Blog Post by Avery Cohen
Last Monday, I had the privilege of seeing anti-racism activist Tim Wise speak on campus. Earlier in the semester I read Wise’s “White Like me”, a memoir that explores the author’s own experience as being a recipient on white privilege. White Privilege, as defined by the Emerson TALKS is a “Racial inequity that focuses on the benefits of access to resources and rewards that Whites receive by virtue of their skin color as well as the disadvantages that people of color experience. Examples of this include the ability to surround oneself with individuals of the same racial group, being approached by the police without suspicion of wrongdoing based on race, the expectation that one does not speak for his or her entire race, and the ability to be promoted without the assumption it was based on affirmative action.”
Wise is undoubtedly a gifted polemicist and thinker. What really struck me about his talk, though, were the parallels made to some of the case studies we discussed in Emerson Talks. In Session 5 “Jobs and Internships”, we ruminated over Case 2 for quite a bit. I’d say this particular case was the most overt manifestation of white privilege I encountered throughout my participation in Emerson Talks. The case recounts a situation in which five Caucasian individuals by the names of Emily, Kate, Emma, Cody, and Tanner filled out resumes and cover letters for the same position. Five Black individuals by the names of Nia, Jada, Maik, DeShawn, and Andre did the same. After the applications were examined, Emily, Kate, and Tanner were called in for interviews. My entire group without a moment’s hesitation agreed this was an instance of White Privilege.
At first glance, this was rather jarring. With summer imminent, cover letters and resumes are fresh in my mind, this case study came at an opportune time. Perhaps it was the ubiquity of situations like this that proved unnerving. This wasn’t an aberration, but rather symptomatic of a much larger issue. A study done from the Cambridge-based National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that a black-sounding name remains an impediment to landing a job. After responding to 1,300 classified ads with dummy resumes, the authors found black-sounding names were 50 percent less likely to get a callback than white-sounding names with comparable resumes.
Yesterday, I received an official internship offer from the company of my choice. Elation was tempered by a strong dose of realism, as my mind inevitably reverted back to the case study I’d examined only a week before. I couldn’t help but wonder; would the name DeShawn grant me the same privilege as the name Avery?
I’ll never know.
Situations like this are why we need Emerson Talks. The self-reflection and awareness that programs like Emerson Talks begets is essential. That first initial jolt of discomfort—the one I felt at the case study—are the first steps in affecting change.