My mainstream-sounding name opens professional doors–and that’s not fair.
George is too uncommon a name nowadays (in the United States). It’s a good, simple, strong name, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously–no fanciful definitions, no alignments of the stars. No, sir, nothing but substance: “farmer,” “earthworker,” the kind of humble, honest, hard-nosed ethos of which this world could use a few helpings more.
To me, the meaning runs deeper. The name George represents my father and my grandfather, two men who may not have been God-fearing tillers of the Earth but who still worked hard, almost never gave up on anything and would walk on hot coals to defend the bond of their word. This name, in my mind, stands for character traits I could only hope to match.
Those are the positive reasons I appreciate the name George. There are some negative ones too.
Most of the George Clarkes in the world appear to be white, specifically British. (I’m happy to see that the royal baby across the pond is called George—and that is the first, last and only thing I will ever say about that baby.) That’s clearly not one of the reasons my parents gave me this name, but I’m also well aware that having a British-name, even one I only have because my grandfather grew up in Brit-controlled Barbados, is to some degree a golden ticket in the job hunt.
Had I been given a name our culture categorizes as ‘ghetto,’ I’d have seen a few more career doors slammed in my face—and, believe me, I wish I were making that up.
A 2003 experiment by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows a 50% disparity in callback rates for identical resumes in response to help-wanted ads in Boston in Chicago. Without leaping to the conclusion that all employers approach hiring with a Jim Crow mentality—which is unlikely anyway, since the experiment also found no significant change in discrimination based on an employer’s own racial background—the study reminds us that racially biased hiring has not disappeared.
It reminds us that between two otherwise equal candidates, one could get at least a second thought because his name belongs to a boy in a Norman Rockwell painting while the other may not even get a first thought because his name doesn’t fit that norm.
If you didn’t have to grow up seeing and hearing about real racial obstacles, I can see why it may bother you that I’m mentioning racial issues so overtly. You may believe that this culture is colorblind, as is the hiring process, and that talking about such issues, playing this ‘race card,’ is just a divisive form of whining. But as a person of color, I have a duty to tell this issue how it is. And the cold truth is that nothing is ever equal, nor fair, nor colorblind. By virtue of being born with a name that is racially ambiguous at worst, I received an unfair advantage over the Daequans and Jamals, and that advantage exists precisely because a colorblind hiring process does not.
It all goes back to what I’ve been taught as long as I can remember: We black people have to work harder than everyone else to earn the respect of a society that doubts us to the core. That remains true despite my non-ethnic name. It even fits the ethos of the men named George Clarke who came before me: strong, hard-nosed, responsible. I have a chance in this world—the opportunity to work twice as hard as everyone else to be a great man, then pay it forward by trying to put Daves and Daequans on an equal footing. And as any great George would do, I’m trying to take that opportunity, like all other opportunities, as far as it will go.