Considering My Own Racism: What’s in a name?

Do we pre-judge each other by our names?

Yes, we do.

Or at least I do.

As a new topic in this blog series as I look at my own racial prejudices (my pre-judging), I’ve been considering names.

Does my racism start when I learn someone’s name?

What if I were the person who does the hiring for a company or an educational institution, would I judge applicants as soon as I saw their names?

Would I pre-judge Quaneshia or DeAndre or Ebony or Trevon the same as I would Rachel or Tanner or Abigail or Dylan?

No, I would not see them as “the same.”

I’d assume that Quaneshia was a black woman. I’d assume that DeAndre was a black man. I’d assume that Abigail was a white woman and that Dylan was a white man.

And would that affect my hiring?

I’d hope it wouldn’t, but I know it would.

I would have a dilemma. I’d be very aware that I was assuming a race for each person.

And I would wonder if I could be unbiased in my hiring. I’d hope that I could choose interviews based on resumes and not race.

But could I?

And what if a black applicant had a “white” name, how would I respond when he or she walked into the interview?

You see, in my world, white is the default.

So I notice anything indicating “blackness.”

Would my prejudice affect our interview? Would it affect my hiring?

I hope not, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t.

You see, my racial bias is very sneaky.

I can easily rationalize it away. I could easily make an argument that a black person’s resume isn’t as strong. But how would I know if it were my bias and not really the resume?

I’d need to do a lot of self-reflection.

Just as I’m doing here.

Of course, you can apply the name bias to any group. Women may not be treated equally – or Hispanics or Asians. Any non-white European group may be treated with negative bias. Heck, even white Europeans with “foreign” names can be treated with negative bias in some areas of the United States.

But my strongest personal bias has to do with race.

I notice race – even when I don’t want to.

I think it has to do with being raised in the American South, where racial bias was so strong. And is still strong, at least among folks my age (I’m 60).

So how do I navigate this racial bias?

By being aware of it.

That’s the biggest reason for my writing this blog series.

To become more aware of my racial bias. Because with awareness, I can work on changing it.

If I’m unaware or in denial of my own racism, I can’t change it.

But by becoming aware, I can make choices instead of knee-jerk reactions.

And I choose to be less racist.

And perhaps one day before I die, I will not longer have racial bias.

Perhaps one day I will see “fellow human” before I see race.

At least that’s my hope.

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2 thoughts on “Considering My Own Racism: What’s in a name?

  1. I am a black woman. Some would say I have succumbed to the racist standard that one is either black OR white. Wow, I can’t get through a sentence without racism impacting me. Anyway, I’m half white the same way Obama was first half white president. I went to an auction & bid on some items. I had reason to talk to the management and discovered they had given me a code name–Tamika. The exact, inaccurate sentence spoken into the phone was “Tamika is here and she doesn’t have the money.”. My name is not Tamika, my name shares the first two letters, but otherwise you wouldn’t necessarily guess my race from my name. When I confronted the speaker, she pretended she misspoke. It was actually the second racist incident at this Honolulu establishment. There are few blacks here. Lots of racism but none of it as murderous as it’s extreme mainland counterpart. My point? Yes, names matter, and try as we might to be neutral that is impossible so…what’s the solution.

  2. I don’t have a solution but do know I want to treat people fairly. That’s why I’m exploring this topic. What are my knee-jerk, often-racist reactions? How can I change them? And how can I share my explorations of this topic with white friends who may not be aware of inherent racial bias? That’s why I’m exploring these issues in my blog. Thank you so much for sharing. I think people sharing experiences is another way to help change attitudes.

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