How much power do mere words and their associated significations have over our perception of others? It seems almost comical how much influence a name on a résumé can have on a candidate's chances to attain a dream job. A recent article addresses this prevalent but suspiciously silenced issue, citing a new study that indicates how job applicants in Canada with Asian names, especially ones of Indian, Pakistani, or Chinese origin, were 28% less likely to land a job interview compared to applicants with Anglo names, even when their qualifications and experiences were the same. A previous study also found that having an Anglo first name had little effect if the last name was Asian. Jeffrey Reitz, a sociologist at the University of Toronto and one of the study authors, commented on the ingrained nature of this subtle racism, stating, "Some people still believe that minorities have an advantage. These studies are important to challenge that and show that not only is this kind of discrimination happening, but it's quite systemic."
Another study published in the Administrative Science Quarterly Journal in 2016 focuses on the concept of "whitened résumés." Unfortunately, Asian applicants in the U.S. were found to be twice as likely to hear back if they "whitened" themselves on paper by changing their names and excluding any race-oriented accomplishments or organization involvement. Innumerable cases portray the disheartening reality of the effect of a name in the job market. For instance, just last year, Tiffany Trieu, a young Asian-American born and raised in America, received a letter from the president of the graphic design studio she had applied for a job to. The letter was an apology saying, "we've hired so many foreign nationals that it seems time for us to hire an American, or be unfair." Echoing this incident, in the same year, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Palantir Technologies for discrimination against Asian job applicants. The case claimed that despite the fact how 77% of applicants were Asian, less than 15% of those who were actually hired were Asian. Palantir has denied these allegations and the case is currently still pending.
So why is it that such a widespread issue affecting so many people of the Asian-American community continues to fester, relatively unnoticed? We might have to look to seemingly objective statistics for the beginning of an explanation to the intricate problem. Generally, statistics frame the Asian-American community as an overly successful portion of the population with good education and high income rates. However, such generalizations often ignore how data on Asian-Americans is frequently broken up into extremely narrow demographics that differentiate between Cambodian-Americans and Korean-Americans, skewing views of how certain populations are doing. Public perception of such a generalized view of Asian-Americans as the model minority often causes deeply rooted misunderstandings, such as for Tiffany Trieu and the president of the company she aspired to join, who felt like compensation was necessary for the success of Asian-Americans in the job market. Another problem that potential employers also associate with Asian names is the language barrier, despite how many Asian-Americans are fluent in English, especially those who were born in the U.S. Asian names seem inextricably linked to obscure significations that have little to do with reality and much to do with a cultured sense of hostility to "foreign" job applicants who surely would flounder as an employee.
Such difficulties that come with an Asian name inevitably place pressure on Asian-Americans to indeed "whiten" themselves and their identity as a bicultural people. It seems so easy to change a few letters and adopt a new identity, one that would perhaps lay to rest the weighty problems of having a name of Asian descent. However, these few letters represent a culture, a history, and a community. An Asian name hearkens back to one's origins, and to gloss over the value of the name is to completely uproot oneself. Much like the Asian Columbia students who had their names ripped off of their dorm room doors, job applicants frequently feel the weight of their names becoming red flags. But this "weight" isn't inherently bad -- far from it. Our names ground us, linking us to our cultural past, but also anchoring us to the present.