Do Your Students Understand The Different Ways Racism Shows Up?

According to a recent study, hiring managers pass over “names associated with Black people” in all 50 states when reviewing resumes. 1,500 people were surveyed as part of the study, and what was found was:

“… names of workers perceived as Black, such as Shanice or Terell, were more likely to elicit negative presumptions, such as being less educated, productive, trustworthy, and reliable, than people with either white-sounding names, such as Melanie or Adam, or racially ambiguous names, such as Krystal or Jackson.”

Particularly unique about this study was that it added a time requirement for selecting a candidate. Typically, hiring managers spend less than eleven seconds reviewing a resume during the initial review phase. Participants in the study only had two seconds, and as a result, they were 25% more likely to discriminate against candidates with names they assumed to be “Black-sounding.”

More likely to do the discrimination in this case were white people, men, political conservatives, and people 55 and older.

For educators of Black students, particularly high school students who may enter the workforce, as we prepare them for the world that awaits them and affirm who these beautiful Black children are daily, what does a study like this mean for them? What does it mean for our pedagogy and instruction?

That a hiring manager is an older white man who could be conservative in his political leanings may spell doom for Black job candidates is discouraging and deflating. That’s true concerning our belief in the “system” overall.

Consider that the very people who run the government meant to safeguard our society are largely white, male, and over the age of 55—some conservative and others moderate (few progressive). The president is a white man over the age of 55. Congressional members are 75% white, 71% male, 73% ages 50 and older—both the House and Senate—and conservatives are in control of the House of Representatives. As for the Supreme Court, 67% were white, 55% male, 67% conservative, and 78% are over 55.

I can attest that this is a reason why there is a constituency of young Black adults who’ve tapped out of voting. Whether or not they should is a discussion for another day. But what I know to be true here is that Black people cannot tap out of work, and to get a job in your career field, you must apply for it.

We must encourage Black students to succeed because they can and must. But more importantly, we must have frank discussions about racism in the classroom to prepare them to confront it. Because they will no doubt confront racism when stepping into the workforce.

They’ve very likely confronted in their schools—in the form of disproportionate discipline, having a lack of Black educators in their building, learning a watered down or whitewashed history curriculum, failing to be taught in culturally relevant and responsive ways by teachers with lower expectations for them, and learning in schools that are older and on the verge of breakdown.

When Ya’Vee, She’Tori, Imani, Braheem, and Zyair enter the workforce, before anyone can discriminate against them due to their skin color, their hair, or their vernacular, their names will meet racism first. My father feared just what this study proved to be true, and as a result, he cautioned me to begin using my first name instead of my middle name, Rakeem, which, up to high school, was the only name I was ever called or known by.

My first name may have gotten me more consideration when my resume was viewed, but the racism was waiting when I showed up for an interview.

This is why the respectability politics that fuel such rants as the infamous pound cake speech by Bill Cosby where he chastised Black people for naming their children “names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed, and all that crap” are foolish because they put the onus of struggles of the Black community on Black people. They intentionally ignore systemic racism and structural barriers that play a huge role in the Black experience.

This isn’t to say that we should not affirm Black people. That we must do. But the purpose of affirming Black children is because this society is anti-Black. That means that Black children must be taught to love themselves, how to love themselves, how to navigate racism, and how to fight against it. That means they must be taught what to be aware of.

They should know that hiring managers tend to pass over resumes with “Black-sounding” names – not to fear it, but to be aware.

Our job as educators of Black children isn’t to give power over to systemic structures with our voice. Nor is it to elevate the systems and individuals who operate them as more powerful than the spirit of the ancestors residing in Black children that make them powerful beyond measure. Our job is to tell Black children who they are, what they are capable of, and what to expect when they venture into the world so they might overcome.

That means that we must teach them the truth: that racism is real. Because they already know it exists. They’ve likely known since they were babies. Then, we can arm them with the weapon to fight it: education.

As el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz said, “Education is an important element in the struggle for human rights. It is the means to help our children and our people rediscover their identity and thereby increase their self respect. Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs only to the people who prepare for it today.”


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