The Financial Cost of Having a Black
Name in America
In one of his most legendary plays, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare asks a simple yet monumental question: “What’s in a Name?”
Black people in America know the answer all too well. Black sounding names mean:
– Less opportunities
– Less jobs
– Less wealth
For Black people, something so simple as naming a new baby becomes an olympic exercise in honoring culture while shielding your child from the negative consequences of having the wrong name.
In his book, The Black Tax, Shawn Rochester talks about the cost of being Black in America. His discussion doesn’t center how racism has damaged Black identify and inflicted untold emotional pain. Instead, he focuses on the very real economic impact that comes from having Black skin.
One of the common refrains throughout the book though had nothing to do with skin color at all, but assumed skin color derived from name alone. Even the potential of being Black and having a Black-sounding name was enough to bring financial repercussions.
Your name is one of the very first markers of your identity.
Whether you’re Maggie, Marisol or Monique… this alone can you be used against you (Or for you. Yes, I’m looking at you, Maggie!) in a court of public opinion.
My name is Latasha.
My siblings are Tenecia, Shaniqua, and Treveyon.
This discussion is personal to me.
Not so I can try to anglicize my future children’s names or make them racially ambiguous like the women they use to promote racism and colorist division on TV.
The goal is to understand the quantifiable ways our names have been used against us so that we can fight back.
Today, we’re talking about What’s in a Name: The Financial Cost of Having a Black Name in America
Tax 1: The Real Estate Tax
Homeownership is a cornerstone of the American Dream and if you let most people tell it, it’s basically your golden ticket to wealth.
The pillars of the American Dream are tenuous at best, but for Black people, I think they’re even more harmful.
And this definitely applies to real estate.
According to Rochester’s “The Black Tax”, it’s significantly harder for Black people to get approved for mortgages.
“the extent of the difference in treatment between the applicants with White-sounding names and Black-sounding names had the same impact as if the applicants with Black-sounding names had FICO scores that were 71 points lower.
Can you imagine all of the hard work of maintaining a good credit score wiped out just because your name sounds Black?
There are so many groups and social media accounts dedicated to improving credit, but if your name is too Black, that may not even matter.
Oh, and that’s not the end of it.
When Black people do get loans they are often given higher interest rates.
All of this costs more money and means less wealth.
How to fight it:
- Work with an agent you trust that has access to mortgage lenders they have a personal relationship with. Better yet, work with a Black agent who has a reputable plug.
- Shop around and even try online options that use an algorithm that may or may not be less racist. Either way, having options is helpful.
- Ask your lender if they are sure they’re giving you the most competitive rate. You could say something like, “Hey Jan, I read some articles about how Black people are often given higher rates than their counterparts with the same credentials. can you confirm that this is, in fact, your best rate?”
- Don’t assume that you don’t have to do your due diligence with Black lenders and agents. Though it may not be intentional, Black people have implicit racial biases as well.
Don’t be afraid to have straight conversations that serve your best interest. Everyone has unconscious racial biases that they aren’t even aware of. Bringing them to the forefront helps you and them. Either way, speak up!
Tax 2: The Career Tax
In 2002, The University of Chicago did a pretty irrefutable study that showed that “Emily and Brandon are more employable than Lakisha and Jamal,” based on name alone.
Now, I’m sure this is not shocking or groundbreaking to any of us by any means, but just listen to this.
Resumes with the White-sounding names received 50% more call backs…They also found that resumes with Black-sounding names would need 8 more years of work experience to have the same likelihood of getting a call back as a resume with a White-Sounding name.
Um… do you know how much 8 years of education costs?
And as usual… there’s more. As credentials were added to resumes with Black-sounding names, this didn’t really impact the number of call backs. Even white felons were reported as having a higher likelihood of getting a call back as a black non-felon.
This means that this isn’t something that we can educate ourselves out of because it’s not about the education. It’s about Blackness or assumed Blackness based on name.
This could be one explanation for why Black Women are the most educated demographic in the country, with a shockingly low median net worth of $5.
This is how deeply racism is woven into the very fabric of American social infrastructure.
Imagine the extra time that Black people have to put into looking for a job, the lost income, and the impact of income inequality.
The Black Tax is evident. There is a cost of having a black name in America
How to Fight Back:
- Where applicable, build relationships with Black recruiters or other success partners that can help you get your foot in the door with a solid referral and recommendation.
- Think of ways to make your resume stand out so that you are an undeniable candidate no matter what type of company you apply to.
- If you own a company, do everything you can to hire Black people who have the skills your company needs.
- If you’re stuck working in the system and can’t escape it, consider using your middle name. Once you get your foot in the door you will have plenty of time to make them say your name
In these instances I think it’s just as important to create our own spaces while also asserting our right to equal opportunities in every space we enter.
We can’t keep fighting for a place at someone else’s table. We need to make our own wherever possible. And if that’s not your ministry, I understand. Do what you can to play the game to your advantage.
Tax 3: The Online Commerce Tax
I know you’re wondering how the heck there’s room for racism in an industry that is online, but trust, when there’s a will, there’s a way.
I wanted to highlight the Online Commerce Black Tax because as more and more become internet entrepreneurs or participate in the gig economy, the impact of this will amplify.
Harvard did a study to measure discrimination in online commerce. Their subject of study turned out to be none other than Airbnb.
Now, at this point y’all are probably thinking, “Oh, say less. We already know people be racist on that platform because we’ve seen it play out several times on social media and in the news.” But we’re going to talk about it anyway, and examine the impact. Stay with me!
Researchers found that for comparable offerings, Black hosts got an average rate of $107 while non-Black hosts got an average rate of $144… and rental requests with Black sounding names were 16% less likely to be accepted across the board.
If people in power demonstrate bias when it comes to looking for jobs, it stands to reason that this same sentiment would carry over to something as intimate as housing. But the e-commerce bias doesn’t just stop at personal interactions. It actually extends into purely transactional purchases as well.
While using baseball cards as an e-commerce example, “researchers found that cards from African American sellers were offered a price that was 20% lower than the same cards being sold by White sellers.”
In these examples the racial bias was triggered by a combination of name and skin color.
As many of my friends, family, colleagues, and my community move into online retail spaces at large, I can’t help but consider what this might mean for Black people using platforms like Etsy, Ebay, Shopify and even social media.
How to Fight Back:
- Platforms that offer more anonymity are probably less likely to be impacted by explicit or implicit racial biases.
- As a consumer, seek out Black providers on the platforms you already use . Share your experiences, promote their businesses and leave glowing reviews to increase the likelihood of them getting more business.
- Where possible, use Black platforms and local businesses to help circulate dollars within your communities and give the Black gig economy an opportunity to have an equal footing.
- Create accounts with Black platforms where skin color could give you an advantage.
- No matter what you’re selling, create a unique selling proposition that is so compelling that it is undeniable. It may not overcome racism but it’s worth a shot and will definitely increase conversions.
The Black Tax is insidious, pervasive, and not something that will magically disappear. I hope that this article called out some of the simple but costly ways racism impacts Black people.
Whether we’re taking longer to find jobs, paying more for a home, or dealing with income inequality in online spaces, there is a real financial cost to being Black and having a Black name.
We can’t educate ourselves out of this fact and think that it won’t apply to us.
We can’t think positive thoughts and hope that this goes away.
And taking accountability for our own lives will not remove the foot from our neck.
Yes, get educated, be positive, take accountability and own your power in whatever ways feel good and necessary for you.
But it’s time that we stop accepting Black Exceptions to the rule as evidence of Black Excellence.
Yes, there are so many ways to subvert or avoid the impact of oppression, but what about our right to not be oppressed in the first place?
We can’t ignore that there is a Black tax. So ask yourself…
What is the cost of being Black in America?
What is the cost of having a Black name in America?
And while I may not have quantified it here, I hope you can see that it is quite profound.
And with that, here’s my outtake:
It’s your right to have a seat at the table, but you honor yourself when you also build your own.