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Nadra Kareem Nittle

Does Racism Increase Your Chances of Being Unemployed?

By December 2, 2009

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On Monday, the New York Times published an article called "In Job Hunt, College Degree Can't Close Racial Gap." In the piece, reporter Michael Luo asserts, "Black joblessness has long far outstripped that of whites. And strikingly, the disparity for the first 10 months of this year, as the recession has dragged on, has been even more pronounced for those with college degrees, compared with those without."

That's right, even a college degree won't give African Americans an advantage in the job hunt. This is quite disturbing considering how often young blacks are urged to get an education to overcome racial barriers. Using figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Luo determined that the unemployment rate for black male college graduates 25 and older in 2009 has been nearly twice that of white male college graduates -- 8.4 percent compared with 4.4 percent.

I've little doubt that racism contributes to African American men and women, alike, encountering difficulty obtaining employment. A few months ago, I wrote two articles--"Avoid Hiring Discrimination" and "Discrimination During a Job Interview" --for the Race Relations site about this very subject. Writes Luo: "Various academic studies have confirmed that black job seekers have a harder time than whites. A study published several years ago in The American Economic Review titled 'Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?' found that applicants with black-sounding names received 50 percent fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names."

Another study found that whites, Latinos and Asians were all more likely to hire whites over blacks. Luo didn't just cite studies, however. He interviewed two dozen black male college graduates about their employment experiences. The men reported receiving surprised looks and lack of enthusiasm from prospective employers when they showed up for job interviews, not to mention offhand remarks.

Perhaps even more illuminating than Luo's article were the comments that readers left about their own experiences with perceived job discrimination. A reader who left the comment under the name "Drtobe" wrote:

"I am well-educated, motivated and ready to contribute but because my parents decided to honor our heritage in the choice of my name I have to alter my resume (so my name sounds 'less black') and then be on pins and needles before an interview because of the potential 'shock value' of my presence despite three degrees and years of experience."

Another commenter who posted under the name of "Brownunemployedgirl" stated:

"I have a non-Black sounding name and attended prestigious universities for undergrad and grad school. I also had the experience--twice--of arriving at a job interview and having my interviewer do a blatant double-take when s/he saw that I was Black. ...Any Black person who thinks s/he can hide behind a fancy degree (even with relevant experience) in this job market is deluding themselves."

Readers, what do you think? Is it delusional for people of color to think that education will help them overcome a tight job market further complicated by racism?


December 2, 2009 at 4:00 pm
(1) Anna says:

I too have a name that can go either way. However what I’ve learned is that when I show up for an interview and the hiring manager does a double take, I break the ice by bringing things back around.

With my experience and yes 2 degrees, I’ve found they either get over it or if they don’t…I’d rather not work there any way. I know in this economy it is hard to not be desperate for a job, but I’d rather work in an environment that is respectful and accepting of everyone than to be miserable all day every day.

December 7, 2009 at 7:07 pm
(2) Dorothy says:


That is a great way of looking at it. I would like to see every African American with a job be conscious to respresent as best as possible. I am an employer. The best way to overcome the sterotypes is when opportunity comes, show up and don’t let the sterotype prove true.

December 8, 2009 at 11:48 am
(3) Jeff says:

Don’t let the sterotype prove true…thats Dorothys advice. What other race of people has the task of proving the stereotypes wrong. Individual merit applies to everyone except black people. Other races have members who can span the range of human capabilities. But we are only allowed to the victim or the fool. As a black male who will graduate in May 2010, I am not sure what the future holds.
What can you say when racism may determine whether you can pay the bills or not? May determine what schools your kids will be able to attend?
Perhaps change your name, remove all about you that may fit into some stereotype. Yeah, you may have a job but not much else.

December 8, 2009 at 1:46 pm
(4) Jana says:

The rest of the delusional people are the white people who think that things have so much improved for blacks in the job market. In a discussion with a half dozen co-workers yesterday–all white women–I was told this and told that blacks have an unfair advantage because of affirmative action quotas and it is actually WHITE MEN (I swear, I’m not kidding) who face discrimination. I shut my mouth. It’s like swimming up a waterfall.

December 8, 2009 at 3:57 pm
(5) Nadra says:

Jana, I feel your pain. The fact that the black unemployment is often twice as high as the white unemployment rate should indicate to people that there are barriers to blacks in the workforce. But I suppose some people just think blacks are lazy. Perhaps you should email your coworkers the NY Times article, if you’re on friendly enough terms with them to do so. The only place one could argue blacks benefit from affirmative action would be in colleges and universities, but many states have outlawed affirmative action, so that’s not as big a factor anymore either.

December 12, 2009 at 9:38 am
(6) WRosencratz says:

My first job out of seminary was working for this non-profit where the level of unprofessionalism was staggering. One young man would make squinty eyes every time an Asian client were to visit and make “monkey sounds” if the client happened to be African American. If the client were Latino, he would do his famous Cheech and Chong impersonation.

Fed up with this appauling display, I went straight to HR. Since the young man was the Chairman’s son, the next day I came in, I found myself packing my bags up after being told my position was eliminated in “budget cuts.”

So yes, racism does increase your chances of being unemployed – as does speaking out against racism and workplace injustice.

December 15, 2009 at 10:03 am
(7) Brother Leroy says:

In the beginning years of my employment in corporate America I experienced white supremacy in various forms. The most notable was that as an employee my salary was always lower than that of caucasians who came in after me and did less work in the same job title. Any story I tell will be overmatched by other brothers and sisters working in coporate, academic, military, medical, blue collar professions, etc. Also, see a very good book on those of us who came into corporate America during Black affirmative action, “Black Life In Corporate America”. The bottom line is this, where we experience discrimination it’s not because of our color (“I didn’t get the job because I’m Black). It’s because our Blackness represents competition that they can’t resist. They are the stars and hiring us will diminish their light. Doing for self is the remedy. Three degrees and no employment is an open door for us to do for self…or die.

December 30, 2009 at 8:22 am
(8) theMysteryRapper says:


look at this news clip of Black women saying that they cant find good black men and the media Being ANTI black male right in our faces!!

December 30, 2009 at 8:39 am
(9) theMysteryRapper says:


a black man cant be racist..Its impossible in the usa.

January 20, 2010 at 9:15 am
(10) poor poor black folks says:

Oh the poor poor black man/woman can’t find or keep a job. the white devils are keeping them all down. Yea right your stories all of them are so full of sh!t! Here in my neck of the woods I see affirmative action working in the black and hispanics favor when it comes to jobs. I have been over looked because of the color of my skin! When I say that I’m a racist though. Wrong I’m white and pissed that I get over looked so the black and hispanic races get the jobs.

May 21, 2010 at 10:25 am
(11) SadButTrue says:

I recently went through the same thing. Great phone interview they loved my resume. They flew me from GA to CO for the interview and set me up with hotel and rental car. I just knew the job was mine and my family would be secure. They put me through 6 interviews in one day. The first five went great but the last was a selection committe to see if i would be right for the building. 5 white men 2 white women and they looked at me with disgust. 15 min interview and they ridiculed me about my resume even though the resume is what got me out there. I didn’t fit the culture of the building and i also noticed i was the only black person in the building. Didn’t get the job. It really hurt.

May 24, 2010 at 2:33 am
(12) Veronica says:

To SadButTrue: I’m sorry that you didn’t get the job. I guess in spite of the civil rights movement, the advances, and the progress we’ve supposedly made since then, we still haven’t “overcome” anything. “We shall overcome someday,” the song went. When will that be?

June 6, 2010 at 1:14 pm
(13) Strive the 1st says:

Reading the article and all the comments has been really
interesting. I can relate to the majority of what is being said.

I live in the UK I am British Caribbean, I am female, I have two degrees, years of experience, affiliation with my sectors Chartered Society (the list goes on). However when I go for interviews (I’m always ‘suited and booted’) I’m asked if I’ve come to work in the Kitchen!! (YES I’ve actually been asked that!).

As I have a colourless voice and a European sounding name
I often sail through the application form and telephone interview during the application process, but I often find
that when I turn up for a face to face interview it’s often
not a double take but a look of sheer disbelief and sometimes even anger.

I have been to several interviews where (it’s usually a panel
of around four or five usually all men, always all white)often one of the panel gets so angry about something in my
portfolio that they/he/she actually SCREAMS in my face! many of my friends and family members tell me to walk out when this happens but what would that prove?

I stick it out, I always have and when I feel the person
has been out of order I will make a complaint. I have had
to take legal action once (that was one extreme case where I was actually employed). I have a mortgage, so the pressure is on but I will continue. What I’m trying to say is no-one said it would be easy, but we must press on that way it will be easier for our kids and their kids. I understand what
you are all feeling, it’s not too different here.

November 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm
(14) Charlie says:

I can tell you this, as a Corporate VP whose African American within a Fortune 500 company that consults other Fortune 500 firms; they’re not many blacks. Especially black males. Done countless interviews and surveys and this is a systemic problem. Its not because we do not have our share of applicants; we pull from the same higher University talent pools, executive search firms on all candidates. It comes down to that last interview, when things are all equal, it appears most likely than not, the white or other candidate is chosen. It also reflects in upper management. You know how many corporate C Level, Fortune 500 African Americans there are? Less than 3. Moreover many mid-level management blacks are not promoted very often, particularly if they are in high profile business units like Technology, Finance, and Corporate Governance. That’s the reality.

February 5, 2011 at 9:42 pm
(15) John says:

Well I’m a Black man with two degrees and I most definitely agree with the writer. But guys you must take a page out of many Jewish hand books. Be smarter than your competition. I learned a second language and increased my computer skills. In other words, try learning a skill that others don’t have. If they don’t hire you then take your skills somewhere else and make sure you shine bright at that place of employment. Finally, and mark my word on this; some black person is going to invent something sooo incredible that the entire world will be bidding for his/her services. It will be our own countries fault if that person sells his/her services to some other country because they don’t want to work with white people. What a tragedy!

April 10, 2011 at 12:03 am
(16) Wish people would get a clue... says:

Affirmative Action my A$$ to the gentleman that stated that Blacks have jobs because of affirmative action! I too have been unemployed for almost a year, and I too have gotten a double take from employers. I choose not to self-identify when I apply for a job, and because my name is not your typical “Black name”, I usually get the interviews based upon my experience and my credentials (both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees). And it’s also not because I didn’t interview well, because in EVERY interview I have and subsequently get turned down for, I ask for feedback from the interviewer via email/letter/phone call. I get the same lame duck excuse each time “we went with someone with the skill set we were looking for, but you interviewed well”. Yeah right, then WHY call me in for the interview in the first place! Wake up people and hire based upon whether that particular person will come in and work hard and get the job done and not JUDGE a person or deny a person a job based upon color! Maybe then we wouldn’t have SO much unemployment! Could racism be the leading CAUSE of our unemployment rate?!?!?!? Get a clue people….really!

July 22, 2011 at 5:16 pm
(17) Don't Care Anymore says:

Affirmative action does not work and is just a cliche like “Organic Food”. Its all bull…. Black people are directed to positions where being black would benefit the white business owners; i.e. marketing. I get smiles and a pat on the back for moping that floor well. Nobody looks at you really, because it is expected that you do that work. Lo and behold I interview in person for a position that makes decision with my two degrees and all of a sudden it matters I am black.

November 25, 2011 at 11:03 pm
(18) sherl says:

I am Afro Caribbean and I interviewed for a job the other day, There were four of us two white kids and two black young adult i’m twenty one. We were all interviewd in the same room and the white kids were not very knowlegable about the positon and didn’t know how to answer a question correctly. At the end of the interview the woman hired me, she just needed to process my paper work she asked her friend to do it and she said sure as soon as she saw me she said OH; “I’m not sure if i can do it now”. She was talking and laughing with her friends and then she said the system was not working properly ant that I should do it the next day. I The next day i was on my way to orientation and the lady called me and said i shouldn’t come because the system was still down. I called the next day after and she was giving me the same old story I said whatever information you may need i have it right here she said she not sure if she was suppose to hire me and that she would call me back. I NEVER received a call. I cried the next day. I have an interview tomorrow so lets hope i get this one and that i won’t go through the same hoola hoop problem. If they had said they were not going to hire me it would have been fine but to do what they did really hurt my heart.

January 4, 2013 at 8:42 am
(19) Sam says:

I worked in IT for over a decade before being given the opportunity to become a systems analyst for a large health care system. I found out quickly just how racist my former co worker could be. I was called SAMBO, UNCLE TOM and just plan smelly. I was asked why blacks smelled different from whites and why young black men purchased cars with no value just to put rims on them. My Math and Electrical Engineering degree could not and did not save me. After finally bringing these issue to my Director and HR, I was quickly fired under poor performance. It was very hurtful when my 8 year old son asked me if I still had a job. I went from having a high income career to not having a job over night. However, I have learned from this experience. White America is not coming to save me or my family. I have to find the strength to move forward. As Black Americans, we and I do mean WE cannot wait for the boat of opportunity. We should be building our own damn boats and helping ourselves. Collectively we have more than enough resources to help ourselves. Due to conditioning, a lot of us hate ourselves because we are black. At any rate, we gotta help ourselves.

June 3, 2013 at 5:17 pm
(20) Phil says:

It’s not just about black people anymore…

Even Asians are starting to complain.

June 30, 2013 at 7:29 am
(21) ellyi says:

Whilst there is obviously a great deal of racism with the names thing… I doubt that Mihangel Ifans or Razel Verad (both white, Welsh and Jewish respectively) would get an interview over Omolara or Lakisha etc.
It might be partially about the popularity and pronounceability of the names, in the same way as Spellcheck identifies all of these names as spelling mistakes but not Emily, Michael, Rachel, Lily, etc.

April 27, 2014 at 12:10 pm
(22) Richard says:

In the UK we do not have affirmative action and my understanding is that affirmative action is in place because legislators are aware that bias occurs.

As a black man of Caribbean heritage, a specialist in recruitment, employability, higher education and employment law. I am aware of the issues that everyone has.

There is bias towards against men, women, disabled, young, old, those that are obese and the list goes on. That doesn’t make it any easier when your gut feeling tells you it is due to a particular characteristic.

So whats the answer – the answer is keep persevering. If necessary take three or four degrees and keep studying. Getting a job is not the end in itself, it is the start of life long learning. then use all of that knowledge for your benefit in some way.

Consider starting you own business, network and support others in the same position. I have been waiting for more people to join together to develop an idea or a business together, so sharing the load. Strength in numbers and all that.

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