Some years ago while working for the Norfolk (Va.) Journal and Guide newspaper, I came to know a prominent black pastor in nearby Hampton who was often in the news for his preaching and religious work. He also was active in the NAACP but not always in the forefront. Shortly after meeting him he asked that I not identify him in news stories as being an NAACP member because it might affect his other job as a public schoolteacher.
That experience came to mind upon learning about the current job prospects of college-educated black men. It is well known that black male dropouts, as well as those who finish high school but go no further, have a high unemployment rate, but new information indicates that even highly educated black men are having a hard time finding work. The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that black male college graduates 25 and older have had an unemployment rate in 2009 of 8.4 percent compared to 4.4 percent for white male college graduates. Some black professionals with degrees from prestigious schools are finding it almost impossible to find a job and often extremely hard to get an interview.
The New York Times reports that some black men have found it helpful to remove from their resumes such affiliations as black fraternities, the Black Student Association and the NAACP. Some who have ethnic-sounding names are using initials to avoid tipping off personnel managers who may be biased.
Johnny R. Williams, 30, formerly worked at JPMorgan Chase, earned a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Chicago in 2008 and is still seeking employment. After getting promising responses when his resume was sent he found once showed up in person hiring officers and personnel managers seemed surprised and suddenly turned cool. After so many dead ends in his job search he decided to revise his resume and delete anything that might suggest his race, stating that if he had to be eliminated he at least wanted to get in the door first.
Another longtime job seeker, Barry Jabbar Sykes, 37, who has a mathematics degree from Morehouse College, began using his name as Barry J. Sykes when seeking a job although he has been called Jabbar all his life. He said Barry sounds as if he could be Irish.
Concerns have been raised over the prospect that while a company or corporation might officially try to promote diversity the human resources manager and others responsible for hiring may not have fully embraced that policy. In addition, some observers say those whites who are resentful of Barack Obama’s presidency and believe blacks have attainted equality are creating a backlash against black mobility, further hindering employment chances.
Terry Hairston, 25, a Yale graduate, had applied for a job with a money management company in Dallas that was anxious to talk to him because it said it had trouble getting graduates from top-tier schools to relocate to the city. When he met two of the firm’s executives for lunch, he said they seemed stunned as he approached to introduce himself. Their eyes went to the ceiling and they were silent for an unusually long time. He did not get the job.
Not every rejection is due to racism but there is overwhelming evidence that bigotry exists although it might not be blatant.
Some of the current strategies raise an intriguing question: When a person disguises his identity or denies certain affiliations in order to increase employment chances, does it indicate an astute awareness of how to play the game when the rules have changed or is it a capitulation to racists?
As I was growing up, I often heard the expression—even in the days of total segregation—that black people were always the last hired and the first fired, a statement many have called trite but true. With today’s largely integrated society and with blacks in almost every occupational field it is easy to see we have come a long way. But in evaluating the job plight of highly educated young black men it is also apparent we still have a long, long way to go.