Taking It Off: Should My Resume Say “I’m Black?”


With only 97 days, fourteen weeks and three months left until I graduate from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, I have been pruning my resume for weeks. After leaving the workforce for ten months, riding out the recession, my resume is the ticket into a plum job that hopefully will lead to an even better career.

Last week, when I was removing bullet points and adding indents, my best friend peered over my shoulder shocked to find that I had listed National Association of Black Journalists. She asked, “Why would you want to be black on your resume? They’ll never hire you.”

Wait a minute! What? And here I thought newsrooms were looking to diversify. I had to investigate.

Michelle* graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from an esteemed university in New York City four years ago. After sending out over forty resumes to prospective employers, she only received two calls for interviews. Michelle was smart. She was the President of the school’s Black Student Union, a member of a historically black sorority and had graduated cum laude.

Perplexed by the lack of calls (mind you, this is pre-recession), Michelle sat in front of her computer screen. A friend suggested she make a few changes: get rid of any organizations that scream, “I’m black”. Delete “Black Student Union” and delete “Delta Sigma Theta.” So she did. And after another round of emailing resumes to prospective employers, Michelle was pleased with the response: 12 interviews and a number of immediate job offers.

Michelle is one of many black women who have decided to dial back their blackness in order to excel in corporate America. Whether the threat is real or conjured, black women feel that they must assimilate and appear agreeable in order to obtain a position or be promoted in competitive companies.

“When you’re a person of color, I feel like it’s even harder to get in the door,” Michelle said. “There’s already a lot of competition…and now, there’s the economy.”

The economy has had a dire impact on hiring for all Americans but especially for blacks. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for black men is twice as much as white men. And overall, 15.7 percent of blacks are unemployed, compared to 8 percent of whites. The bureau cites discrimination as the primary factor in the discrepancy.

After nearly fifty years since “affirmative action” entered our lexicons thanks to President John F. Kennedy’s executive order, blacks still navigate corporate America in a unique way. Unlike their white cohorts, black must strategize and decide if being black is an advantage or a disadvantage. While some may advise not to appear black on a resume, human resources professionals give alternative advice.

“Companies are looking for a diverse pool of top notch candidates,” said Nicole Williams, a former human resource assistant at Discovery Communications in Silver Spring, Md. “It can only be seen as an asset in most industries.”

Despite the perceived adversity, most companies have invested in recruiting and hiring people of color. Many companies, large and small, recruit at historically black colleges and universities as well as within black professional organizations such as the Black Business Association and the National Society of Black Engineers. Still, at the end of the day a person’s skills are the ticket into any organization. If you’re skill set does not meet the needs of the company then you won’t get hired.