Sometimes I happen upon a bit of information that is so stunning, so out-of-this-world crazy, that I simply dismiss it as media hyperbole. This is likely what happened when someone mentioned Sammy Sosa's recent skin transformation, apparently an elective process, achieved by a "skin softening" cream.

For those of you as well-versed in baseball as I am, you likely remember Sammy's incredible 1998 season, when he raced Mark McGwire to beat the record for the most home runs in a single season. In the end, Mark McGwire won the race with 70 home runs, 4 more than Sammy. It was exciting, even for people like me, who almost never pay attention to baseball.

This bit of sensationalism, however, would have been filed away in the useless trivia section of my brain, had I not happened upon this article in the New York Times: "Whitening the Resume".

The article describes Black jobseekers who alter their resumes to seem "less Black" to potential employers. They change their names, leave off historically black colleges, and avoid references from black colleagues. In a tight job market, being black, they believe, can decrease the chances of getting a foot in the door.

None of this is new to me, of course. My parents' generation -- especially those with middle class aspirations -- warned us that White organizations wouldn't hire us if we talked, dressed, or any way appeared too "Black". The 70s -- when I grew up -- was all about debunking these limitations. "I'm Black and I'm proud" was as much a statement to Black conformists and assimilationalists as it was to White America.

So, here we are again. Times get tough, and Black pride takes a seat in the back of the bus. Getting a job takes precedence over authentic identity.

I hope those jobseekers in the articles find jobs. I also hope they find a way to exist in corporate America without having to deny a pretty important and unavoidable fact: they were born Black in a country -- in a world, even, if my Japanese and Indian and Jamaican and and Argentinian and Dominican friends are representative -- where White holds more value that Black. Light over dark. It's an old story. And it should not be allowed to persist.

Me? I'm too old to go hiding who I am. Plus, I think I'm pretty OK. My heritage, history and culture make me unique and are assets. They provide a perspective that you can't buy in a box. And any organization I join had better think so, as well. We are approaching a time in which self-expression, difference and creativity are valued and valuable. Please, let's not hightail it back to the late 1950s.

I hope Sammy Sosa gets into the Hall of Fame, if that's what he deserves. And I hope it's because he tried really hard to hit 71 home runs, not because he's got softer, lighter skin.

Views: 185

Comment by Margo Rose on December 14, 2009 at 11:49pm
Thank you so much for this compelling post.
Comment by David George on December 15, 2009 at 11:46am
Interesting article, Carmen. I'm white (not that it should matter), so I can honestly say that I cannot relate to this on a personal level. I can, however, say from a recruiter's standpoint that I have never not called someone whose resume I encountered because they appeared "too black" or "too asian" or "too whatever". It's just stupid. You can't judge someone's qualifications, personality traits, work ethic, or anything based upon that criteria. It is completely illogical. I understand that there are people out there who probably do this because of personal prejudices and they should not be in the business of hiring people, because they risk losing out on some great employees, which will hurt their company over both the short and long term. I like to think that most people are better than that and I really do believe those who discriminate are in the vast minority these days. Hopefully this completely insane practice of judging people by irrelevant criteria will disappear from our society completely before too long.
Comment by Karen Swim on December 15, 2009 at 11:50am
Carmen, bravo for writing this post! Maren, I knew about "James" before the public outing and share your insights and questions. I work with professionals to get hired. So, I write resumes, bios and help them with their branding and search strategy. People not only struggle with "whitening" the resume but in the U.S. people want to remove anything that speaks to culture, or religion that would hinder them from getting hired. As such if they volunteer at faith based organizations they remove it. Anything that suggests a political belief is removed. African Americans, Middle Eastern, Asians and so many other ethnic groups feel the need to "whitewash" their race and heritage. Maren, you are right on there are deeper problems and we should be working to solve them. Bottom line is that bias exists. Carmen and all of us are part of the solution because we are brave enough to at least admit there's a problem and have an open, respectful discussion about it. Yet, there is more that we can all do and I believe it begins with examining our own biases and not allowing those biases to color our decisions. Again, Carmen thank you for posting on this issue.
Comment by Christian Fauchald on December 15, 2009 at 12:56pm
I'd have to disagree with the notion that making one's resume less black, less Indian, or less anything else automatically makes it appear more white. It simply makes it less black/Indian/etc and more homogeneous... and being considered for one's accomplishments should be the focus, should it not?

The fact that people would consider such acts "whitening" rather than homogenizing is indicative of their own bias, rather than the bias of unknown others.

This is America: we're supposed to assimilate. The purpose of its existence was to create a place where people are not to be judged by their color or caste, their gender, religion or sexual preference, but by their character and their accomplishments. This is the collective goal which hundreds of millions have been striving to reach for two centuries... and personally, I don't think homogenizing is such a bad thing. After all, we are all one people and if we're not yet, this may be a good step toward getting there.

I believe in taking personal pride in where(and who) you came from, but I don't believe in making it who you are. Seems to me that if we make those things our history rather than our identity, then bias will become history, too.

I am Norwegian and I am proud, but you sure as hell won't find Sons of Norway on my resume, nor a membership card in my wallet, because Norway is simply where my ancestors came from. As for me, I'm just another cog in the American dream machine... and of that, I am very proud.

Ask Canadian what nationality they are and they'll give you a funny look and say, "I'm Canadian!" They don't even think beyond that. If you ask for further clarification, they look at you like you're nuts. I admire that greatly about them. I hope Americans will get there soon and I think we can do it, but the first step is in changing our own minds.
Comment by Jerry Albright on December 15, 2009 at 1:00pm
I'm surprised to see an "I am Black and I am Proud" thread here - just as I would be to see an "I am White and I am Proud" thread or any other such theme......
Comment by Sharon Jimenez Meyers on December 15, 2009 at 2:18pm
Very thought provoking article and I do see your point and have seen resumes that do that. It is extremely sad that people still feel the need to do this. And it is done....from Latino sounding names to African American, Asian, etc.
As a recruiter and a Latina I have seen it done countless times... rather than pretending it does not exist, question why does it exist, why do people feel the need to do it?

Thank you for this article.
Sharon Jimenez Meyers
Comment by Christian Fauchald on December 15, 2009 at 3:32pm
Millions of immigrants changed their names, either at Ellis Island, during naturalization or one or two generations later. Why did they do it? Because they wanted to become Americans. They wanted their names to sound American. They wanted to disassociate with being foreigners in the new land. They wanted to assimilate. Everyone did it, including white people.

They're still doing that and they do it on their resumes, too.
Comment by Randy Levinson on December 15, 2009 at 3:38pm
Last year when I was working on my resume another recruiter suggested that I take off my few lines of volunteerism or at least try to genericize them away from the fact that they were in the Jewish community and also remove some real Jobs I had Jewish institutions. I understood what he was saying but it ratcheted up my disappointment in other people a little bit. What was most interesting is that when I mentioned this to a non-Jewish person who was one of my co-workers she said she would never think to leave that experience off her resume. So it really is only because I am Jewish working in a Jewish environment that appears to raise an eyebrow. Similarly, if I had ever worked for the NAACP I would never think it an issue to put on my resume while it may cause others to pause before doing so because of their cultural and racial background.

On a lighter note (I think) Maren’s comment totally made me think of the old television show “Remington Steele” that starred Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan. The plot of the show was that she was getting no work as a female private detective so she hires him to pose as her made up “boss” because a man was more apt to be successful in that line of work than a woman.
Comment by Christian Fauchald on December 15, 2009 at 3:44pm
Meant to include an example. My mother's family. When they showed up in America, it was Örso. Their adopted American name is Johnson.
Comment by Peter Clayton on December 15, 2009 at 9:00pm
"Do I hate white folks? Is that your question? Do all black people hate whites? Let me put your mind at rest — you bet we do." These are the lines spoken by David Alan Grier in a new David Mamet play, titled "Race"

Race is about the prickly and painful issues that arise out of a legal case. (There's a great interview with Grier on NPR

A wealthy white man, played by Richard Thomas, is accused of raping a black woman. He seeks legal representation at a law firm run by two partners — a white lawyer played by James Spader and a black lawyer played by Grier.

All of the characters test audience assumptions about racial allegiance and gender politics. Grier says he thinks Mamet was prompted to write the play by the election of Barack Obama.

I think prejudice is alive and well here in the US and in most of the developed world. There is bias against age, race, gender, sexual orientation. There's a bias against tattoos and body piercings. The glass ceiling is still with us as well as the gray ceiling. (I could dye my hair, but no one is going to think I'm 30 years old).

I commend Carmen for her belief in authenticity. At some point, you're going to have to show up for an interview. I think you should show up as yourself. As an original.

I do believe, as we move into the next decade, companies TRULY wanting to embrace and promote diversity will win. They'll be able to attract and retain the best talent.


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