By Keisha Graziadei-Shup
Graziadei-Shup is the owner of the Roanoke-based Grazia Strategic in Roanoke.
A few years ago, I invited a new friend and her boyfriend over to my house off of Melrose Avenue. We hadn’t actually met in person before, so I didn’t know they were Black, and they didn’t know that I wasn’t. We had only spoken over the phone.
On the way to my house they had a lively discussion. “She’s Black!” he inferred about me. “Her name is Keisha and she lives off of Melrose Avenue!”
She debated with him: “But she sounded white on the phone! She’s definitely white!” They placed their bets, and when I opened the door to greet them ,we all had a good laugh.
Similarly, I recently walked onto the stage of a Sisters of Change event where many Black women were in attendance. My name was on the schedule as a speaker. I introduced myself. “Hi everyone, I’m Keisha,” I paused, scanning the audience. “I know some of you in here are like, I thought she was gonna be Black!”
The room erupted in laughter.
So what am I?
I’m a fair-skinned American woman with a name that doesn’t sound “white”. English is my native language, and I also speak Spanish fluently and some Portuguese. I’m a second-generation American on my dad’s side (he’s from Brazil, with a mostly-European bloodline), and a Daughter of the American Revolution on my mom’s side. I hail from the melting pot of Sacramento, and grew up on hip-hop. I’m too conservative to be a liberal, and too liberal to be a conservative.
I’m a bag of surprises, not easily understood in tidy social categories.
The sorts of funny stories I mention above have been happening my entire life — getting mixed up with whichever Black female might be in the room, and those sorts of things. Mostly it’s funny, and I’m thankful that in some small, silly way it makes my new Black friends feel comfortable around me because it’s also their best friend’s name, or they had a crush on the American actress Keshia Night Pulliam (my name’s sake), or whatever may be the case.
I’ve always known that I have an unusual name. In more recent years I’ve discovered the seeming consequences of it being an ethnically ambiguous one, and that maybe (sadly) this matters on resumes.
I have had a terrible time in the past, unless I had a personal connection, finding work in Roanoke. I took this very personally at first, thinking I wasn’t good enough. While it could have been explained by a struggling economy or a number of factors, after years of this, I eventually became suspicious of something else.
I finally wondered if I wasn’t getting interviews because my name sounds Black or foreign, or because of the zip code associated with my home address. Perhaps my degree in Spanish, or experience working with African and Latino populations also suggested it. I had solid qualifications and experience and it was baffling to me that I could hardly get an interview when I applied to jobs — literally dozens of jobs for which I appeared to be well suited.
So, I decided to include my headshot on my resume to see what might happen. I sent it like that to one organization and I heard back right away. They were practically ready to hire me on the spot.
Maybe coincidence, maybe not.
Maybe a headshot simply made me more personable. Maybe lots of things, but I started talking about this experience with people and learned that, in fact, this is a thing that happens. There have been studies done about minorities having to “whiten” their resumes to get jobs.
I can’t say for sure that businesses are prejudiced in Roanoke based on my one personal experience, and I certainly couldn’t say it about all of them. While there are lots of Black people who have good jobs here, I also don’t know what they had to do or which special circumstances may have enabled them to get those jobs.
Either way, I’m apparently not the only one taking notice. I can only hope that the people who have gotten hired instead of me were actually more qualified, and not just whiter-sounding, but unfortunately I’m just not that sure.
Good people who hire in Roanoke: You are in a position of power. Do you think consciously about why you remove that resume from the pile? Is it for the right reasons? No one but the person hiring can really know for sure what’s in her or his own mind.