May 17, 2013

"Fake" African-American names and assimilation

There's been a number of studies recently about how people with "obvious" African-American first names have more trouble getting hired and related issues. (You can do teh Google, but I'm sure you've read about at least one of these.)

That said, while having some degree of sympathy for, say, a 21-year-old kid who doesn't have money to legally change his or her name, I don't have total sympathy with the idea that HR folks, or general management in a company not big enough to have a separate HR department, should turn a totally blind eye to the name.

It's one thing, in my opinion, if the person has a traditional African first name, especially if it's also attached to a traditional African surname. That said, I'm venturing that said family's next generation will have kids with more WASP-ish first names, or at least, WASP-ish nicknames playing off African first names.

What I am talking about is African-Americans whose families have been in America since pre-Civil War days,  who have Anglo-Saxon type surnames, but who, today, invent fake African-sounding names for their kids.

You know what I'm talking about. "Shaniqua" or similar.

Speaking of teh Google, if you want to find a traditional African name, that's one thing. But, to make up something like that? I'll be honest, I know that on a subconscious level I couldn't ignore that, and maybe not on a conscious level.

Many people may say, "What about Hispanics"?

Ahh, usually, they do just what I mentioned earlier. By the third generation, if not the second, if they don't have WASP-ish first names, they do for either nicknames or shortened forms of their names. "Manuel" becomes "Manny." "Roberto" becomes "Bob."

And, it happens in other countries, with other ethnicities. I think of two tinhorn authoritarian jefes in South America, Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay and German heritage, and Alberto Fujimori of Peru and Japanes heritage. Stroessner didn't have the first name of Hans-Werner and Fujimori didn't have the first name of Takugawa.

So, sorry for the Shaniquas of the U.S. Sorry that your parents are often putting you behind an 8-ball in a country that's already got growing socioeconomic divisions.

But, per the examples above, maybe if you use a nickname, go by your middle name on a resume or whatever, you can partially get out from behind that 8-ball.

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