Is my résumé White enough? – An Asian’s Plight
Written by: J. Stokes – November 29, 2016
America is a self-proclaimed melting pot, accepting of various cultures, religions, practices, etc. Many seek to inhabit the U.S. from outside countries, due to ideas of prosperity and freedom. Just last year, 2015, a total of 730,259 people received U.S. citizenship, with most coming from Mexico, India, the Philippines, and the People’s Republic of China. Indeed, it would seem the United States is a place of inclusivity, allowing those who both enter and already inhabit the nation to be themselves. Unfortunately, anecdotes and hard evidence, specifically in the job market, tell us otherwise.
In their study on job applicant practices when writing résumés, Kang et al. (2016) state that when seeking jobs people of color (called minority job seekers in this study) might try to avoid discrimination by withdrawing “or strategically presenting race-related information in their job application materials” (Kang et al., 2016, p. 470).
This goes to show that in some cases people are afraid to embrace their racial or cultural background though America seemingly promotes diversity. Kang et al.’s (2016) study included “59 in-depth interviews with 29 Black and 30 Asian university students who were actively searching for jobs or internships” (Kang et al., 2016, p. 473). Of those interviewed, 36 percent (31 percent of Black participants and 40 percent of Asian participants) reported that they at times engaged in résumé whitening, otherwise known as the dialing back of racial cues when writing a résumé. Among Asian interviewees, “a frequent change was to adopt a first name that was different from their legal or preferred first name” (Kang et al., 2016, p. 474).
Now let’s keep our focus on the Asian participants of the Kang et al. (2016) study for a minute. Why would 40 percent of those interviewed feel the need to adopt a new name? One could assume that it may have had something to do with pronunciation issues. But then again, why should someone lose a job position because of their name? When assessing common themes in the responses of their participants, Kang et al. (2016) found that Asian participants wanted to show their assimilation into “White American” or “Western” culture. If the U.S. is a melting pot, then why would some of its inhabitants feel the need to forgo their racial or cultural identity when applying for jobs? Part of the reason, we present here, may have to do with America’s “whitening” of areas that belong to certain Asian cultures.
One example comes from the new “Ghost in the Shell” movie, set to be released on March 31, 2017 in the U.S. according to IMDb. Ghost in the Shell was created by Masamune Shirow as a manga serial, known as a Japanese graphic novel or comic book, and was first published in 1989. It was later released as an animated film in 1995. See its trailer below:
Taking place in Japan, Ghost in the Shell centers around its heroine Major Motoko Kusanagi, who is a cyborg with a manufactured body and seemingly human brain.
Though it can be argued that Kusanagi is not explicitly Japanese/Asian in her appearance, there are those, specifically Asian Americans, that feel she is inherently so since manga and anime comes from Japanese/Asian culture. The 2017 live action movie adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, on the other hand, has received a great deal of criticism due to its whitening of this predominantly Japanese work of art. See this interesting new take below:
To begin, there has been much disapproval over White actress Scarlett Johansson playing Kusanagi. Many assert Johansson does not look the part. Some, like Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Sun, have also stated that filmmakers have gone through great lengths to alter her appearance, which makes the casting choice even more disturbing. It should be noted that failure to cast Asian actors and actresses for lead roles in American live action adaptations of manga or anime series has been an ongoing dilemma. Examples include Dragon Ball Z and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
And so we come back to our Kang et al. (2016) study mentioned earlier. Many Asian Americans/Asian immigrants may feel the need to change their name or assimilate to “White American” or “Western” culture due to America’s history of altering Asian culture. Hollywood provides an example of how being true to one’s identity is not necessarily accepted. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that many feel the job market will discriminate against certain racial groups or cultures. How can this be corrected? Would giving Asian people lead roles in areas such as Hollywood help change the way society views Asians as a whole? Or is the U.S. too far gone when it comes to race relations?
**As a side note, the use of the word “Asian” in this blog post was meant to include people who identify as East Asian (i.e. Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, etc.). This does not include those who go by Indian or Arab. We will make sure to highlight these differences in a future post. Otherwise, please let us know what you thought about this topic of whitening one’s job application and the whitewashing of Asian culture in Hollywood. Thank you for reading!
Kang, S. K., DeCelles, K. A., Tilcsik, A., & Jun, S. (2016). Whitened Résumés Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market. Administrative Science Quarterly, 0001839216639577.
- Updated: November 30, 2016