By: Denise Smiley
I once read an article that discussed the results of an experimental study completed in regards to discrimination in the workplace. It was revealed that applicants with non-ethnic names were called back 5 times more than those with ethnic names to move forward in the initial interview process. It was noted that the researchers deliberately chose to have all the participants’ resumes identical except for the name. This meant that qualifications, education, and credentials were overlooked due to an assumption made about someone’s name. An assumption based upon discrimination.
My name is Kisha and society has taught me to hate my name. Society often associates all Kisha’s to be ghetto, on welfare, have multiple children, or the be a big booty video vixen in rap videos. As i’ve grown older i’ve found that my name has hindered my career from advancing in the direction I would prefer. I struggle with being able to display to potential employers that I am a marketable candidate despite my name. I have also heard firsthand from friends that work in human resources that people with my kind of name don’t get hired and that they throw out the resumes of people with ethnic names.
I am a Social Worker for an outpatient mental health clinic, and although I feel lucky to have had job stability by working for the same company for four years, I have still been in search for something better. It is very discouraging to rarely receive call backs about interviews. I typically receive the usual, “We regret to inform you that although your skills are impressive, we have decided to go with another candidate that is more qualified”.
I have the experience, passion for my field, and a Master’s degree to follow; but no one will know if my name continues to stand in the way. I know I am more than qualified, but I will never have the chance to prove my skill set if I continue to be discriminated against.
I recently decided if I was ever going to make it in the corporate America I had to do something about my name. I decided to use my middle name, Denise, on my resume instead of my “ethnic first name.” Society has taught me that Denise is more appropriate because it is less ethnic. I have also noticed that abbreviating my first name may be better as well. An example would be K. Smiley or K. D. Smiley.
Women and men of all races and ages have been conditioned to associate ethnic names with negative connotations such as poor work ethic, loud, non-compliant, unable to communicate effectively, and a lack of interpersonal skills. When society forms generalization about all Black women they assume we are the same, created to be inferior.
Prejudice and bias thinking then forms from these generalizations, and are shown through acts of discrimination. Many are in denial that this form of discrimination even exists, or if they do acknowledge it they try to justify it somehow. Discrimination can never be justified and denying the problem exists is a problem within itself.
When Black women continuously experience gender and racial discrimination throughout their personal lives, and within their careers it can become negatively internalized. This can cause women to hate themselves, parts of their culture, and other Black women as well. Some begin to hate their skin tone, physical features, and form an “us versus them” mentality.
Growing up my name was never on keychains, pencils, license plates, or presently the Coca-Cola cans. A few years back a popular rap song came out that included the lyrics “…Smoking on Keisha”. For that year, everywhere I went people were singing the lyrics to me and even calling me “Smoking on Keisha”. Let the record state that I hate that song and I don’t smoke weed. To others that may have been a simple joke, but to me it adds to a bigger problem.
Another issues I face is being nervous when introducing myself to others because I fear they too will think negative of me. I assume my ‘first impression’ will automatically be ruined once they hear my name and begin to judge me. Surely they will think I’ve lived up to the negative connotations of being a “Kisha” on top of being a Black woman. Maybe they’ll assume I am ignorant, uneducated, hostile, and unfriendly.
I truly dislike that I can’t fully be who I am, I have to tone down my “blackness” in order to be accepted by others. Since when did being black become a bad thing? Newsflash America, my name doesn’t define my capabilities, worth ethic, personality, success, or ambition. I love who I am. I am proud to be a Black woman. I am proud to be Kisha. I am mostly proud to have broken so many negative statistics and stereotypes set forth by society. I am educated, I am an entrepreneur, and I’ve made it my mission to uplift as many women as I possibly can.
I want to encourage everyone out there today that may be facing the same dilemma as I am to keep striving forward. Continue to be persistent in reaching your career goals and business goals. Most importantly never let anyone make you feel ashamed for being yourself. Use your story to influence a change that needs to be made in your field, your neighborhood, and those around you. Let’s come together to break those stereotypical barriers!
About the author: Kisha Smiley is a 27 years old resident of Dallas, Texas who recently graduated with a Master’s in Social Work. She is the Founder of Held In High Esteem, an inspirational and lifestyle blog created to empower women of all ages. It’s serves to create a movement that will inspire and uplift women to be themselves. To her, this means being proud of who you are, embracing every bit of yourself, and loving the skin you’re in.