Wednesday, 17 June 2009

My Name isn't Lam or Ling or Tong, it's Lamb or Linde or Tony

Sorry to go back to racism again, but I just HAD to get this one out. Another article on the topic, this one about Anglicising names. Apparently an experiment was done using fake job applications, and it was found that if you had an Anglo name, you were most likely to get called back for a job interview.

People with Italian name didn't fare so badly, they were ahead of those with middle Eastern names. But the ones who did the worst was those with Chinese names.

A Professor Leigh said that certain minority groups would do better in getting job interviews if they Anglicised their names, and said this attitude was ''consistent with the notion ... that a sudden influx of migration increases prejudice''.

Sydney was the city in which minorities were most likely to be discriminated against, compared with Brisbane and Melbourne.

This is the clincher though:

"But Professor Leigh said discrimination against certain groups may be more subconscious than racist."

I don't quite get that - it seems to differentiate between subconscious and racist behaviour - does that mean if you racially discriminate against people but you do it subconsciously, not consciously, you aren't really racist? As Mr Coffee put it, you've got to officially, consciously sign up to the racist union, or you aren't a real racist?

If you were one of those whites in America who just grew up thinking there was something naturally inferior about black people, but didn't put a name to it, just didn't really think about it, just thought it was ok that they had fewer rights than you because that's "the way I was brought up, that's just the way I think the world is, it's normal? That's right, isn't it?" - did this mean your behaviour was not racist? It may not be malicious but it sounds pretty racist to me. Whether subconscious or conscious, the basis of the discrimination is still racially based.

A person who does look over a job application and chooses some over others because of the ethnic background of their name - that sounds pretty racist to me. It may not be malicious, but it is racist behaviour, and sometimes it can be all the more harmful when it's subconscious because it's so ingrained. The person just accepts it as normal, "I can't say why I prefer the Smiths and the Joneses, they just feel righter". This may be because they've read lots of articles about migration or they've been brought up to think certain things about a particular group or seen certain things on the TV or had a certain experience or whatever - but this attitude seems to say "It's a racially based attitude/prejudice. It manifests itself later in behaviour that is subconscious, but how does that make it not racist ..."

Basically, if there is a difference between subconscious and racist behaviour it would mean a) racist behaviour has to be conscious, intentional behaviour. b) Subconscious behaviour ... well it means it wasn't meant consciously, but what's the motivation for it? "Subconsciously I am more likely to pick Anglos over any other name" - still doesn't explain why. Because subconsciously ... what? Subconsciously I am making a racist decision.

(Or maybe I am making a decision to choose names I can pronounce most easily so I don't sound like a goof on the phone when I call these people back, is that it?)


nailpolishblues said...

I saw this show called 'Lie to me' - a guy who basically reads faces - and I think he said that about 90% of all people are racially prejudiced. It is unconscious. Most of them would probably say and think they weren't prejudiced and probably work hard not to be but their faces give them away. Of course, I suppose that depends on the situation.

Maria said...

The problem I have about it is not so much that some people have a racial prejudice, but that some people like academics or experts want to use "weasel words" to cover it up and make us think that we don't have to improve ourselves or that it doesn't matter or it's not really racist if it's say, done unconsciously or whatever. It's kinda sugar costed.

I'm willing to accept that there is a different thing between someone who has a subconscious aversion to an Asian or Italian name and someone who makes a deliberate attempt to attack people of minorities. Sure.

Also, I think there are certain differences between what you can reasonably expect people to change in themselves. Say you have a little flicker of aversion in your face that this "Lie to me" guy could read that shows you think less of people of certain minority groups, subconsciously, but you also make a conscious attempt because you know what's fair and are the rules, to treat people generally based on their merit. A very sensitive person might pick on your signals, because you give out an aura of your inner prejudices, but if you make a good attempt at keeping your tone the same, scheduling meetings the same for the same ranked people, keeping pay equal, keeping worload equal, keeping language unbiased, etc, I think that would be considered fairly reasonable.

You can't always change how you feel about someone or even your prejudices about someone's group but if you play by the rules and do your best to treat people equally there is not much room for complaint.

I think a lot of us work hard not to be racially-prejudiced, it's just some things like Anglicised names that people don't think too much about, and they may show some areas in which we need to work harder.

It is easy to say "Well, just get yourself an Anglicised name" but the question should be - why should someone have to change their name and live in a new identity to hide from someone else's racial prejudice?

Many people do get Anglicised or different names to fit in with certain work cultures. Some are quite strange changes - I know of a woman (Russian) who was told to changeher name from Natasha to Natalie when she came out here to fit in. Now ... I wouldn't have thought that Natasha was a really far out name when you consider some of the names people call their kids nowadays! It seems extremely normal! Many Asians have two names, an Anglicised one and an Asian one.

And how many people thought that Barack Obama had a really unlucky name with Barack Hussein Obama for a name?

nailpolishblues said...

Hilarious about Natasha. That's a pretty common name here anyway. Mind you, I've known of people with similar name issues that are just baffling.

I do agree with what you're saying. Just thought you'd find the face thing interesting. Most people really don't seem to try and control their prejudices - even when they're aware of them. They don't think that there's any need to. And that's really very disturbing because they don't analyse themselves at all.

Personally, I find Barack the worse of the names there. Too much like barrack - I get images of footy fans in my head when I see the name.