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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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