Have You Ever Tried To Whiten Your Name On Your Resume To Get A Job?
Name changes are a dime a dozen in the world of entertainment, where nicknames, one-word monikers and adjectives for surnames reign supreme. Just ask Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, John Legend and a host of other artists whose names consciously reflect their talent. But what about name changes made for the sake of opportunity? Changes that render one’s ethnicity unidentifiable in order to increase the chances of obtaining employment? Employers won’t readily admit it, but some prefer “nice,” “safe,” and “easy” to pronounce names because it makes their lives, well, easier. Or maybe, depending on the industry, they already have a diversity hire so no need to hire another minority. These are the employers that insist they can’t possibly be racist or uphold discriminatory practices because they have a fill-in-the-minority-of-their-choosing friend, don’t see color or stand firm behind the myth of a post-racial America. It’s a sad and unfortunate reality, but sometimes appeasing employers with a less-ethnic sounding name makes all the difference. That doesn’t make the practice right, of course, and it may not be the right decision for you.
But it was the right decision for Actress Chloe Bennet, who chose to make the name change. The “deceivingly Asian” (so says her Instagram) singer and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. starlet’s government name is Chloe Wang. But Hollywood being Hollywood, Chloe, who is Chinese and White, decided to change her last name to Bennet (also her father’s first name) to see if it made a difference when it came to getting roles. It sho ’nuff did.
In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Bennet said, “Oh, the first audition I went on after I changed my name, I got booked. So that’s a pretty clear little snippet of how Hollywood works.”
Bennet continued, “I want to be clear because some of my Asian-American fans seem to think I did that [changed last names] because I didn’t want to be known as Chinese, but it’s so the opposite. I just wanted to be known as me and let my personality define who I was, rather than my ethnicity.”
This is one of many examples that speak to an industry that has an inclusion problem. Some casting agents or powers that be see someone’s ethnic name or racial makeup as a hindrance. In their eyes, actors of color can’t play certain characters because who will buy a Black woman superhero? Who will believe an Asian actress can carry an entire film? They see stereotypes and limitations instead of talent and potential.
But, let’s face it. This happens outside of the entertainment industry as well. After sending out countless resumes and not receiving any calls or emails to interview for jobs I applied to, I couldn’t help but ask myself what was really up and to wonder what was holding me back. Did employers see my first name and instinctively utter the workplace equivalent of “Oh hell no”? Did they automatically assume I was Black and decide to pass on giving me a chance? Was I being discriminated against? Did they knowingly put my resume at the bottom of the pile and bypass my work experience and education simply because of my name? Oh, the questions. I had many.
So, like Bennet, I decided to change my name. Not legally, ‘cause I sure as hell didn’t have any desire to do that. Upon my mother’s suggestion, I put my first and middle name initials on my resume instead of my full first and last name. The result? Not only could someone on the receiving end of my resume not determine my race or heritage, they also couldn’t tell my sex. I was initially hesitant. I felt that I shouldn’t have to change a damn thing in order to secure an interview in the first place. And what if I responded weirdly when someone called and asked for this new name instead of my actual name? Would I have to ask my references to refer to this new name as well so as to keep the illusion going? Ugh, what a mess.
But guess what happened after I abbreviated my name on my resume? Not a damn thing! Crickets. My phone didn’t start ringing, my email wasn’t inundated with interested employers. Abbreviating my name didn’t make a difference at all, so I went back to using my given name and felt much better about it. I’ve had to chalk this inactivity up to a slow job market, intense competition, and a sneaking but unconfirmed suspicion that my beautiful name presents a “problem” to employers who don’t recognize they are the problem.