hair of these women in the workplace has prompted words such as “unkempt” or “distracting” to the frontlines, but to whom? In 2001, a Hampton University leadership course banned natural hair styles such as dreadlocks and cornrows, with belief that they would prevent corporate job acceptance (“USA Today”). With the banning of the protective styles, commonly worn by those women who have just “gone natural” or choose not to heat-damage their hair, the negative perception falls onto the work ethic and skills of the African-American woman herself, which are not affected simply because of her hair. Cases such as these also fall into the intersectionality of race and gender, further complicating the discrimination. In 2015, the Headquarters of the Department of the Army issued a statement authorizing that enlisted female officers may have their hair in “three differing basic categories: short length, medium length, and long length” (4).

This policy also came with the outlaw of two-strand twists, locs, and braids thicker than a quarter of an inch in diameter, although one year earlier, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote a letter to a Congressional Black Caucus member, also in challenge of the law, to reinstate the wear of such hairstyles. This regulation would also remove the judging words such as “matted and unkempt” from its descriptions of hair. With evidence such as this, the traditional workplace is not the only setting affected by such discrimination and certainly won’t be the last. With little to no defining evidence as to why African-American working professionals tend to be more susceptible to racial discrimination and unjust treatment, there has been countless examples on the African-American worker being inferior, such as the “Sambo” myth of the black slave during the 19th century Reconstruction era.

This was a particular stereotype that he or she was lazy and uneducated. This was foundational to the systemic oppression of African Americans because it carried through generations that any and all persons of color or African descent were misconstrued as unprofessional and lazy, not fit to work with whites or at higher levels or professionalism, giving them subconscious privilege in work. Such stereotypes as these were challenged through Civil Rights era movements and in attempt to break the negative stereotypes of the 1980s and 1990s where labels such as drug lords and underclass were the painted images of blacks, especially black men. In 1995, following the Million Man March and studies of men such as Minister Louis Farrakhan and OJ Simpson, it was found that media placed African-American men on a spectrum of “good versus evil” (Douglass). Modern-day stereotypes such as these have only transformed the historical misrepresentation of African Americans in the work and labor field, inhibiting advancement and well-being.

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