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December 12, 2002

Trent Lott Reflects Lots of Employers

Racism is alive and well not just in the Majority Leader's office, but in employers' hiring offices up North.

This article details a study which sent out thousands of identical resumes who only differed in having common black versus common white names at the top.

The result:

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.
With numbers like these demonstrated repeatedly in similar studies, it is amazing that conservatives can declare that racism has ended in America and there is no need for affirmative action.

Let's be clear-- affirmative action is not payback or reparations or anything of the kind. It is not a punishment to whites, but a system of correcting for the fact that, just by being white, you get an advantage in looking for a job. You get more interviews and more consideration. You can be Brad White from the ghetto and you still have privilege compared to Tyrone Black from next door and all affirmative action does is recognize that fact and try to correct for it, imperfectly no doubt but the status quo is imperfect as well.

Now, more systematic economic empowerment, including full employment for everyone, would be preferable. As well, evidence of racism should lead to far harsher sanctions against employers, therby forcing them to correct their hiring practices even without affirmative action.

But in a society that even questions whether to leave a majority leader of the Senate in office, despite repeated statements supporting segregation and praising Jefferson Davis's crusade for slavery, it's clear that we are nowhere near enacting the comprehensive economic and anti-discrimination policies that would make affirmative action unneeded.

So for the meantime, opposition to affirmative action means you support the status quo of racism. Period.

Update: See here for my response to Tapped's comments on this post.

Posted by Nathan at December 12, 2002 10:57 AM

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Comments

Well, Jane Galt, who I would not be quick to characterize as supporting the status quo of racism, had a long and interesting post about problems with affirmative action.

Your ringing closing statement presumes that affirmative action is effective, and does not have other negative consequences. Asserting that people who wonder about its effectiveness support the status quo of racism may be useful for rallying segments of the Democratic base, but it is not a helpful way to advance a sensible discussion.

Anyway, Jane Galt: http://www.janegalt.net/blog/archives/001543.html

Posted by: Tom Maguire at December 12, 2002 01:58 PM

How about instead of affirmative action, we just pass a law banning ethnic sounding names. That way, all the racist employers will be confused, and Brad White from the ghetto (you know, I haven't heard that word used in like 7 years) will get hired! Or maybe we could mandate that 15% of parents of caucasion descent have to give their kids ethic names - just tell Biff and Muffy Howell that they a required to name their young daughter Latishah Tawonga

Posted by: Grant at December 12, 2002 02:51 PM

But Tom, I didn't say that affirmative action was perfect, just that seeking to repeal it was a defense of the status quo. And I made clear that more comprhensive programs would be better.

Show me a policy that addresses the concerns of racism that is better than affirmative action and I will support it.

But opposition to affirmative action and no other positive program-- and that is the GOP position on racial issues pretty much across the board -- and my statement stands.

And to jump a question--- "economic affirmative action" as proposed by some conservatives doesn't address the point of the study. Whites with the same credentials win out over blacks, so economic affirmative action is a nice program for helping poor whites, but it doesn't deal with the reality of racism which is independent of class issues, even if related to inequality in America.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at December 12, 2002 02:52 PM

I would be interested in seeing the actual study - I was intrigued by the detail buried in the article that, even among the black names, the variation in the percentage of resumes that got a callback varied from 2.2% to 10.5% - a difference that is apparently more than can reasonably be attributed to chance - which suggests that something may be wrong with the design of the study.

It's all well and good to refer to unnamed other studies that reached the same result. The ones I am most familiar with are cited in the Thernstroms' book of a few years ago and show little difference (except in Washington DC, where the existence of a dominant employer that discriminates massively in favor of blacks leads rational employers to be skeptical, for reasons having nothing to do with racism, of blacks who would seek jobs outside the dominant employer).

In addition, you seem to ignore the fact that government mandates also lead rational, non-racist employers to be wary of following up on resumes received from blacks because that triggers record-keeping requirements that greatly increase the risk of costly lawsuits against the company, even if the hiring is actually done on a non-racist basis. This would argue for a reduction, not an increase, in government mandates related to affirmative action.

I guess it's much easier to point to one study that seems to bear out your views and use it to conclude that everyone who disagrees with you is a supporter of racism.

Posted by: DF at December 15, 2002 06:17 PM

It's hard to tell from the NYT summary, but . . . doesn't anyone else here think the "black names"/"white names" business involves a little stereotyping itself? I mean, granted that there are few white kids christened Keisha or Aisha or Ebony, but what is a "white-sounding name"? Why do I suspect that the "white-sounding names" were more like, oh, Robert Jackson, Charlie Parker, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, Kathleen Battle than (say) Sofia Berlinskaya, Antonio Vicelli, Seamus Ferguson, Stepan Plucznyarski, Kaija Sariaaho, Gertrud van der Meer?

Some of the above names are invented, but you get my point. "Anglo-sounding names" are not "white-sounding names." They haven't been for decades (if not centuries). If the researchers wanted to test *certainly* "white" names against *certainly* "black" ones, there would've been a Fiona or Sofia or Gertrud or Kaija for every Keisha or Aisha. I bet there wasn't.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak at December 16, 2002 09:19 PM

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