Much is being made of Michael Luo’s piece in yesterday’s New York Times which explains how simply being black often hurts job seekers:
Johnny R. Williams, 30, would appear to be an unlikely person to have to fret about the impact of race on his job search, with companies like JPMorgan Chase and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago on his résumé.
But after graduating from business school last year and not having much success garnering interviews, he decided to retool his résumé, scrubbing it of any details that might tip off his skin color. His membership, for instance, in the African-American business students association? Deleted.
“If they’re going to X me,” Mr. Williams said, “I’d like to at least get in the door first.”
Similarly, Barry Jabbar Sykes, 37, who has a degree in mathematics from Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, now uses Barry J. Sykes in his continuing search for an information technology position, even though he has gone by Jabbar his whole life.
“Barry sounds like I could be from Ireland,” he said.
Though Luo is working under the rather shaky premise that recent progress for blacks, like Barack Obama’s election, was supposed to improve prospects for black job seekers, he notes the opposite attitude in his interviewees:
Many interviewed, however, wrestled with “pulling the race card,” groping between their cynicism and desire to avoid the stigma that blacks are too quick to claim victimhood. After all, many had gone to good schools and had accomplished résumés. Some had grown up in well-to-do settings, with parents who had raised them never to doubt how high they could climb. Moreover, there is President Obama, perhaps the ultimate embodiment of that belief.
Certainly, they conceded, there are times when their race can be beneficial, particularly with companies that have diversity programs. But many said they sensed that such opportunities had been cut back over the years and even more during the downturn. Others speculated there was now more of a tendency to deem diversity unnecessary after Mr. Obama’s triumph.
Adam rightly notes the disincentives for blacks to speak up about discrimination, writing “why dwell on racial bias when it’s something you can’t really control? It’s obvious that racism doesn’t make success impossible, and things are obviously better now than they once were.”
And Ta-Nehisi agrees, adding, “I was in competition with a lot of other people who weren’t black. Obsessing over discrimination would have been, from that perspective, like a rooking guarding Jordan complaining about the officiating. You aren’t going to win, and it distracts you from actually doing your job. You may not like your assignment. It may be unfair. But that really isn’t up to you. My charge was to find some way to win, not to enumerate the obstacles in the way.”
Unfortunately, neither Adam nor Ta-Nehisi notice something that was glaringly obvious to me on my first reading of the piece: not a single black woman was quoted in it. Luo may have interviewed black women, but he certainly didn’t give them a voice in a story about black — not just black male — professionals.
And while Ta-Nehisi’s post is a great exploration how blacks navigate racism and success, even he only refers to black men — Obama, Deval Patrick, Cory Booker, Booker T. Washington.
This is not a minor problem.
Black women go to college at higher rates than black men, and 27 percent of black women are employed in managerial positions, while only 19 percent of black men are. I don’t think it’s much of a leap to suggest that there are more black women looking for professional jobs than black men.
Of course, black men have a unique set of challenges. And while black women share a similar experience with them, it surely wouldn’t do to quote women in a story about men. Likewise, quoting a variety of black men doesn’t speak to the experiences of a variety of black people. What about the single mothers? Or young women who are struggling to be taken seriously in the male-dominated corporate arena? I know plenty of black women who would have a lot to say about having a business degree and a ‘black’ name, or being interviewed by someone who’s not just of a different race, but also of a different gender.
The stories of the men in Luo’s piece are valuable, but in a story about black professionals, they just don’t get the job done.
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