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Unformatted text preview: . 4/... (“THIS PEBSQFI DOESN’T SOUN‘D WHITE- Ziba Kashef Kofi? Mani? Stile? Biian?
Choosing a name for my future son has turned out to be much more compli— cated than I thought when I started searching online for possibilities. Reza? Omar? Darius? Malcolm?
While I entertained the sound and signiﬁcance of each potential moniker (Kofi is Twi for “born on Friday"-what if he's born on Tuesday?), I started to wonder
about the consequences of giving him an obviously “ethnic” name. It would re-
ﬂect his multiracial heritage (black, Iranian, Irish, Hungarian) and hopefully con-
tribute to his sense of cultural pride. But the name would also likely be misspelled,
mispronounced, and misunderstood in a country that is largely still ignorant and Suspicious of otherness. .
My own name, Ziba (zee—bah), has mainly evoked expressions of admiration (HOW unusual!) and curiosity (How do you spell that?). But on occasion, the rev- COIorLines Magazine, Culture Section, vol. 6, no. 3, Fall 2003. 410 Part Vl—Some Consequences ofﬁces, Class. and Gender Inequality elation that it is Persian, as is my father, has been met with awkward silence or
stares. A Middle Eastern name is not particularly welcome in the U.S., especially
in the current anti-MuslimlArab/Middle East political environment. So as l contemplate my son’s name, l’m torn between the desire to emphasize
his ethnicity and the desire to minimize the potential for proﬁling and discrimina-
tion against him. While racial discrimination has been understood historically as
a practice based on an individual's skin color, recent research is showing that it is
also often based on a person’s name or speech, with the same destructive effects. What's in a Name? A name—and the racial group associated with it—can make the diﬂerence be
tween getting a job interview and remaining unemployed, according to one recent
study, Researchers at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Businm and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sent 5,000 fake resumes in response to .
a variety of ads in two maior newspapers—the Boston Globe and the Chicago Trib— / one. Names on the resumes were selected to sound either distinctively Anglo (e.g., Brendan Baker) or African American (e.g., Jamal Jones). The study revealed that " the ﬁctitious iob seekers with white names were 50 percent more likely to get calls
for interviews. Those stats translate into the need for blacks to mail 15 resumes to; every 10 resumes scnt by whites in order to land one interview. Sadly, this patted)“
of aﬁirmative action for white job hunters emerged even among federal contracts. tors and ﬁrms that advertised themselves as “equal opportunity” employers.
Besides changing their names, there appears to be little black applicants
do to level the playing ﬁeld. As part of the study, researchers created two s
resumes—high quality and low quality—to reﬂect the actual pool of job ~
looking for work in ﬁelds ranging from sales, administrative support, clerical
vices, and customer services. But even having a higher quality resume with ,.
credentials as volunteer experience, computer skills, and special honors fail
improve the black applicants' chances of getting their foot in the door. “The
back that an African American applicant gets from building these skills is
lower than the payback a white applicant would get," the University of Chi
associate professor Marianne Bertrand noted in a summary of the study.
African and African American names aren't the only ones singled out for '
udice, of course, and the job sphere isn’t the only realm in which such d'
nation gets played out. lo the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Co ' .
(ADC) “Report on Hate Crimes and Discrimination Apinst Arab American
Post-September ll Backlash." the authors noted that among the dozens
stances of discrimination by airlines that occurred between September 2‘
October 2002, “the passenger’s name or perceived ethnicity" alone was
ﬁcient cause for unprovoked removal from a ﬂight. Discrimination often
place whether or not the passenger was actually Arab or Muslim, resulting in, basis of skin color, Baugh decided to test whether they did so on the basis of brief
ephone conversations. Using three distinct dialects he learned while growing up 9 Kashef/ This Person Doesn't Sound White 411 senger. According to the ADC, one Indian Canadian woman was removed from a
plane because her last name was mispronounced as “Attah” and therefore per-
ceived as Middle Eastern. Other passengers were prevented from traveling because
their names were similar to those on the FBI watch list. This type of proﬁling quickly spread with Jim—Crow-like effects. "We've found
that persons named Osama are being regularly denied services. whether in restau-
rants, stores, or other areas," says the ABC’s media director Laila Al-Qatami. An—
other example recorded by the ADC describes how an Indian American couple
were handcuffed and interrogated alter purchasing Broadway tickets and specify—
ing that their seats be located in the middle of the theater. Their crime? The
“foreign name and accent" of the ticket buyer had made the ticket agent suspicious
enough to call the police. While the ADC has documented more than 700 violent incidents and 800
cases of employment discrimination against Arab Americans since 9/11, many
more go unreported and unchallenged. “it is hard to easily label what happens as
discrimination. For example, if a person is denied housing or not oﬁered a posi- . tion with a company," notes Al-Qatami. “can this be linked to discrimination or is the candidate not truly qualiﬁed? It is a ﬁne line.” , Linguistic Proﬁling Names aren't the only potential cues to a person’s racial identity: speech may also
reveal—or conceal—ethnicity. While searching for housing in the predominantly
white neighborhood of Palo Alto, California, in the mid-1990s, John Baugh made
appointment after appointment over the phone only to be turned away at the land- . lord’s door. “I was told that there was nothing available," says the Stanford Univer- sity professor of education and linguistics, who happens to be African American. lt ' didn’t take long for him to realize that prospective owners were mistaking his phone voice for that of a white person and inviting him to view apartments. When ' he showed up for the appointments, he was repeatedly told that there had been
. some misunderstanding. . This personal aﬁ'ront piqued Baugh’s professional curiosity. While it's estab-
ﬁshed that landlords have long discriminated against prospective tenano on the .7 Dos Angela—African American Vernacular English, Chicano English and
' dard American English—he placed calls in response to ads for apartments in
Northern California neighborhoods. During those calls, he used various pseu- , such as Juan Ramirez for the Chicano English dialect. What emerged was
. a proof of bias :9th the black and Chicano dialects in predominantly white
5.. "[The] research demonstrates that voice is a surrogate for race in many
-nces when people choose to discriminate over the telephone or use the
one as the means of discrimination," he explains. Two University of Penn- 412 Part VI——Some Consequences of Race, Class, and Gender Inequality sylvania sociologist uncovered similar result in a separate study of rental housing
discrimination With his evidence, Baugh, who wrote the book Beyond Ebonics: Linguistic
Pride and Racial Prejudice (Oxford University Press), has been able to help bolster
the claims of a dozen housing discrimination victims in court. Baugh and his col-
leagues at Stanford are also currently investigating linguistic proﬁling in education
and employment. He cites examples of elementary and secondary school studenu
being placed on non-academic reading tracks based on their accents. "The linguis-
tic proﬁling that is taking place does have direct educational consequences for the
child," he adds—consequences that can affect their ability to later compete in the
job market. Double-Edged Discrimination Data Research ﬂiat veriﬁes the persistence of prejudice against people of color because
of names and speech can have both positive and negative consequences. On the
one hand, employers and landlords can be challenged in court, and in the best
case scenarios, they can also become more aware of subconscious discriminatory
practices in order to change them. Shanna Li Smith of the National Fair Housing
Alliance, which documents reports of housing discrimination nationwide, has gone
so far as to encourage companies to olt'er employees sensitivity training so they can
avoid discriminating and resulting lawsuits, according to an article in 14¢ng But Baugh acknowledges that the validation of racial identiﬁcation by vo'r’
can also have negative elt'ects. Prejudiced property owners who have ' ‘ ‘
of his research can simply discriminate more carefully by either melting some - -,
pointments with people of color when they have no intention of renting to th
or claiming that despite the evidence, they personally can‘t identify a person’s .
by the sound of his or her voice. “I had hoped that this research would
eliminate the discrimination but it's far more complicated than that," he says. '
the result . . . is that landlords grant appointments and then deny someone h
ing face to face, that, to me, is not a real improvement” On the other hand
points to instances in which criminal courts have allowed police otﬁcers and
nesses to identify a suspect solely by the sound of his voice—i.e., I heard the
of a black/Latino man. This has happened in rape cases when the victim could
see her attacker and other cases in which police used wiretaps but did not a it
see a suspect. Such testimony has succeeded and rarely been challenged in
inal cases. 'This issue of voice identiﬁcation has cut both ways against '
speakers," he explains, "It cuts against them as defendants and it cuts ly' ~
as plaintiﬂs." While blacks have long been the victims of such bias, Latinos, Asians, = i
Americans—mot to mention other vulnerable groups such as the eld
disabled—are similarly proﬁled, experts note. Evidence of discrimination"
to prevent it (such as the Fair Housing Act and Civil Rights Act) have . r ,4 10 Berger I Family Tia and the Entanglmmu of Cash 413 eradicate “talking while black" and other examples of linguistic racism. They re-
main largely invisible acts of bigotry—bloodless crimes that injure people of color
while quietly reinforcing and perpetuating segregation and white supremacy. Per-
haps by the time my future son is an adult, some 50 years aﬁer legal discrimina-
h'on ofﬁcially ended, he will grow up in a society where his ethnic name and
heritage is truly accepted and not punished. ...
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- Spring '08