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Discrimination based on your name alone is a stubborn reality in Britain today | Nasar Meer

Wis it in a name? A lot, it seems, including perhaps a reduced chance of being shortlisted for a job, being offered a place in college or a rental property if you are a member of an ethnic or racial minority. Even a nursery place may be at stake, as Scottish Health and Sports Secretary Humza Yousaf recently found out: he suspects that an application for his two-year-old daughter was turned down by a Dundee nursery for discriminatory grounds. (The nursery in question denied the allegation.)

For researchers and activists who continually identify the drivers of racial inequality, and who have long been accustomed to the obscurity that barriers change, this wouldn’t be news. What is striking is that, despite legislation aimed at eliminating such inequalities, they persist. And they will continue until majority white societies confront the institutional and cultural factors that make them possible.

For more than 50 years, researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom examining racial discrimination have in their arsenal the use of field experiments, the so-called “matched pairs” method. This allows us to see how racial discrimination based on name remains a feature of our societies today. Conventionally, the approach makes at least two applications with identical content (eg skills, qualification and training) but differs in the name of the applicant; one job application uses a conventional predominantly white name, and the other indicates that the candidate has an ethnic or racial minority name.

Released earlier this month and based on 83,000 real job applications from over 100 of America’s largest employers, a study by Patrick M. Kline and colleagues undoubtedly shows that “typically black names reduce the likelihood of contact with the employer ”. Perhaps surprisingly for otherwise reserved economists, their findings prompt them to denounce what they call “systemic unlawful discrimination.”

In the UK, meanwhile, studies that tested for racial discrimination in recruitment processes found that ‘people from ethnic minorities were less likely to be successful with their applications, even ignoring differences such as ‘age and education’. While this is only for the first step of the pre-interview recruitment process, researchers had to send 74% more applications for ethnic minority applicants compared to white applicants.

Building in part on this knowledge, the researchers took it a step further by using odds ratios, which offer both a likelihood of a positive employer response and the likelihood of being employed. A clear conclusion is that, although there are variations between them, all ethnic and racial minority groups are significantly less likely than the white British group to receive a positive reminder when they apply for a job.

To be clear, all of these disparities cannot be explained solely in terms of race and ethnicity. For example, we know that social class and gender also play a key role in exacerbating ethnic and racial disparities in particular employment sectors. But it is true that systemic inequalities based on race and ethnicity cannot be ignored in any plausible explanation for them. Three points, however, are essential to address.

First, the experiences exemplified by such racial inequalities have been around for a long time and are another means by which we must move beyond novelty – problems are not new just because they happen again. Over the years, such experiments have been repeated myriads of times and have consistently brought to light discrimination on the basis of name. Take a moment to watch this 1956 Panorama episode of Euston Station’s “color bar” and the negative experiences of four Jamaican men applying for porterage jobs. This was despite the fact that it was labor shortages that had brought people to this country – who came as British citizens, and would later be turned into migrants through successive laws on immigration.

Second, these results continue despite the broad mandate of racial equality legislation which is specifically aimed at promoting equal opportunities in the labor market and in other key spheres of British society (e.g. the UK). education, health and political participation). Often, this legislation is only partially implemented by public and private bodies, meaning that name-based discrimination at entry level not only continues to occur, but is also learned through experience. work: “Groups that experience the worst discrimination in hiring also have higher ethnic employment sanctions.” What is happening therefore cannot be addressed by laws as a generic requirement and instead needs White majorities also support racial disparities in their daily conduct.

Third, tackling discrimination that is not only supported by individual motivations, nor formally supported in public policies, is one of the main challenges in trying to capture the nature of contemporary inequalities. This is where the question of institutional racism focuses, something that draws our attention towards convention and away from individual motives alone. One word that captures what is described is ‘unintentional’, and this is precisely how institutional racism was understood in an investigation of the London Metropolitan Police Service.

Fast forward more than a quarter of a century after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and what can we say has been achieved, in part and in full, and what goals have we not achieved and why? One answer is to rightly point out the kind of disavowal of racism found in the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities (Cred) report, but it is also a long-standing problem. It can only be tackled when white majorities come to terms with what Audre Lorde has called “the old models of expectation and response, the old structures of oppression,” as well as the social and moral cost of allowing this injustice to happen. racial endure.


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